Sunday morning a number of years ago, my wife piled the children into the
family car to go to Sunday school and worship. When she turned the key, the
engine wouldn't even grunt. The battery was completely dead.
lunch I went to a nearby service station and related my problem to the
attendant. He went back to speak to the station manager, who was under a car on
the grease rack. The attendant came back with this helpful offer: "Sure, we can
take care of it. Bring it on in."
isn't that the trouble with a lot of religion? You get instructions, but you
don't get power. You get good advice, but you don't get the strength to carry
it out. My friends, good advice without power is bad news.
Scripture is full of "good
advice" that we cannot carry out on our own.
certainly is the dilemma of the Old Testament Law. It tells you what you should
and should not do, but it doesn't give you the power to perform. It announces a
death penalty of guilt on our heads without lifting an exclamation point to
give us assistance. It says, "Do this; don't do that." It doesn't give us any
the Sermon on the Mount by itself is bad news. Have you read it recently? Have
you tried to do what Jesus says we're supposed to do? If that were all of the
religion that Jesus had to offer, it would surely be bad news. Its precepts are
beautiful. Its ideals are noble, and its metaphors are magnificent. But good
news? Hardly. Who in the world can live by it?
that's not all the disciples heard. They saw Jesus cure people who were sick.
He brought at least two dead men back to life. He restored sight to the blind.
He put lame folks back on their feet. Then he turned to the disciples and said,
"Go and do even greater works than these."
news? Why, he might as well have told them to fly to the moon. It's never good
news to tell someone to perform the impossible, to achieve the unattainable, to
climb the insurmountable.
after Jesus' resurrection the disciples remembered his words to them: "Love one
another even as I have loved you." In the light of the cost to which that love
drove him, such instruction could lead ultimately to despair. Who in the world
can love like that?
Jesus knew his disciples
needed more than precepts; they needed power.
knew that his disciples needed more than precepts. They also needed power. So
Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem until they received the promised Holy
Spirit. "You will receive power from on high," said Jesus, "when the Holy
Spirit has come upon you. But you've got to wait for it. When you have received
that power, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria
and to the ends of the earth."
precepts plus power is good news. If it had not been for the events recorded in
the second chapter of Acts, we wouldn't be here today. The Cross is good news
about God's love. The empty tomb is good news about life eternal. Both the
Cross and the Resurrection, though remarkable demonstrations of the love and
power of God, would have been forgotten events in ancient history if the Holy
Spirit had not provided the dynamic for the witnesses to go into all the world
and speak that good news.
knew exactly what his disciples needed. He was going to supply that need. The
excitement and enthusiasm felt by the disciples following their encounter with
the risen Lord were mere human emotions—no match for the opposition they would
encounter. They needed more than just human enthusiasm; they needed to be
filled with the Holy Spirit. Without him they could not begin to do the job.
The disciples were filled with the Spirit.
record of events recorded in the second chapter of Acts is straightforward:
"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly
a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the
whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire
that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with
the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled
want you to notice the symbolism here. The record does not tell us that wind
blew upon them. It does not say that fire fell on them. It says, "A sound like
the blowing of a violent wind filled the whole house ... what seemed to be
tongues of fire rested on each of them." They heard something like wind; they
saw something like fire.
had told them during his teaching ministry that the Holy Spirit was like the
wind that blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell
where it comes from or where it is going. You can't see the wind; you only see
tongues that seemed like fire that rested on each of them reminded them of the
holy presence of God. They remembered Moses in the wilderness being startled by
a bush that seemed to burn yet wasn't consumed. As Moses approached the bush he
heard the voice of God from the bush, saying, "Moses this is holy ground. Take
off your sandals." When burnt offerings were consumed by fire in the temple,
that fire symbolized the consuming righteousness of God. These New Testament
people knew what those symbols stood for.
whole city of Jerusalem was aware of these two phenomena. A throng of people
gathered around the temple, wondering what had happened. It was to this
astonished, curious throng of people that Peter began to preach. But before he
even started preaching, this mixed multitude that had come from all the
countries in that part of the world heard in their own language everything that
was said. The Holy Spirit, in the gift of tongues, had simply broken the
communication barrier, so that every one of them could hear the gospel in his
own language. It was a gift of hearing. And then what did they hear? They heard
witnesses to the power of our risen Lord.
how did they react? They were amazed, astonished, perplexed. Others, feeling
like they had to find some kind of a natural explanation, said simply that
these people had had too much to drink. The power of the Spirit so controlled
them, with such a marked effect on their lives, that some people who heard
assumed such exuberance could only be the result of drunkenness.
extraordinary had happened. Something had changed their lives. The Spirit of
God had fallen upon them and by that one act had initiated for all Christians
down through the centuries the possibility of the indwelling power of God. It
was after this outpouring of the Spirit of God that we find the church engaging
in effective communication of the gospel.
sequence of events with Christ and Pentecost is also applicable today.
please note the sequence. First you have the teaching and the precepts of Jesus
Christ. Then came the filling with the Holy Spirit, and then the disciples were
equipped for effectively serving our Lord Jesus Christ. I want to suggest to
you that that same sequence has to be followed today. We must know Jesus Christ
and what he did by his life, death, and resurrection. Then we must be filled
with his Holy Spirit before we can ever begin to effectively serve our Lord.
we find the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to his disciples. This was the beginning
of the Christian era—God taking up residence in the lives of his people in the
person of the Holy Spirit. From that day to this, those who have opened
their lives to Jesus Christ, who have responded in faith to him, are people in
whom the Holy Spirit dwells. The New Testament makes it plain that when we
receive Jesus Christ, we are baptized. We are identified with the Holy Spirit.
Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot be children of God. But those who are
led by the Spirit are indeed children of God. So the Holy Spirit was given.
if all this is true, why isn't the church today as alive and as
those early Christians seemed to be? I think there are two reasons. One could
be the fact that the Holy Spirit, though he dwells in every believer, has been
shut up inside our lives in some quiet closet and is unable—because we will not
give him the liberty to do so—to make us effective in our Christian living.
that Jesus said, as recorded by John in the Apocalypse, "Behold, I stand at the
door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to
him." It's not enough to open our lives to Christ. We've got to turn every room
in the house of our lives over to him. If we shut him up in some little closet
of our lives, he can't begin to fulfill in us what God wants for us the very
apostle Paul later was to warn Christians not to quench the Spirit. That is, he
says, "Don't pour cold water on the spark of his presence.'' We can do that by
our insensitivity to him, by disobeying him, by simply choosing to run our
lives instead of listening to him and trusting his guidance.
I think there's another reason why some modern Christians don't seem to be as
alive and as those early disciples. It can be found, I think, in
the experience of the Christians in Ephesus. In Acts 19 we read that while
Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at
Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy
Spirit when you believed?"
answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." I suspect
that there are some people today who are sincere believers in Jesus Christ who
are ignorant of the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in them and is able to
give them the power to live as Christians should live.
when the crowds gathered around those disciples on the day of Pentecost, Peter
took the opportunity to explain what was happening. He witnessed to Jesus
Christ as the crucified and risen Lord, and on that day over three thousand
people believed in Jesus and became part of the church.
very important for us to understand that here we see a demonstration of what
Jesus said would happen when the Holy Spirit came. Jesus said, "When the Holy
Spirit comes, he will bear witness to me." The Holy Spirit never calls
attention to himself, and I think it's a word of caution for all of us that the
Holy Spirit does not call attention to himself. He calls attention to Jesus
Christ. Where the Spirit is genuinely at work, it is Christ who is lifted
up, not the Holy Spirit. Where Christ is lifted up, there you can be sure the
Spirit of God is at work.
I believe that first Pentecost was unique. It was unique in the same way that
the birth of Jesus was unique. When Jesus was born, there was an angel choir to
announce his birth. There were shepherds who heard the music and went to see.
There were wise men who saw a star and came from afar to worship at the manger.
we don't try to recreate those things today, except as a sort of pageant at
Christmastime when we remember the birth of Jesus. In terms of our Christian
experience, we don't try to reproduce those other kinds of phenomena. Rather,
it is a confrontation with the risen Lord and faith in him that brings us to
our knees in faith and obedience. That's what makes us Christians. And so it is
that Pentecost is not to be repeated with its unique phenomenon, but rather it
is our openness and obedience to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit
that gives us the power to effectively serve our Lord.
disciples were obedient to Jesus, and they stayed in Jerusalem until the
promise had been fulfilled. It was while they were gathered in a caring and
praying fellowship, open and available to the promise of Jesus being fulfilled
in them, that the Spirit was poured out upon them. Yet just the experience was
not enough. After the experience they thought back to the old covenant and to
what God's word had said in the past, and Peter remembered that this new
phenomenon was as old as the prophecy of Joel. They found the written word
confirmed an experience.
was the day Jesus fulfilled his promise to his followers. It's the day to
remind ourselves that Jesus Christ has not left us on our own. From Pentecost
to this day, every believer in Jesus is given the Holy Spirit. But Jesus said,
"The Holy Spirit is like the wind. He blows where he wills." You can see the
effects of the wind, but you never see the wind itself.
do we catch the wind of the Holy Spirit?
how do you catch the wind? You can't package it in a box. You can't chase it
down and collar it with a leash. You could take a bottle and hold
it open against the wind and quickly cork it. But wind that is contained is no
longer wind. It's just air. It's air that's capable of sustaining life, but
it's powerless to drive the sailboat across the water or to lift the soaring
hawk to greater heights or to turn the blades of a windmill. You can't catch
afraid that sometimes we have tried to catch the wind. We've tried to catch the
wind in our own little theological systems. We have theological definitions and
outlines. We say, "Here is where the Holy Spirit fits into our systematic
theology." And there are those Christians who, having some kind of a special experience, say, "This is the Holy Spirit, and unless you have experienced this particular kind
of activity in your life, you are not filled with the Spirit." They have boxed the Spirit into their experience.
often we treat the Holy Spirit as if he were an idea to be debated and not a
person to be received. Essentially, we've closed him in so that he becomes air
that sustains life but that's all. But if you can't catch the wind, at least the wind can catch you, if you have your sails unfurled and are ready for the adventure of obedience, if the blades of the windmill are unlocked to turn the dynamo, if the wings of your soul are
spread, to be lifted by its currents.
said, "The Holy Spirit is like the wind that blows where it wills," and you see
its effects, you can feel its force. But the Holy Spirit cannot be wrapped in a
package. You can't contain him, but you can be filled with him. You cannot tie
him down, but you can be released by him. You can take the ropes off the
sails of your life and catch the driving force of his presence. You
can spread the wings of your spirit to catch the currents of his power and be
lifted to undreamed of heights of living and usefulness.
my dear friends, you can't catch the wind, but you can be caught by it. You
can't take the Spirit and make him fit your mold, but you can turn your life
over to him and let him remold and reshape you.
Pentecost happened in your life? Have you discovered the power of the Holy
Spirit who lives in you through faith in Jesus Christ? It was precepts plus
power that made the early disciples effective in their living and in their
service. The precepts of Jesus, by themselves are bad news. But the precepts of
Jesus plus the power of the Holy Spirit are good news because of the
can't catch the wind, but the wind can catch you. Has he?