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How Do You Catch the Wind?

Scripture is full of impossible demands, which are unattainable without the power of the Spirit.

One 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.

After 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."

Now 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.

That 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 help.

Even 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?

And 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."

Good 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.

Furthermore, 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.

Jesus 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."

Now, 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.

Jesus 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.

The 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 them."

I 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.

Jesus 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 its effects.

The 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.

The 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.

Now 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.

Something 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.

The sequence of events with Christ and Pentecost is also applicable today.

Now 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.

Here 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.

But 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.

Remember 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 best.

The 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.

But 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?"

They 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.

Now 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.

It's 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.

Now, 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.

But 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.

Those 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.

Pentecost 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.

How do we catch the wind of the Holy Spirit?

So, 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 the wind.

I'm 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.

Too 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.

Jesus 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.

O 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.

Has 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 power.


You can't catch the wind, but the wind can catch you. Has he?

© B. Clayton Bell, Sr.
Preaching Today Tape #81
A resource of Christianity Today International

B. Clayton Bell, Sr. is pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Scripture is full of "good advice" that we cannot carry out on our own

II. Jesus knew his disciples needed more than precepts: they needed power

III. The disciples were filled with the Spirit

IV. The sequence of events with Christ and Pentecost is also applicable today

V. How do we catch the wind of the Holy Spirit?