Series: Who We Are - Part Three
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 26, 2019
We are in study of the first 2 chapters of the Book of Acts looking at Who We Are as the church - as Creekside. Which is not a question, “Who are we?” But we're exploring the answer - this is who we are.
We’ve looked at two truths so far from chapter 1: We are witnesses and we are members. If you were unable to be with us those messages are online.
We are witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ - here in Merced and wherever God may use us as witnesses. Which on some level might cause us to seize up. What that might mean. Just from the perspective of sharing the gospel with people here in Merced - being intentional about that. We’re not all gifted evangelists. But we are all called to witness.
The scope of that might be a tad overwhelming to think about.
And that, in Christ we’re members of Christ’s church is also a tad intimidating. What that means in terms of mutual accountability and mutual submission and commitment to each other to being here - consistently - regularly - as a priority that re-orientates whatever else is going on in our lives. Just thinking about that - in the midst of what else is going on in our lives - is overwhelming. It makes us tired just thinking about what that might mean.
What’s on the wall here: Love God - Love Others - Serve the Church - Serve the World - what it means to be Creekside. To do all that with excellence that honors God as God deserves to be honored is pretty intense to think about.
Which is why what we’re looking at today is so crucial for us to make sure we’re clear on. The empowering we need to be all that doesn’t come from us. Which would lead to epic crash and burn failure if it did. The empowering we need to be the church comes from God.
In Christ, we are empowered to be Christ’s church.
Let’s say that together: “We are empowered.”
To quote Allistair Begg - a quote that probably will sound familiar and may sound familiar again at some point: A church is not a homogeneous club of people like us with whom we would naturally like to go on vacation. Rather, it is a supernatural fellowship of people very unlike us in whom we are bound in Christ. (1)
Creekside - we are - a supernatural fellowship of generally unlike people bound together by God in Christ according to God’s purposes - as witnesses and members - for God’s glory. How does that happen? Answer: God.
Quoting Thabiti Anyabwile - another hopefully familiar quote: Whether your Christian life began yesterday or thirty years ago, the Lord’s intent is that you play an active and vital part in His body, the local church. He intends for you to experience the local church as a home more profoundly wonderful and meaningful than any other place on earth. (2)
What God intends - which is amazing and good - for His glory - what God intends, God empowers.
Please join me at Acts 2.
This morning as we come together before God’s word if you would allow me to mispronounce the names of these people and places for us - let me read for us beginning at verse 1.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
We are going to divide these verses up into 3 easier to digest sections. Section one is Pentecost. Verses 1 to 4.
Since this a very familiar passage - and we are at the end of a school year - it seems appropriate to test our knowledge and take s short quiz. So, if you will get out your mental styluses...
Question #1: Where does the name Pentecost come from?
Answer: It comes from the Greek number “pente” meaning 50 because it falls 50 days after the Passover Sabbath. Pentecost being the Greek name for Shavout or The Feast of Weeks which is the Jewish Festival that takes place 50 days after Passover.
Question #2: What was Pentecost, Shavout, or The Feast of Weeks?
Which is impossible today because there’s no… Temple in Jerusalem.
Which was also true - back in Leviticus 23 - when God gave the instructions for Shavout. Back in Leviticus - God’s people were camped at Mount Sinai - just after being freed from Egypt. Possessing Jerusalem wasn’t even on the radar. No Jerusalem. No temple.
God’s instructions are a significant prophetic statement by God. God promising His people that one day they’d possess the promised land. Raise crops there. First fruits that they’d be able to bring to a Temple yet to be built in Jerusalem. Which God did. God gave His people the land, crops, and the Temple.
Which is about our having faith in God. Faith in the God who always does what God says God will do.
God’s people had to have faith in God when they brought their first fruits to God - like when we tithe of our finances - or give of our God given time and abilities - they’re trusting that God will take care of their needs.
If God doesn’t come through with second fruits - the next harvest - or our next pay check - we’re going hungry. But we have faith in God. What God says God will do God will do.
Pentecost or shavout is about faithfully and obediently trusting the God Who supplies everything His people need. What God intends, God empowers.
Question #3: What are the other 2 great annual festivals?
Answer: Passover and… Tabernacles.
The first - in the order of how these festivals were celebrated during the year - the first festival on the calendar was Passover. What Jesus had celebrated with His disciples.
The second festival was Pentecost which comes... 50 days after Passover.
The third festival was Tabernacles that came at the end of the harvest approximately 4 months after Pentecost. In the fall - in September or October - depending on how it falls on the calendar.
It is important for us to see how those three festivals are linked. How they connect the dots of what we’ve been studying through for 2 plus years. Genesis to Revelation. God’s big picture.
Adam’s fall - our depravity and sin. What God is doing to restore what our sin has removed us from which is a righteous relationship with Him. The Good News - Gospel - of Jesus Christ. And where we fit into all that as the Church of Jesus Christ.
Hang on to something. There’s a reason why we’re looking at all this.
On one hand, Pentecost was connected with faith and obedience and first fruits and the harvest. What was taking place about now.
On the other hand - Pentecost - in the time of Jesus - Pentecost in traditional Judaism is also tied to the giving of the Ten Commandments. Israel camping at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses on the mountain.
Which - according to Exodus 19 - which took place 50 days after the Exodus - meaning Passover. Passover - then 50 days later - Moses on Mount Sinai. Pentecost.
Passover being the festival that celebrated God’s redeeming Israel - buying them out of their bondage in Egypt.
Think bondage to the sin of this world. God delivering them - saving them from all that - through the shedding and application of the blood of the Passover lamb.
Meaning Israel’s first born live. Right? Because... the lamb’s blood is applied to the door posts and lintels. God passes over His people. Egypt’s first born get dead. And God’s people get out of Egypt free.
Our hearing in that, the cross and our redemption from bondage to this world and our sin - and our deliverance - our salvation - by the blood of the Lamb of God - Jesus - us hearing all that in Passover, is intentional.
Pentecost - the giving of the Ten Commandments - what unites God’s people together in what it means to be God’s people to live as God’s people in faithful obedience to God - is tied to that.
The third festival is... Tabernacles. Which is the harvest festival that takes place in the fall. Four months later. How many months? Four.
Meaning in the four months between Pentecost and Tabernacles seeds are planted - raised - and in the fall… crops are harvested.
Jesus told His disciples: “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest…” (John 4:35-38)
Jesus point comes in verse 38: “I sent you to reap…” “It’s time to harvest.” “Go harvest.”
The work of the Church - saved by the blood of the Lamb - Passover - united and empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - harvesting - witnessing until the return of Jesus - Tabernacles - when we - His harvest - are gathered in and up to heaven.
We’re together? How these festivals connect. Where Pentecost - and the coming of the Holy Spirit - is all part of what God has been intentionally doing since before Adam. The significance of Pentecost for us today.
So it’s Pentecost. Jerusalem is packed with people. In the midst of this large crowd gathered for Pentecost and the festival - are about 120 disciples that we talked about last Sunday - a pretty diverse group. Gathered together in one place. Probably near the Temple.
Disciples - faithfully and obediently - doing what Jesus instructed them to do. Waiting together in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them so they can move out as witnesses of Jesus - harvesters.
Question #4: Why a mighty rushing wind?
Answer: The Greek word “pneuma” is used for both wind and spirit. Wind being a demonstration of God the Holy Spirit at work.
Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Ezekiel prophesied of the wind as the breath of God blowing over dry bones in a valley and filling them with new life. Something that the Jews were looking forward to as what would usher in the Messianic age. (Ezekiel 37:9-14)
This sound of wind rushing and filling the entire house displays the coming of the almighty God powerfully, intimately, personally blowing into the disciples - all of them - renewing them - empowering them as witnesses of the Messiah Jesus.
Question #5: Why what appears to be divided tongues of fire?
John prophesied that the Messiah’s disciples would be baptized “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16). The fire appears like little tongues. Individual tongues resting on each individual disciple - empowering each individual disciple member of Christ’s church.
Meaning what was - in the Old Covenant - the dwelling of God with the nation of Israel - now with the New Covenant established by Jesus - the presence of God rests on each believer.
“Tongues as of fire” - verse 3 - and “other tongues” - verse 4 - are the same word in Greek “glossa” - which can either mean the tongue - meaning our physical tongue - or a tongue - meaning a language.
“Other” means… “other.” A language different - other than - what they were speaking.
“Utterance” isn’t whispering quietly. Shhh…
It’s bold. Out there - declaring by the power and working of the Holy Spirit - the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Salvation!!! Life!!! Mighty rushing wind - hurricane force - history altering witnessing.
The emphasis of wind and fire and tongues is the personal relationship the disciples have with God through the work of Jesus on the cross. Their individual redemption and witnessing of that redemption by the power and working of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s pull all that together.
The disciples - those who are saved by the work of The sacrificed lamb Jesus - think Passover - who are in Jerusalem because Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem so that when the Holy Spirit came upon them - God enabling them to live as His people - think Pentecost - they would be empowered to be His witnesses from Jerusalem outward - harvesters - think Tabernacles.
We have no record of Jesus’ saying how long they needed to wait or what that empowering would be like. But they’re waiting obediently and faithfully. We’re going to be witnesses - harvesters. That’s who we are. Serve the world - witness of Jesus. Serve the world.
50 days after the resurrection… 10 days after Jesus said wait - the disciples are waiting - in one accord - praying - preparing - expecting the fulfillment of what Jesus said would happen.
Which is the personal response to God part of Pentecost - Shavout - faith and obedience. Being exactly where they needed to be in order to be empowered and used by God in His - Genesis to Revelation - big picture - this is what I’m doing to deal with your sin and restore you to relationship with Me - and how you are a part of what I’m doing.
We live in an instant society. Instant communication. Instant gratification. Instant information. Instant food. Instant recognition. Instant results. We don’t do patient well. Waiting…
We sometimes wonder why God doesn’t move. Why certain things don’t happen - maybe in our lives or in our family or our kids - or the community or here at Creekside. We’re grinding away at grinding away. Hanging on and hanging in. Looking for results that don’t seem to be happening.
How with everything else going on in my life am I suppose to witness and do the member thing that seems like just one more thing on my list?
Where in all of that is this abundant life that Jesus is talking about? Where is the powerful working of the Spirit?
Which is hard because our faithful and obedient waiting doesn’t come with an expiration date that we get to put on the label. 10 days or 50 or whatever. The moving of the Spirit and the timing of that is a God thing.
Which should be encouraging. Hard. But encouraging. Waiting with expectation for God to move. The Holy Spirit will come. God in His time will blow through us. Fire will come. Witnessing will commence. The power and presence of God working in and through us.
In His time and His way - God will do what is way beyond our imagining. The abundant amazing reality of life with the living God is there waiting as promised. Sometimes God gives us glimpses of Him at work while we’re waiting. Because He is working.
Which is hugely exciting to think about. And also hugely challenging.
Because all that means we need to be on God’s time schedule for what God will do - not our time schedule with our expectations of what we want God to do.
We’re together? Great astounding promises. Faithful and obedient while waiting. What God intends, God empowers.
Coming to verse 5 - what comes next is Combustion. What happens when all that comes together.
And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
The Greek word translated “language” is “dialektos” which is where we get our English word… “dialect.”
English is divided into 3 main dialects which are? British, Australasia, and North American. Those three main divisions get subdivided down into an amazing number of local really diverse dialects to the point where people speaking one dialect of English are almost unintelligible to someone speaking another dialect of English. Meaning - basically you gots to be from there to understand what’s being said.
Point being: These are uneducated fisherman - from Galilee - which has its own dialect. And they’re speaking using the local dialects of the people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the place. The disciples not only have the different dialects right - all the local vocabulary and idioms - they’ve even got the accent down. They’re speaking like they were natives - born and raised in all those different places.
The word for “bewildered” has the idea of brain freeze. “Amazed” meaning totally confused. “Astonished” meaning totally at a loss for words - speechless.
These pilgrims from all these different places were hearing this and their brains locked up - overloaded - by trying to process all that.
Looking at the map makes what the Holy Spirit is doing here so much more brain freezing.
“Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia - are all to the east of Jerusalem - then to the north - Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phyrgia and Pamphylia - Roman provinces of Asia Minor - then south and west to - Egypt and the parts of Lybia belonging to Cyrene - in northern Africa - then west - visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and - lastly southeast - Arabs.
Pilgrims from all over the known world - from every nation they’d come to Jerusalem for Pentecost - with the sound of the rushing wind this huge crowd had been attracted to these 120 disciples - and now they said, “we hear them telling in our own tongues - our own languages - the mighty works of God.”
Response number one - verse 12: “What does this mean?”
That question resonates... even today. What does this mean for us as a congregation? As individuals? To where we live our lives today?
Response number two: “They’re filled with new wine.” They’re drunk. Which is the often the response from people who refuse to acknowledge the working of God and how they need to respond to His working. It must be something else. It must have some natural explanation.
If we were to keep reading in chapter 2 - where we’re going next Sunday - Peter gets up and gives a more complete answer to the question. This is what this means. But for our purposes this morning - in a nutshell Peter’s answer is this:
The reason for the wind and the little fires and all these people speaking in different languages - your dialects - the reason for Pentecost - shaout - isn’t because they’re drunk. It’s because each of them is a Holy Spirit empowered witness to each of you. This is about God at work. God doing what God promised He would do. God who’s been working through-out our history. God who raised up from the dead the Jesus whom you crucified. Jesus who is both the Lord and the Messiah - the Savior. You need to choose how you’re going to respond to God at work.
Peter who’s waited in Jerusalem. Peter who’s been empowered by the Holy Spirit. Peter who answers the question - witnessing of Jesus. And about 3,000 people repent of their sins. Become followers of Jesus. They become Holy Spirit empowered witnesses of Jesus.
Processing all that… thinking about what it means for us to be empowered by God for what He intends for us.
Christians have lost so much time and wasted so many resources endlessly debating types of tongues and infillings and baptizings and giftings and losing sight of the big picture of what God has been doing since before Adam. Language - signs - spiritual gifting - these are all tools - means - to accomplish the great purpose of the Church on earth - which is to proclaim the salvation of God - to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the time that remains.
When eternity comes the Church - those of us who are members of Christ’s church - the saving blood of the Lamb having been applied to our lives - the Church will enter into eternity with God. The opportunity to witness - to invite others to salvation - to join us in eternity will be gone forever.
Which is true. Yes?
But hearing that is like listening to some of the speeches given at a graduation. “I’d like to thank my parents, my teachers…” “We’ve changed so much.” “After all the hard work we finally made it.” “Go class of 2019!”
And this scary thought: “It’s our turn to make our mark in the world.”
Which we can smile at - because - those of us who’ve been around the block a couple times - while we may appreciate the optimism in that we realize they have no clue about what comes next.
God has a work that He desires to do in us and through us - what God intends, God empowers - intellectually that makes sense. But at the heart level that’s intimidating because none of us has a clue about what comes next. Which is where we began. Being the church - just personally following Jesus - that can - at times - be overwhelming.
Knowing where most of us live our lives - it’s hard to get a grip on Pentecost - on pentecostal living. God empowering His people to transform the world of men - compelling us to move beyond the familiar - the ordinary. Be witnesses. Be members. Most of us are just trying to reach ordinary.
Grab this: Pentecostal living - living empowered by the Holy Spirit - isn’t about clinging to our little picture of how God does things. Or, about comparing ourselves to anyone else or the circumstances of someone else. Or, how hard we have it or what we have to struggle with. Or, our getting hung up on our feelings of failure and inadequacy. Or, our being fearful and wondering how we’ll ever survive what comes next.
Being empowered by the Holy Spirit is about moment by moment - yielding our lives - in faithful obedience to God for whatever He intends for us - knowing that He will empower us - He will supply to us all we need to live in faithful obedience to Him.
Thinking about that in real time...
Ever see these “most dangerous selfies”? What is probably counter intuitive for most of us. Palm sweating just to look at.
Jesus said, “Wait in Jerusalem.” That’s counter intuitive to how we live. Counter intuitive to our tendency to want to control our lives. To protect self. To reason things out. To struggle on. Even to jump ahead of God.
“Wait in Jerusalem” is taking the intellectual of what Jesus taught His disciples and bringing down to heart level obedience. Which is the day-to-day learning to wait on God - the counter intuitive yielding to God - that teaches us to heart level have faith in Him.
Here’s the spiritual truth: We need to die in order live. We need to yield in order to be.
We need to first come to the Passover. To let go of our idea that life is about us. To die to all that. To confess and repent and turn from the sin of all that. Choosing moment-by-moment in all our circumstances to turn to God and to trust God with our lives. Which is Pentecost. In faith, yielding to God.
In real time that means that we must be constantly soaking up and saturated in God’s Word. Looking at and listening to what God has taught and commanded.
We need to be in continual prayer. Talking with and listening to God - seeking Him in all things we’ve got going on.
We need to learn to wait on Him. Not run ahead or fall behind but moving when and how and where He moves us forward for what He intends for us.
We need to be intentional - giving priority to gathering for worship and study and service and accountability with other members of Christ’s church. Local. Here. Creekside. So God can uses us in each other’s lives to keep us yielded and yielding to Him.
Love God - Love Others - Serve the Church - Serve the World - is crucial to what is a life long - real time - process of experiences that God uses to take head knowledge and cement it into our hearts and actions - to teach us and mature us in what it means to yield our lives in faithful obedience to Him.
Which is the bottom line of living the Christian life. Of being the church. To die to ourselves so that the only thing living in us is of God. So that when people look at our lives they see only God at work. The witness is of God.
Which is Pentecost. The world-wide witness of the Church - living the Christian life - impossible without the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit. But by the Spirit it is possible. Yielding leaves us wide open to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us. Amazing - astonishing potential.
Say it together with me: “What God intends, God empowers.”
Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, Il, Crossway Books, 2008)
Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2007)
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 5: Insights on Acts (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016)
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.