God does great stuff for everybody and we are all to tell people about it. That is this today’s talk in a nutshell, and if you remember nothing else from today, that is the headline to remember.
God does great stuff for everybody and we are all to tell people about it.
I wonder if you can imagine the scene. It is hot and dusty in Jerusalem. People have gathered here from all over the known world for the religious ceremonies of this harvest time. We don’t tend to go for big religious festivals in this country, but perhaps you’ve seen pictures of the festivals they have on the continent, or perhaps it’s a bit like the German market in Birmingham at Christmas, a religious festival giving an excuse for people to get together, share a drink and take an opportunity for some shopping in the big city. Suddenly this group of people burst out from a nearby building, all speaking different languages. You don’t know what they’re all saying but there is at least one you can understand and she’s going on about God. I wonder what your reaction would be. Some of the crowd recognise the preachers, they’re all from up north, from Galilee. What are all these Scousers doing in Birmingham going on about God in Arabic, Chinese, English, Pakistani, Urdu, Punjabi, and Xhosa? Where did they learn all these languages, what is going on? Are they drunk?
I don’t know how many times you’ve heard this story. This might be the first time for you. I’ve heard it many times, and one of the problems with repetition of stories is that they can lose the power to shock. We tell this story in Sunday school and get children to colour in flames above the disciple’s heads, which is all great, but I wonder sometimes if we have tamed a story that should grab us by the throats and shake us about.
It is astonishing. If this really happened to us in Birmingham we would be gobsmacked. If the Spirit came like this to one of our services or prayer meetings and we suddenly all went out into Priorslee preaching it would be mindblowing. This is a life changing story. It was for the disciples, and it is meant to be for us today.
So, why don’t we dive in and see what is here for us today. This account, written by Luke the historian at the beginning of this follow up to his research into Jesus’ life, starts with Jesus’ friends doing as they had been told to do and waiting in Jerusalem. Jesus had been crucified, raised from the dead and had spent some time with them. He had then returned to heaven, but before he went he told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit which he would send. So they were being obedient, waiting, and meeting together.
It seems to me that these three things form a really good foundation whenever we want to be open to what God is going to do next in a situation. If we do what God has told us to do, wait for God to do what God’s said God will do, and we meet together, then we can’t go far wrong. In this case it went spectacularly right 🙂 Sometimes it’s difficult. We don’t want to do what God’s told us to do, we are impatient for God to do what we want, and we don’t feel like meeting with others, or life makes it difficult to meet together. The fact that it’s difficult shouldn’t stop us doing these things if we want to see God moving in Priorslee.
The way that God moved in Jerusalem was to send the Holy Spirit, who arrived with a loud noise, like a wind, and with flames of fire. These images of the Holy Spirit occur throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament the word for Spirit and for God’s breath are the same word. God breathed into mankind to bring it to life in creation, the wind of God’s Spirit bringing life. Jesus talked about the Holy Spirit as a wind that blows where ever it wills – you can’t see it, but you can see what it does.
In this case the Holy Spirit brought boldness and a very specific gift, the gift of being able to speak in a language that hadn’t been learnt by natural means. Later on, when Peter is talking to the crowd, he details other gifts, those of prophecy, dreams and visions. In other places in the Bible, we read about lots of different gifts that the Holy Spirit brings to God’s people, but it strikes me that the ones that are mentioned here all have something in common. They are all about communication. They are about communication between God and people or about making communication possible between people.
I suspect that there are quite a few people with exams coming up this summer in various languages who would be very glad of this gift. Is there anybody here going on holiday this summer to a country where they don’t speak the language very well? What about those of you who have come to live here from other countries? How grateful would you have been for this gift so that you didn’t have to spend those hours in lessons, working over text books. How great would that be.
But this gift was not for any of those things. It was for a very specific purpose. It was given so that God’s people could speak about God’s deeds of power in a way that could be understood by those they were speaking to.
This gift was given so that God’s people could speak about God’s deeds of power in a way that could be understood by those they were speaking to.
What kinds of deeds of power do you think they were talking about? Creation, Jesus miracles, healings, nature miracles, his death, his resurrection. What about their own stories – Peter the fisherman, Mary – released from demonic oppression, Thomas, Martha – whose brother had been raised from the dead, Matthew the tax collector.
Why were they telling about these mighty acts of God? For this we have to skip to the end of Peter’s quote from the prophet Joel:
“everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
They were sharing these stories so that everyone who heard would be in no doubt that God has done some great stuff, stuff for the whole world, and stuff for individuals. There is nothing going on in their lives that God can’t handle and rescue them from. They would be left in no doubt that there is a God who created them, who loves them, who forgives their sin, and who wants them to come home.
This news is for everyone. This theme is really strong in this account. That list of countries that were in the crowd weren’t just there to make this reading a bit of a challenge for the reader. It’s not there to be skipped over, it’s there for a purpose. Represented in that list are people from East and West, north and south; from Africa, Asia, and Europe.
In John’s gospel we read that “ God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Just before he returned to heaven Jesus said to his friends, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And then, when the Holy Spirit came, the first gift that was given was one that enabled Jesus’ followers to be witnesses to everyone who was present in Jerusalem. And what were they witnesses of? The great stuff God had done for everybody.
This theme of everybody is found in another place in this account. In Peter’s sharing of the prophecy of Joel we are told that the Spirit was to be poured out on “all flesh”. Can you please stand up if, “all flesh” applies to you. Great. Next we’re told that sons and daughters will prophesy. Can you please sit down if you are a son. Now can you sit down if you are a daughter. Young men are going to see visions. Young men can you stand up please. Old men dream dreams. Old men to stand up now please. Now we haven’t got any slaves here, but if you are in paid employment can you stand. “Both men and women”. Right, women, you haven’t had to decide if you are young or old, but it is your turn to stand up. OK, you can all sit down again.
You are all included. The Holy Spirit is being poured out on you. Are you going to allow him to flow into your life and give you the gifts he brings? These gifts are varied, but they always point towards God and God’s saving power, and we are sent to be witnesses to the way that God has worked in the world, and is working in our lives.
God does great stuff for everybody and we are all to tell people about it