May 15, 2016

Accessing the Power of God

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Passage: Acts 2: 4
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Bible Text: Acts 2: 4 | Preacher: Rev. Karl Burden | Series: 2016 Sermons

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

Most people are familiar with ‘Recall Notices’. You may have received one for your car. Parents sometimes get them regarding their children’s toys or car seats that have a defect. They’re notices sent out by a manufacturer, suggesting that you return a product in order to get a replacement to fix a potential problem.

My wife recently received one for her car. The notice suggested that a glitch in the software controlling the air bags was defective, and could cause a sudden release of the side curtain airbags. To fix the problem, a software download was required, which we could get at our dealership.

Recently I came across a very unusual Recall Notice. This one was addressed to all of humanity, and read as follows:

“The Manufacturer of the human race is recalling all units, regardless of their make or year, because of a serious defect in their primary component, other wise known as ‘the heart’. This defect arose as a result of a malfunction in the original prototype units, code named ‘Adam & Eve’. Regrettably this defect has been reproduced in all subsequent units.

“The manufacture calls this defect a ‘Subsequential Internal Non-morality’; from here on referred to by its initials ‘S.I.N” Symptoms of this malfunction include: loss of direction, foul vocal emissions, idolatry, rebellion, and a failure to acknowledge the manufacturer.

The Recall Notice went on to say that:
“the Manufacturer is neither liable nor at fault for this defect, but nevertheless has agreed to authorize a complete repair, free of charge, to correct the problem. The repair technician, (whose name is Jesus), has generously offered to bear the entire cost for these repairs.

“To access this repair, you are asked to call this number, identified simply by the letters: P-R-A-Y-E-R. Once connected, you must upload your burden of S-I-N through the REPENTANCE procedure. When this is accomplished, you simply download: ATONEMENT, which is the repair procedure developed by the Repair Technician. Please note, you must download this ATONEMENT directly into the heart of the component to restore your unit to its proper operating condition.

“The Manufacturer assures the reader that no matter how big or small your SIN defect is, the Repair Technician, Jesus, will be able to replace it with: Love, Joy, Peace & Faithfulness. He requests however, that you consult the Operating Manual, which is entitled ‘B-I-B-L-E’ (which of course, stands for ‘Believers Instructions Before Leaving Earth’, for further details on how to use this fix.

The Recall Notice concluded with a final warning:
“Continuing to operate the human being unit without this correction, voids any and all manufacturer’s warranties, and exposes the unit to dangers and problems too numerous to list, which will result in the human unit being permanently impounded. All human beings ignoring this recall, will be scrapped, because no human unit with this SIN defect will be allowed to enter Heaven, in order not to contamination that facility. .
We all know, of course, that this Recall Notice was merely a bit of humour; but it does contain a message worth considering.

THAT FIRST PENTECOST

Today is Pentecost Sunday; the day marking the birth of the Christian Church. What happened in that house in Jerusalem was mysterious and unprecedented; a dramatic event that changed the course of world history; releasing of the power of God into the lives of those who were open to receive it.

We began this meditation with a very modern analogy; the downloading of a software fix to repair an ailing machine. It’s something most of us have experienced, but I doubt many of could explain how such downloads repair our computers. How can something that comes to us via the internet transform a sluggish, ineffective software programme into a smooth and efficient tool which accomplishes in seconds what most of us would take hours to do on our own. Only an IT specialist really understands the workings of software upgrades.

I suspect It was much the same with the Pentecost experience. The disciples didn’t understood what was happening to them, – as those tongues of fire touched first one and then another. Later they’d say that the power of God was working to transform their lives. But that didn’t mean they understand what they’d experienced, or how it had changed their lives. But all of them would agree that the download of God’s power which they had experienced was nothing short of miraculous. One moment they were just a disorganized, frightened, confused band of men and women; then in a flash they were transformed into a dynamic and highly motivated team of crusaders, who would willing risk everything, even their lives, to carry out the Great Commission which Christ had given to them.

There had been good reason for them feeling bewildered, confused, and terribly afraid, lacking any sense of direction. After all, the One upon whom they had placed all their hopes and dreams was gone. Gone under very mysterious circumstances, but gone nevertheless. They’d seen Him die on the Cross. The fact that he’d been seen alive by many of them since then, only added to their confusion. He’d risen from the grave! He’d conquered death! But now what?

They’d been looking for a strong leader; one who would help them fight the powers of evil, and to bring into being the Kingdom of God. But Jesus hadn’t stayed around to lead them. After showing Himself to several hundred of His followers, He’d disappeared into a cloud; leaving them to fend for themselves.

How could He do such a thing? Why did He do it? In spite of all that Jesus had told them in advance, none of them understand what was happening. They didn’t know what they were supposed to do?

I’m sure the words of Jesus, recorded for us by Matthew, haunted them. Jesus had said to them:

“Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28: 19)

But how in the world were they supposed to accomplish that? It was mission impossible!

What happened to them on the Day of Pentecost was as totally unexpected as it was spectacular; but it was also life changing. More powerful than any software download, the Spirit of God changed them into totally new beings. We get a sense of just how dramatic that change was as Luke describes what happened moments later:

“Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because every man heard them speak in his own language.” (Act. 2:6)

This is the first clue, that the power of Pentecost was equipping them to reach out to all nations. It equipped them with the skill to break down language barriers; a first step in spreading the Gospel to people all over the world. But it also filled them with energy and motivation to take up the challenge of ‘mission impossible’ and actually start to work on the task of converting the whole Roman Empire.

WHAT ABOUT NOW?

I think that when most Christians read the story of Pentecost, they recognize that without this infusion of power that occurred that day, we wouldn’t be gathering in Christian Churches today. If the disciples and friends of Jesus had been left on their own, Christianity might very well have died out in the first century. That it didn’t die out, but rather went on to take the Roman Empire by storm, can only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed that morning in Jerusalem; a power that stimulated and excited one generation of Christians after another so that within 3 hundred years, even Emperor Constantine the Great himself was won over; motivating him to declare the whole Empire to be Christian.

There is no question but that there was a power operative within the Church, which allowed the Christian faith to overcome:
dissention within its ranks as various heresies tried to dilute the faith,
terrible persecution of its adherents, some of whom were burned alive, and others slaughtered;
the resistance of the hard core Jewish community that wouldn’t accept Christ as their Messiah; and
the physical obstacle of geography which forced the early missionaries like Peter, Paul, Titus, and Barabbas to travel great distances on foot and by boat, under extremely difficult conditions.

The men and women of that early church were unstoppable. They were driven by a power greater than themselves; a power which enabled them to overcome unbelievable odds.

But that was back in the past. What about now? Where is that power today, that was so dramatically displayed on that first Pentecost?

Dr. Jerry Vines, the former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, says that: “The ‘modern’ average Christian and the ‘modern’ congregation are bogged down somewhere between Calvary and Pentecost.” What he means by this is that while most Christians can understand that because of the Cross our sins have been pardoned, – they haven’t availed themselves of the power of Pentecost.

“Bethlehem” he says, “means God with us. The cross of Calvary means God for us. But Pentecost means God in us!” It’s that last step that most modern day Christians are missing. We haven’t taken advantage of – ‘God in us’; and as a result we haven’t availed ourselves of the power of God that is available even today, to equip us to do the seeming impossible – to spread the Good News of our risen Christ to the world.

When the disciple, Thomas, (who hadn’t been with the others when the risen Jesus first appeared to them), declared that: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Jesus appeared again to him, and said: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus recognized that for Christians in the years to come, it would be more difficult to accept the truth of the Gospel because they wouldn’t be eye witnesses. Well, it’s the same with the Holy Spirit. Because today we don’t see tongues of fire leaping from one to another when we open our hearts to God’s Holy Spirit, it is harder to believe that that power is still available.

I personally don’t have any problem acknowledging it, because I’ve seen it at work in my life. I might not have been aware of it on those occasions when it was most active, but one of the benefits of age is the ability to look back and see those pivotal moments; moments when I could have gone one way, but instead was drawn another so that I could be used by God.

Had you known me as a teenager, you would have said: “There is no way that kid will ever be a minister!” Everything seemed to be stacked up again me: For example, none of my immediate family had gone on to higher education; and my grade 8 teacher told me, I’d never get through grade 9. I was also painfully shy; had great difficulty remembering people’s names.

The thought of speaking in front of an audience, terrified me. I struggled with foreign languages; finally getting my grade 13 French only after attending summer school just before the beginning of my first year at university. But then I was faced with the task of getting through two years of Greek and one of Hebrew, which was a pre-requisite of ordination.

For me to become a clergyman seemed impossible. But the Holy Spirit touched my life at the tender age of 9, and planted in my heart a burning desire to be a minister. What happened over the subsequent years can only be explained by saying that the Holy Spirit was working in my life; never with flashing lights, or thunder rolls, – but there nevertheless. And that same Holy Spirit, my friends, is available for each one of you, because God has a purpose for your life, – something which only you can accomplish, if you’re willing to open your heart to the power of God.

How you will tap into that power will vary from person to person, but I can assure you that if you are willing to believe in the power of God, and if you open your heart to it, it will be there to guide and strengthen you in whatever task God has for you.

Christians who think they’re serving God merely by turning up a worship services on Sundays, are sadly misinformed. Friends, there is far more to being a Christian that merely being a regular worshipper, or even an active member within the church. The Gospel was never meant to be shut up in a building; or available only to a select few. It was meant to be shared; more than that to be proclaimed.

If you have friends or colleagues who don’t know that you are an active Christian, chances are you aren’t fulfilling your God given mission. So take a look at yourself in a mirror. Look back over your life. Have you been a missionary for Christ; or merely a passive spectator?

No one can answer that question but you. But someday, we will be required to make an accounting of our lives in the presence of our Lord and Saviour. How well do you think that day of reckoning will go for you?

Since the power of God was released within the Church on that first Pentecost, none of us has an excuse. If we want to serve our Lord, all we have to do is open our hearts to His Holy Spirit and follow its guidance.