Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 66: Stories of the Spirit’s Power
February 19, 2012
Before we begin, I want to let you know about an opportunity and a challenge I have for the church.
Q How many of you know what Lent is?
Q How many of you participated last year?
Lent is one of the oldest Christian traditions, beginning in the 3rd century. It basically consists of a partial fast for 40 days leading up to Easter (based off of the many “40’s” in the Bible – Jesus in wilderness, Jews wandering, etc).
* It is not in the Bible, but most Christians observe Lent and find it to be a valuable Christian discipline.
Most of us grew up in informal churches and have never observed it, others grew up observing Lent, but as an external exercise.
* But we wanted to invite you to join us, so we can do it together.
Of course the first question is “why on earth would I do that?” Here are the reasons I want to do it:
1. I take Christ’s death and resurrection more seriously.
Forty days remind me that Jesus gave up his life for me. Fasting represents mourning, a chance to mourn his death. At the same time, it gives me greater reason to rejoice at his resurrection (cf. Orthodox Christians don’t eat any meat for 40 days).
2. Fasting is an act of repentance – I want to take this time to repent of my sins which put Jesus on the cross.
3. Willingly giving some physical thing that is perfectly acceptable up helps me shift my focus from my physical appetites to my spiritual needs.
So here is how it works – I would encourage each of you to choose one thing to give up:
It should be something that you will miss. The beginning on Ash Wednesday, the February 22nd, you go without that thing until Easter.
* Here’s the cool part: Sunday is a celebration, so it is not right to fast on Sunday – you get Sundays “off.”
If you interested, check it on the communication card.
We are continuing on our series through the Bible. We have finished up the entire OT and the Gospels, so now we will be in Acts for three weeks, then on to the Epistles.
Scripture reading: (Peter)
Q How many of you enjoyed history in school?
It should be a crime to be a boring history teacher. History is stories and we are wired to enjoy stories.
* The essence of a story is “what happens next?”
The book of Acts is basically a collection of stories that show what happened next:
Q What is going to happen to this group when their leader goes?
How did we go from a group of 120 without a leader hiding in a room in Jerusalem to ten’s (perhaps 100’s) of thousands stretched across the known world in 30 years?
Here are Jesus’ followers, still shell shocked by everything that has happened: Jesus made this group of blue collar Jews question everything they thought they knew.
First they thought he was the Messiah because of the miracles, but then he doesn’t act like they thought, then he was executed but then raised from the dead.
After all this, Jesus hangs out with his little band of followers and gets them ready life after he goes home:
Acts 1:6-8 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This statement as the outline of his entire book – begins with the power of the Spirit, then tells the stories about the church’s mission in Jerusalem and Judea, moving out to Samaria, then to the ends of the known world.
Apparently this was a picnic lunch, out on Mt. Olives, which is lovely at that time of the year. It was “a Sabbath walk outside the city,” about 4,000 feet, or from here to Chuck Wagon.
So they are out there, eating and talking to Jesus, he gives these final marching orders, then:
Acts 1:9-11 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
So they go back to Jerusalem and hang out in big room with hundred other followers. While there, they take care of some business, including replacing Judas, because he kind of betrayed Jesus and killed himself.
Ten days later was Pentecost. Now Pentecost was a pretty fun Jewish holiday, it was their Harvest Party, so lots of eating and drinking, and having a great time. It was also when a lot of Jews would be in Jerusalem.
* Pentecost would be a spiritual harvest for the disciples.
Acts 2:1-7 Then the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?”
The tongues of flames and the speaking in tongues are pretty cool, but those are just miracles that happened to these guys. And this is what gets all the attention.
* So many Christians have been sidetracked by whether or not tongues are for today, or when baptism of the Spirit occurs.
I am more interested in what the Spirit did in these early disciples, and what he continues to do in us. And in these first couple chapters of Acts we get to see a great case study: Peter.
A failed test
Peter had always been a bit of a loose cannon, firing of his mouth at one moment, and cowering the next. Flashing back just two months prior:
Luke 22:54-62 Then seizing [Jesus], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
After the resurrection, Jesus forgives and restores Peter, so he knew he was forgiven, but even still, he must have wondered what he would do the next time, if there was a next time.
Q Have you ever felt like you have failed God?
You can know you are forgiven, but you are not sure what you will happen next time. You think you know what you’d do or wished you’d do, but until you get there, you are not sure.
Q When push comes to shove, will I fail God again?
Q Will I disobey what I know he told me to do?
Q Will I give in to temptation?
Q Will I keep silent when I should speak up?
God has this amazing way of retesting us until we pass the test. He isn’t being vindictive, he is being merciful – he knows what is in us, but we don’t.
That is what God does in Acts 4; he recreates the situation of Luke 22. Peter is given the chance to stick up for Jesus or deny him. It is the same players: the same priests and the same rulers. It is even in the same city.
* And death is still on the line.
Acts 3:1-8 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer-- at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
Q Remember this song? “Silver and gold have I none...”?
Seeing the opportunity, Peter starts preaching about Jesus there in the temple.
Acts 4:1-4 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
What do you think Peter was thinking? Maybe he saw the irony of it all and kind of chuckled.
But he and John had to be thinking about what would happen the next morning, when he would be brought before the joint session of Congress (as it were), and they are just some farm boys.
They must have thought back to what Jesus had said:
Luke 21:14-15 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
Peter and John were not capable of winning a fight with these guys. They were the top minds in the nation. And even if win, these guys could just get them executed too.
* I have to imagine they did the one thing they could do: Pray.
Acts 4:5-13 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
I wonder what it was like for Peter standing there. It must have been a little surreal. Would he repeat his mistake or show that the Holy Spirit had changed him?
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” 13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Wow. How did the church grow...? Luke would say, look at Peter, he is a microcosm of the whole thing – Peter was changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The answer is “the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Church to accomplish God’s plan,” but that is the boring history teacher answer; the story is better.
Q That is all fine and good, but what does it mean for us?
Whenever I write me sermon, my driving goal is to figure out what God wants to say to you, my church, though the Bible.
Here is the driving question: Is that power that worked through Peter, that changed the ancient world, working through you?
Q Are you filled with the Holy Spirit?
As many of you know, I grew up Pentecostal, and I am very wary of the weirdness and many of the misuses of the Spirit that happens there, but I appreciate this about them: They are eager for the Spirit to work.
* I want a church that is full of people who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Q Does that mean some weird mystic experience, speaking in tongues, or being slain in the Spirit?
No, it means the same thing it meant for Peter:
* You are not on your own; Jesus didn’t come and forgive your sins and drop you off – you have the Sprit with you.
God intends this to be the way that all believers operate: If you are a Christian, then I believe you have the Holy Spirit, you don’t need some special event or prayer, you have the “the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:38-39 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
I feel that as Christians we have this secret advantage over everyone else. We don’t appreciate how big of a gift this is:
* You know when you struggle to respond appropriately to your co-worker? The Spirit helps.
* You know when you don’t know what to say to a non-Christian? The Spirit is there.
* You aren’t able to love like the Bible calls us to (like last week’s sermon)? The Spirit helps.
* When you don’t know what is really going on in your relationship? The Spirit helps.
I am convinced one of the most important elements in my life is the gift of the Spirit working in ways I can’t see in so many areas, in conversations, responses, parenting, and on and on.
Preaching as dependency
As I have said before, preaching teaches me how much I need the Spirit. I think good sermons are the product of three things:
1. Thousands of hours study and a lot of hard work.
2. Sudden inspiration.
3. The guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know when which one is working when, but I know that if that all three are not working, then my sermons fall; these are like a three legged stool.
* But it is not just asking for help that makes preaching a huge learning tool, it is the sheer desperation of the thing.
I have the regular struggle: What would God have me say to you this week? On a weekly basis I am forced to rely on God. Some weeks are better than others. Last week speaking about love was easy, this week wasn’t.
* Then there is the presentation – thanks be to God, every week I have been well enough to preach.
And even if everything else falls flat, the Spirit is able to use a mediocre sermon to do great things in your life.
But the nature of the gift is that you have to ask, you have to want his help.
* The reason why so many Christians don’t operate under the power of the Holy Spirit is that they aren’t asking.
And one of the best motivations for asking is sheer desperation: This is what we saw in Peter – he need the Spirit to come through or he was toast.
Q What about you, when was the last time you were in a place you had to rely on the Holy Spirit?
Think through what you have going on in your life – struggling to keep a good attitude at work, fighting against temptation, feeling like you are at the end of your rope.
* Look at these things as an opportunity: How can God use them to make you dependent on his Spirit?
Rely on the Holy Spirit, need his help, ask him to put you in positions were you need him. Seriously, ask the Spirit to put you in a position that either he comes through or you fall flat.
Q Why are we afraid to ask for that?
If the Spirit is able answer that prayer, he is able to help you out in the situation.
Maybe Lent is that opportunity –giving up caffeine chocolate, or whatever you use to cope is a chance to rely on him.