Made to Make a Difference: Acts 2
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 6/26/2011
This series is inspired by and portions adapted from Max Lucado’s Out Live Your Life.
Nearly two millennia ago on the opposite side of the planet, 120 ordinary men and women—tax gatherers, fishermen, and house wives—turned the world upside down and it hasn’t been the same since. Their story is the story of a movement that stretched from the dirt roads of Palestine to the imperial courts of Rome, the jungles of Africa, and the Great Wall of China—the Jesus movement. Their’s is a story so strong, controversial, mind-blowing, and globe changing that two millennia later we wonder: Could it happen again?
You and I are the modern-day version of the Jerusalem church. You, me and our band of believer were made to make a difference. There are roughly 2 billion people all across the planet who call themselves Christians. Most of those people look at the five billion who don’t and the devastating times in which we live and wonder: How can my effort make any difference?
But I’m convinced that if we believe what they believed and do what they did, then we too can turn the world upside down. We can make a difference for time and for eternity! Last week I outlined three core beliefs held by the Jerusalem church and how those beliefs affected their passions and priorities. They believed Jesus is risen. They believed Jesus is ruling. And they believed Jesus is returning. Those central beliefs gave them a message, a mission, and the motivation to make every day count. We get all that just from the first chapter of Acts.
Their story continues in chapter 2. It was the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Pentecost was a celebration of the day Moses came down from Mount Sinai and presented the people with the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s law. And because God’s law was so important in Jewish life and culture, Israelites came from all over the world to celebrate Pentecost in Jerusalem—the Holy City. Some estimate that during this celebration the population of Jerusalem swelled from a hundred thousand to over a million inhabitants. Merchants, priests and paupers all lined the busy streets, local inns were overflowing with travelers, and the temple was filled with Yahweh-worshippers. Every element of humanity crammed within the three hundred acres of the City of David. And somewhere in the middle of it all, Jesus’ followers gathered in prayer and preparation. Today would be the day.
Let me highlight three things these believers did on the day of Pentecost, which if we do today, can make a real difference in the hearts and lives of those around us.
• # 1 THEY TRUSTED IN THE SPIRIT’S POWER
God placed his people right in the heart of one of the largest cities of the ancient world on the busiest day of the year, and then, once he had them were he wanted them, we read: “Suddenly a noise like a strong, blowing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw something like flames of fire that were separated and stood over each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak different languages by the power the Holy Spirit was giving them.” (Acts 2:2-4 NCV)
Can you envision such a phenomenon? The spirit of God whistling, rushing, roaring like a tornado through the Jerusalem house. He came as wind, and then appeared as individual flames of fire hovering above each of the disciples. Welcome to the world of Acts and the Spirit of God.
It’s important to note that two things happened here. First, they were baptized with the Holy Spirit—completely immersed in his presence. That’s what all the commotion and the fireworks were all about. And that’s what Jesus promised them would happen: “Wait here to receive the promise from the Father which I told you about. John baptized people with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4 NCV). The baptism of the Spirit is an act of God by which he plunges believers into fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit himself. And it happens, with a little less fanfare, every time a believer commits hi/her life to Jesus and is born again.
Secondly, they weren’t just baptized in the Holy Spirit, but they were also filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered by him. Jesus promised that too: “But when the Holy Spirit comes to you, you will receive power” (Acts 1:8 NCV). The Holy Spirit empowered, emboldened, and enabled the Jerusalem Christians to step out on faith, reach into people’s lives, and change the world. I love what Vance Hanver once said: “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.”
Think about it. The early church had none of the things that we think are so essential for success today—buildings, money, PowerPoint, praise teams, ad campaigns, political influence, social status—and yet the church won multitudes to Christ and changed the course of human history! Why? Because they relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to energize their ministry. They were people whose lives were ignited by the Spirit of God! That same Spirit power is available to us today.
Do you desire God’s Spirit? Do you want to be empowered for ministry and service? Are you tired of just going through the motions? Here’s what you need to do. Ask. Jesus announced, “Yes, everyone who asks will receive… you know how to give good things to your children. How much more your heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:10,13 NCV).
The Spirit fills as prayer flows. The disciples prayed for ten days. Ten days of prayer and patience resulted in Pentecost-power. If you’re ready to rely on his power then pray, “Lord, I receive your energy. Empowered by your Holy Spirit, I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me!” That’s what the Jerusalem church did. And they also spoke the people’s language.
• #2 THEY SPOKE THE PEOPLE’S LANGUAGE
Once the sound of the mighty rushing wind, a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, died down, something unexpected happened. Luke says:
They began to speak different languages by the power the Holy Spirit was giving them. There were some religious Jews staying in Jerusalem who were from every country in the world. When they heard this noise, a crowd came together. They were all surprised, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were completely amazed at this. They said, “Look! Aren't all these people that we hear speaking from Galilee? Then how is it possible that we each hear them in our own languages? We are from different places: Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the areas of Libya near Cyrene, Rome (both Jews and those who had become Jews), Crete, and Arabia. But we hear them telling in our own languages about the great things God has done!” (Acts 2:5-11 NCV)
Representatives of fifteen different nations gathered in one assembly while Spirit-filled followers start speaking like trained translators for the United Nations. At least one person in the crowd wondered, “What does this mean?” (vs. 12).
Good question. It means at least this much: God loves the nations! He loves all people everywhere. He loves people of every shape, size and subculture. His vision of eternity includes “people for God from every tribe, language, people and nation” (Revelation 5:9 NCV). He has a heart for bikers, soccer moms, tree huggers, and academics. And he wants us to proclaim his greatness in all 6909 languages that exist in the world today.
The gift of speaking in tongues may not be normative for Christians today, but don’t be mistaken—if Christ is in you, God’s Spirit will speak through you. Speaking the language of the people, for us, simply means meeting people where they are and relating to them in a way they understand.
So what languages do you speak? Can you relate well with teenagers? Do you speak the language of addiction? Can you connect with the elderly? Maybe you’re tongue-tied around children, but eloquent with executive or business owners. I relate better to geeks than to jocks. I can identify more with a divorcee than an alcoholic. We each speak certain languages better than others. Don’t miss the opportunity to discover yours. If we want to make a difference with our lives, God requires us to cross cultures and touch hearts. Trust in the Spirit’s power, speak the people’s language, and finally point the world to Jesus.
• #3 THEY POINTED TO THE WORLD’S SAVIOR
That’s what Peter did. As the crowd clamored to understand what was going on, Peter stood up, raised his voice, and addressed his audience:
People of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus from Nazareth was a very special man. God clearly showed this to you by the miracles, wonders, and signs he did through Jesus. You all know this, because it happened right here among you. Jesus was given to you, and with the help of those who don't know the law, you put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But this was God's plan which he had made long ago; he knew all this would happen. God raised Jesus from the dead and set him free from the pain of death, because death could not hold him. (Acts 2:22-24 NCV)
In due time, Peter would speak about poverty. The church would address the issues of widows, hunger, disease, and bigotry. But not yet. The first order of the church’s first sermon was pointing people to Jesus. It’s possible that in our rush to make a difference, we get distracted. We feed people. We encourage, we heal, help and serve. We address racial issues and poverty. And all of those are good things, but we mustn’t forget our first priority—sharing Jesus.
The other day, Ashley asked me to grab a pair of socks for her from our bedroom. So I walked down the hallway and hung a right into our room. I noticed that the bed wasn’t made, so I straightened the pillows, tucked in the sheets, and smoothed the comforter. About that time, I noticed that I had left my dirty laundry on the floor, so I scooped it up and placed in the basket where it belonged. Then I picked up some of the odds-and-ends that were scattered across our dresser and put them in their proper place. After about ten minutes of tidying-up, I headed back into the living room, with my face beaming with pride having done my husbandly duty. And do you know what Ashley said as soon as I entered her presence? “You forgot my socks!”
I got so distracted—doing good things, mind you—that I forgot my real purpose. Whatever else we do along the way, we have to remember that our real purpose is sharing the love and grace of Jesus. If we do a good deed, but don’t do it in the name of Jesus, we might make a difference for a time, but not for eternity. The secular abuse shelter can give a bed, a meal, and valuable counsel. But we can give so much more. Not just help for this life, but hope for the next!
So along with the cups of water, plates of food, and vials of medicine, let there be the message of sins forgiven and death defeated—the message of Jesus.
If you and I want to make a difference in this world, then we need to follow in the footsteps of the first-century church. We must trust in the Spirit of Christ, speak the language of the people, and point them back to Jesus. What this world needs most isn’t more food, or clean water, or better medicine. What this world needs is Jesus—in the words of Casting Crowns, “a Savior who will rescue, a Spirit who will lead, a Father who will love them in their time of need. That’s what this world needs.”
If you’ve never received the gift of the Holy Spirit, or your spiritual tank is just running on empty and you want to take advantage of power and passion that comes from being filled with God’s Spirit, then come talk to me. Better yet, talk to God. Jesus wants to give the Holy Spirit. Everyone who asks will receive.