Summary: What is needed in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
In the collective mind of all people and cultures, there are a group of defining stories. These are the potent, lasting, almost universally known tales within a culture that give it the very identity that is shared and understood. Sometimes these stories inspire, create harmony and purpose; other times they entrench enemies and bitterness and violence.
When I say, for example, 9-11, I call to mind a defining story of airplanes flying into buildings and the most powerful military nation on earth going to war. When I point to an image of a cross, I call to mind a defining story of God in the form of an innocent man dying for others. The proliferation of the internet and the technology revolution is writing the next defining story. You get the point – at certain points, some defining event happens that “changes everything”. The story we read together in Acts 2:1-13 is a defining story in the redemptive plan of God for humanity. It is the story of Pentecost.
1 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”
It is not a complicated story. It doesn’t need a ton of background in order to make sense. There aren’t a bunch of difficult Greek words or translation questions. The story stands on its own, and it is the defining story of the beginning of the Christian church. This is when the church was born. There is more to the story than I read for this morning – the rest of chapter 2 in fact – but we’ll leave that for the next couple weeks. The facts in this story are very simple:
1. Believers were together. They were certainly praying, probably sharing news and encouraging one another, and trying to figure out what to do next.
2. God shows up in power. The disciples are, and I quote, “filled with the Holy Spirit”. This is accompanied by supernatural activity in the wind and fire.
3. They told everyone. In fact, they were able to tell everyone in their own native language since the filling of the Holy Spirit was also evident in this story in the gift given of being able to speak languages they had never learned, in the tongues of all those people listed in the passage.
That’s about it. The details are there as well, but in its simplest form the believers are together and are filled with the Holy Spirit and then speak.
This is such a familiar story that I wonder what your reaction is. Perhaps boredom due to familiarity. Perhaps vague interest in some new thing that I might pull out, some different insight that might make you think, “interesting…”. Or maybe reading this story gets you excited because you see again how God pours Himself out among His people, and really great things happen when God does that. Or maybe even a sense of longing, of desire for a similar outpouring of the power and presence of God in your life. I think the last one would be the best response – a desire to be full of the presence of God in your life.
Let me ask you really bluntly: do you want that? Do you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit?? Because while we cannot make that happen (we are not in control!), we can prevent it from happening. If we don’t want God to fill us with His Spirit, if we don’t give God permission to fill us with His Spirit, He doesn’t fill us with His Spirit. Remember, God has said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13); “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chron 16:9); “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matt 6:33). And those are just samples of a common theme – God doesn’t force-feed us Himself.