"Brother, do you have the time?"
Sermon for 27Dec1998
Text: Acts 2:40-47
Sermon Text: "My words are spirit and they are life"
Today, we’re looking at the matter of time as we careen towards the end of 1998—a year that has brought us many things like bitter partisanship which resulted in the impeachment of Presid4ent Clinton and a second armed incursion into Iraq, the cloning of sheep and the indictment for murder of Jack Kervocian, the euthanasia specialist from Michigan. Such developments lead us to ask, "What’s the hour?" Where are we on the calendar, the calendar of our personal and family life, our careers and, if married, our marriages? Where are we on the calendar of society? Of history? On God’s timetable relating to the calendar of this church? These are weighty, spiritual questions, well worth pondering before the moment of reflection so critical for redirection is swallowed up in the minutiae of a new year 1999 and the closing days of the 20th century. And if we believe, as I think we must, that redemption is reality for us—let’s lift our eyes from the plane of experience to that of revelation and truth. Let’s take our bearings from the eternal by letting Jesus words address us anew.
Jesus said (during His ministry): The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63)
And again: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life. John 5:39)
Then He said (in His crucified and resurrected body): "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about . . . in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4 and 5) You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses."
It is astounding that we still have confusion over certain things which are very plainly presented in Scriptures! For instance, we have here the promise of "baptism with the Holy Spirit" and we have it presented in an explanatory context. I mean, the promise is presented in a context which explains the gift of God. That gift, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is given for a purpose: that those who believe in Jesus should be His witnesses. It is so obvious that one cringes with the risk of sounding simplistic. Why should we seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit? To fulfill our purpose in being alive, to be witnesses. We are not to seek the gift of the Holy Spirit to obtain the blessing of speaking in tongues—although that may happen as God chooses –nor are we seek the blessing of speaking in tongues to confirm our Christian experience of salvation. Fruit bearing confirms our salvation. Just as those who have genuinely repented produce righteousness, a Christian knows that salvation is real because real, good, spiritual fruit is being produced day by day—it accumulates, an ever mounting pile of evidence that the divine nature has taken root in this life and is making an objective, concrete difference. We can tag and note growth in maturity, in mastery of the fruits as in more patience, more gentleness etc. So, we are to wait for, to seek and yearn for the baptism of the Holy Spirit from a right motivation! Not to confirm our faith, not to prove that we are ‘born again,’ not to gain any particular blessing, or spiritual gift, but to become witnesses to the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. We should not seek this baptism in hopes of being of use to someone, or anyone—least of all ourselves. A pure heart, freed from self-seeking and self-interest, is to merely seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to be a witness—to be at God’s disposal for the work of elevating the person, words and work of Jesus Christ.
To accept the divine nature that resides in us by faith is to yield ourselves to the demands and commands of God. We hear the commands of God as guidance and welcome them as words that enable us to serve and obey effectively. We do not, in the spirit, chafe at God’s requirements or see them as burdensome, restrictive or of secondary importance. To be redeemed is to be properly prioritized in our life’s direction and decisions.
If we are in this place, then God can work through us. If we are not in this place, we are still in a season of preparation. That is what I believe the "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait" of Jesus’ words to His followers is all about. They needed further seasoning, maturing. . . so a season of prayer was entered. That season ended on the fiftieth day after the Sabbath of Passover week (Lev. 23:15-16) and so on the first day of the week, or Sunday. When they had prepared their hearts and come into spiritual order, the Holy Spirit fell. It was an episode of divine empowerment. The same kind of empowerment that is available today! A violent wind came from heaven, what had the appearance of tongues of fire separated out and came to rest on them and "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." Now whatever else these "tongues" may have meant, for those who heard them there was bewilderment, not because the language was strange and unknown, but because each of these God-fearing Jews from throughout the known world heard these rustics, these Galileans, "speaking his own language" and "declaring the wonders of God." This divine act amazed and perplexed them setting the stage for Peter’s first sermon as recorded selectively by Luke in Acts 2:14—40.
Concluding this sermon, Peter warns and pleads with these startled, perplexed and God-fearing Jews to be "saved from this perverse generation." (v.40) Now the phrase "perverse generation" has a specific, biblical meaning derived from Deut. 32:5 (and elsewhere) where it signifies the people chosen by God, to be His Special Possession, who rebelled against Him and His leadership through Moses in the wilderness experience. That rebellion included some from within the highest circles of Hebraic leadership, even Miriam and Aaron. The incident is recorded in Numbers 12. They questioned Moses’ appointment and authority in an act of rebellion that was only half a step away from casting off his leadership. They sneered, "Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?" The Lord heard this. (v.2) Moses, being a meek man, did not defend himself. The poison introduced by their folly continued to infest the nation. Numbers 14 records the grumblings of the whole people. And Numbers 16 records the rebellion of Korah and 250 well-known community leaders! And the man in charge of this mutinous multitude was someone who for forty years atoned for the sins of his impetuosity by tending sheep among the Midianites (Exodus 2). He was guilty of running ahead of God, or rather of presuming to ask God to bless his plan rather than to take the time to discover God’s plan. Moses was a man who struggled with failure, sin, and a broken spirit; he questioned both his competence and his self-worth. Perhaps, Miriam and Aaron were drawn by that vulnerability to attack his leadership, demonstrating spiritual pride and immaturity as did the men who later followed Korah. They all failed to acknowledge that anyone can hear from God without presuming to reject God’s appointed leadership. . . without undermining divinely arranged authority. Many, who have ended up outside the camp, or eternally dead, assumed that they are better assayers of character and think that they know God’s will better than God—that being their last mistake.
Peter was boldly likening his generation to that generation. Why? Because One greater than Moses, who had effected a greater deliverance than that of Moses, had come and His leadership also had been spurned. Of course, there were some obvious differences. Jesus’ leadership conflicted with the established leadership of the Jewish religious authorities, the High Priest, the temple officials, the Pharisees and the Sadducees composed a religious opposition nonexistent in Moses’ day—although Korah’s group was aspiring to that position. It’s interesting to note that God visited destruction upon both of these oppositions parties—Korah’s men and all their families and possessions were swallowed up by the earth and all 250 men who bore censers with strange fire were consumed by a fire which came out from the Lord as recorded in Num. 16:31-35.. . . and in 70 A. D., the temple was leveled and Jerusalem burned by Roman armies under Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian. Herod’s temple, begun in 20 B. C. was only completed in 64 A. D.! More to the point for Peter, however, were the recent events surrounding the last week of Jesus’ ministry, His subsequent trial and execution because these events exposed the unfitness, corruption and injustice of the ruling Jewish authorities. Remember that widely divergent accounts of what had happened circulated in Jerusalem—there were pay-off’s, lies, false witnesses and official denials published. At the very least, these events along with the supernatural occurrences (the raising of Lazarus, miracles, earthquakes, darkness at mid-day, the rent curtain in the temple and, of course, the resurrection and subsequent appearances of Jesus) raised the possibility in peoples’ minds that all was not well in Jerusalem and that suspicion and some scrutiny wasjustified! This concern would be underscored in days to come by the unjust persecution of the apostles and new believers. This heightened sense of tension and anxiety, a religious crisis to be certain, created a searching openness among the Jews. Peter’s characterization of this generation being perverse was then both humanly understandable (i.e. what is going on here legally, morally and politically?) and theologically valid (the rejection of Jesus was, in fact, unwarranted spiritual rebellion driven by a proud and perverse leadership).
So the compelling need of Peter’s audience was to know the hour. What time was it in God’s timetable. Peter therefore publishes that the hour of Pentecost is the hour of prophetic fulfillment. This is the hour promised of God in the prophesy of Joel, fulfilled in front of your very eyes! The perplexing supernatural signs before them made sense in a prophetic framework—just like everything else in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To explain the "What is this?" of these God-fearing Jews was crucial. They needed to make sense of the supernatural signs and manifestations of power. But Peter knew that these events validated their apostolic witness. So he went on to drive home the complicity all who reject the Messiahship and spiritual leadership of Jesus Christ in this perverse generation. Perverse in that they rejected what was of God as if it were not. Yes, the perversity is real and you by hearing these words are now part of it! You and all your friends. Think of your friends, their salvation hinges upon them knowing that their perversity is real, their involvement is real and that their escape is possible! Not only is escape possible, it is necessary right now.
Peter is saying to the God-fearing Jews, make good your escape now because the wrath of God is sure to come. It must come upon the heels of Jesus’ unjust murder, the Jewish leadership’s foolish rejection and wickedness, and the increasing rebellion of the hour. The same challenge is valid today.
Looking for the "Fire Exit," Peter urges, is a very wise idea. Now "What is the Fire Exit?" and "Where it is located?" are appropriate questions. The "what" is answered by the formation of the church, a new remnant people. The church, "ekklesia," or called-out ones, would be every born-again believer. We escape both the rebellion and the wrath to come through faith in Jesus Christ! The "where" is answered by your call into a particular local church, or particular expression of the body of Christ, as a confessing member. Let’s outline that process briefly: first, you believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord. Secondly, you are to seek baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as an act of obedience—it is also a sign of inclusion in that "where" response. You study the word of God to become better acquainted with the ways and character of God, but you also study the covenant that joins you to a faithful expression of that spiritual body called "church." Church is not a building, nor a program . . .it is an intentional, faith-centered community of those who know, love and serve Jesus Christ unreservedly. The church is all who have received a faithful witness and so have become a faithful witness by the anointing, power and direction of the Holy Spirit.
This process is precisely what we see beginning to unfold in the new born church—in the Acts 2 church where Christian theology, and doctrine is just beginning to take shape. That process, I hasten to remind you all, will not cease until Christ returns to bring all to perfection. A church that was pre-liturgy, pre-catechism, pre-dogma is what we see in the Acts 2 church. How we need to remember that we are a people in process still! The revelation of God in Scripture is final, true and fixed—the Bible says what it says regardless of how far, or near my opinion, or yours lies to it!--but our response to that word must continue. It is our response that shapes and directs us: our response to the word, to God, to the Spirit. We find our direction and identity, being quickened by the Holy Spirit, in response and in relationship to the living One Who lives and reigns with the Father, the One eternal and true God.
Four activities characterized involvement at the Acts 2 church:
· Breaking of the Bread
From these four activities, Rick Warren derives the five-fold function of what he calls the New Testament Church:
· To grow warmer through fellowship
· To grow deeper through discipleship/teaching
· To grow stronger through worship/Breaking the Bread
· To grow broader through ministry
· To grow bigger through evangelism
I must presume that prayer is not included explicitly here because it is included implicitly in each of these five functions. Rick frequently talks about prayer in the planning and development of his church.
Church appears to be what happens when people who love God organize themselves around the cause of Christ (remember, "you will be My witnesses) and purpose to grow together and to worship truthfully and to serve selflessly. Healing, I believe, happens when we so align ourselves, individually and corporately with the truth and will of God and that when our thought life, our emotional life and our spiritual life coalesce, they form a powerful unity. That unity, our new heart, also known as our identity in Christ, then informs our philosophical, moral, legal, political, economic and social engagement with the world. That is what salt is, and light.
So, what time is it for us? Where are we on the timetable of God’s mission? Where do we fit into His strategy? We need answers so that we can serve Him effectively and efficiently.