Pentecost 2012 – Holy Spirit? What Holy Spirit?
Please read Acts 2: 1-4 and Acts 19:1-9
In John 20 the risen Jesus, who had promised the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to the church, appeared at the centre of His disciples in the upper room. Neither sealed doors nor sealed hearts could keep Him out. Frightened, disheartened and confused, they were hiding away from the world. But when Jesus came and convinced them that it was really Him, He breathed on them and said “Receive the breath of God”. Like you and me, they had to go on believing in this promise before they had the experience of the Spirit that proved the promise had been true.
Today I want to ask “Holy Spirit? What Holy Spirit?” and I invite you to travel in time with me some 20 or so years after the story of God’s breath coming to His people at Pentecost.
Picture in your minds a town full of every nationality. Where different languages are spoken on each street corner.
Imagine large numbers of people travelling into and out of that town each day. There are many shops and alongside the shops there are street traders calling out to the passers-by. Heavy traffic pushes along the roads; some of it carrying people and others goods for the shops or food and drink for the pubs.
One of the things you notice as you go into this town is that the girls and some of the men show off their bodies in a way that catches the eye.
Then imagine that the busiest place in that town is a huge building that towers over all the others. People are going in and out and a great deal of buying and selling is going on, especially silver statues.
The temple is much larger than most other buildings in the world at this point in human history. A building so marvellous that it was acclaimed as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.
Having travelled in time some 20 or so years, we find the apostle Paul is in Ephesus and here he finds some “disciples”.
Paul asks them if they have received the Holy Spirit since they were baptized. They reply honestly: “What Holy Spirit? We didn’t even know there was a Holy Spirit!”
Paul then asks, “Whose baptism were you baptized with?” Their answer: John’s. We know they mean John the Baptist because Paul responds by saying to them that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.
Thousands had come out to the desert to wash away their mistakes and wrongs by being baptised (dipped in water) by this man.
Perhaps these Ephesian believers were just seeking God at first. Though not Jews, they sought to worship the one true God. In any event, they had been baptised with the baptism of John, not Jesus.
Paul carefully points them to Jesus. John had said they should follow the one who came after him, Jesus.
On hearing this, they then were baptized in the name of Jesus. After their baptism, Paul lays his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit, spoke in strange languages and announced the good news of God boldly!
Now imagine that you’re one of these Ephesian believers. You want to serve God, the one true God, not some other god. You hear about John and what he teaches and you do what John tells you. You are baptized because you want to leave the meaningless rituals of religion and find the real God.
But it doesnt go any further than that. That's as far as you go. Like the disciples before the Breath of God first came upon them, you get stuck in a place because you’re afraid of what’s happening around you. All the while the gigantic temple of Artemis looms over you and where you live. Later on, Paul has a serious run-in with a local businessman, Demetrius, a silversmith who controls the trade in silver statues of Artemis. The freedom from religion that Paul speaks of is damaging his business! So this new ‘freedom’ has to be run out of town. It is too dangerous; too unsettling.
There may be no huge temple looming over your life but this world muscles-in and makes itself known very loudly when we tyry to follow Christ. If you worship God, you do it quietly, secretly, just to stay out of trouble. Does that strike any chords with you?
But when we receive the Holy Breath of God, everything changes. You are able to boldly share the whole story of God in new ways, with a boldness you have never known.
Now do you begin to see the point? Just as the Spirit came to the first believers at Pentecost, so He also comes to every believer in every place where Jesus is followed.
No longer will these Christians, or any that follow after, have to hide as the disciples did before Pentecost. No longer will they live in fear, hiding away. The promise is that the Breath of God will be poured out on all humankind as it says in the Bible’s prophecy of Joel
Now what of us? We are living in an age that is a long way from God, his freedom and his truth. Like these Christians, we no longer hold centre stage in public life. We are increasingly ignored. Other gods dominate the scene: not always religious gods but the divine ‘money, sex and power.’
What is our response as believers? Often we act like we have never heard of the Holy Spirit. We complain about the loss of Christian values, and yet what do we do? Christians blend in with society or, hiding away through in fear, believe that there is nothing we can do that would make a difference.
We are missing the same thing these believers were missing —Christ made available to us though the Holy Breath of God. We need this Holy Spirit, the breath of God, as much today as they did then. So let’s ask the One who loves to give good gifts…..