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Monday, May 12, 2008

Sheep for the World (Acts 2.1-13)

May 11, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell

Today is Pentecost Sunday; it is also Mother’s Day. While today’s text and sermon focus on Pentecost, I will make one connection with Mother’s Day. A mother doesn’t keep a child in the womb or nursing or even in the home forever, but gives birth to the child in order to nurture and raise and send the child out, finally mature, into the world. And we are so thankful for that role and purpose for motherhood. In the same way, when we are born again as believers in Jesus Christ (to use Jesus’ language from John 3), the Holy Spirit doesn’t intend to keep us in the womb, or nursing, or at home; rather, the Holy Spirit gives us birth in order to raise us up and train us up and send us out into the world.

It is helpful, then, on this day to recognize the necessary role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian, and understand that with that role comes recognition and embracing of our own purpose as growing children of God. Listen now to the story of Pentecost.

Father and Son Send the Spirit

Starting this past Wednesday night and continuing through May, we are studying the “sent and sending” character of God. God’s sent and sending character is demonstrated notably through sending Jesus, the Son. But today we focus on a second way that God demonstrates His character and that is through Father and Son sending the Holy Spirit. In our call to worship, we heard Jesus’ promise:

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me… (John 15:26)

Pentecost is that promise coming true! Fifty days after Easter (Pentecost means ’50’) the Holy Spirit of God came upon the disciples and through them to the whole world. That is the story of Pentecost. The sent and sending God, who sent Jesus the Son into the world, was now sending the promised Spirit of truth, to give the early Christians power and authority to be sent to the world with the message about what God had done.

This event reveals something significant about the character of God and it reveals something important about the role of all who would trust and follow Jesus Christ.

God for the World

First, God is involved with humanity. God does not keep to Himself, waiting for human beings to earn His attention, climb a mystical ladder, or prove our worthiness. God came all the way down to where we live to show us His face and pursue us. That is the character of God – involved out of love with his Creation.

We see this at Pentecost, not just in the sending of the Holy Spirit, but in the reach of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit didn’t just come to bless the small circle of believers or to help them hunker down in defense against a harsh world. Rather, the Holy Spirit spoke through them to all those within earshot, comprising people from most of the nations of the known world. They are listed there in Acts and I have included in your bulletin a map with the home nations mentioned marked on it. All these had come to Jerusalem and were confronted with the message of Jesus Christ through the work of this sent Holy Spirit speaking through the words of the disciples.

God’s Holy Spirit revealed the character of God Himself – sent and sending, involved with the world out of love and compassion.

This is the basis for half of our local church vision, that of being a LIGHTHOUSE. The gathered local church should look like the neighborhood around it! People from our neighborhood should be able to walk in here and see other neighbors, see people who shop at Harris Teeter and Food Lion on this block, and see people whose kids go to Old Providence Elementary. To be an effective lighthouse for Jesus Christ, we won’t just welcome and teach people who are wealthy, people who are white, or people who vote like we do. Rather, if we are full of the Holy Spirit of Truth, we will speak and live out the hopeful message of Jesus Christ to all who draw near!

Look at verse 11. It contains the extent of the ministry and programs for these first Pentecost believers. Open to all God brought their way, they spoke of the “mighty deeds of God.” Being a lighthouse church doesn’t mean that we compromise the message, cater to the culture, or water down the truth. We speak and live out our hope in Jesus Christ, inviting and welcoming all whom God would welcome, which is all who would come.

We are a neighborhood church, and to be a good one, we must be good neighbors!

Having said all that, note the reception these Holy Spirit filled disciples got. Some drew near and listened; some were intrigued and interested, asking, “What does this mean?”; and some mocked them as being drunk. (vv. 12-13)

Our mission is simple and clear:
  1. Do not shut out God’s Spirit, which is promised to all who believe;
  2. Love and receive those whom God loves (which is all people)
  3. Speak the Truth in love
  4. Measure success by faithfulness and obedience, not by response
Pentecost is the story of God for the world.

Sheep for the World

There is a second and related application of the events of Pentecost. The basis for the application is contained in this text, but the demonstration of it follows later in the rest of Acts.

If God reveals Himself to us as a sent and sending God, and we are created in God’s image and made for faithfulness and obedience, it follows that we are to be a sent and sending people. The template for this is in this text, as we see the Holy Spirit sent from God and borne through the disciples’ words to the peoples of the world. The rest of Acts documents the actual “get up and get out” mission of the Church to the world.

This is the basis for the second part of our local church mission, that of being a SEARCHLIGHT.

I was stunned and captivated by an article I read this week. The lead line was the question, “What would it look like to completely win a city for Jesus Christ?” In other words, what would a 100% evangelized and Christianized city look like?

Churches everywhere? Christian doctors and dentists? All Christian radio stations? No crime? No hunger or poverty? What do you think?

And then I saw the picture near the end of the article. It was a picture of a ghost town – completely abandoned.[1] What in the world? The author of the article made the radical suggestion that if a city were truly and 100% converted, that everyone would leave to take the Gospel elsewhere.

Whoa! I’m still wrestling with the implications of that. Even if you don’t buy that completely, think of the alternative. If everyone in town was converted and we just closed in on ourselves, perhaps waiting for other non-believers to wander by, we would have missed the point of following Jesus, the sent Son of God. Yet that is the attitude of most churches. We make sure every member is a Christian and then just wait for a few folks to move to town or transfer in from another church. And that’s something we have to break out of.

God didn’t kick back in Heaven and roll down a golden ladder, waiting for the chosen few to find their way to Him. He rolled up His sleeves, got down in the mud, and came among us. That’s our model for mission. That’s our model for faith and faithfulness. That’s our model for ministry. That’s where the Holy Spirit blows – through scripture and through here out into the world, where God is changing and bringing people back from the edge of death.

We can be a part of that or we can go back to sleep. Psalms says that we are God’s people and the sheep of His pasture. God is for the world; so we must be sheep for the world – we must be people of God for the world. That’s the challenge of Pentecost. Amen.

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