Sunday, May 30, 2010

Power and the Prophecy (Acts 2.1-21)

May 30, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell
(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last week we looked at the introduction to Acts, in which Luke summarized the Gospel story about Jesus – what Jesus did and said, his suffering and resurrection, and especially the teaching on the Kingdom of God. Then, we heard Jesus’ promise and charge to his followers, to send the Holy Spirit as power so that they might be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, and the whole world.

As we looked at what it means to be a witness, we saw that it includes knowing God’s story (as Luke already demonstrated) and sharing what we have seen and heard of that story through our own life and experience. So, we are sharing God’s story by way of sharing our own stories. And consistent with the heart of the Heavenly Father depicted in the “lost and found parables” we looked at the three weeks before that, our witness is not just limited to our comfort zone, but is out in the world near and far.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised his followers that they would receive power in order to be this kind of witnesses. Today we are looking at a special passage that unpacks and explains what that “power” is, where it fits into God’s great overarching story, and what its significance is for our lives and witness.

The Power

Let’s look first at what this power is that Jesus promised his followers. That power is evident in the first half of our text this morning, seen in the miraculous communication of the message across language and cultural barriers. You heard the long listing of nationalities present that day. Jewish people and God-fearers (non-Jewish believers in Yahweh) traveled from all over the known world to visit Jerusalem. And filled with this Holy Spirit power, the disciples were able to communicate and be understood by all of them. And the text makes sure you don’t miss the miracle. Some of these foreign Jews and God-fearers are quoted in verse 11 saying, “We hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

The reactions to this miraculous display of God’s power were mixed. Look at verses 12-13. Some were amazed. Some were perplexed or confused, saying, “What does this mean?” And some mocked the disciples as being drunk, saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” And does that not describe pretty well the range of reactions to God? Some hear God’s story and believe, amazed. Some don’t understand, but ask questions seeking understanding. And some reject and mock.

In Acts 1, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, and this passage is describing what that looks like. It’s not a sermon on “here’s what you need to do” but an account of what God is doing. So the point is not technique or how to deal with these different responses, but what God has promised to do. Witnessing isn’t an OUGHT; it is God at work in you. That’s how God works, how God “does His thing.” He empowers human beings to speak and act and tell His story by sharing what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard.

The Prophecy

When Peter begins to speak in verse 14, he answers the questions and mocking by telling a part of God’s big story. In doing so, he helps explain where this outpouring of God’s power fits into God’s larger overarching story. He begins his message (which continues on well past where we stopped) by explaining that what is happening is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy spoken through the prophet Joel.

Joel prophesied about the last days, when God’s Kingdom would arrive and God would judge and rule the world. That era was to be marked by an outpouring of God’s Spirit in which God’s sons and daughters would prophesy, young and old would have dreams and visions, and even male and female slaves would prophesy. The world would be full of witness to the Lord and the opportunity to believe and be saved would be open to all people.

Notice, too, that Peter quotes Joel about drastic signs of the end: blood, fire, smoke, darkness. Presumably, those are events that are yet to be. Here’s how to understand what is being referenced and explained here. In Acts 1 and throughout the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God. Remember, that is one of the summary points of what Jesus was all about that Luke gave us in the first few verses of Acts. But Jesus wasn’t announcing an earthly kingdom set on taking on the Roman Empire. Rather, he was announcing the arrival of a spiritual Kingdom. And he said more than once that the time was ‘now.’ He also said it was ‘not yet complete.’ In other words, Jesus announced a new era, a new chapter in God’s timing (remember kairos from last week?). He announced the “beginning of the end.” And the experience of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost both confirmed Jesus’ promise and fulfilled Joel’s prophecy. The message of Acts 2 is that the beginning of the end is indeed here, as evidenced by just what Joel foretold. God was using His power and human witness to accomplish His mission.

We Shall Prophesy (Witness)

So I said that witnessing isn’t an OUGHT, but is God at work in you. Here’s what I mean, and why these Pentecost passages in Acts are so closely connected with the lost and found parables in Luke 15. In Luke 15, we heard about a God who diligently seeks the lost, like a shepherd searching for one sheep lost in 99, like a woman who has lost one of ten silver coins, and like a father who makes a fool of himself to run, greet, and forgive a son who as much as wished him dead. We also heard about a God who DELIGHTS in finding those who are lost. God experiences JOY when one lost person comes home to Him.

The Joel prophecy marks God’s interest in the lost over the course of centuries. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is God’s demonstration in real life of what Jesus portrayed in story form in Luke 15. God was indeed coming after the lost, and His chosen means to do that was by His Holy Spirit power and through human witness. So Jesus tells his followers in Acts 1 that they would receive God’s power in order to be witnesses. In Acts 2 we see that power in action and see how Peter and others are serving as witnesses.

What then comes to us is this bold claim: God is a seeking and finding God, and His chosen means of engaging in that mission is to empower human witnesses. That’s you and me. It’s not a “you better witness or God won’t love you.” It’s not a “you better witness if you want a spot in Heaven.” Rather, God can and does use your sharing what you’ve seen and heard in order to accomplish His joyful mission of finding the lost.

Everyone Who Calls on the Name

Finally, the Joel prophecy concludes with this encouraging statement in verse 21: “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” While that statement is true standing alone, it is made in context. The context is God empowering human witnesses to speak the name of the Lord and tell God’s story such that people will see and hear and believe. This promise is that people will indeed be saved, not because you or I convince them with our mastery of the plan of salvation, but because God is at work seeking and finding. It is this very salvation that God celebrates, like the characters in the lost and found parables.

Bottom line, what do we have to do? Looking at Acts 1-2, last week’s lesson and this, we need to know and grow in knowledge of God’s story. Study, read, and keep learning it. If you trust in Jesus Christ, God has already given you the supernatural power needed – God is already at work in you and through you. And God’s intent is that we be witnesses, which simply means that we will share what we’ve seen and heard.

My group that met last Wednesday night talked about this in some specific and helpful ways. Several people shared instances of “witnessing” – they did not give a multi-point sermon of God’s story, though they do know God’s story well. Rather, they ran into a friend and situations where they could share from their own experience, “I know what you are going through and this is what God meant to me when I went through that.” One shared about the importance of prayer; another about how significant God’s forgiveness was. That was witnessing and it was a part of God’s long story of seeking and finding people about whom He cares deeply.

You can do that! Keep praying with me and asking God what He is doing around you… and how you can be a part of that. Amen.

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