Fire, Visions, Wonders, and You

“Fire, Visions, Wonders, and You”

June 04, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 2:1-21                            John 20:19-23                               1 Corinthians 12:1-13

 

 

 

Have you ever thought that your church ought to be doing something that it isn’t currently doing?  Have you ever found yourself thinking that we ought to have a new Bible study, or a new outreach program, or a dinner to honor someone who deserved recognition, or that we needed a new piece of equipment, or a room redecorated, or any of those sorts of things?

 

Many of us have.

 

And that’s fine.

 

But the danger in doing so is that, if we aren’t careful, our wishes can become a laundry list of complaint.  Instead of wishing that it might be nice if we had this program or that new equipment, the temptation is that we begin to complain that we don’t have them.

 

But there is another way of thinking that can help to prevent that.

 

Sometime around 1993 I went to my pastor and I suggested that our congregation might benefit from having a cassette ministry, where the entire worship service, including the pastor’s message, would be recorded on audio cassette tapes, reproduced at high speed, and made available at the conclusion of Sunday’s service as the congregation left the sanctuary.

 

Her response was one that I have never forgotten.

 

She said something like, “That’s a great idea, John.  How do you plan to do that?”

 

Now bear in mind that at that time, I had only recently graduated from college, had been working at my first post-college job for less than five years, had been married for less than two years, and held no official position in the church unless that was the year that Patti and I were essentially drafted to chair a missions committee that had been defunct for several years.  I was a kid with no authority, no budget, no plan, and one half-crazy new idea that had never been tried at our church before.

 

And Pastor Linda Somerville’s response was to put me in charge of my idea because, as she later explained it, no one else will have the same passion for your idea as you do so no one else will be able to do a better job at getting things done that you will.

 

So what could any of that possibly have to do with this being Pentecost Sunday?

 

Well, hopefully we will get to that, but first let’s begin by remembering one of the last conversations that Jesus had with his disciples before his ascension into heaven. (John 20:19-23)


19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

There are two important things that I want to single out of this short paragraph.  First, Jesus passed the mission that he had been assigned by God, to the disciples that followed him, saying “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And second, Jesus introduced them to the Holy Spirit and therefore began to equip them with the power and authority that they would need to accomplish the mission to which they had been assigned.  In a later conversation, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to help them and instructs the disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

 

After his ascension the disciples waited, worshipped, and prayed for ten days in Jerusalem until the day of Pentecost.  The events of that day are recorded for us in Acts 2:1-21, where we hear these words:

 

2:1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

 

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 

I don’t blame you if your mind began to wander.

 

There is a lot going on in that passage so I want to unpack it just a little.  First, there is a roaring sound of wind and tongues of fire come down from heaven and come to rest on each and every person who was gathered there.  This was not just the 12 disciples, but a much larger collection of believers.  As these tongues of fire land on them, they are each filled with the Holy Spirit and they are immediately given gifts that they did not have previously.  Some people have attempted to say that the disciples already knew how to speak in all of these languages, but if you think about it, the story makes no sense if they did.  If the followers of Jesus already spoke these languages, then why make that a central part of the story?  If they already knew a host of foreign languages, why were the people of the crowd so amazed, and why did the local people who knew them think that they were drunk?  The only way that this makes any sense at all is if they were each speaking, preaching, and proclaiming the story of Jesus Christ in languages that they had not previously known.

 

Over and over Luke and Peter explain that this was a fulfillment of ancient prophecy and that it was not the work of men, but was instead the work of the Holy Spirit of God working through them.  And in the end, Peter includes the verse from the prophet Joel that explains why it is happening. “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

 

The purpose of it all, according to Joel, and according to Peter, is so that everyone can know God and so that everyone can hear the story of Jesus.

 

Once we accept that, what is also interesting is in the listing of the native languages spoken and the countries from which the listeners had come, “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.”  It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to quickly realize that there were no disciples, no missionaries, sent to all of these countries, but that the people who were present, those people who heard the disciples, who heard the Good News, and who came to faith in Jesus Christ, therefore became totally, utterly, and completely responsible for spreading the story of Jesus in each of those places when they returned home.  It’s like something out of a movie script.  They left home with nothing more than a plan to go to Jerusalem and worship on a Jewish holy day, and suddenly they find themselves responsible for telling an entire country about the most important and transformational news in all of history.

 

No pressure.

 

But they weren’t just sent back alone and empty-handed without any help whatsoever.  Luke explained that they had each received the Holy Spirit, and, in 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, Paul explains a little of what that means.

 

 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

 

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

 

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

 

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

 

Paul explains that each of us has been called by God to a different sort of mission but that the Spirit of God, working through us, has equipped us to do the work that God has called us to do.  There are different kinds of service and different kinds of work, but in each of them, God is at work through you.  All of these gifts are the work of the Holy Spirit working through you. 

 

The message of Pentecost is that the Spirit of God has come down from heaven and taken up residence inside of each and every believer in order to do the work of God through you so that the world might know the name of the Lord, and the story of Jesus Christ, and be saved from sin and death.

 

And so we return to my experience back in 1993 and many of you are still wondering what that possibly had to do with the story of Pentecost.  But here it is: On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God came upon the followers of Jesus Christ and through them, gave them the power to change the world and to minister to the world by doing whatever work that he set in front of them.  Some of those people were just walking by, stopped to listen to some street preachers, and found themselves responsible for reaching all of their family, friend, neighbors and their entire nation for Jesus Christ.

 

Each of us had been given a mission.  We, each of us, have inherited the mission that God gave to Jesus.  We have been called to tell the world the Good News so that they can be saved.  Pastor Linda didn’t let me pass the buck and give my idea to someone else and God doesn’t call us to pass the buck and give our mission to someone else.  Someone else may not see what we see as clearly as we see it, and someone else will not see that mission with the same passion that we do.  The only person who has been equipped to do the things that God has shown to us, are the people who see them, and no one else will do a better job at getting things done.

 

The Spirit of God has come upon every person who believes in Jesus Christ and has given them the power to do the work of God through them.  Each of us has a unique and special calling.  My calling is not your calling and your calling is not mine.  Each of us must do the work that God calls us to do so that we can change the world and so the world, through Jesus, can be saved from sin and death.

 

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Resurrection? So What?

“Resurrection? So What?”

(Easter.  So What? – Part 1)

April 16, 2017

(Easter Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Colossians 3:1-4                     Matthew 28:1-10                               Acts 10:34-43

Did you watch the news at all this week?

Every week, almost every day, we are confronted with stories and images that demand our attention.  This week we were horrified to see United Air Lines being drag a passenger off of a flight against his will simply because the airline overbooked the flight and randomly selected him to be removed. In the past we’ve seen the images of Tamir Rice being shot by police, police officers being attacked or shot in the line of duty, American Indian tribes protesting a pipeline, or heard about the FDA allowing the use of a dangerous pesticide, or the dramatic loss of honey bee colonies, and a host of others.  Our initial reaction might be surprise, or shock, or sadness, or anger, but the most important question that we are left with when the news is over is, “So what?”

What are we expected to do about it?

Are we simply better informed than we were a moment ago, or is there something that we can, or should be doing as a result of the information that we have received?  Should we sell our stock in United? Call our congressman? Vote for the police levy?  Read the labels at Home Depot and refuse to buy products that contain dangerous pesticides?  Plant bee gardens?

The “So what?” question is important because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

In our seminary class on preaching, our professor reminded us that our Sunday sermons ought to pay attention to the “So what?” question.  If what we have to say on Sunday morning is important, then so what?  What do we want the congregation to do with the information that we have studied, prepared, practiced, and provided?

The “So what?” question is important because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

And that’s really the heart of the Easter story as well.  But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember the story. (Matthew 28:1-10)

28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

 

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

 

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

The women are shocked and afraid as they meet Jesus, whom they (obviously) thought was dead.  But Jesus calms their fears and then answers the “So what?” question as he sends them to carry the message of Good News to the disciples in Galilee.

 

It took a while for the disciples to fully understand what it meant that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples had seen the impossible.  The blind could see, the lame could walk, incurable diseases had been cured, and they had even seen the dead restored to life.  But now Jesus, the teacher, and their connection to the power of God, was the one who had died.  Who was left that could defeat death now?  Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man.  Jesus had done miracles that even the greatest of God’s prophets had never accomplished, and rising from the dead was the greatest miracle of all.  What did it all mean?  What were they expected to do about it?  They knew that if they didn’t do something, if they didn’t change, then nothing would change.  And this was far too important to allow that to happen.

 

A few months later, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, and after the events of Pentecost, Peter answers the “So what?” question for the disciples and other followers of Jesus in Acts 10:34-43.

 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

 

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

 

Peter is a changed man.  Only a month or two ago he denied even knowing Jesus, and hid from the authorities. Then, after the crucifixion, he left Jerusalem, walked back to Galilee, and went back to his old job.  He was utterly defeated and a ruined man.  And suddenly we see him as forceful, decisive, thoughtful and confrontational as he stands before a crowd of people in the streets of Jerusalem.  He is clearly not the same man that we saw during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  What he had seen was so important that the answer to the “So what” question changed his life.

 

He knew that if he didn’t change… then nothing would change.

 

And so he changed.

 

And as he preached, he argued that everyone else had to change as well.  The “So what?” of the resurrection of Jesus was nothing less than world changing.  No one else in the history of the world had done what Jesus did.  The most famous and most powerful of God’s prophets had not even come close.  The resurrection was important.  The resurrection meant something.  And Peter preaches to the world about its meaning.  Peter says that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus really happened.  Everyone knew that it happened because they were witnesses and because they were witnesses, they had to do something.  They had to change.  We have to change.

 

Because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

 

Jesus has commanded us to preach to the people, to testify about Jesus, and tell the world that he is the judge of all humanity, and by believing in him we receive forgiveness for sins.

 

Paul, writing to the church in Colossae, answers the “So what?” question in a slightly different way. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

Paul says that since Jesus saved your life and rescued you from death, then you should do something about it.  If we believe in Jesus, and have put our faith in him, then we must build our lives around his teaching and around the expectation that heaven is real and that we expect to live there.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just information.  It isn’t just something that we need to know to be well informed.  It is so important, so significant, that we are expected to do something about it.

 

Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man.  Jesus had done miracles that even the greatest of God’s prophets had never accomplished, and rising from the dead was the greatest miracle of all.  The resurrection is important.  The resurrection means something.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that he is the Messiah, the Savior and rescuer of all humanity.

 

And because we are witnesses, we are expected to preach to the people, to testify about Jesus, and tell the world that he is the judge of all humanity, and by believing in him we receive forgiveness for sins.

 

We are expected to do these things…

 

Because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Proof

Miracle

Sometimes we are witnesses to proof of God’s existence.

On Sunday (March 19th) I mentioned in both my message, and children’s message, that sometimes, when we pay attention, God provides evidence of his existence through answered prayers and miracles both large and small.  We are witnesses to many “everyday” miracles like the birth of a baby, sunrises, sunsets, and spring flowers but we also see and experience other things that are scarier, bigger, and sometimes simply impossible.  Our family all remembers the near miss that we had on interstate I-70 when a tractor trailer tire bounced across the median, missed our car by only a few feet, struck the cab of the tractor trailer we were passing and absolutely destroyed the left front wheel well like an explosion.  Only the sharp eye of our son Noah and the grace of God brought us home that day instead of to a helicopter trip to a hospital in Columbus.

As I said on Sunday, just in the ten or twelve years that I have been a pastor, I have met several people who ought to be dead, people of whom the doctors said, “We can’t explain why you are alive.”

In our Johnsville church, our lay leader was a dairy farmer by named Jim McWilliams.  One Sunday morning we interrupted our worship service to lay hands on Jim and pray for his brother.  That week, Jim’s brother was as work and was asked to use a cutting torch to cut the stuck lid off of a 55 gallon steel drum.  The labels on the drum and its documentation assured everyone that the contents of the drum were inert.

They weren’t.

Somehow, the documentation was all wrong and the contents of the drum, in reality, were highly volatile.  When Jim’s brother began to cut the lid off of the drum, it exploded and he was rushed to the hospital.  During the investigation they eventually found the lid of the drum.  It had been thrown by the explosion, went through the roof of the building and was found about a half-mile away.  The next week we heard that Jim’s brother, despite standing within inches of the explosion, received only bumps, bruises and minor burns to his face and hands.  When the doctors heard what had happened, both they, and the explosion investigators from OSHA said that they couldn’t understand why he wasn’t dead.

Many of you can tell the same kinds of stories and since that sermon, some of you have shared your stories with me.

This is an invitation.

I would like to share your stories.  I can help you write them and edit them if necessary.  After they are written and edited, I will post them on my blog so that others can be blessed, uplifted, and have their faith reaffirmed through our collective, eyewitness testimony.

Please, even if you don’t think that you are a good writer, put your story on paper (or email) and share it with me.

And together, we’ll share it with the world.