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Gospel: John 7:37-39 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 588 “Come, O Come, Life-Giving Spirit”
- Hymn CW 585 “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”
- Soloist “To the Table”
- Hymn CW 596:1,4 “To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray”
The matchstick is an amazing invention. Before the creation of this instantaneous tiny stick of fire, cold and hungry people vigorously labored to produce a flame. Rubbing sticks together to make friction was a common but unreliable method handed down with blistered hands for many millennia. Flint and steel were a welcomed replacement but it still proved difficult if there were no dry combustible materials left after a heavy rainstorm.
It was not until 1680 that an Englishman named Robert Boyle discovered that phosphorus and sulfur would burst into flame instantly if rubbed together. He had uncovered the principle that would ultimately lead to the modern match. In 1827, an English pharmacist named John Walker produced his “sulphuretted peroxide strikables” (catchy name, huh?). These gigantic, yard-long sticks were considered the real precursor of today’s match, which is obviously a scaled down version.
[I’ll strike and light a match.] Amazing, isn’t it? From nothing to fire instantaneously. If it was night and we had no electricity, this tiny fire could light a candle. [I’ll light a candle and place it on the pulpit.] And it would give us light. If it was cold and we had no source of heat, this tiny fire could be used to ignite a fireplace. But if I continue to let this matchstick burn [I’ll hold it with a plyers] it eventually burns out. Fire has amazing power but fire needs fuel to stay alive. Without a constant fuel supply, fire dies.
So, what kept the tongues of fire alive on the disciples’ heads from our text in Acts 2? Their hair? Bad first-century toupees? Strategically placed matchsticks? An unexplained natural gas leak under the house? What was it? It was the same substance that fueled their “fire of faith”. The Holy Spirit!
“Holy Spirit? What’s a Holy Spirit?” That would’ve been the reaction of most Christians within the early Christian church at the first Pentecost. They heard of God the Father; He was Yahweh of the Old Testament. They understood who Jesus, God the Son, was as He walked and talked, preached and proclaimed among them. But God the Holy Spirit? Who? Huh?
The revelation of the Holy Spirit was even difficult for the disciples to understand. Before Jesus ascended into glory, He again reminded His dramatically dense disciples about the third Person of the Trinity. “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)
While they were waiting in Jerusalem, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit came. When He did, He changed those ordinary men into extraordinary believers. Suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Notice it was just the sound of the wind but no wind! Miracle number one. Then, something like tongues of fire separated. If they separated that means they came from something; from the Holy Spirit right there in the room with them! Miracle number two. Those separated fires rested on the heads of each of the 120 believers but didn’t require any visible fuel to keep burning! Miracle number three. And then the most amazing miracle—the miracle that causes us to celebrate Pentecost—the Holy Spirit came upon those disciples and gave them the ability to speak in different languages!
There were “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; Cretans and Arabs.” (Acts 2:9-11) They heard the Holy-Spirit-empowered disciples declaring the wonders of God in their own language! The miraculously bilingual believers declared, “Jesus loves you and died for your sins.” In Aramaic. In Greek. In Egyptian. In Latin. In Mesopotamian. Years ago, when I once preached on Pentecost Sunday in Florida, we had 22 different nationalities in our church and we only had one worship service. I contacted the members who spoke different languages and asked them to learn how to say “Jesus loves you and died for your sins” in their native language. And then during the sermon these members stood up one after the other and said that phrase in Spanish, Pilipino, Mandarin, Italian, Russian, Maltese and several other languages. It was really, really cool.
How incredible it must’ve been to be there on the Day of Pentecost! Tens of thousands of pilgrims were stuffed into Jerusalem for the Old Testament festival of Pentecost, which was a dual celebration of the spring harvest and the giving of the Law of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. These faithful Jewish believers were there to obey God’s commands—one of those being trusting in the promise of the Messiah.
The problem was that the Christians couldn’t communicate with them. There was a language barrier. So, God stepped in. God stepped up. God busted down that barrier, which existed since the disaster at the Tower of Babel. God took simple fishermen and everyday “Joes” and poured upon them incredible language skills so great they could have taught linguistics at the university level…all because of the power of God! On that one day alone, the Bible reveals that 3,000 people came to faith. Miracle number five!
What about our miracle from the Holy Spirit? Can we expect to channel the power of the Spirit to speak in tongues? Not likely. Possible. For with God all things are possible but not likely. Wow, that would’ve been helpful when I was taking Latin in high school! God gave this miracle at this specific time for a specific purpose. He planned to explode the Christian church across the world map. Those three thousand new Christians eventually came to the end of their visit. They went home. But they went home with the gospel in their hearts and on their lips. The told family, friends, coworkers and strangers about Jesus. And the Christian church on earth was born!
What about those multilingual disciples? When the dust cleared after the mass exodus of Jewish religious pilgrims, the disciples didn’t stay in Judea with their brand new extraordinary talents. They used them! Most of the disciples traveled with the pilgrims and made the pilgrims’ homelands their new home. The newly converted believers to Christianity got a souvenir disciple to go home with them!
Peter preached in Italy.
Andrew preached in Greece and Russia.
James the Greater preached in Spain.
John preached in Ephesus and the island of Patmos.
Philip preached in Turkey.
Bartholomew preached in Turkey, Iran and India.
Thomas preached in Iraq and Southern India.
Matthew preached in Judea and Ethiopia.
James the Lesser preached in Israel and Egypt.
Jude preached in Assyria.
Simon the Zealot preached in Egypt and Persia.
It’s astounding what the Lord does through believers who trust in Him. Those far-reaching locations never even hit the radar screen for the disciples as places where they thought they would work and serve Jesus.
In the last few days, our ministerial college and seminary held their graduation ceremonies and Call services. Hundreds of nervous but trusting men and women eagerly waited to hear where in the country and the world they’d serve. I’m sure many of the locations they will now call home weren’t on their radar screens either. And yet, with faithful hearts they will go.
God has called you here to this very spot on the rock we call earth at this very time for the very purpose of serving Him, witnessing to others about Him, obeying Him, loving Him and being loved by Him.
Are you ready for the miracle that God has in store for you? I’m not predicting the sound of a violent wind will roar suddenly within this church. I’m not foretelling that tongues of fire will split off the Holy Spirit and come to rest atop each of your heads. But I am confident that an equally amazing miracle is in story for you, if—and only if—you follow God’s call. That miracle is the awesome miracle of conversion. And you only get to witness it if you faithfully witness to others.
That faithful part is the problem for most, if not all of us. It’s weird how Christians can think that witnessing to others is as difficult as learning a foreign language. “Um, you want me to go and directly talk to that person about Christ? To witness to them? I can’t! My tung will gut tyda.” It won’t. That’s the temptation of the devil talking. He doesn’t want you to proclaim Christ because he’s scared of what can happen! If you’ve ever talked with someone about Jesus or if someone asked you a question about the Bible or your faith you know what I’m about to say. The Holy Spirit gives you the words to say! It’s remarkable! It’s incredible! Don’t make mute the power of the Spirit through you by being too shy to open your mouth and try.
Unfortunately, the temptation of the devil tag-teams up with our sinful nature and convinces us not to be bold witnesses about Christ, His grace and His love. Not letting your faith shine darkens faith. Here, let me show you. This candle has been lit since the beginning of the sermon. If you hide the light of your faith [I’ll place a bowl over the lit candle] your faith will not shine before others and when you cover up your faith, it weakens. Not only does your faith weaken, you place yourself in a dangerous spiritual position. “Whoever acknowledges Me before others, I will also acknowledge before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before others, I will disown before My Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33) If believers refuse to fully serve God, they can slowly but surely weaken faith and faith that is weaken that isn’t strengthened by God’s Word is in danger of dying.
But do not be downcast for this darkness is only temporary when you open your hearts in repentance. God reassures you in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’” Through the forgiveness of Christ, the light of faith is ignited as we approach the altar of our Lord in sorrow for our sins and are refueled again by the power of His glory. God’s Word and God’s love fires up our lives! [I’ll pull out a bottle of lighter fluid!] Don’t worry. I’m not going to spray this into the flame at you. Although we’d get out of church early. But you understand what would happen if I did, flames would spread.
Through Christ’s forgiveness we are a beacon of light in this sin darkened world. God calls you to talk with others. That’s it, just talk. To tell them about Christ and how your life has been blessed and better through trusting in Him. It is not our responsibility to bring anyone to faith; that’s the Spirit’s job. That’s the Spirit’s power, not ours. Our job is simple. Tell others about the peace we have in Christ. Tell others how Jesus impacts your life.
Those words, simply stated with a sincere heart, will make a lasting impact. When you let your light shine, when you use the fire of your faith upon others [I’ll place a single match within a matchbook into the candle], the Holy Spirit can use that witness to light another person’s soul on fire for the Lord. That person, in turn, will witness to her loved ones and that person to his loved ones [I’ll push the lit match into the matchbook] and once again the gospel message will spread like wildfire into the world. It starts with one witness. It starts with you boldly sharing your faith with another. You have the fire of faith within you. Go and be God’s spiritual arsonist. Amen.