The means - Acts 1:1 - 5:1

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 12th December 1999.

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‘Why did God send us the Holy Spirit? It is a fair question, and allows for more than one answer. The Spirit of God came upon Christian individuals in order to create in them a quality of life that would otherwise be beyond their powers. The Spirit of God came upon the Christian community in order to unite them in a fellowship which could not be paralleled in any other group... But there can be no doubt from a candid examination of the NT accounts that the prime purpose of the coming of the Spirit of God upon the disciples was to equip them for mission. ’So writes Michael Green, and he is absolutely correct. What did Jesus say about his own mission in coming into the world? but that he came to ‘seek and save that which was lost. ’So what do we think is going to be the primary mission of the Spirit of Jesus - God the evangelist, as he is sent into the world but to continue this very same work - seeking and saving. And nowhere is this spelt out for us more clearly than in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s second volume work which charts the meteoric rise of the Christian church against all odds. This comes out for instance in verse 1 of the opening chapter. Luke’s Gospel tells of what Jesus began to do and teach until his ascension to the right hand of God; volume two tells of what Jesus continued to do and teach through the apostolic church through the gift of the Holy Spirit shed upon it. And this equation of the giving of the Holy Spirit and the sharing of the Gospel is explicitly made in v 8: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you... you will be my witnesses. ’ The one leads to the other, the one is dependent upon the other.

Now I very much doubt that your experience is all that different to mine. I have been a Christian now for about 25 years and although I can think of no greater joy than when I am explaining the Christian faith to someone I can’t think of many other things which scare me as much either. The thought of knocking on doors, which I do, and talking to complete strangers, still makes my knees knock and my heart pound. And of all the people I get tongue tied with in talking about the Christian faith it is my parents who are not yet believers. Those closest to us are often the hardest ones to get through to aren’t they? Now these early Christians were no different to us. They were scared too, we know that because in chapter 4 of Acts they have to pray that God will enable them to speak with boldness and you don't do that unless you are not feeling all that confident. But what was available to these believers and enabled them to be what God wanted them to be - his witnesses - is the same one who is available to us - the Holy Spirit so we can take heart. I tell you frankly he is the only one who can help me to explain the Christian message without making a total fool of myself and he is the only one who can gain access into people’s hearts to impress upon them the reality of Christ - so we are to be encouraged.

Now there are three things that Luke in the Book of Acts tells us about the Spirit and Mission.

First, the Holy Spirit is the author of mission. In the earliest days of the church, the idea of telling people about who Jesus is and what he came to do did not originate with the leadership. It wasn’t a matter of Peter saying ’Eh, fellas, what about doing a spot of evangelism? ’What they did was to follow the Lord’s command in v 4 to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, then they couldn’t keep quiet. It wasn’t the 12 either who together fulfilled the Lord’s command in v 8 of being his witnesses to the ends of the earth - primarily it was the ex - Pharisee and opponent of the church Paul who was to become the great apostle to the Gentiles. And you can be quite sure that as a result of years and years of prejudice and religious stereotyping, it wasn't the apostles in Jerusalem who hit on the bright idea of evangelising the Samaritans - the religious outcasts - though Jesus said they should - it was the Holy Spirit who led the way through an outsider - Philip. At each stage of world mission, it is the Holy Spirit who is to the forefront, initiating, equipping, envisioning, converting. And it is the same today. Do we honestly think that because a group of Bishops declares a ‘decade of evangelism’, or the Vicar or PCC says lets have a mission that is going to do the trick? Making people go ‘Wow, we had better get on. ’? Of course not. But when the Holy Spirit is at work, as we hear his voice through Scripture, as our hearts are warmed and filled with love for the lost, as he is filled with love for the lost, then there is no holding God’s people back. As we heard last week, then the cry of the believer is ‘The love of Christ controls me’

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is the director of mission because he is the sovereign Spirit. Again we see this in Jesus command to ‘ wait for the gift my Father promised’ - 1: 4. He is God, the Father’s gift, and we do not have a handle on him, treating him like some genie in a bottle at the beck and call of our demands - thinking we can go away for a weekend and demand the HS come upon us as some try to do today. He came upon the disciples in his own time and in his own way - like a mighty wind and with tongues of fire at Pentecost as we see in chapter 2 and verse 2.

Some years ago an English minister saw an advertisement in an American journal which began in large letters: ‘DONT PLAN A REVIVAL. ’ and he thought how remarkably right minded. But then the advert continued in smaller type ‘until you have these free samples of Colour advertising planned especially with the Church who wants something different. ’Now of course it is important to be organised, have good publicity, books and the like, but the danger is becoming so focused on technique that we are lulled into falsely thinking that if only we get the committee right, the planning right, all the churches working together, the right course, then we are bound to see lots of people become Christians. That is not so. For that is to relegate God the Spirit to the sidelines. He is the one who breathes life into what we do and is to direct what we do and so he is the one who often surprises us.

Do you not think that on the day of Pentecost the apostles themselves weren't surprised when they found themselves being able to communicate the truth of the Gospel to a whole variety of different people with different languages? For that is what happened - 2: 4 - 6 (read). Jesus had said they were to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth - how was that ever going to take place with some many barriers: barriers of class, of culture, of religion, of language? As we look out on our parish with its variety - different age groups, intellectual abilities, folk who have some church background and those who have none - how is it going to be possible to reach them? The answer - the work of the sovereign Spirit who is not bound by such considerations. While the truth of the gospel remains the same, that it is a message about the God - man Jesus who came to put wrong people in the right with God by taking their punishment in their place and having been raised from the dead is now the rightful loving ruler of the world - the genius of the Christian faith is that it is not bound by culture or language - the Holy Spirit is adaptable, which means we have to be adaptable too. It is sad when people think, with some justification, as I used to think, that Christianity - and especially the Church of England, was just for the white middle - classes. When as some Christians today still insist that only the AV of the Bible should be used or the Book of Common Prayer. That is to lock up the Christian faith into a ghetto. Here the Pentecostal gifts of speaking in foreign languages was a pointer to the way in which the Holy Spirit was going to break all social barriers. He is no imperialist, aiming to make the peoples of the world into uniform Christians. When the apostles preached they still had Galilean accents - 2: 7. Now the first thing that tends to happen at theological college when you train for the ordained ministry is if you have a northern accent it is smoothed out into a southern one. But just as God the Holy Spirit created a world wonderfully rich in variety, he has also created a church of rich variety - all real Christians embracing the truth he has revealed in the Bible, but legitimately expressing it in different ways - so it is right that African churches should sing in an African way using African instruments and Latin Americans in an Latin American way and so on. We are to keep in step with the Spirit in embracing variety and flexibility for the sake of the Gospel - not insisting on our own cultural preferences if it means others will be put off from hearing about the Lord Jesus.

But this also means that God will use us as we are, directed by the Spirit. Paul’s personality was different to Peter’s and yet he used both to point people to Jesus Christ. My personality is different to Chris Hobbs yet he will use us both as he wills. And God will use you too, if you let him. Don’t think that you have got to become a certain ‘type’ before he will use you, having a certain Christian vocabulary or way of speaking. He has shaped you into the person you are and will use you as you are. Sometimes people say to me, ’God can’t use me to tell others about him. I am too quiet. ’Well, who else is God going to use to reach the quiet people? But other quiet people, noisy folk like myself might put them off, but not you. Different people being dependent upon the same Spirit.

The Christian teacher John Stott has helpfully put it like this: What the Scripture lays upon us is the need for a proper combination of humility and humanity - the humility to let God be God, acknowledging that he alone can give sight to the blind and life to the dead, and the humanity to be ourselves as he has made us, not suppressing our personal individuality, but exercising our God given gifts and offering ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness in his hand. ’That is all God is asking for. So relax, just be you and willing to be used by him as he directs you by His Spirit.

But thirdly the Holy Spirit is the enabler of mission and we are back to the promise of Jesus before he ascended to heaven in 1: 8 ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. ’Now do you think that there might be some significance in the fact that Jesus says the disciples are to be witnesses rather than simply to witness? The Holy Spirit within us, which is the gift to every believer, not only empowers what we say but how we live. Think of it like this. If you are carrying a glass of water and I bump into you, what will spill out? Naturally, whatever is in the glass. In the same way, when people ‘bump’ into us in the street, in the shop, in the office, in the lecture theatre, or hospital, what will spill out of our lives? Obviously whatever is in them. That is why the disciples were told to wait until their own lives were filled with the Spirit, without that they would be empty and powerless. So we too can only be witnesses as we rely upon God’s Spirit, feeding on his Word, coming to God in prayer, sharing in the church family created by the Spirit and filled with the Spirit. For the watching world it is difficult to separate the message from the messengers as one writer, Sheldon Vanauken puts it: ‘The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians - when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self - righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. ’Now I would suspect that in the majority of cases of those of us who are Christians here this morning, it was the life and influence of other Christians which was crucial in bringing us to faith. Not just what they said, but what they did. Am I right? Maybe a parent, a grandparent, a Sunday school teacher, a friend - someone whose approach and attitude to life and people were simply different and somehow attractive. Now they wouldn't have thought they were anything special, they would have been only too aware of their faults and failings - but you see God’s Spirit was at work in them, as he is in you.

But being a witness means we have to witness - speaking about what we believe. In fact we have a go at doing that every Sunday when we say the creed, that is just a summary of what we believe. As the late David Watson of St Michael-le-Belfrey in York once said: ‘The Spirit is concerned not primarily with religious experiences, but with the truth of the Gospel and with the truth of God’s Word. ’ What happened at Pentecost? There was proclamation, 2: 11 ‘we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues’ - then Peter gave them a long exposition of Joel showing how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy and how everyone needs to repent and put their trust in the Lord Jesus. When there was the healing of the cripple at the temple gate in chapter 3 and people wanted to know what happened. Peter and John didn't say - well let the healing speak for itself, or Jesus is still a powerful figure, they went on to explain the Gospel how they had murdered their maker on the cross, yet through that God offers forgiveness and new life. There is no such thing as a silent witness, when the opportunity is given we have to explain what we believe and why however falteringly - and the wonderful thing is, God uses it. Just be honest and be yourselves.

Let me let you into a secret: I have never converted anyone in my life. But I have seen the Holy Spirit convert hundreds - because you see he is God the evangelist.

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