A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
When the Spirit Came
As the day of Pentecost arrived there was a buzz in the air. The city of Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims from all over the world, in the holy city to celebrate both the harvest gathered in and (by this time more importantly) the anniversary of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. But for the disciples, as they gathered together, there would have been other thoughts and emotions that day. They knew fear, puzzlement, perhaps impatience as they gathered to wait... for what? They knew the promises of Jesus but what that really meant in practical terms was still a mystery to them. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them... and we know the events which followed.
But as we read that account there is, alongside the excitement of the power of God at work, a sense of completeness which can speak to us today.
Its first manifestation is in the fact that they “were all together in one place.” (Verse 1). Luke is probably talking about the 120 “believers” whom we have met in 1:15. They would have been talking (no doubt about the events of the past weeks), they would have been praying, they would have been searching the scriptures to try to understand the things Jesus had been teaching them about himself. They would have been grappling with some enormous issues which the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus had brought before them.
There is a sense here that this group was the whole church, gathered in this one place as the festival day dawned. There is no suggestion that any of the disciples had decided to absent themselves on this particular day, and God blessed them as they came together and we begin to see the importance of their corporate life. They came together and they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Act 2:42 NRSV. Again and again God blessed them as they came together.
Here was the source of their blessings, their power, their gifts.... here they would praise God for his goodness to them, for His saving grace, for everything that he had showered upon them.... they would praise him simply because he was a gracious, loving, giving God.
Yet a little later the writer to the Hebrews had to say: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing...” Hebrews 10:25 NIV. Were they losing their enthusiasm? Were other things getting in the way of their fellowship meetings? Were they feeling more secure or more confident? We do not know what made this comment necessary but it is still a relevant word to us today.
How easily some give up the privilege of gathering together today. It sometimes seems that any reason will do to avoid coming to worship him, to pray and study the scriptures together. Yet it is here that God blesses his people. It is here that the gifts of the Spirit are given and used and it is here that we share, and test, our understanding of God’s Word together.
We may not feel that our church/ leader/ group is very helpful or that it does not fit into our pattern of church life or spirituality, yet it is here that God chooses to bless us and if we look for that blessing we will surely find it.
Extent of the blessing.....
The words here to note are: “it filled the entire house” ... “a tongue rested on each of them”... “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit...” That sense of completeness is there again. God’s Holy Spirit came upon the gathering and there was no limit to the blessing, to the power, to the availability of this gift which God was showering upon them.
Whatever brought them together, whatever they were expecting (or not), their need was an infilling of the Holy Spirit. This was the “counsellor” whom Jesus had promised and they shared the need so they shared the gift. Luke seems to want to emphasize the universality of this gift in those words we have quoted above.
While there was no need of any audible or visible manifestations here, God graciously made it obvious to them that something significant was happening. He wanted them to be sure that he was present... so first there is this sound “like the rush of a violent wind” which filled the house and left no-one able to say that they missed anything! Then there was the visible... “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” If the rushing wind could have been misunderstood, the appearance of something which looked like tongues came personally to each of them.
And finally we are assured that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Their past experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit of God upon people was governed by their reading of the Old Testament. Yes they knew about the Spirit coming upon Kings, prophets, priests and others who were given a particular job to do for God, but this was new. This gift was for all of them.
The prophet Joel had spoken about a time when God would “pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28f. NRSV. They should have been expecting something like this but we cannot blame them for not understanding that this would be the time or the way the prophet’s words would come true.
The theme of completeness and abundance continues... they “ were filled with the Holy Spirit”. This was no patch up job, no passing experience, no partial answer to their needs... they were FILLED... the Amplified Bible adds - “diffused throughout their souls”, just so there is no doubt about the comprehensive and complete nature of the gift God is giving to his church as they gather together.
Sometimes we meet people in our churches who seem to think that this talk about the Holy Spirit is not for them, or they think it is something which happens to preachers or ministers and the like. Or there are those who do not want to talk about the physical manifestations which seem to be part of this experience here and elsewhere in the New Testament, yet God wants us to know that we can be blessed.... all of us.... and he wants us to know when we have been blessed. Some seem to think it arrogant to claim God’s blessing, his filling, his power... yet here we see him making it available and clear for EVERYONE in the fellowship. This complete filling by the Holy Spirit is for us all and it is about a complete filling... about our allowing God to have his way with us totally. No wonder some are not comfortable with it!!
As Peter looked around his congregation that day, he would have known that they were gathered from the four corners of the known world and the list we have in verses 9-12 proves that point. This message of salvation and this gift of the Holy Spirit was being offered to this cosmopolitan crowd. It was not just for the locals, for people from this tribe or that, but for all who were there. Admittedly they would have all been Jews or those on the fringe of Judaism but Luke soon makes it clear that this was good news for the whole world... even for Gentiles!! That is the whole direction of the book.
This gathering of God’s people had been blessed by God and had burst out of its closed, confined room into the street. It had taken the message out to anyone who would listen. Soon they would return home and take this amazing news with them. Churches would spring up across the world and we glimpse again the completeness and abundance theme which we have been seeing up to this point.
God’s blessing, his grace, his power, his salvation, his empowering were for all... for the whole world and the global perspective which we meet again and again throughout Luke’s account is seen here right at the beginning.
Old prejudices, ancient feuds, racial stereotyping or petty differences have no place in this gospel message... in the Kingdom of God then or now. That was asking a lot of the Jews who had been brought up to know that they are God’s chosen people. How can others be included in this gracious gift? But that is what a gracious gift is about.
We said at the beginning that there was a relevance in this passage for us today. Let’s see where that relevance lies. We need to take the corporate nature of our faith and worship seriously. We should take note of the fact that so often God blesses us when we meet together... yet there are times when our services smack of “going through the motions”, events which we can take or leave. This is not about the style of worship or the entertainment value we may experience... or not. It is about coming together expecting God to work, to bless, to speak, to empower us.
Read again Acts 2.42 and 43. Are these the things that are our priorities? Is awe something which we experience in our worship and bible study and prayer meetings?
Then we need to think seriously about the extent of the blessing which God offers. Of course there are those who refuse to receive but there is also the temptation to label each other and so seem to be limiting God’s work. In God’s sight we are not “born again Christians” or “charismatic Christians” or “evangelical Christians” who are offered gifts to suit the labels. We are all his people who can be blessed by him with his gracious gifts. They are gifts which differ and blessings which will vary but he wants to bless each of us to the full just as he did in that upper room.
And finally we need to widen our perspective and realise that God’s message is for all, and there will be times when that means we will have to put aside our own expectations, our own ingrained prejudices. It may mean that we need to recognize and work with the Anglican folk over the road, the Pentecostal group in town... even those ex-Wesleyans/ Prims/ Bible Christians (delete as applicable) who now worship in our church... (Yes it’s still there in places!!)
We are here to reflect that completeness in each of these areas and to look to God to abundantly bless us as we seek to serve him in the power of his Holy Spirit.