August 5, 2007
Truth on Fire
The Promise Comes
Today, the title of my talk is “The Promise Comes”. I’m talking of course about my new granddaughter, Jenna Brooke Wittwer, who arrived yesterday at 5:56 PM. Isn’t she beautiful! I think she looks like Mother Teresa! And here she is with her parents, Andy and Nicole. Dr. Danly…good job!
While I’d like to talk about my granddaughter, we’re actually going to talk about the promise of the Holy Spirit.
ILL: One day Jennifer Jarrett asked her two-year-old daughter, Catherine, where her slippers were. “Downstairs in the kitchen,” she told me.
“What are they doing there?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she replied. “They can’t walk because they don’t have feet in them right now.”
Just like slippers can’t walk without feet in them, Christians can’t walk the God-walk, can’t live the God-life without God in them. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit! Remember, Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Spirit comes on you,” He told them. So they waited, the promise came, and they were filled with power. That’s today’s story, and we’re going to ask God to make it our story too…to fill us with His Spirit.
The Bible tells us that when we become followers of Jesus, we should be baptized in water. Why?
Baptism was an act of initiation. Have you ever joined a club or organization that had an initiation rite? When I was a kid, we had a neighborhood club of boys and to join you had to prick your finger and write your name in blood on a piece of paper. Then, you were in. The idea was that you did something that indicated you belonged, you joined, you were official. In the church, that act is baptism. And you do it when you believe in Jesus.
Baptism was also an act of repentance or change. You are baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. That is, you are admitting that you have sinned and need forgiveness, and you are acknowledging that comes from Jesus who died for you. You are turning from your old life of sin, and starting a new life of following Jesus. That’s why we immerse you. The old you has died with Christ, and we are
burying you in the water, and a brand new you is raised to live a new life with Jesus.
So baptism says, “I believe in Jesus and I’m joining His family.” And “The old me has died and is buried, and a new me is being born.” Today we are going to celebrate with 24 people who are being baptized in water. (Explain the drill.)
Announcements and offering (this will be at the start of the message)
Leadership Summit: walk-in registrations on Thursday morning.
Back of tear-off: classes, etc. coming in the Fall
School supplies drive (Another Life Center Outreach): fill the bins on August 12 and 19!
The book of Acts in the New Testament is the story of the first Christians. We read in chapter one that Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Spirit comes on you.” So they waited; and we saw last Sunday what they did while they waited for the promise to come. They obeyed, they prayed and they got ready—it’s what you do when you’re living in the in-between. Today, we start Acts 2, and the promise comes. Let’s read it.
Acts 2:1-13 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 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.”
For three years, these guys had enjoyed the presence of Jesus; they had hung with out with Him every day. Even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, He had shown up regularly for 40 days. But for the last 10 days, Jesus had been gone. For the first time in over 3 years, they were completely without Him. I think Jesus did this on purpose. He wanted them to wait without Him so they would realize how much they needed Him, how empty they were without Him. I think Jesus’ words, “Without me, you can do nothing,” were echoing in their minds. The waiting underscored their need—we need Jesus!
And then the Spirit came…and what a coming! This was a big deal, and God didn’t want anyone to mistake what was happening, so the Spirit’s coming was accompanied by three supernatural signs: sound, sight and speech.
First there was a sound “like the blowing of a violent wind.” In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “spirit” is also the word for “breath” or “wind”. Wind was a symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. For example, in Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel calls for the wind or “breath” to blow on a valley of dry bones and it causes the dead to come to life. Then God said, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.” (Ezekiel 37:14.) The wind symbolized the Spirit, and the disciples might have thought of this passage in Ezekiel and God’s promise to send His Spirit like a life-giving wind. Or perhaps they thought of Jesus’ teaching in John 3 where He said you must be born of the Spirit and compared the Spirit to a wind that blows where it wants. So when the Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost, there is a sound like a mighty wind.
Second there was the sight of “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” They saw what seemed to be a fire that separated into individual flames over each one of them. Fire was also a symbol of God’s presence in the Old Testament. For example, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, and later as a consuming fire on Mt. Sinai, and He led the Israelites through a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. So when the Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost, there is the sight of a fire that rested on each of them individually.
Third there was inspired speech as each of them began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. Each of them began to declare the mighty works of God in other languages, that is, in languages that they had never learned, but were now speaking by the Spirit’s enabling power. How cool is that? Have you ever been in a foreign country and wished you could speak the language? They could! In the Old Testament, when the Spirit came on people, they spoke under the Spirit’s inspiration. All the prophets spoke under the Spirit’s inspiration. Or there is the story of Saul the king who prophesied when the Spirit came upon him. So when the Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost, there is inspired speech.
Each of these three signs was miraculous, dramatic and left no doubt as to what happened: the promise had come. The Spirit had been given! But the signs were just that—signs—they should not be confused with the Spirit Himself.
ILL: A sign announces or points to something else: narrow bridge, slow children, eat at Joe’s. The sign isn’t the bridge or the children or Joe’s.
These three things were signs that the Spirit came. I mention this because many people get obsessed with the signs instead of the reality the sign represents. I looked at over a dozen commentaries on this passage, and most of them focused on the sign of speaking other languages rather than the filling of the Spirit! But the signs were all about the reality of the Spirit coming and filling the first followers of Jesus. So let’s talk about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
1. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? First, let me point out that the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit in very fluid terms.
ILL: When I was a senior in college, I did a term paper on the Holy Spirit for a theology class. I looked up every reference to the Spirit in the New Testament and discovered that the Bible used many different terms:
• Baptized with the Spirit
• Filled with the Spirit
• Receiving the Spirit
• The Spirit coming upon people
• The gift of the Spirit
• The promise of the Spirit
All these are used in the first two chapters of Acts describing what happened here; and they are used in other places to describe different experiences.
I concluded that it was difficult, if not impossible, to construct an iron-clad theology of the Holy Spirit. This shouldn’t surprise us since He is compared to wind, and when you shut all the windows in a house, you block the wind. And He is compared to living or moving water, and when you scoop water from a stream into a bottle and put a lid on it, it’s not living or moving anymore. And he is compared to a fire, another element that is hard to contain—it burns its way out of almost anything we put it in. I think God doesn’t want to be put in a box, and when we have an iron-clad theology—when we say, “it always has to happen like this; these are the rules”—I think the wind blows elsewhere, the water flows elsewhere, the fire burns elsewhere. I think we have to keep our lives open to the Spirit and let Him call the shots, even if it doesn’t fit in our theological boxes.
John Stott said it well:
“In the early chapters of the Acts, Luke refers to the promise, the gift, the baptism, the power and the fullness of the Spirit in the experience of God’s people. The terms are many and interchangeable, the reality is one and there is no substitute for it.” John Stott, Acts, pg. 60
You’ll find lots of Christians who want to argue theological fine points about the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to argue about the Holy Spirit; I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit! I hope you do too!
Having said all that, I’m going to try to explain what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
A. The baptism in the Holy Spirit happens once when the Spirit first comes in you.
Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:4-5, 8:14-19, 10:44-48, 11:15-16, 1 Corinthians 12:13.
This is every place where the term “baptism or baptize in the Spirit” is used. In the first four Scriptures, John the Baptist said that he baptized in water, but Jesus would baptize us with the Holy Spirit. John announces a promise. Jesus repeats John’s words in:
Acts 1:4-5 “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Here, Jesus tells them to wait for “the gift my Father promised,” and refers to John’s prediction about being baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The baptism in the Spirit is a gift and a promise.
In Acts 10, Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius, a Gentile, and before Peter can finish his message, the Holy Spirit “came on all those who heard”. The Jewish believers were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles! When Peter returned to Jerusalem, he explained what happened and said, “Then I remembered what the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” The baptism in the Spirit was a promise and a gift that was received.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
We were all baptized by one Spirit. Who is all? All believers. All Christians.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a promise and gift from God given to all Christians when they become believers. The Holy Spirit comes into you. We are never commanded to be baptized in the Holy Spirit or even to seek the baptism in the Spirit; we are simply promised that Jesus will baptize us. It is the universal experience of every Christian. You cannot be born again without the Spirit, for Jesus described it in John 3 as being born of the Spirit.
This is also consistent with the use of the word baptism, which was always used of a one-time event of initiation. Water baptism was the act of initiation into the Christian community. You did it once when you became a believer to indicate that now you are a follower of Jesus. In the same way, the baptism of the Spirit happens once when you become a believer; you can’t be a Christian without it.
B. The fullness of the Spirit happens as often as we allow Him to re-fill us.
Acts 2:4, 4:8, 4:31, 6:3, 5, 7:55, 9:17, 11:24, 13:9, 52, Ephesians 5:18
The fullness of the Spirit is different in that it is repeated and commanded. If you look at the references in Acts, you will see Peter or Paul being filled with the Spirit again and again. And Ephesians 5:18 says:
Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Here, Paul commands us to be filled with Spirit. And he uses the present continuous tense, which literally says, “keep on being filled with the Spirit”. I think we all understand this idea of being filled and refilled.
• You fill your car with gas and then you drive, and then you fill your car with gas again…and again…and again. You refill.
• You fill your stomach with food—in fact, after a meal, you say, “I’m full.” But a few hours—or minutes—later, you eat again. You refill.
• When you order coffee at a restaurant, a good server will keep your coffee cup filled. The server will walk by and refill your cup. You refill.
In the course of every day living, we get depleted. We use up our spiritual resources, our connection to God gets thin, and we need to be refilled. I ask God every day to fill me with the Spirit, because I leak! I have to be refilled. So Paul commands us, “keep on being filled with the Spirit.” It’s commanded and it’s repeatable.
What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? When we say someone is full of something, we mean that they are characterized by that thing—that thing stands out about them. It’s obvious.
• If I say that Andy is full of joy, I mean that he is a joyful person, that joy characterizes his life, that you can’t miss it when you’re around him. Joy is obvious in Andy.
• It’s the same thing if I say someone is full of pride, or full of himself, or full of baloney. Pride or selfishness or baloney is obvious in that person.
So to be full of the Spirit, to be full of God, means that God is what stands out about you. God is obvious in you—we can’t miss Him! Do you know anyone like that, who is consistently full of the Spirit? Someone in whom God is obvious? Is that true of you? Are you full of the Spirit? Is God obvious in you? Would other people say so?
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
This is what a Spirit-filled person looks like. They look like Jesus. They are full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the fruit of the Spirit, what the Spirit produces when He lives in us and fills us. Does that describe you? Are you full of the Spirit?
I’m asking the question because I know lots of Christians who are not filled with the Spirit. They are full of themselves, not full of God. They live powerless lives. There is little or none of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. God is not obvious in them. So how about you? Are you full of the Spirit? I want you—every one of you—to be filled with the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit fills you, He provides the power to live and serve like Jesus.
Now some of you are thinking, “Wait a minute Joe. You just made a distinction between the baptism of the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. But both terms are used of this experience in Acts 2. Jesus said they would be baptized in the Spirit, and it says they were filled with the Spirit.” You’re right. Both terms are used of this experience in Acts 2: they were baptized and they were filled.
They were baptized in the Spirit because this was their first time to receive the Spirit, and they were filled at the same time. Let me show you what I mean.
ILL: The word “baptize” means “to immerse or dip”. It was used of a piece of cloth that was immersed in a vat of dye until the cloth was completely saturated by the dye. It was baptized; was it filled? Yes! The cloth had absorbed the dye completely and was now full of the dye. It was filled when it was baptized.
The word baptize was also used of a cucumber immersed in brine until it became a pickle. It was baptized; was it filled? Yes! The cucumber completely absorbed the brine so that it changed; it’s a pickle now! It was filled when it was baptized.
The word baptize was also used of a ship that sank. It was baptized—immersed. Was it filled? Yes! The water filled every nook and cranny of the whole ship. It was filled when it was baptized.
ILL: Here is a sponge. I’m going to dip it in the baptistery (or this bucket). I baptized the sponge! What happened to the sponge? It’s full of water. It was filled when it was baptized.
Here is a glass. I’m going to immerse it in the baptistery (or this bucket). I baptized the glass! What happened? It’s full of water. It was filled when it was baptized.
Do you see how they could be baptized in the Spirit and filled at the same time? And do you see why I think it’s silly to argue about the words? I don’t want to argue about the Holy Spirit; I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I don’t care if you call it the baptism in the Spirit, or being filled with the Spirit, or the Spirit coming upon you. The Bible uses all those terms and more. The important thing is that you are filled with the Spirit. God commands it!
How can you be filled? Ask God to fill you. Surrender to Him. God will fill whatever you give Him. One of our sayings here at Life Center is: There’s more! There’s more to God than what you’ve experienced so far. There’s more that you can yield to God and so be filled by Him. There’s more, so don’t ever get satisfied and think, “I’ve arrived. I’ve got it all.” If you think that, you’re like a kid playing in a mud puddle and thinking it’s the Pacific Ocean! There’s more!
In a few minutes, we’re going to pray and ask God to fill us. One more thing.
2. They spoke in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-14, 8:14-19, 10:44-48, 11:15-16, 19:1-7, 1 Corinthians 12-14.
This is the third sign: the sound of the wind, the sight of the flame, and the inspired speech. They spoke in other languages—that is, languages other than their own native tongue—as the Spirit enabled them. This is usually called “speaking in tongues”, tongues being the old word for languages. They were speaking known languages for a crowd quickly gathered and marveled that these Galileans were speaking their languages. Fifteen different nationalities or languages are named. By the way, Galileans were known for their peculiar accent, and were considered to be provincial, country bumpkins. I have a friend from the South and he likes to say that his southern accent makes most people think his IQ is 40 points lower than it really is. That’s how these folks thought of Galileans. So to hear these country bumpkins speaking at least 15 different languages was surprising, and the crowd commented on it.
What were they saying? They were declaring the wonders of God. Specifically, I think they were declaring the wondrous story of Jesus. That’s what happened to them.
So when you are baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit, should you expect these same three signs? Will you hear the sound of a wind, see the sight of flames dancing over your head, or declare the wonders of God in a language you never learned? The answer is a definite “maybe”! I would never put anything past God! He can do what He wants and if He wants you to have all those signs, you will!
However, the book of Acts records several other times when people were baptized and filled with the Spirit. In those other cases, there is no record of wind or fire. But they did speak in other languages. Because of that, some Christians believe that speaking in tongues is the normal sign or evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.
• It happened in Acts 2 to the first followers of Jesus.
• It happened in Acts 10 to Cornelius and his household, who were the first Gentile followers of Jesus. It says they were “speaking in tongues and praising God.”
• It happened in Acts 19 to the Ephesian disciples of John the Baptist, who when they believed in Jesus, received the Holy Spirit and “spoke in tongues and prophesied.”
Here’s my humble conclusion. In the book of Acts, inspired speech was the most common sign of the Spirit’s coming. It was often speaking in tongues, but it was also prophesying, or praising God. It’s reasonable to think that when you are filled with God’s Spirit and power, something would happen to you. If you touch a live electrical wire, something would happen to you, and God is way more powerful than that.
So do you have to speak in tongues to be filled with the Spirit? No. Might it happen to you? Yes. Or you may find yourself praising God, or speaking His word. Or you might just be so overwhelmed you’ll be speechless.
But let’s not get hung up on the signs of the Spirit’s coming; let’s just ask Him to come and fill us. God will fill whatever you give Him; if you give Him your life…right now…and tomorrow…and the next day, He will fill you and keep on filling you.
We’re going to take some time right now to sing and worship God, and ask Him to fill us. I’ll come back up in a few minutes and close us.
Worship and prayer to be filled with the Spirit.