My wife, Stephanie, and I received a special blessing this past Easter weekend. Our daughters and their families came to spend a couple of days with us and to attend worship on Easter morning. The weather that weekend was good so I got a brilliant idea. I bought and assembled a fire pit so we could spend some quality time together around a calming fire. When it came time to light the fire, I gathered up some seasoned wood that was lying at the edge of our yard. It had been cut for several years so it should have been ready to burn. I placed the wood on the fire and initially it appeared we would have a roaring fire in just a few moments. Then something happened. The multicolored flames began to diminish and the firewood began smoke and make popping noises. We spent the rest of the evening playing “Dodge the Smoke” every time the wind changed directions. The wood looked ready to burn one the outside but on the inside it wasn’t ready.
In Acts 2:1-14 we read about the ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit: “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 their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our 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.”
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.
On the day of Pentecost, the disciples who were huddled together in the upper room wondering what to do next. They had just spent three years listening to Jesus’ teachings, seeing his miracles and wrestling with the rebukes he gave them. The despair of his crucifixion had been replaced with elation of his resurrection. Then something miraculous happened. The Holy Spirit arrived and they were ignited with His ‘fire.’ They spoke in other languages and Peter went from denying Jesus three times to boldly preaching to a crowd of thousands that Jesus is the Messiah. They caught ‘fire’ because on the inside they were ready to burn for the Lord.
Is the Holy Spirit burning in us? Are we on fire for the Lord? Do we want the Holy Spirit to fill us in new ways, to lead us into new ministries and into a closer relationship with God? Or, as Christians, do we just produce a bunch of smoke and popping noises because we’re trying to do ministry with our own strength instead of God’s? Are there areas where we’re just ignoring the calling of the Holy Spirit in our lives because we afraid to go where he’s calling us to go?
If we’re not burning for the Lord, do we even want to?
Pentecost means “the fiftieth (day)” in Greek. It is the name for the Hebrew word, Shavuot, which is the Feast of Weeks. This is a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai. Jews celebrate Pentecost fifty days after the second day of Passover.
In Christianity, we celebrate it fifty days after Easter. Easter is when Jesus became our sacrificial Lamb. He died on the cross for our sins and then overcame death with his resurrection. Pentecost is when God send the Holy Spirit to empower Jesus’ followers. The same ‘fire’ that transformed the disciples is available to us.
What does the ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit look like? While there are a lot of things we could look at regarding the Holy Spirit, let’s concentrate on what happened to the disciples in Acts 2. Verse 4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” This tells us they received Spiritual Gifts. One of the passages where Paul writes about spiritual gifts is in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 – “7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 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.”
One obvious thing we notice is that even before he lists the Spiritual gifts which are present in the Corinthian congregation, Paul states their purpose. Verse 7 says they are “given for the common good.” This means we are to use our gifts to help each other, strengthen the church and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.
Many years ago, Stephanie, Katie, Rachel and I went to visit Stephanie’s grandmother, Veda. Veda grew up hard during the Great Depression. This meant she never threw anything away until it was past being worn out. During our visit I washed my hands in her bathroom. As I dried them, I noticed her hand towel was so thin you could see through it and there were even a couple of holes in it. We decided to get grandma some new towels for Christmas that year. So we purchased them, wrapped them up in paper and bows and gave them to her as a Christmas gift. When Christmas Day arrived, she opened them and graciously thanked us. Several weeks later, when we visited her again, I noticed she was still using the old, ratty hand towels in the bathroom so I asked her, “Grandma, where are the new towels we gave you?” She replied, “Oh, I put them in the attic so I’ll have them when I need them.”
It’s one thing for grandma to store away gifts that she and her visitors needed. It’s much worse if we store away the gifts the church needs, especially when the Holy Spirit is the gift giver. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Peter and the other apostles were given the gift of speaking in tongues and they used it. God will hold us accountable if we don’t use our spiritual gifts for the common good of others.
The second manifestation of the Holy Spirit we see in Acts 2 is Boldness. After the Holy Spirit filled him, Peter stood up and preached to a large crowd of Jews. It’s very possible and even probable this crowd contained some of the very same people who had screamed for Jesus’ execution only a few weeks prior. They could have stirred up this crowd to call for Peter’s crucifixion also. But, with the power of the Holy Spirit in him, Peter preached a fiery, gospel message even though it could have led to his own death. Spiritual boldness isn’t the absence of fear. It’s the ability to overcome fear and take action for God.
Once several other Christians and I took a course to learn how to do street evangelism. After we finished training, we went to the local mall to practice what we’d learned. We discovered something about ourselves on the way there. We were really nervous about how people would respond to us. So we prayed. And prayed. And prayed for God to take away our fear. After we prayed, God did something interesting. He didn’t take away our fears. He gave us the abilities to work through them. The more we shared our faith with others, the less nervous we were.
My guess is that Peter was nervous when he addressed the crowd. He did it anyway because the Holy Spirit was guiding him. Are you resisting the calling of the Holy Spirit within you because you’re afraid? If you are, start praying for God to give you the strength to work through your fear instead of asking him to take it away.
There’s one more crucial point we need to understand about the Holy Spirit filling us. In both Acts 4 and Acts 5, the apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin and told to quit preaching that Jesus is the Messiah. Acts 5:29-32 says, “Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” This passage tells us the amount of ‘fire’ we receive from the Holy Spirit is in direct proportion to our obedience to God.
The reason Peter and the other disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is because they were obeying Jesus. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1:4-5 – “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “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.” This is exactly what the disciples were doing. They didn’t rush ahead of God and start ministering in Jesus name using their own abilities. They listened to Jesus and waited for God to act.
As followers of Jesus, are we burning with the ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit by using our spiritual gifts for the good of others, being bold and being obedient to God? Or, like the wood I tried to burn in my fire pit, are we producing a lot of smoke and popping sounds because our spiritual wood is wet?
The truth is found in our answers to the following 3 questions:
Am I using my gifts for the common good?
Am I bold for the Lord?
Am I obeying God?
I pray the answer to all 3 questions is a resounding “Yes!”