We are past pentecost. Both in the annual calendar of the church and historically: Luke wrote his history of the acts following his gospel. And he did have a methodology: at the beginning of the gospel he said that he had talked to the eyewitnesses to these events. Those he did not witness himself.
This warms my stony heart. I have been taught to look first at the methods section in a paper, and then read the results if the methodology is valid. And in this there is nothing new.
So to begin: Luke gives us the number of days Christ walked among us as risen, and his paraphrase of Christ’s final teaching.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Now, before pentecost, what did the disciples do? They had been taught by Christ for at least three years. They knew his methods. They were trained.
They stayed together. And they prayed. There is great value in personal prayer, but many of us (this blogger included) find it difficult and have to use aids. Corporate prayer is somewhat easier.
If we look at church history, we find that before revival there was prayer. Over and over again. There was a group who hungered not for the praise of man or success, but for the will of God. And they prayed.
And as these times turn bleaker, so need we to do.
Sometimes I do not know why i pull my cellphone out and shoot this image or that. I took this photo in the glare of a storefront restaurant, feeding my boys Japanese food. One had just sat the hardest exam, the one he feared most, this semester, and we had been just told by our music teacher (who used to run a music shop) that some kids had destroyed the tailpiece of his viola. We were there for respite. And I saw the sun and an empty glass.
It did not remain empty for long. We filled them with water, and had miso and green tea, and rice and teriyaki. Then the went on with the day.
Before I get into the theology (I almost called this ‘predestination and pentecostalism’) we need to understand that any thing we do that glorifies God is not ours alone. It is God’s for Gor alone can open our hardened and scarred hearts to listen to the his word. It is only by his spirit that we have power, and good is done. And within this, God, moves in those who do not call themselves Christian, and calls them towards him, getting them to also do good: as the Psalmist said, the heart of the King is in the hand of God, who will do with it what he wills.
And whenever we do good, there will be opposition.
18So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.
23After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 25it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? 26The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ 27For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
3bNo one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
I find the issues we find controversial cannot be neatly explained away. Consider that in the second passage the great assurance that only in Christ we can say that Jesus is Lord — which is said in every church, in every liturgy, and if we stop doing this we are not a church, we have fallen from the vine: but it moves into this discussion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which was designed as a call for unity but became a division. The Westminster Confession says the gifts have ceased. I’m not sure: the same way that I’m not sure if we are wise to abandon women covering their heads and let men wear caps. You cannot divide scripture. You cannot take one bit and not another.
If we are of Christ, we need to obey it all, including the bits we don’t like. And there is much I don’t like: I’m lazy, I don’t like discipline. The snark is deeply within me, and continence is a continual struggle. It is only in Christ that there will ever be obedience in the areas of my favourite vices, of which coffee is the least.
I have posted multiple versions of the Hillsong United song “Oceans” here but this one has the leader talking a bit about what the song asks of us. And it’s not sitting in worship, but being in the world, being good and doing good.
Now, this leads on and has applications. In the West, we are afflicted with a post-modern and post-Christian ideology: the fires of persecution are starting, and the left feels triumphant. To say that one opposes abortion, or that one should be righteous….
If we find ourselves being told that we are old fashioned, swivel-eyed, loons, and that we are simply impolite and we should shut up we need to first consider if we are telling the truth. We could be in error, but if we are not, if we are not then we have a duty. To continue to talk, to continue to act, in the teeth of opposition because that is our duty.
For we need to obey God, and not man. There is a missing verse in the quote from Acts, which states that the man who was healed was around 40 years. This refers back to Acts 3. where Peter, turning to a cripple begging, says I’m out of money, but in the name of Jesus rise — and then preaches a sermon that ends thusly:
Acts 3:17– 25
17“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18“But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22“Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHETLIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. 23‘And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24“And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25“It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIESOF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.’ 26“For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
This world worships self esteem. It teaches that we should rejoice in being a glass, and not long to be filled. That there is nothing beyond what we can see and feel, and that it is our duty to undo the damage that has happened to this world, as they see it (be it trace gasses in the air or nitrates in the world: a form of post-modern Manichaeism.
To tell these people that they are wrong, they are flawed, that there is evil in them is offensive. Deeply offensive, they (forgive me for using a technical word) have projected their guilt, their evil, onto those whom they see as evil, so that they can do what they like and consider themselves righteous. At work I would call that a profoundly disturbed trait within a personality. And indeed, this ideology is disturbed.
So what are we to do? Firstly, we are to remain united. We can argue about our theological models: we should argue about such models. But if this means I’m backing or supporting an Orthodox priest or Pentecostal pastor because they are in the front line in their city or nation, so be it.
Secondly, we need to preach the gospel. We don’ necessarily have to like the liturgy (I don’t naturally fit among the Pentecostals, but the best of them preach the word of God. That youtube video is embedded for a reason) but we need to obey God. For the Gospel it itself offensive
And thirdly, we need to pray that we will indeed be deeply grounded in the Spirit of God. Because we lack the courage. We lack the wisdom. We lack the discernment. And we are facing opposition: the spirit of ths world is opposed to the truth, to the beautiful, to the noble, and to God. If the minions of the elite are opposing us, we are usually in the right.
Let us, today, not only remember that the Spirit of God arrived in power on some followers of a Rabbi who had been crucified at Passover, during the festival of weeks. But that the same Spirit is at work today. Let us pray for reform, that our churches will not compromise, and that the Spirit will again work with power among us. But be aware that this comes at a cost. You will have to remain holy. And you will be opposed.