Pastoral Relief and Retreat

My photo
Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

Pages

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lord's Day Message: The Voice of Prophecy


On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:19-23 ESV)

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
            Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
            But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
            “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
            that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
            and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
                        and your young men shall see visions,
                        and your old men shall dream dreams;
            even on my male servants and female servants
                        in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
            And I will show wonders in the heavens above
                        and signs on the earth below,
                        blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
            the sun shall be turned to darkness
                        and the moon to blood,
                        before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
            And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
(Acts 2:1-21 ESV)
We are closing out our series on Voices of the Resurrection where we began it, in a rented dining room on the second floor of an unimportant house in downtown Jerusalem.   That is where, on the evening of Resurrection Day, Jesus first met with the body of his disciples.  There were ten of the original twelve present that night, so far as we know.  There may have been more, there may have been less.  But we know for sure that Judas was no longer with them, for he had committed suicide late the previous Friday.    And we know from John 20 that Thomas was not with them that night. 

The story of what happened over the next fifty days is the story of the Voices of the Resurrection.  It is the story of Thomas, the Voice of Lingering Doubt.  It is the story of a disciple from Antioch in Syria, an educated man named Luke, who would go on to write not only an account of the things Jesus said and did, but also a history how the gospel of Jesus spread in the first years after the Resurrection.  These fifty days were no doubt immensely important in the forming of his Voice of Proclamation. 

At the end of the fifty days that followed Passover; forty-seven days after the Resurrection; just a week after the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven; on the day of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost we hear the voices of three thousand people whose names we will never know here on earth, but who will sit shoulder to shoulder with you who trust Christ, on that day when he again reclines at table and finishes the Passover he celebrated with his disciples in a rented dining room on the second floor of an unimportant house in downtown Jerusalem the night before his death.  On that Day, the Last day of this world and the first of the next, that same rented dining room will somehow become large enough to hold every person who ever trusted Christ, as they are united forever with him in the marriage feast of the Lamb when he raises the Cup of Restoration and drinks it in joyful celebration of what has now already been accomplished but is waiting until that day to be revealed.

Through these fifty days we have also been introduced to Stephen, the Voice of a Martyr who set the pattern for all who present their bodies as living sacrifices and can still see Jesus even as they are being stoned to death.   We have also met Paul, the hired gun of Rome who set out to destroy the early church but ended up meeting Jesus half way from Jerusalem to Damascus and became perhaps the most persuasively logical evangelist of the first century.   And of course, we have met Jesus himself, who the story is about; who all the stories in every place at every time are about.  We met him at the beginning of these fifty days as he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in a rented dining room on the second floor of an unimportant house in downtown Jerusalem. 

And here they are again, back where they started.  The rented dining room is the same, and yet everything is different.  On Passover the disciples had sat in great and profound sadness and symbolically received the body and blood of Jesus even as he told them he was about to be betrayed and denied; about to be left on a tree to die.  Three days later, and again a week after that they had sat in the same rented dining room and again eaten bread and wine together but had received the Holy Spirit.  And now, fully fifty days after that Passover, here they are again, but this time they are not receiving the body and blood of Christ, this time they ARE the body and blood of Christ, each one and together sacraments about to be distributed to a hungry and thirsty world.

As Luke tells it, the events of Pentecost are focused around the words of Peter, whom we are calling, for purposes of this series, the Voice of Prophecy.  But in the passage we read from Acts 2, there are actually three prophetic voices heard.  The first is from an unlikely source.  When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that day they were so overwhelmed, and the noise they heard was so great – like the noise of a tornado, the passage says – that they literally spilled out of the rented dining room, down the stairs, and into the street to meet the great crowd that had gathered to discover what the ruckus was. 

With each of the major feasts of the Jewish calendar the population of Jerusalem swelled with pilgrims coming from all over the Empire.  This was a kind of a melting pot, but not like we experience in a place like New York City.  Unlike our modern crowds who each visit a city for their own reason, the people in Jerusalem that day were all Jews, normally scattered to the four winds living in small enclaves in places like Lybia, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Iran, and the Anatolian plain of what is modern-day Turkey.   Out there they were the foreigners.  Here in Jerusalem they were gathered for one purpose.  But over the years of living in other countries they had adopted the culture and languages of the places they lived.  And so, when they came to Jerusalem they struggled with broken Hebrew phrases and strange Judean customs.  

And in some kind of a weird reversal of what happened in Genesis 11 at Babel, when God placed the barrier of language between men and concerted understanding, here on the Day of Pentecost God momentarily made it possible for all of these people to understand with crystal clarity what this one Galilean fisherman was about to say. 

So the first Voice of Prophecy is theirs.  These Jews from all over the then-known world are amazed at what they are seeing and hearing, and they prophesy, “These men are filled with new wine.”  

They didn’t know how right they were. 

The wine of Jesus was being poured out on the disciples who were pouring him out on all who had ears to hear that day.  In the days that followed Pentecost, the number of those who believed multiplied exponentially, and the Body of Christ was distributed in the person of those first disciples as they shared all that they had with any who had need.  Oh you would have to be drunk to run out onto Loudon Road and proclaim Jesus as Lord.  You would have to be very drunk to open your home to every stranger in Concord and empty your pantry to every hungry one among them and offer your car to every traveller and your shower to the dirty, your clothes to those in rags, your spare beds to those with no home.  You would have to be drunk with wine or else pouring out the wine of the Spirit.

These men were filled with new wine.  They were so full of the Spirit of God that their bodies could not contain him any longer and they had to testify.  Their hearts were so full of Jesus that they had to give.  Their lives were so overflowing with gratitude to God that they had to offer grace to all around them.

The second Voice of Prophecy is that of the Old Testament prophet Joel.  His enigmatic prophecy was written sometime between 1000 and 600 BC.  No one really knows all that much about when he lived.  His prophecy is almost completely a vision of the End Times, and no clue is given as to the contemporary politics of his day.  But Joel also speaks of a pouring out of God’s Spirit, and it clears up a question that has confounded theologians for 2000 years.  If we are willing to listen to it, we will discover that the End Times began with the Resurrection of Christ and will end with the Restoration of All Things at the Last Day.  In this in-between time, those who do not know Jesus are forever living in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and those who know him are living in the Valley of the Shadow of Life.  Jesus makes us alive now, but not fully alive; he heals us now, but not a full healing; he gives us eyes to cure our blindness, but our sight is not yet clear.  When the Day comes and all questions are answered, then the prophecy of Jesus will be complete: that they may have live and have it abundantly. 

The third Voice of Prophecy is the voice of Peter himself.  This is a man who had never spoken in public before this day.  This is a man who had spent his life fishing for a living, so we have to assume he is not a trained public speaker.  Look at what he does.  He stands up in the middle of the crowd.  He is not about to preach, because all preaching was done sitting down in those days.  He is fully identifying with the people he is standing with.  And he addresses them in two ways.  He says, “Men of Judea” – he is identifying the residents of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, “and all who dwell in Jerusalem” – he is including the Jewish pilgrims who had come here for Pentecost: “let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.” 

Peter goes on to quote Joel in full.  If he were in church today, this would have been the Old Testament Lesson.  But thank God, he wasn’t in church.  He was out on the street.  They had gone out.  They were not in the Temple or even a Synagogue.  They weren’t even in the rented dining room on the second floor.  They had stopped traffic in the middle of Loudon Road and THERE delivered the Old Testament Lesson.  By the way, Peter didn’t have a scroll in his hand when he did this.  No miraculous work of the Holy Spirit had made it possible for Peter to remember the words of Joel.  He had taken the time to memorize this prophecy. 

Oh believers!  Don’t you know the importance of knowing the Scriptures?  You don’t have to have committed the whole Bible to memory.  Just a few things will be enough.  And God will begin to use them as you memorize them.  Let the Word of God dwell in richly in your heart, because in it are the true riches of his nature and character.  Knowing the Word is not a prerequisite for knowing God.  But knowing the Word is a sure-fire ticket to having his Spirit pour you out like wine and offer you like bread to the world.

Peter quotes Joel.  And the passage we read this morning leaves off before he tells his audience about Christ.  He is about to.  He is going to tell them the whole narrative of what happened to him and the events that led them all from the rented dining room on the second floor to speaking to a crowd of thousands just a few weeks later. 

But the passage leaves us hanging here on our Day of Pentecost.  It leaves us with the Voice of Prophecy, the voice that is about to tell the story.  It leaves us here because you have the same prophecy placed before you this morning.  What is your story?  What is the narrative of what Jesus has done with you?  Will you run out into the street and stop the traffic on Loudon Road and make them listen?  Will your life be poured out like wine, your days offered like bread?  

Here is the prophecy of Joel.

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
            that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
            and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
                        and your young men shall see visions,
                        and your old men shall dream dreams;
            even on my male servants and female servants
                        in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
            And I will show wonders in the heavens above
                        and signs on the earth below,
                        blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
            the sun shall be turned to darkness
                        and the moon to blood,
                        before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
            And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 And here is your assignment this Pentecost.    Go home this week, and before you come back here next week, memorize these words.  Meditate on them.  And then see what sermon comes out of your mouth as the Holy Spirit comes upon you.

No comments: