Exeter Temple Message notesSunday 25th May 2014
For many Christians today the Holy Spirit is a fact of doctrine far removed from every day experience. In Acts the Holy Spirit is not a silent influence but an experienced power
At the end of Luke’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples that they are already witnesses of many things. Yet their ability to proclaim what they had been witnesses of was weak. It was not that they didn’t want to do what Jesus asked, just as they hadn’t wanted to run away when Jesus was arrested. As Jesus had said the “spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.”
There is for all of us a tension we feel at the gap between what we know we ought to be and do and our performance of it.Our level of spiritual knowledge may be high while our level of performance may be much lower. There is a sense of frustration when we recognise that we are not living up to our understanding of what God expects of us.
It’s the fire that brings the change. “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of the. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:3
Fire changes whatever to touches. And the changes will go on doing that in your life and mine.
Fire will go on burning whilst there is still fuel for it. The Holy Spirit is like fire, He is not satisfied with touching your life, he wants everything of you. “Our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrew 12:29
There are many people who don’t mind being touched by the fire, as long as it’s containable and controllable. They are happy as long as they determine its heat and intensity. But God will never be satisfied just to touch you, He wants to consume you.
2. Fire brings energy and warmth Isaiah 6:1-7Alexander MacLaren says in his commentary on Isaiah’s experience of being touched by the hot coal from the altar,
“There is no ice in God’s presence and the nearer we get to him in truth the more we shall glow and burn. Cold religion is a contradiction in terms, though, alas, it is a reality for many.”
Even after the disciples heard the amazing news that Jesus was alive, they were not ready to launch the church.
The disciples were not in the winter of despair that they had been in on Good Friday, Jesus was alive and when He appeared to them you could see them thawing out. Peter’s sense of failure, Thomas’ doubts and Mary’s grief started to melt away.
When Jesus is there He is like a ray of sunshine but when He goes away the clouds seem to gather again and the cold fear starts to grip them again.
If they had been left to themselves the flame of enthusiasm for building the kingdom would soon have burnt out when weighed up against the huge challenges involved.
This is why at one of His post resurrection appearances which we read about in Luke 24, Jesus instructed the disciples to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high”
On the day of Pentecost we see that promise fulfilled and the effect it has on the disciples is amazing. Doubts, fears disappointments are gone and they are lit up with enthusiasm, passion and renewed love for Jesus.
Have you ever got to a stage in your service for God when you feel like you are just going through the motions? Passion has ebbed and enthusiasm has waned and you feel drained.
It is not that God’s fire has gone out but that we have ceased to let it warm us. We need to draw near again and allow the precious Holy Spirit to renew our energy.
This is true of individuals and of His people together.
Charles W Conn wrote these words back in 1966; “There is nothing more pathetic than a drowsy and lethargic church. When a church loses its ardour for Christ, it ceases to be an organism and becomes merely an organization. Lacking the spiritual strength to operate as a true church for God, it will rely more and more upon mechanics and machinery.”
For us as Salvationists, to let that happen is to deny our heritage. Our motto is still “Blood and Fire.” To write those words on our flags but not actually avail ourselves of the cleansing of the blood of Jesus and the empowering of the Spirit in our daily lives makes us hypocrites.
3. Fire makes things work.Now when the New Testament Church first went out into the world, there was a great demonstration of power.
When Simon the Sorcerer saw the great signs and miracles that Philip did he was more than impressed. We know he offered them money in order to get in on the secret of their success. But of course Philip and the other apostles were not in Samaria to impress an audience. The reason for their activity and their presence in that area is found in Acts 8:5 “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.”
The display of power that we read about in Acts has direction and purpose. It honours God and changes lives. Power without purpose is rather futile. CH Spurgeon once said, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is power for the accomplishment of divine purposes.”
Both in his memories of Corinth and of Thessalonica Paul recalls that it was the power of the Spirit that enabled him to do a work for God. “My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2: 4-5
“Our gospel came to you no simply with words but also with power with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” 1 Thessalonians 1:4
John Stott wrote, “Before Christ sent the church into the world he sent the Spirit into the Church. The same order needs to be observed today.”
4. Fire both draws us and scares us.Knowing that fire is a dangerous thing we could say we want nothing more to do with it.
But that would mean we would never experience the joy of sitting on the hearth rug in front of the fire with a mug of hot coffee on a cold winters evening. It would mean that we wouldn’t know the fun of the BBQ or the unforgettable experiences of singing around a campfire.
Most of us have a love hate sort of relationship with fire.
Fire power can be used in two ways. It can be unleashed or it can be harnessed. The energy in ten gallons of petrol can be released explosively by dropping a lighted match into the can or it can be channelled through the engine of a car in a controlled burn.
The Holy Spirit’s power can work in both ways too. At Pentecost and on other occasion His presence has been explosive but at other times His flame has been the unseen but continual motivation behind the work of believers.
What we don’t like is that the fire of the Holy Spirit won’t be dictated to about which way He wants to play it. And rather than take the risk of having our comfort level upset we choose to avoid Him altogether. We will only get near the fire if we can tell it what to burn in our lives and how to do it.
God has not changed His plan of how His people are to live the Christian life. There is no alternative. It’s fire or freeze.