Having mentioned last week about Ascension Day, and how for most people it will be a day that passes them by, reminds us how much things have changed over the years. In the 1960s Ascension Day was regarded as a very special day, because at Hook Primary school the children had a morning service at the Church and then had the rest of the day off school. My husband was one of them. I wonder if you were.
After the Risen Jesus had ascended and returned to his Father in Heaven, the disciples were told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem, until God sent them the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were waiting ten days. Perhaps unsure of what to expect, they spent their time praying, and in fellowship together. It was a time when God was preparing them for the task that lay ahead. There are times in our lives when we have to be still, be patient and wait for God. It’s not always easy, and some of us are more impatient than others! As we wait we can believe God is working in our lives preparing us for the next step of our journey. The disciples also prayed about a replacement for Judas, the disciple who had betrayed Jesus, and a man called Matthias was chosen. We read this in Acts Ch. 1.
After the waiting, the Festival of Pentecost came. Peter and the disciples were together, when suddenly, out of the blue, a mighty, violent wind swept across the room where they were sitting, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. As the Spirit moved and spread amongst them, like a wildfire, they all began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit prompted them.
A large crowd of God-fearing Jews, from across the world, were in Jerusalem for the festival. When they heard all this noise, they wondered what was going on, and ran to the place where the Spirit was moving. They were shocked and amazed, as each one heard them speaking in their own language. They could not figure what was going on and kept saying, “Aren’t all these Galileans? How come we hear them talking in our own languages? They are speaking in our various mother tongues, describing the mighty acts of God!” Their bewilderment and confusion caused even more chaos and commotion. It really was a day, and time, like never before. Because it was so crazy, some of the crowd began to mutter that the disciples must be drunk! It was then that Peter got up to address the crowd.
Remember Peter, he had been rather an unstable leader during Jesus’ ministry, letting his bravado be his downfall, even denying that he knew Jesus. That was in the past though, Jesus had forgiven and restored him. This was a new Peter, humble yet bold. His confidence now came from the Holy Spirit, who made him a powerful and dynamic speaker. Sometimes we let God down and perhaps we think we can never be forgiven, and that God can never use us. But that’s not true. We should always remember God’s forgiveness is available to everyone, and he can use each one of us to serve Him.
Peter stood and spoke boldly, telling the listening crowd that what was happening was fulfilling the words spoken by the prophet Joel, many years before. He went to great lengths to share the fulfilled scriptures and tell his listeners all about Jesus, finally concluding that the fact of the matter was, God had made him Master and Messiah, Jesus was the chosen one from God, the one they had crucified on a cross!
Hearing all this the people in the crowd were beside themselves, and called out to Peter and asked what they could do. Peter told them to turn to God, repent and be forgiven, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It must have been a mighty sermon because, through Peter’s words and the moving of the Holy Spirit, 3,000 people turned to Christianity that day. It was the birth of the Christian church.
Let us not forget, it was not Peter who did this. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through him. After receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit, on that day of Pentecost, none of the disciples and followers of Jesus were ever the same again. Peter changed from being weak and feeble to courageous and steadfast, and one of the greatest leaders of the early church.
As well as Pentecost, this week, in the life of the Methodist Church, we celebrate the anniversary of John Wesley’s conversion, when his intellectual conviction was transformed into a personal experience. John Wesley was an Anglican Priest and had preached many, many sermons, but something extra ordinary happened on the 24th of May 1738.
It was in the evening and John had gone reluctantly to a bible study fellowship, in Aldersgate Street. Someone was reading Luther’s preface to Romans, describing the change which can take place when God works in one’s heart through faith in Jesus. In his journal Wesley writes that it was around quarter to 9pm, and “I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death”.
Just as the Holy Spirit came upon Peter, and those early disciples, on the Day of Pentecost over 2,000 years ago, and as the Holy Spirit moved in the heart of John Wesley almost 300 years since, the same Holy Spirit can come into our lives and move in such a way that we have an inner joy, peace, and confidence like never before. We can each experience God in a personal way if we open our hearts, ask for, and receive this precious gift that God wants to give to us.