Be filled with the Spirit

Here’s a transcript of a sermon I gave a few years ago.

I’m going to talk about a special day today. Besides being Mother’s Day, it’s Pentecost in the Christian calendar. Pentecost is a Greek word that means “fiftieth day.” It’s the fiftieth day after Easter, which begins a new season in the Christian calendar, and it lines up with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. There are three big Jewish pilgrimage festivals in the Old Testament, and they are times when all the Jews who can come to Jerusalem and have a big party.

The first one is Pesach, which is Passover. The second is Shavuot, which is the feast of Weeks. The third is Sukkot, which is the feast of tabernacles, or tents. These are not ordinary holidays, because they take several days to accomplish, and anyone who can goes to Jerusalem. On this particular holiday, Jews bring “first fruits” — in fact, the holiday is also called “the feast of the first fruits.” They planted around Passover, and there have been seven weeks to do some harvesting. They don’t eat it, they don’t sell it. They save the harvest, then take it to Jerusalem at Shavuot and eat it there. The people who live close enough to Jerusalem can do that; the people who live farther away have a different strategy. They sell their harvest in their home towns, and carry the cash to Jerusalem. when they get there, they can buy what they need for the feast, including – and this is important for the story today – wine and strong drink. So it’s an OT command to buy lots of wine and strong drink on these holidays.

This is important, because of the story in Acts 2 of what happened on the day of Pentecost.

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 [the followers of Jesus] 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.

Acts 2.1-4

That’s the scene on Pentecost morning in Jerusalem. They’re in a house, doing whatever they were doing, perhaps getting ready for the party. And suddenly something happens to them that no one is expecting. There’s a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and fire appears throughout the room, and it settles on their heads, it says. So they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit empowered them. They pour out into the street, it says, and people from all over – remember, this is a pilgrimage feast, so people are coming to Jerusalem from all over – come together because of the sound of the mighty rushing wind. Imagine hearing that sound but not seeing any wind, not seeing the trees move. It was a significant event. So they see all these followers of Jesus spilling out of the house, and they’re acting in a particular way. In fact, they’re acting so differently that the people watching them say, “They’re drunk.”

So this is a sermon on being drunk! The reason I say that is because the apostle Paul says in one of his letters, “Therefore, do not be drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Paul is contrasting being drunk with wine with being filled with the Spirit. So I looked up “debauchery”. I first looked at other bible translations, and one said “dissipation.” So I looked at the Greek word that Paul wrote. It means, “not safe,” “excessive indulgence.” It’s over the top, it’s too much. And when you think of people who get drunk, is that not a valid explanation of what is going on? In fact, how do you know when people are drunk? What are their characteristics? Loud, obnoxious, can’t walk or drive straight, they smell, they don’t speak straight, they’re clingy and huggy. They are controlled by an outside influence, and it changes their behavior.

So, when the disciples spilled out of that house on the day of Pentecost, and people said they were drunk, could it be accurate to say that they were controlled by an outside influence that changed their behavior. That’s what happened. That’s what being filled with the Spirit is all about. They were filled with the Spirit and they started doing things that people don’t ordinarily do. They were speaking in other languages, and people from all different parts of the world heard them, each in his or her own language.

Now, if someone came up to you and started speaking in Spanish, I doubt you’d think, “Hey, this guy must be drunk, because he’s speaking in another language!” It was more than that – it had to be. You don’t accuse someone of being drunk at nine o’clock in the morning, unless perhaps it was a Jewish party day, where drinking was going on, and these guys were acting like they’d been drinking since the night before.

When people are filled with the Spirit of God, they act different. And we are designed – we are built – to be filled with and empowered by God’s Spirit. In fact, if we’re not empowered by God’s Spirit, we look for other things to empower us. That’s why people go after wine and things like that – because we are designed to be empowered by something. we’re designed to be controlled by something else. Did you remember the creation story, where God created Adam and Eve? It says that God created Adam out of the dust, and Adam was an empty shell until God breathed into him the breath of life, and Adam came alive. The breath of life is what changed Adam from a pile of dirt to a living soul. We are built and designed to be empowered by God’s breath, God’s Spirit.

So that’s what we are supposed to be seeking. I am looking for an encounter with God, an experience with God that changes my life. I don’t want to just go to church and then come home unchanged. I want to experience God. I want him to affect my life, who I am, and change me, to make me something different. It’s not enough that I stay the same as I am, going to church, going to work, and nothing happens. I need to be changed, I need to be affected, I need to be someone else. I need to be more like Jesus. By the way, that’s the mission statement of our church – and every church – we want more people to be more like Jesus. That’s what it boils down to.

Do you have that longing? Do you want something different? Do you want to be like Jesus? Do you want more of what he has for you? that’s what the Christian life is all about. That’s the “therefore”: don’t be drunk on wine, but be filled with the Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit has two ways in which it happens. One is a process, where we are slowly changed: our character, our actions are changed over time to become more like Jesus. We are gradually filled with the Spirit. We might not have noticed it happened, like when you were young and you grew an inch. You don’t experience the growth tangibly, but you can look back and notice that you are taller. In the same way, as you become more like Jesus, you can notice that you used to spend your money one way and now you spend it another. You are becoming more like Jesus – a process that happens over time.

Another way might be called a crisis – an event, a moment in time. And that’s what happens in Acts 2. The disciples were all minding their own business, perhaps getting ready for the Pentecost party, and the Holy Spirit came like a mighty rushing wind and changed everything. In fact, it changed Peter. Peter, we know, is the disciple that always has his foot in his mouth. He was always saying the wrong things, he was always doing the wrong things. He ran away when Jesus was arrested. He didn’t want to be identified as an associate of Jesus. But on this day, it says that Peter gave them a sermon that day, and he quoted Joel 2:

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.

Acts 2.17

Peter gave his first sermon. You would not think of Peter as “the sermon-giving guy,” but he was changed by being filled with God’s Spirit. He had a crisis moment.

I had a crisis moment! My junior year in college, I was 21 years old. I had a crisis moment in my life, where I was filled for the first time with God’s Spirit. And except for the tongues of fire part, it was just like Acts 2 for me. There was a lot of activity! People were laying hands on me, and they prayed for me, and it happened for me. But it happens differently for different people, and what we have to avoid is thinking that it always happens the same way for every person. Just like when you first heard about Jesus, some of you might have walked the aisle – the “altar call.” Some of you might have been watching an evangelist on TV. Some of you might have just been talking with a friend and you heard a bible verse and thought, “I need that.” Some of you took a long time, and some of you started following Jesus the first time you heard about him. It’s different for every one of us, and we don’t have rules that say you have to accept Jesus in a certain way. No! We also don’t have rules about how the Holy Spirit enters your life. There aren’t rules. For me, it was loud and crazy, people speaking in tongues all around. And I had a friend in college who said it was when she was all by herself. One of my roommates in college said he asked God to fill him with his Spirit, and suddenly he started forgiving everybody! We can’t do that on our own. We need the Spirit of God in order to forgive people. Being empowered by God, being filled by his Spirit, means doing things you don’t ordinarily do. It changes you. Being drunk on wine changes who you are, and being filled with his Spirit changes who you are.

If you have a little bit of wine, you might be a little bit changed. If you have more wine, you are more changed. If you’re filled, you can be completely changed. And that’s what happened to the disciples on that day. And it happened several times in Acts. Many times it says they were filled with the Spirit, so it’s not a one-time event. Dwight Moody said he was filled with the Spirit, but he leaks, so he needs to be filled up again. I’m an empty shell, and I need to be empowered by something.

So how do we get filled with God’s Spirit? There are three ways described in the Bible that this happens – but remember, we don’t have rules! We can’t say it has to happen in a certain way. These are just ways in which we see it happened to some followers of Jesus.

One way is sovereignly, where you’re in the middle of doing something, and God changes you. Another way is when someone lays hands on you and prays for you. That’s what happened to the apostle Paul; someone laid hands on him and prayed that he would be filled with the Spirit. In another way, it happened when they were all together praying. So you can be praying, you can have someone pray for you, or it can happen to you while you’re not even expecting it. I have a friend who was mowing his lawn last summer. He had his ipod on with his headphones, and he was listening to “Beautiful Day” by U2. While he was mowing the lawn, he felt filled by God’s Spirit. So he stops the mower, and is dancing around in his back yard, with hands in the air. No one else could hear the music! If you looked out your back door and observed this scene, you would think he was drunk! When you’re filled with the Spirit of God, you do things you don’t ordinarily do. He was filled by God’s presence – a tangible manifestation of the presence of God that changed him. He is not the same.

But he leaks, too. Everybody leaks. We need to ask God to fill us again and again. So some people have crazy, outrageous experiences, and some people have quiet ones. That’s not only ok, it’s a good thing. Who would want it the same every time? That doesn’t speak of the creative God that we have.

Now, there are some pros and there are some cons when it comes to being filled by God’s Spirit. There are some good things, and there are some things we might think are bad. We’ll have to see if we are willing to take the risk.

Some pros: increased power from the Holy Spirit; power to change your world. It says that when the disciples were filled with the Spirit at the beginning of Acts 2, we can see that it results in things happening that were recorded at the end of Acts 2. They started giving their possessions away. They were going great signs and wonders – miracles. Supernatural activity, like selling their TVs (that’s supernatural!), and healing people.

There are many verses I’ve had a hard time understanding over the years, and here’s one. Jesus says that it’s actually better for us if he goes away. When is it ever good for Jesus not to be here? If he were here, would we be saying that it would be better for him to go away? And I’ve thought a number of times as I’ve read that, what could possibly be better than Jesus himself being here? But Jesus said, if I don’t leave, the Holy Spirit won’t come. When I go, I will send him to you. Is it sacrilegious to say, it’s a good thing Jesus isn’t here? It sounds weird to say that, but it’s better because the Holy Spirit resides within each person who decides to follow Jesus – and at times, filling up and overflowing.

All of us, together and filled with the Spirit, are better – apparently – than just one Jesus on the earth. And that’s what Jesus said, not what I’m saying. It’s a good thing that he sends the Spirit to us.

Another pro is a transformed life. There’s a passage in Philippians that we would be like him, knowing the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering, so that we would be conformed to his image. We are changed over time to look more like Jesus. What does Jesus look like? Read the New Testament, especially the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7. That’s what Jesus is like, and we can be like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us.

Ezekiel is a man whose story is told in the Old Testament. He described this experience in chapter 37:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, you know. Then he said to me, Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37.1-6

That word “breath” is the Hebrew word “ruwach”, which is onomatopoetic; that is, it is a word that imitates a sound – the sound of a mighty rushing wind. So when we read in Acts 2 that the house was filled with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, we recognize that as the sound of the Holy Spirit.

Continuing on in Ezekiel:

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.

Ezekiel 37.7-8

That’s you and me: we are look like we’re alive, but there’s no breath in us. We need the Spirit of God to fill us.

Then he said to me, Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Ezekiel 37.9-10

When the Spirit of God comes upon us, we are different; we are alive.

Now, there are cons to being filled with God’s Spirit. The disciples were martyred for their faith. You might do things that make people mad.

You will have an increased tolerance for risk. You are willing to risk things you otherwise wouldn’t risk. Are you willing to increase your risk tolerance. If you are risk-averse, perhaps you need to be filled with the Spirit.

You’ll have a willingness to be disappointed. When you do things out of the ordinary, they don’t always work. Things don’t always happen the way you expect. Your friends get taken away from you. That’s what happened to these disciples. They had to leave their homes, they were scattered, persecuted.

You’ll have heightened spiritual attack. Our enemy doesn’t like people who are filled with God’s Spirit. Our political world doesn’t like people who are empowered by God’s Spirit, because we say things we “shouldn’t” say.

You lose control. Just like when you’re drunk you are doing things you can’t control, the same is true for those filled with the Spirit. If you are one of those people who must be in control, you need to ask God to fill you with his Spirit.

Increased risk, increased disappointment, a loss of control. Even when we know this is in store for us, there’s something inside of us which asks God, “I want more.”

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