Sunday, May 22, 2016

THE LAST DAYS

Waiting in High Expectation

One of the last things that Jesus told his disciples before he ascended into heaven is that they were to go to the upper room in the city of Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit. I do not know if, after ten days of waiting for the Spirit to arrive, the people in the upper room perhaps had begun to settle into a routine. It is difficult to consistently remain in a state of high expectation. We know this ourselves. As believers in Christ, we are also awaiting a promise. When Jesus was on earth, he spoke often of the fact that he would be leaving, but then someday return to rule in his kingdom.

I think that in the first months after Jesus ascended into heaven, his followers probably woke up every morning wondering if this could be the day that Jesus would return. Then the months turned into years, the years into decades, and the decades into centuries. We sit now two thousand years afterwards, and we still await the return of Jesus.

Those of us who believe in Jesus also believe the fact that his return may be any day. Even today. However, if you are like me, this is rarely, if ever, your first thought when you wake up in the morning. We are more likely to think about what we are to do on that day, or else about making some coffee. Although we know that Christ may return today, we have settled into a routine. We should be careful about doing this. Although we may not be able to keep ourselves in a constant state of elevated attentiveness, we must always be attentive. 

Maintaining our Vigilance

The principle point of many of the parables that Jesus told his disciples is that they were to remain alert. They were not to allow themselves to sink into slumber, but that they were to be watchful. “Therefore be on the alert,” Jesus told his disciples, “for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” So must it be for us, if we are disciples of Jesus. (Matthew 24:42. See also Matthew 25:10,13; Luke 12:40; 21:36 as well as others)

If we read the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the room on the day of Pentecost and think that it may have been a frightening experience for those present, think of how it will be at the return of Christ. Here is one account: (click on READ MORE below)M   

The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31 NAS) 

Do you see why it is important to remain watchful? Just as Jesus gave the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, he has also made this promise. Although it has been a long time and we have fallen into the routine of living, if you are a disciple of Christ, you must remain watchful. This will happen. Just as Jesus fulfilled the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he will also fulfill the promise of his return. 

A Violent Arrival

If the very first thought of the disciples in the upper room that morning of Pentecost was not on the coming of the Holy Spirit, it was not long before it was their only thought. It was very soon in the morning when, as the text tells us “Suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

As I said last week in reference to earlier manifestations of the Holy Spirit, there was no gentle dove descending here, no soft breeze at the mouth of a cave. The adjectives used to describe the noise that came into that room were much more forceful. The arrival of the Spirit was violent, and it was rushing. I am certain that it was frightening.

Since the disciples had spent the ten days of waiting in prayer for the Holy Spirit, when they first heard the loud sound, they no doubt realized that this must be a sign that he was coming. However, do you remember the story that I told last week about the prophet Elijah, standing in the mouth of the cave on Mount Horeb? The first wind that came to that cave was also a violent and rushing wind, so strong that it was slashing on the mountain and dislodging great rocks. Nevertheless, it was not in this great wind that Elijah heard the voice of God, but it was instead in the quiet breeze that came later.

This time however, in the upper room, this violent sound of a wind was indeed an indication of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It filled the entire room. I am not certain if there was an actual wind that was present, or if it was just the noise of a violent wind. The author Luke is describing the sound, not a wind itself. He said that the noise was like a violent and rushing wind. That is, a noise came into the room such as a mighty wind would make. Whether or not this loud rushing sound was accompanied by an actual wind is not clear.

If there indeed was a wind, I am sure it created such a furious whirlwind in that confined area that it sent anything not held down flying all over the room. However, it is my impression that there probably was no actual wind, which in some ways, would have made this phenomenon even more frightening, since the people present had no frame of reference to connect to this sound. It was like a great noise without a source. I am sure that they soon realized however, that the source was the Holy Spirit himself. 

Flames as of Fire

We have all been in some sort of strong wind. Perhaps not the same as this one, and certainly not inside a room, but we have at least have had experiences similar enough that we can get an idea of what it may have been like inside that room. We have heard the sound that a strong wind can make.

But with this next phenomenon, we have nothing in our experience that can give us some help in picturing it. Even Luke, who hand first-hand accounts of those who saw what it was, had a difficult time in describing it. He says this: “There appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.”

What appeared was apparently not actually fire. Luke says that it was “as of fire,” meaning that it was similar in appearance. Just as wind was sometimes associated with the Holy Spirit, quite often in the Bible, fire was also an indication of the presence of God. The Bible always calls it fire, and perhaps it actually was, but it did not act like typical fire acts.

Remember that the Lord spoke to Moses from a bush that was ablaze, but the bush was not being consumed by the fire. From that fire, God identified himself to Moses, saying, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Then, during the time of the exodus, God went before the children of Israel, appearing as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. When God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, we are told that he descended in fire, and once the tabernacle had been built, God’s presence was also known there by fire. (Exodus 3:2,5; 13:21; 19:18; 40:38)

The fire in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost was divided into many tongues, each of these descending and resting on each person in the room. With the loud sound of wind, and with an appearance of fire, the Holy Spirit came upon each person. You no doubt know the story of what happened next. 

The Speaking in Tongues

 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)

The disciples and others vocalized the words, but it was not they who were speaking. It was the Spirit who was giving them the ability and the words to speak. What they spoke was not incoherent babblings, but words that were understandable. The words may not have been understandable to any of those in the room, but they were understandable. We know that by what happened after they began speaking.

Jerusalem, even at that time, was quite a cosmopolitan city. Many Jews who had been born and who had lived in other nations had resettled in the city, returning to the country of their roots. The text even mentions several of these countries, sixteen in all. It was like, as is stated in the account, that Jews were there “from every nation under heaven.”

The sound of the disciples and others speaking in tongues must have been loud enough to reach the street, since people outside began to hear someone speaking in their own language. This naturally would cause them to investigate where these words were spoken.

Drawn to our Mother Tongue

When I was young man living in India and struggling with the language of that country, I remember occasionally going to the city where some people spoke English. If you have ever lived in another land for a longer period than just to visit, you know what it is to hear your own tongue in a foreign setting. It is almost relaxing.

When I was in a city at a bazaar, for instance, and if there were some American visitors there, I would sometimes strike up a conversation with them just to be able to speak English. I even remember that there were also times, when it seemed to me that the people would not want to be disturbed, that I simply stood at a cart near to where they were talking. I pretended to be shopping, but really, I was just standing there so that I could listed to them speak my own language the way it was spoken in my home country. I suppose that I was eavesdropping, but I never looked at it in that way. I just wanted to hear American English!

So it was for the people in Jerusalem that had come from foreign lands. When they heard their mother tongue being used, they had to come to investigate. However, what they heard was not a discussion at a bazaar merchant’s cart about what item was “cute” and what item looked “cheap.” They heard the disciples speaking in their “own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

Unlike my eavesdropping in India, those in Jerusalem who heard the disciples knew that they were speaking these languages not because they were from these countries. The people listening knew that the ones speaking their languages were from Galilee. The people in the crowd began asking one another, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?”

And then they asked the important question, “What does this mean?” 

What is the Meaning of This?

With this question, the Apostle Peter spoke up, quoting the words of the Old Testament prophet Joel. Joel, in turn was proclaiming the words of God. Hang on to your seats, for what he said is quite a mouthful. 

It shall be in the last days that I will pour forth my Spirit on all mankind. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even my servants, both men and women.

In those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy, and I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs in the earth below, blood and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.

And it shall be that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:17-21) 

 Today, when we think of Pentecost, perhaps it is our first thought that this is the time when the Holy Spirit came upon the church. This was the fulfillment of a promise of God that reaches far back into early history. To say that what happened on Pentecost was momentous would be an understatement.

Unfortunately, for many, the important matter of this event was that the people spoke in tongues. This, to many people the in church today, is the main point of the day. These people turn the discussion of Pentecost to whether or not we should speak in tongues today. Different factions in the churches go back and forth with –

“Yes we should.”
“No we shouldn’t.”
"Tongues are for Spirit filled Christians baptized by the Holy Spirit.”
“The gift of tongues has ceased.”

Frankly, I have grown weary of the whole conversation. It has taken our eyes off what is truly significant and important about Pentecost. Think of what Peter and the prophet Joel said! Think of what God himself said!

That the Holy Spirit came to us was a marvelous event, but marvelous as well is what his coming indicated to the people of that day, and in our own day. God said, “It shall be in the last days that I will pour forth my Spirit”.

What does it mean – the “last days”? 

The Last Days

It means this: With the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have seen the last step in the working of God’s plan to bring all things to conclusion. He has led us through the times of the Law in the Old Testament to teach us that we cannot live up to his standards on our own strength and our own merit. After God showed us this, Jesus Christ came to teach us the meaning of grace, and offered to redeem any who regretted their rejection of the Lord and wanted begin a new relationship with God. What was required of us was only that we see our tremendous and undeniable need for a savior.

As Peter said, “And it shall be that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

There were also other steps along the way in the workings of God, but with the sending of the Holy Spirit, God says nothing more needs to be done. Everything is in place. The very next step for the life of the believer is the kingdom of God. 

Does a Day Take 2000 Years?

“Yes,” but you say, “these so called ‘last days’ have now been two thousand years in the making.”

Do you really think that in terms of eternity that two thousand years is a long period of time? Do you know what Peter would say to this question? In fact, he did say it: “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9 NAS). 

There is much that must happen in these last days, and much that is yet to happen. We can read about these things in the book of Revelation. I am afraid that near the end of these last days, difficult things will happen. Satan will make one last attempt at leading a rebellion against God. It will not succeed.

However, it terms of all that God had to do to complete his work, with the sending of the Holy Spirit to minister in this present day, God has completed everything. Putting down the rebellion of Satan is a small matter to him. He will do it simply with a word spoken. The larger matter is winning your heart.

In every way, across many centuries and in many ways, God has been seeking to show you that He is worthy of your love and your devotion. He will not force you to do this. As I said last week, there is something about the very nature of love that is opposed to force or coercion. It is instead a matter of the will. It is a matter of the heart.

What is your heart telling you? Are you still holding on to the tired old lie that you do not need God in your life? Or will you tell him, “Yes God, I see your plan and I want to respond to how you have reached out to me in love. Come and save me today!”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Don for your words of encouragement! We never grow too old to need instruction and reinforcement of our beliefs. God's blessings to you for your faithfulness! Jim

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