Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
Just last week I was reading and journaling through Exodus chapters 3 and 4—where God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and called him to go to Pharaoh and demand that he let the Israelites, who were in slavery in Egypt, go free.
And I couldn’t help but notice that the word “but” appears frequently: Exodus 3:11: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’” Exodus 4:1: “Then Moses answered, ‘But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, “The Lord did not appear to you.” ’ ” Exodus 4:10: “But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’” Exodus 4:13. “But he said, ‘Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.’”
You have to hand it to Moses… at least he’s honest!
But I want to make sure you get the picture: Moses had the miracle of the burning bush—a bush that was on fire but didn’t burn up. The burning bush alone was an unmistakable manifestation of the presence of God. Moses knew without a shadow of doubt, in other words, that the Creator of the universe was speaking to him through this bush. As if this weren’t enough, apart from this miracle of the burning bush, God gave Moses three additional miraculous signs. “Take your staff, throw it on the ground, and it will turn into a snake.” And sure enough, Moses throws it on the ground and it becomes a snake. Like me, Moses is afraid of snakes, so he runs away from it! But God tells him, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail.” And Moses does… and it becomes a staff again.
Then God tells Moses to put his hand in his cloak and pull it out. It becomes “leprous like snow.” It changes appearance in other words. “Okay,” God says, “Put it back in your cloak and pull it out.” Moses does so, and his hand goes back to normal. Moses sees all three of these miracles happen right before his own eyes! And then God gives him another miracle to perform later—to turn the water of the Nile into blood. But even after all that, Moses is like, “I can’t do this! I have a speech impediment. I stutter. Please send someone else!”
My point is, when the Creator of the universe calls us to do something, commands us to do something, wants us to do something, there really is no place for us to say, “But…” I mean, that’s foolish, right?
How many miracles will it take for Moses to have the courage to do what God calls him to do?
Given what Moses has experienced of God, he has no more excuses for failing to act boldly and courageously!
But if that’s true for Moses, how much more true is that of Peter? Moses was an eyewitness to a few miracles up to this point in his life, as I’ve just discussed. But let’s consider Peter and the miracles to which he was an eyewitness: He saw Jesus walk on water, and Jesus even enabled him to walk on water. He saw Jesus transform a few loaves and small fish into enough food to feed thousands—not once but twice. He saw Jesus give eyesight to the blind on multiple occasions. He saw Jesus heal the sick with just a touch or a word, up close or from a distance, dozens or even hundred of times. He saw Jesus drive out demons at least dozens of times. He saw Jesus literally raise the dead back to life at least three times. He saw Jesus turn water into wine. He was able to catch a miraculous number of fish on two occasions. He watched Jesus instantaneously calm the wind and waves of a raging storm on the sea. He saw Jesus, on multiple occasions, have the supernatural ability to read people’s minds. He saw Jesus become transfigured, which means he saw Jesus in all his glory, his clothes and body shining with a dazzling bright light. He heard the voice of God the Father from heaven tell him—Peter—to listen to Jesus.
But unlike Moses, Peter didn’t say, “I can’t do what you’re asking me to do. Let someone else do it.” No, even worse, he said, “I’ll gladly do what you’re asking, Lord.” He said, “I won’t let you down… I won’t fail… I’ll never fail you—even if everyone else does, I won’t.” And then he proceeded to contradict those words on the night of Jesus’ arrest, when Peter was asked, three times, “Aren’t you one of his disciples? Don’t you know Jesus? Didn’t I see you with him?” And Peter, paralyzed with fear said, “No, no, no!”
So he’s worse than Moses… He didn’t say, “I can’t do it!” but then went and did it anyway. He said, “I can do it,” but then then failed to do it.
And all this, after witnessing not just three miracles, but hundreds of miracles—miracles that proved that Jesus was God in the flesh and had all the power that Peter needed to be confident and bold, all the power that Peter needed to be safe, all the power that Peter needed to be successful in his mission!
But after the events described in today’s scripture, Peter changed. Why?Or, as the title of today’s sermon asks, “What’s gotten into Peter?”
What’s gotten into Peter that he’s now able, in verse 14, to stand up and preach to this skeptical crowd—filled with some of the same people who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus? I mean, by standing up and speaking today, his life was in no less danger than it would have been 50 days earlier, in that courtyard outside the high priest’s house, if he had had the courage to stand up and speak.
What’s gotten into Peter when the authorities warn him against preaching the name of Jesus in Acts 4:19, and he says, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” We “cannot but speak of what we’ve seen and heard”? Where was that attitude the night Jesus was arrested?
What’s gotten into Peter when, at the risk of his life, in Acts 5:19, he tells the religious authorities, “We must obey God rather than men”?
What’s gotten into Peter in Acts 5:41, when he’s beaten yet is able to rejoice that he and his fellow apostles “were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” of Jesus?
What’s gotten into Peter in Acts 12:6, after he’s arrested and chained between two guards and scheduled to be executed the next morning—what’s gotten into him that he’s able to sleep peacefully—even though, as far as he knows, he’s going to be crucified the next morning? As it turns out he’s rescued this time by an angel and escapes… but he doesn’t know that’s going to happen when he’s sleeping peacefully.
In fact, he’s doing the exact same thing that Jesus was doing in Mark 4:38 on another occasion when Peter thought he was going to die… Remember? This was when the disciples were on a boat on the Sea of Galilee during a terrible storm. And Jesus is asleep, seemingly unconcerned that—as far as everyone knows—they’re going die in this storm—at least before they wake up Jesus and he calms the storm. Peter and the disciples ask Jesus, “Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” But now, many years later, this same Peter is doing the same thing his Master was doing—sleeping peacefully—in the face of death! So confident! So contented! So brave!
What’s gotten into Peter that accounts for this change?
And you know the answer! What’s gotten into Peter? The Holy Spirit has gotten into Peter. And the Holy Spirit made all the difference in Peter’s life and ministry! Without the Holy Spirit… we’re all in trouble. Indeed, without the Holy Spirit, we can’t even be Christians… without the Holy Spirit, we can’t be saved at all!
Oh, friends, I cannot emphasize this enough! I can hardly warn you often enough! A Christian faith that merely lives up here [point to head], intellectually, is not a saving faith—not apart from having the Holy Spirit live in our hearts! And yet I fear that people who identify as members of my flock—of this flock at Toccoa First United Methodist—may only have a faith that lives up here!
And I fear this on the basis of my 16 years as a pastor!
Years ago, I served as the pastor of Hampton United Methodist Church in Hampton, Georgia. While I was there, a young woman from our church—who literally grew up in the church, grew up in Sunday school, grew up in Vacation Bible School, grew up participating in children’s ministries, grew up in youth group, grew up going on youth retreats and to youth camps and mission trips, some of which I chaperoned—who went through confirmation and got baptized—this young woman whom I loved went off to a college, got involved in the Wesley Foundation, and the Lord got hold of her. One Sunday she posted pictures of herself at a church service, in tears, reaffirming her baptism and telling the world that she was saved! That she knew Jesus! And people from her home church of Hampton, who knew and loved her so well, were praising God and congratulating her. And I was too!
A few months later, a young man who also grew up in our church—who was equally if not more involved in our church from the cradle onward… he graduated and went to firefighter and EMT school. He started dating a Christian young woman and started going to her church. And one Sunday—well, the same thing happened to him: he was also posting tearful pictures of himself getting baptized and testifying in a powerful way that he was, for the first time, born again… that he had a personal relationship with Jesus… that he was saved.
And again, everyone from the church was congratulating and praising God, as they should have been—as I was… In both cases they now had a Christian faith now that didn’t just live up here, in their heads—they had a Christian faith that lived in their hearts.
What had gotten into them? What had gotten into them that they wanted to tell the world about what Jesus had done for them? What had gotten into them was the same thing that had gotten into Peter! The Holy Spirit had gotten into them!
But I suddenly felt convicted: Why do young people who grew up in our church have to leave our church in order for this transformation in their lives to take place?
What were we missing at Hampton?
We were missing—or at least we were often missing—what seems so abundantly evident in today’s scripture: the Holy Spirit filling us and doing powerful things in our midst!
Now please don’t misunderstand me: If we are authentically Christians, that means we are born again. That means we already have the Holy Spirit. That means he already lives within us. That means there’s nothing else we have to do in order to receive the Spirit. The Spirit is our gift the moment we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus. The Spirit enters our life and begins working to change us from within—through the process of sanctification.
That’s a miracle of God over which we have no control. It’s automatic. It’s going to happen no matter what—the very moment we receive Christ as our Savior.
But… let me point you to two interesting verses. Ephesians 5:18. Paul writes, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Also, 1 Thessalonians 5:19; it’s almost a negative version of the same command: “Do not quench the Spirit.”
In both these cases Paul is writing to those of us who are already Christians… who already have the Holy Spirit living within us… yet he’s implying that whether or not the Holy Spirit works in powerful ways in their lives depends to some extent on us. It’s not automatic. We have some responsibility. Otherwise, it would make no sense for Paul to command us to “be filled with the Spirit”… or to command us not to quench the Spirit.
See what I mean?
And I feel convicted… like what am I doing to quench the Spirit in my life… or in our church?
Every time, for example, that I pray some pro forma prayer, without even thinking about the One to whom I’m speaking, when I pray words to impress the people who are listening, when I treat prayer as if it were the maraschino cherry on top of the church sundae—just a little garnish that you quickly set aside before getting down to the business of eating the sundae—when I do that, I’m quenching the Spirit.
When I feel anxious about some problem—I feel helpless, I feel stuck, I feel afraid—all the while forgetting that I have all the power I could ask for to solve any problem I’m facing, but I don’t even bother asking… because, after all, it’s all up to me… the weight of the world is on my shoulders. When I do that, I’m quenching the Spirit.
Indeed, when I look over my shoulder at some other successful pastor, and I compare myself to them, and think, “If only I had what they have!”… all the while forgetting that I do have what they have—or at least I have the only thing I need to be successful in my mission, which is the Holy Spirit living within me. When I do that, I’m quenching the Spirit.
What about you? How are you quenching the Spirit?
Dwight Moody was a powerfully effective pastor and evangelist who ministered in Chicago in the late-19th century. In 1871, two women in his church felt called by God to pray “that the Lord would give him the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire.” He didn’t like this. He thought they were judging him—like, “Are you saying that I’m missing something?” Reluctantly, he agreed to join them in prayer, so they prayed weekly together that Moody would be filled with the Spirit. Again, Moody was already a Christian; he already had the Spirit. But like Paul says in Ephesians 5, they sensed they he needed more of the Spirit… more of the Spirit’s power… he needed to be filled with Spirit.
A few months later, Moody’s church burned down in the great Chicago fire of 1871. He went to New York City to raise money to rebuild the church. Listen to his description of what happened while he was there:
One day, in the city of New York—oh, what a day!—I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name . . . I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world—it would be small dust in the balance.
That happened because those two women were praying for it to happen!
Brothers and sisters, please pray for me like that! Please pray for one another like that! Please pray for our church like that! Please pray that the Holy Spirit would fill us in such a way that both personal and corporate revival and renewal will happen right here at Toccoa First United Methodist!
Dear God, let the fire of your Holy Spirit come down right here! Amen!