When it is our birthday, it’s a time to celebrate that time in which we came into the world. We sometime receive presents and gifts, and if you have children, it is a time to remind them how special their birthday is.
Pentecost is the birthday of the church. It is when we received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and He is special.
Pentecost comes from the Greek word πεντεχοστος meaning 50. Fifty days after the Passover, or in this case, fifty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
God pours out His Holy Spirit in a profound way on a room of believers waiting in prayer on the Lord in expectation of what Jesus said God would send.
Jesus had commanded his believers to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the world. In giving this order to His followers, Jesus repeated the warning, ‘stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 22:49.
Jesus is in essence saying ‘Don’t leave unprepared. Do not forget that the mission I have given you, you cannot complete in your own steam. God knows it, so wait for His power to come upon you’.
So, in the upper room that day the Holy Spirit came like the sound of a rushing wind. The disciples found themselves talking in languages they had never spoken. The Holy Spirit enabled them to communicate with the multicultural, multilingual, multitude in Jerusalem the message that Jesus had risen from the dead and enabled all mankind to come back into a relationship with the Father.
Good news however is not always received as good. Two of Jesus’ followers Peter and John found this out when they went to the Temple to tell of the good news of Jesus and helped a crippled man of forty years when they healed him in Jesus’ name. That did not go down well with the leading Pharisees who had only just a month ago had Jesus executed, and rumours of his rise from the dead echoed in Jerusalem’s stone walled streets.
Here two of his followers boldly, even brazenly confront those religious leaders who plotted Jesus’ death. Boldness not of their own, but empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
Captured in the letter of Acts of the Apostles is a line that says where Peter and John’s faith really lay.
29 And now Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond servants may speak Your word with all confidence’. Acts 4:29
Once again, the Holy Spirit filles the room and then them and they speak boldly.
Peter and the other disciples do not ask God for the situation to change. They do not ask for the Pharisees favour; they step up and ask for boldness to do that which they are most at risk of being ill-treated for.
What passion, what zeal, but what love for Jesus, that these men received from God the boldness to continue.
The Holy Spirit power is to enable us as believers to do what Jesus has called us to do. That same power is available to us today, but how often we shy away from starting a conversation, from saying truth into difficult circumstances.
If you have struggled with this, you are in good company. We all have. We do not have to stay there though. As believers in Jesus the Holy Spirit enables us to complete the plan for our lives and transform us into the likeness of Jesus.
Here is a simple prayer that you can pray today, or every morning to help focus you on where your help comes from.
God, I confess that I sometimes hold back from sharing Jesus with others. I am sorry. I make the prayer of the early believers my own.
Enable me to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’
The Roman’s had brought about a ‘Might makes Right!’ kingdom. When you have the biggest stick then you rule everyone else.
Jesus turned it all on its head. God’s kingdom was not going to look like that. In God’s kingdom those who were poor of spirit would be blessed, those who mourn would be blessed, those who are gentle in their dealings with others would be blessed. Those that went hungry and thirsted for righteousness would be satisfied. Those who were rich in mercy would find themselves receiving mercy from God, those pure in heart and peacemakers would be called children of God.
Then the bombshell. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Persecution was happening all around the listeners of Jesus that day. It would continue with impunity for centuries to come.
Really Jesus? Blessed are those people?
Not all persecution is righteous persecution. You can be persecuted whenever you highlight another person’s questionable behaviour that they have justified.
Persecution for righteousness’s sake is when our lives lived out, are Jesus’ life. When we walk in righteousness and our lamp is not hidden under a basket, but on display to illuminate the world around us we will shine the light of Jesus that will inevitably bring about opposition from those who have justified their wrong actions.
Jesus did this wherever he went. So much so that the people he most offended plotted and succeeded in having him killed. Jesus words here in hindsight are those of someone who was not flippantly trying to garner a reaction from the crowd, but those of one who has his mind and eyes set on the cross coming a few short years ahead.
Stephen was one such disciple who as he died under a hail of stones from those Jews who found his testimony of the risen Jesus too much. He glimpsed heaven and who is face radiated the glory of Jesus rising to meet him. Saul of Tarsus stood by holding the coats of those throwing the stones. Must Stephens face as he glimpsed heaven before he died etched into Saul’s memory?
Not long after Jesus met with this Saul on a road and confronted him. Saul became the Apostle Paul. Somewhere in Paul’s story Stephen’s persecution and sacrifice was worth it.
I bet Paul and Stephen hang out in Heaven. What a conversation that would be.
God can use anything, good or bad. We are assured that God can turn all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28).
While most of us would not line up for persecution, God’s word is clear that if we are to become increasingly more like Jesus then we can expect that this world will not like our presence or message.
Jesus words here continue to give us hope. When we are persecuted for righteousness’s sake we will be blessed. Jesus isn’t specific if the blessing is here on earth or in the life to come with Him in the resurrection, but what a promise. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
These things and many more can lead us into a place that robs us of our joy and fulfilment.
Social media has inadvertently heightened this human vulnerability by creating a highlights reel for people’s lives where we see our friends and families’ lives posted as a ‘best portrayal of themselves’. When posting we tend to want to show the best bits of our lives not the stuff we might be embarrassed to share publicly.
There is a tendency in all of us to compare ourselves. There is something in each of us that asks the question, ‘How am I doing? Where do I fit in here?’
My lovely wife Laura on Sunday told us the simple truth:
‘There is no win in comparison’.
There is no win. You cannot win this game. There is no end. All it serves is to rob you of joy, peace and contentment with the things God has given you.
So how do we uncouple ourselves from this wagon? How do we avoid the trap that comes when we find ourselves tempted to compare how we are doing with how someone else is doing?
We all want to know we are on the right track; we do not want to come across as behind or as backward, or not doing as well. So how can we avoid the spiral that can lead us into financial debt, pushing ourselves or family and brings unhappiness and discontentment with what we have?
King Solomon, a man lauded and world renown in his time for his incredible wisdom wrote a book called Ecclesiastes, a reflection on what he noticed about life wrote and especially about the comparison trap he said this.
4 And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Ecclesiastes 4:4 NIV
I love how King Solomon, a man so widely revered for his wisdom that he had kings and queens visit him just to learn from him, said that there is no win here. It is like chasing after the wind, you will never win the comparison game.
So, here is how we can protect ourselves from stepping on this landmine to our faith.
Renewal of the mind. Replacing the lies with the truth of God. Looking at what God has blessed us with rather than what others have. There’s truth in the saying that we are happiest when we want what we have.
Celebrate the things that God has given you. Jesus said that God gives good gifts to His children. Sometimes we need to just stop and focus on God’s best for us. Not someone else’s best, but what your heavenly Father, who knows everything about you has said is best for you.
Pray for those people that you find yourself comparing with. You do not know the struggles they have faced or are facing. Yes, they may have what you want, but the reality is if we pursue that line of thinking we can build resentment that damages the relationship and once again, no one wins. Instead, try and celebrate with your friends. Turn that opportunity to compare into one of celebrating with your friends. That will build unity between you and it cuts off the caustic results you do not need of comparison.
So today, and the days ahead, are you going to let comparison rob you of your joy, peace, and happiness? Or are you going to step up and not let those lies undermine all that God has blessed you with. When we focus more on what others have than what God has given, we can say goodbye to our joy. When we relish and cherish those things that God has given, believing that at this moment it is His best for us, we will find our joy and happiness will be there in abundance.
Right after Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, he turns left and goes to the temple. Everyone expected the messiah to turn right and head to the Antonia Fortress and give the 500 plus Romans their marching orders.
He did not. He turned left and went to the temple, right to the court of the gentiles. Instead of being a place where the Gentiles could meet and pray to God, it had become a place of commerce where foreign currency could be exchanged for temple ‘pure coins’, where animals were being sold off at inflated prices so people could receive through prescribed ceremony the forgiveness of sins.
In Mark 11 the testimony here of Jesus actions tell us he didn’t permit people from crossing the temple with goods, he turned over money lenders tables and the stalls of people trading, and John tells us in chapter 2 that he even made a whip of chords with which to drive people and animals out. Jesus didn't just clear the temple, he effectively stopped the temple for a short time and in the eyes of the controlling Sadducees, Jesus stopped forgiveness.. well for a short time.
That doesn't sound a lot like peace making.
Well, perhaps not unless we understand properly what being peacemaker really entails.
Peace itself isn’t just the absence of conflict, it’s actually about having right relationships, justice and truth with reconciliation. Bringing this about is messy business.
Peace making is not passive. Peace making actively addresses the lack of peace in our world.
We can actively follow Jesus’ example not by overturning the local church notice board and calling everyone a heretic, (as tempting as that sounds) but by actively stepping into situations where there may be fractured relationships. Being the person who calls out wrong behavior to a friend, being someone who does not tolerate racial slurs in the office. Inviting those people to dinner who you do not know or feel drawn away from inviting, or by getting involved with some of the restorative justice programs offered by some churches.
Being a peace maker between folks means you step into the firing line. There is a fair chance if muds being slung, you will wear a fair share of it. But by bringing truth and justice into a situation, just like Jesus did, you stand to be called one of the ‘sons or daughters of God’.
In a culture where we are easily offended, opportunity abounds to be a peacemaker. To bring the prince of peace into every situation of life we may find our feet take us.
Today ask Jesus, where does He require you to be a peacemaker today? What around you requires the touch of Jesus. In a world that knows no real peace, but is so familiar with strife, anxiety, and worry, we could do with more peacemakers.