Equipped by the Holy Spirit

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine." 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

The fifth-grade girl had won a contest at school. Her prize was a special ticket which allowed her and her parents to enter the circus grounds two hours before the general public. Being a curious sort, she wandered here, there, everywhere. She saw how the lions were moved in and out of their cages; she watched as the clowns put on their makeup; she got to bounce in the net, which was set up under the trapeze artists. She went everywhere, and everywhere she had questions.

Her hardest question came when she observed the elephants that were being held by a chain, which went from a cuff around the animals’ ankles to an unimposing post, which had been hammered into the ground. She asked one of the handlers: “Are your elephants weak, or are the posts hammered super-far into the ground?”

She was told, “It’s not the stake which holds our elephants in place. Any of them could, without much effort, pull up that stake and go wherever they wanted. You see, when our elephants were very young, and before they got their strength, we tied them to such a stake. For a long time they pulled and struggled, but back then they couldn’t get away. The stake held them back then, but it is their belief which holds them there now.”

I wonder if God’s people aren’t – at least once in a while – like those elephants.

We, who have Jesus as our Savior, also have His promises. Our greatest problems of sin, death and hell have already been removed by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. We know the almighty God of heaven and earth has given us the assurance that He will always be with us. The Father has guaranteed that He will listen to any prayer that is offered through faith in Jesus. We have also received the power of the promised Holy Spirit upon us.

All of this means that God has equipped us to do far more than we ask or think possible.

So, if God has placed His limitless power behind us, what holds us back from being Christians who can throw a mountain into the sea (Matthew 21:21)? What is stopping us from being mega-witnesses about our Savior to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)? Why aren’t we the kind of leaders and followers that God has called us to be?

No doubt there are many answers to those questions, but one of those answers has to be that we have allowed ourselves to be chained by our past shortcomings and yesterday’s sins. Read through the Bible and you will see examples of God’s hand-picked leaders, who were absolutely positive they were not up to the task to which the Lord had called them.

Moses was God’s chosen leader for the people of Israel. But Moses questioned whether the people would follow him.

Elijah had won a great victory for the Lord against the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. But he ran for his life and cowered in fear after Queen Jezebel threatened his life.

Jonah was sent by the word of the Lord to the people of Nineveh. But Jonah sailed in exactly the opposite direction.

Peter had vowed that he would die for Jesus. But Peter cowered in fear and denied being Jesus’ disciple when he was questioned by a servant girl at the fire in the high priest’s courtyard.

We are very much like these prophets and apostles. The Lord tells us He is with us, yet we tremble in fear. The Lord assures us that He has a plan for our lives, yet we question, doubt, and complain. The Lord commands us to go in His name, yet we sit on the sofa with other things taking precedence over evangelizing lost souls.

Think about this: God beckons the storm clouds to come, He tells the wind to blow and the rain to fall, and they obey immediately. He speaks to the mountains, “You go there,” and He says to the seas, “You stop here,” and they do it. Everything in all creation responds to the obedience of the Creator … until we get to you and me.

We are the only creatures in all of creation who have the audacity to look God in the face and say, “No.”

Moses, Elijah, Jonah and Peter … they didn’t they were up to the task the Lord had given them. Each one of them said, “No.” How wrong they were.

How wrong we are if we feel the same way. If the Lord can use a few disciples to reach out and evangelize the world, if He can empower a German monk to reform His church, He can use us for His purposes, too.

The Angel of the Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush and gave Him the necessary tools to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land – a staff that turned into a snake, a brother to serve as his spokesman, and ten plagues to harden the heart of Pharaoh.

The Word of the Lord spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper. It assured him that he was not alone, but God had reserved seven thousand fellow believers in Israel.

God sent a great fish to swallow Jonah and transport him three days later to the shores near Nineveh in order to preach repentance and forgiveness to the city’s inhabitants.

The Holy Spirit came upon Peter so that “he stood up.” I know Pentecost focuses on the miracles of the sound of the wind and the tongues of flame and the three thousand converted and baptized in one day. But I think that one of the greatest miracles is contained in verse 14: “Then Peter stood up …”

Fifty-two days earlier, Peter was running from the Garden of Gethsemane for fear of being arrested. Fifty days earlier, Peter was hiding behind a locked door. But now on Pentecost we learn that Peter stood up to address the crowd. Personally, I see that as one of the greatest of the Pentecost miracles!

What happened?

The same thing that has happened to you and me!

The Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush. The Word of the Lord came to Jonah. The voice of the Lord was heard by Elijah as a whisper. The resurrected Jesus appeared personally to Peter on Easter morning, Easter evening and then numerous times over the next 40 days. Peter then received the powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Seeing, hearing, and believing the Lord has to change a person! How can it not?!

The Holy Spirit has been poured out on you in your Baptism. The heavenly Father has forgiven you in the Absolution following your confession of sins. The risen and ascended Christ speaks to you in your Bible.

Now you are a changed person.

A burning bush, a giant fish, a whisper in the wind, tongues of flame and the sound of rushing wind all seem like rather peculiar ways of changing people … but that’s how our God works. Sometimes it is through peculiar or ordinary or seemingly mundane means. … But they are all miraculous!

The Holy Spirit works through the pouring of water and a few syllables of Scripture in order to change a baby from heathen status to heavenly status. He works through a paper-thin unleavened wafer and a little sip of grape wine to assure believers of the forgiveness of their sins. He works through black letters printed on pages of a book, through the sound waves from voices singing hymns and liturgy and entering our ears, and through our memory banks when we recall a passage of Scripture. He works through the voice of a child or a friend talking about the love of Jesus so that hearts are softened and stand before the Lord’s altar to be received into communicant membership.

The Holy Spirit is at work when Mom or Dad sits on the edge of the bed and reads a Bible story to their child at bedtime. He is at work in the voice of the teachers in Sunday School, and in the answers members give in adult Bible Class, and in the simple witness of a WLS child inviting a neighbor to soccer camp or VBS.

Water, bread, wine, spoken words, sung words, read words – they may seem peculiar or ordinary or mundane – but these are the Means through which the Holy Spirit is at work. He is working to change people – people like us. He changes our eternal destination from hell to heaven. He changes our status as unbelievers to believers in the crucified and risen Christ. He changes our names from pagans to Christians.

I would be willing to bet that some of you here today never expected these kinds of changes in yourself. You were just going to check out this church business or send your child to our school or attend a Bible class with a friend or your spouse. But the Holy Spirit went to work on your heart – changing you in the same way He changed Moses, Jonah, Elijah, and Peter. He used the words of Scripture. Even though you didn’t feel anything when the water was poured over your head as an infant or you don’t feel any different after returning from receiving communion or you may not act much different after leaving church … you are different. For the Holy Spirit has worked on you, and in you, and now He is working through you.

You never expected to see yourself as a committed Christian – reading devotions online, standing up for Jesus in religious arguments, pulling your children out of sporting events scheduled for Sunday morning so that you can worship together as a family, listening to Christian music on the radio instead of the rock and pop and rap you grew up with, working as leader in the church and a volunteer in our school. Something changed you. The Holy Spirit has equipped you. He has equipped you for a purpose.

And if you are wondering what purpose might be, I don’t know. But when you find out, I do know that with the gifts God has given you, the two of you – the Holy Spirit and you – will be up to the task.

God has equipped us to do far more than we ask or think possible. The chains of your past have been removed by Christ’s shed blood on the cross. Your former way of life has been forgiven and forgotten by your heavenly Father. And the Holy Spirit has made you different from what you once were.

And if you still don’t believe that a change like this can happen in you, just remember: Peter stood up. Amen.

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)