Sermon: Super(Natural) Proclamation
Scripture: Acts 2:14-41
Date: May 1, 2016
I was going to start this message with you closing your eyes and trying to picture what was going on in the streets of Jerusalem on the night of Pentecost. But I was afraid if some of you closed your eyes I’d never get you back. So let me put it this way. With your mind’s eye, try to travel with me to the streets of Jerusalem that night. A great wind, tongues of fire, people speaking all at once in 15 different languages. I tried to think of some modern day examples of what that might have been like. I suspect that the excitement and size of the crowd might have been similar to that of Kentucky fans taking to the streets after the Cats won the championship in 2012. Or like the crowd that gathers every year on New Year’s Eve in Times Square in New York. Not that many people, of course, but in the narrow streets of Jerusalem it must have seemed, at least to the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, to be that large. Here are a couple of images of what the area around the Upper Room might have looked like and you can see how a crowd of a few thousand in the narrow streets and courtyards would have looked large to those who were concerned with such things. And then there was the noise that would have echoed off those stone walls. Everyone speaking and hearing in their native language. Before I came here as Pastor, I had the joy and privilege of attending the first worship service of the Multicultural Community in the Fellowship Hall. It was a beautiful service, and an exciting beginning to a wonderful ministry. And there was a part of the service that I will never forget. It may rank as one of the greatest moments, I have ever witnessed in worship in the church. At one point in the service, persons from all over the Sanctuary stood in their place and read John 3:16 in their own language. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. There must have been nearly a dozen persons who stood to read. They told where they were from and the language that they were going to speak. Now I don’t remember all of the languages that were spoken but I was amazed by all that were represented in that room that day. And I remember thinking this must have been something what it was like on the Day of Pentecost. All of the different languages being spoken. The difference was that they stood one at a time to read on that afternoon in the Fellowship Hall, but in Jerusalem that day they were all speaking at the same time. It must have been chaotic. This past January, Karen and I went to Disney World. Now we’ve been before but this time I was struck by all of the different languages that we heard while walking through the parks and as we stood in line for the various attractions. And, of course, everyone was trying to speak at the same time and because it tends to be a noisy place, everyone spoke loudly so they could be heard by the others in their parties. At times, it was quite overwhelming to the ears. Well that’s how it must have been that night around the Upper Room at Pentecost. And on top of that the Jewish leaders moved through the crowd spreading the rumor that nothing supernatural was going on here, that these men, these Disciples, were drunk and that was causing them to act in such supernatural ways. But the truth was that at Pentecost, at the time of their transformation through the indwelling of the Spirit, they had received the second of the supernatural powers of Super(Natural) Heroes and that was the power of proclamation.
Now one of the things I learned in my research for this series is that most Superheroes have a catch-phrase that they proclaim before they start to use their powers to save the world. I came across an article that rated the top 10 catch phrases of Superheros that identify who they are, that they proclaim as they take on their superhero persona. Perhaps you know some of these. For instance, this character often says “Back in a flash” before he springs into action. The Flash. Or here’s one that’s a little more descriptive. “In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, no evil shall escape my sight.” I’m the Green Lantern. Batman is a man of few words and so his most famous catch phrase is simply, “I’m Batman.” And often times when Clark Kent is loosening his tie and removing his glasses he is heard to utter, “This is a job for Superman.” But the phrase that was determined to be number one was this one, that is uttered just before he goes up against the latest Supervillian: “I’m just your friendly neighborhood Spiderman.” Now all of those are good, but I don’t think any of them compare to this one: (show Mighty Mouse clip) “Here I Am to save the day”. That would have been a great proclamation for the Disciples.
And so when the Spirit comes the Disciples are given the supernatural power of proclamation. And the greatest evidence of this is Peter. Now we know that Peter was a tradesman, a fisherman, before Jesus calls him to follow. Presumably largely uneducated as most were in those days. And yet, in the face of that chaotic crowd that night in Jerusalem, Peter delivered this amazing sermon.
Acts 2:14-41New International Version (NIV)
Peter Addresses the Crowd
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 people 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 heavens 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.’[a]
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[b] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’[c]
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’[d]
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Now, quickly as we prepare to receive this sacrament, let me just say a few things about this power of proclamation.
First, you can not be a Disciple in secret. Last week I showed you the Super(Natural) Hero Devotion Chart and I said that Disciples are empowered with Supernatural Devotion, total devotion. Disciples dwell in the fourth quadrant on the chart. Well it is not a coincidence that the first power that the Spirit gives the Disciples is the power of Supernatural Devotion because that in a sense is the power through which all the other powers are measured. In other words, if you are truly living in this quadrant, as a totally devoted disciple, then you will use the second power that the Disciples are given, and that is the power of proclamation – your witness – your testimony. You’ll have no choice. Because if you are a totally devoted follower of Christ, you will be compelled to share your story. You’ll want everyone to know.
But if you dwell in this third quadrant, you may share your faith in Christ on occasion, mostly in church, but outside of church you are just as likely to share about your job or the Kentucky Wildcats or (and it pains me to say this) the Green Bay Packers. In my years of ministry I have known a lot of church people who are glad to share their faith in church, or with other church people, but they are not bold enough share their faith outside of those settings. Those are the ones who are living in the second or third quadrant. Those who are totally devoted to Christ and His church, cannot help but share that, proclaim that. Our faith is our story and for our story to have any power to save the world it must be shared with all people. Up to this point, Peter had occasionally been quick to share his faith. We talked about Caesarea Philippi last week and his wonderful profession of faith standing in the shadow of the Gates of Hell. But that was among the other Disciples. But we know that when Peter had a chance to share beyond the safety of the church and his friends, he failed. Remember what He said when he was challenged in the court yard outside where Jesus was on trial. One of those gathered there said. “You were with Jesus. You must be one of His men.” And Peter denied it. Three times he was asked if he was with Jesus, until finally Peter says: “With Him. I don’t even know the man.” And so now here he is a few weeks later, preaching in front of thousands of persons about the Man he said he didn’t know. And he was able to do that because the Spirit had given him the Supernatural Power of proclamation. I believe that every Disciple, not just preachers, are given this power of proclamation, but so few recognize it and use it. And here’s the thing.
Not only does the Spirit give the power to proclaim – to witness – to Peter, but also the words to say and the boldness to say them. I have had so many say things to me like, “I would share my faith with others but I don’t know what to say”. It was the same thing that many of the prophets said when God first called them. Moses said to the Burning Bush, “God, I’d go to the Pharaoh as you ask, but I don’t speak well and I don’t know what to say.” I suspect that Peter would have said the same thing in the Upper Room as they waited for the Spirit to come. But after the Spirit burns a witness into His heart, God provides the words Peter needs. And so He shares His story. Not his theology. Not someone else’s theology. He simply tells what he knows and what he’s experienced. And the result is not that John or Thomas or one or two other friends are convinced. No the result is that 3000 people come to know the Lord because of Peter’s proclamation. Because Peter let the Spirit use Him to proclaim the story of Jesus, thousands came to know Jesus that day. What a witness. What power
And then the second thing I often hear is, “well, preacher, I would proclaim my faith, but the only people I hang around with, are already Church people. I don’t have much opportunity to share with others. But here’s the dangerous part of this power. If you are willing to use it, God will provide you with the opportunity to proclaim your faith.
I love the story I heard years ago from a preacher who traveled the world speaking in lot’s of different locations. I heard him for the first time when I was a youth worker at First UMC in Frankfort and took a group of young people to Ichthus in Wilmore. He was the keynote speaker. And He was speaking when I finally made the decision to stop running from God and answer the call to ministry. And he was always talking about taking advantage of every opportunity to share our faith. “God will place before us every day persons who need to have the Gospel proclaimed in their life”. he would say. And then he told this story.
“I was on a plane heading to a Christian festival, thinking about what I was going to say to those thousands who would gather. And the man next to me on the plane was a big, pretty rough looking guy. I tried to strike up a conversation with him, but couldn’t get anything out of him. So finally I gave up and went back to my own thoughts, planning what I would share to those people who would come to the festival. But I found myself fighting sleep and finally gave in, and was shocked awake by the man shifting in his seat, and was horrified to discover that while I was asleep I had inadvertently leaned toward the man, and even worse had apparently rested my head on his shoulder. So when he shifted uncomfortably in response to that, to my total embarrassment I discovered what I had done, and even worse, when I glanced at his shoulder I saw this wet spot on his shirt where I had drooled on him while I was asleep. Well, needless to say, I was too embarrassed to say anything more to him. But just when I had resolved to finish the rest of the flight in silence, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper in my ear – “Share your faith with him.” “You’ve got to be kidding” I said, in my mind, “I just rested my head on the man’s shoulder and drooled on him. He’s not going to be receptive to anything I say. It’s no use sharing with him. But the Spirit kept whispering in my ear, “He needs you to share your faith with Him.” No matter how much I protested, I could see the Spirit would not let me off the hook. And so I pulled out my Bible and, figuring that Paul had said something about sharing with those whom you drool on, I started to skim through his letters looking for the perfect thing to say, while secretly hoping the plane would go down and save me from this moment of proclamation. But the man spoke first. “Is that a Bible?” He asked. “Yes it is,” I said. “What book are you reading?” He asked. “Well, I’m just skimming through the letters of the Apostle Paul.” (I didn’t mention the drooling thing. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed.) And then going with the opportunity the Spirit was opening to me, I said, “what is your favorite book?” And the man got kind of a far away look in his eyes and he said, “I had a Bible when I was a kid, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve read it.” “What is YOUR favorite book,” he asked. And I said, “the Gospel of John because it is all about how God loved me so much, that He sent Jesus to save me and redeem me.” And then I shared with him my story of coming to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. And when I had finished, the damp spot wasn’t on his shoulder anymore, it was in his eyes. And he said to me, you know I’ve been thinking that I need to get me a Bible and start reading it again. What would you recommend?” And I said, “here why don’t you take this one. I’ve got others.” And I handed my Bible to him and I said, “my name and phone number is inside the front cover. If you want to talk sometime, give me a call.” And as we landed I prayed with him, Lord, just as you came into my heart, I pray that you will come into the heart of my new friend.” That was it. But a couple of weeks later, he called me. “I’ve been reading that Bible you gave me. I started with John’s Gospel. And last night I prayed for myself that God would come into my heart. And He did. I thought you’d want to know.” The pastor concluded “I learned two things on that flight. First was that God will provide opportunities to share your faith, sometimes when you least expect it, and will show you the way and secondly, I learned to carry an extra Bible with me wherever I went in case I have the opportunity to give one away.”
Supernatural proclamation. Witness empowered by the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Spirit not only gives us the Supernatural Power of Proclamation, but also the opportunities to use it daily.
And here’s the final thing I would say. Proclamation power is not only in the words we speak, but it’s also in the way we live. The power to proclaim Christ is the power to live a Christ like life. We proclaim the Gospel by the way we treat, the way we love one another. You know, Jesus said a lot of wonderful things, life changing words, but none were so powerful as what He did in that Upper Room on his last night. First, He took the pitcher of water and the bowl and He washed the feet of the Disciples. The Savior of the World, getting down in the midst of our dirt and grime, and serving us. And He said, “I have done this as an example for you. Now you go and serve one another. And then He took a loaf of bread and broke it and a cup of wine and passed it. This is my body, He said, broken for you. And this is my blood poured out for you. But those words would have had no power, not ever remembered, except the very next day His broken body was nailed to a Cross, and His blood poured out upon Saint and sinner alike. Now that’s the power of proclamation. Come and let Him proclaim His love to you right now, through this bread and this juice. And in coming open yourself to His Spirit and receive your Supernatural power of proclamation. And get up from this altar ready to share with the world – with everyone – your story of being loved by Jesus. That’s all you have to do to be a Supernatural Hero. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.
Let us pray. Lord, you came into my heart many years ago, and you have continued to come again and again and again when my faith and devotion has waned, and proclaimed your message of love and grace to me in so many ways. Speak to us now. And give us this very moment the power to proclaim you in a world that has stopped listening but needs all the more to hear. Amen.