Fire & Rain

Fire & Rain

Joel 2:23 Be glad then, you children of Zion,
And rejoice in the
Lord your God;
For He has given you the former rain faithfully,
And He will cause the rain to come down for you—
The former rain,
And the latter rain in the first month.

For years – generations – the Jews had looked for and longed for the times of refreshing – the promised respite, when the Messiah would come, and all things would be restored. The promises of God, spoken through the prophets, had been long in coming—the promise of peace, prosperity, and happiness once again in the land of Israel.

In Jesus, all these promises would find their ultimate fulfillment – if only they had seen and recognized in Him the One Whom God had promised! He came as a prophet of peace, proclaiming the message of a heavenly kingdom of bliss and harmony. Some accepted Him. But because He didn’t fit their visions of temporal prosperity and glory, many rejected Him. They crucified Him on a tree, and now, raised from the dead, He had ascended into Heaven. He left behind only a small band of faithful followers to proclaim the good news to the world, until he should return soon to take His children home.

Just before He ascended to heaven, He gave his disciples this commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

But he did not leave them alone, He says “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” He had promised His disciples a comforter. In fact, He says in John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

In Luke’s second book, Acts 1:4, we read:

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me;”

Acts 1:8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

So in essence, Jesus says to His followers, “I’m telling you to go, but first, wait. Wait until you receive the promise. Wait until I send you the Spirit, and then in the power of that spirit, GO!

So, they waited. But they didn’t just sit in that upper room, twiddling their thumbs. Luke records that the disciples “were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.” (Luke 24:53)

Picture them—going to the temple, praising God, and pleading for the promised Holy Spirit. Picture them kneeling in prayer, asking the Father in the name of Jesus—knowing that even now, Jesus stands in heaven, interceeding before the Father in their behalf.

Romans 8:34 “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

Acts 1:14: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.”

Not only were they waiting, not only were they praying and worshiping, but they were together. “with one accord.”

Only a few weeks before, these same disciples had come to that upper room, arguing and bickering among themselves as to who should be the greatest. Not long before, James and John had tried to “get in good” with Jesus by having their mother ask special favors for them. But now, all of that was passed. Something had changed—they had been changed—by the grace of Jesus. Jesus had told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again—to be changed by the Spirit. Now His disciples knew what it meant. They knew what it meant to be broken by the gospel, and their hearts had been changed. They were united together in a harmony unlike they had ever been before. Waiting. Waiting for the promise of power. Waiting until the time was right.

As they sat there, they realized something was wrong. It had been obvious to everyone all along, ever since that fateful night of the Last Supper, but none had voiced it until now. They weren’t all there. One of them was missing. Judas—their de-facto leader—had become the arch-traitor. He had been the one who had sold Jesus to His enemies. Then, in agonizing remorse, when Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested and beaten, he had thrown down the thirty pieces of silver in the temple, gone out to a lonely place, and hanged himself. They had seen him there, lifeless, on the ground—that grizzly scene still haunted their minds as the looked at his empty seat there in the upper room.

“Who else was with us, the whole time we were with Jesus?” They looked around. There were actually about 120 disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem, and from them, they found two who had been nearly as close as the 12, during they time they had followed Jesus. They cast lots, and chose Matthias to fill the place that Judas had left.

Now, they were truly united. Not one was missing.

Acts 2:1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

The time was right. The day of Pentecost had “fully” come.

The Receiving of the Spirit

Acts 2:2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

I think of that passage in John—our theme text from last week. John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

When God came to speak with Elijah on Mount Horeb, “a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”

In that day, God had spoken to Israel through a mighty bolt of fire falling from heaven. Then, he spoke to His prophet through a still small voice. Now, on the day of Pentecost, God would demonstrate His power through a mighty wind and fire from heaven!

Acts 2:3 “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.”

This was the direct answer to the promise Jesus had given. He had said, “You shall receive power.” This visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit not only symbolized God’s presence with them, but it represented the exact gift that they needed most.

Remember when the Holy Spirit came down in visible form at Jesus baptism? That dove represented the mission of Jesus—to bring God’s peace to this earth filled with violence and strife. Not that He would immediately bring an end to war and suffering, but that by His life and death, He would pave the path to eternal peace for all who choose.

Now, as the disciples are anointed with the same Holy Spirit, they see, not a dove, but divided tongues of fire. Fire, because that was the promise—the promise of power! The fire represented the power of God to consume away every defiling thing. It represented the power of the Gospel message to spread like wildfire to every corner of the globe. And the flames were, literally, like divided tongues—representing the very specific gift they were receiving, in order to communicate that message to people of every tribe and nation.

Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Yes, I looked it up. The Greek word there for tongue is the same word in verse 3 and verse 4. The word, “glossa,” literally refers to the tongue that’s in your mouth, but it also has the meaning of “languages.” The “tongues of fire” are directly connected to the gift of tongues in verse 4. Why? Because that’s exactly what was needed in order to effectively communicate the gospel message.

Acts 2:5-6 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.

That sound—the mighty rushing wind—wasn’t just heard by the few who were gathered in the upper room. It was truly like a mighty wind, and it caught the attention of the multitude. That same Spirit who empowered the disciples and gave them the gift of tongues, brought the wind that called together the multitude. But there was a problem—people in Jerusalem had come from all over the known world, and spoke so many languages, you couldn’t even hope to speak to them all. But as we have seen, the Spirit had already overcome the problem. As the apostles began to speak, the Spirit acted as a real-time interpreter, so that everyone heard the message in his native language!

Isn’t it amazing—throughout the book of Acts, every time the church encounters a problem, the Holy Spirit turns that problem into the opportunity for the gospel to spread? I think about us, today. We are facing a situation that I’ve never experienced before. Probably most of us. I can’t remember a time when no churches could meet. When we had to stay home, for fear of catching and spreading a terrible disease. But you know what—I can see the Spirit working. Just like He did in the book of Acts!

You know what happened—because the city of Jerusalem was filled with devout people from every nation who had come to the feast, and because of the supernatural gift of the Spirit, so they could hear the gospel message—those people went home to their various lands, and told their family and friends the wonderful news of Jesus! That’s the power of the gift of the Spirit. That’s why Jesus had told the disciples—wait for the Holy Spirit!

The Work of the Spirit

The disciples had gathered, in one accord. They had waited and prayed, and the Holy Spirit had come in power. The same Spirit had brought together the multitudes in Jerusalem, and they had wondered in amazement that everyone could hear in his own language! As the throng mocked and wondered, Peter stood up and called for everyone’s attention. Mind you—this is the same Peter who, in Matthew 16, had tried to rebuke Jesus for even speaking of his death. The same Peter to whom Jesus had said, “Get behind me, Satan!” The same Peter who, only days before, had denied that he even knew Jesus! But no, he wasn’t the same Peter. He had been changed. He had been converted. His heart had been broken there at the foot of the cross, and he stood now as a changed man. Transformed by grace and empowered by the Spirit of God!

Acts 2:14-18
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.

18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.

Acts 2:21
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.’

No longer is Peter timid of fearful. He has seen the risen Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit he preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Acts 2:36-38

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

Three thousand people. People who had heard of Jesus before, no doubt. Some who had heard him teach. Many who had seen him crucified. They had seen all these things, but it wasn’t until the power of the gospel was brought home to their hearts, through the message of Peter and most importantly, the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit, that they fully accepted and embraced the gospel. And when they did, these people, too, were baptized and received this precious gift of the Holy Spirit. The message spread like a wildfire. Those tongues of fire, which they had seen in the upper room, were spreading from person to person, soul to soul, heart to heart, and the world was being changed!

And they weren’t alone—these new disciples. It says that these “souls were added to them.” They were together, the original disciples, and now three thousand new disciples, and more every day. They didn’t make a difference between one or the other, as the Scripture says:

Acts 2:46-47 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

The Continuation of the Spirit

Certainly, there is so much in the book of Acts. We will come back here soon to discover more of the gifts of the Spirit, and what they mean for us, today. But right now, I want to share something that has been on my heart. I hear people say, “Sure—Pentecost was then. But many years have past, and God doesn’t work that way anymore.” Maybe we don’t say it, but many act out the attitude Peter describes in 2 Peter 3:4:

since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning.”

But who says that? The righteous? No, Here’s the whole verse:

“Knowing this first:that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.'” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

No, my friends—I don’t believe that God has left us. Jesus said, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) And if you read the book of Acts, the very last chapter tells of Paul, in prison in Rome because of his faith in Jesus, and yet he was preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (Acts 28:31).

No on forbidding him.” You see, friends, I truly believe that this same Holy Spirit that came down in tongues of fire so many years ago, has never been removed from the church. He is still here. He is still empowering God’s people—whoever is willing—with that same power to tell the Good News of Jesus.

I have to believe that, if we don’t see that power in our churches today—it’s not because He has run out. It’s because we aren’t in the right position to receive it. It’s not Him—its us!

I take confidence in a promise—the same promise that Peter quoted in His message on the day of Pentecost. It’s found in Joel 2:28-29:

And it shall come to pass afterward [Peter says “in the last days”]
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

Joel says only a few verses before, in verse 23

For He has given you the former rain faithfully,
And He will cause the rain to come down for you—
The former rain,
And the latter rain in the first month.

Friends, I truly believe that we are now living in the very last days. God has poured out His Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and that Spirit has never been withdrawn. He has been with His church down through the centuries—with all who are willing to receive Him.

And yet, in a very special way, God promises to give His Holy Spirit in the last days, to give power to His church to take His last message to the world. Just like the days leading up to Pentecost, today our world is ripe for the message of the Gospel. There are Bibles in every land, but how few people really open them and read them! In this part of the country there are churches on every corner. Today, every one of them stands empty.

But tell me—tell me, how many of them were full, in the weeks before the coronavirus hit? How many churches were packed to overflowing? How many people were seeking God? You know what I’m talking about. Every week, I came to church, and we preached to the “faithful few.” The coronavirus hasn’t killed our churches. Our churches were already nearly dead! If anything, I believe we will come back stronger than ever before.

Why do I believe this? Why do I have this confidence? Because God is not dead! His Holy Spirit is still here! And friends, I believe we’re about to see Pentecost all over again!

Now, I know that many of you believe this. I know you believe that the Holy Spirit is about to be poured out in Latter Rain power. But some of us have gotten so caught up in waiting for the Latter Rain, that we’ve forgotten about the Former Rain. I see people waiting. Sitting on their hands. Running to the hills—or berating their fellow church members, hoping that once the church is purified, then God can pour out the Spirit. Waiting for God to take all the hypocritical people out of the church, so that we can start doing the work.

But if we have that attitude, I think we’re missing the point. You see, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem and pray for the Holy Spirit. That was then. But once the gospel went forth on the day of Pentecost, He has never rescinded the Great Commission. Today, we must pray, yes, pray without ceasing for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, we need to pray and work for unity within the church. But we don’t have to wait to carry out the gospel commission, because The Holy Spirit is still here. He is still working with and for every one who is willing to consecrate himself to God. The field of work is great, and the laborers are few. And as we go out, God will send the Holy Spirit to be with us as He was in the day of Pentecost.

My friends, Jesus is alive. He is alive today, and He is still here—still working through His Holy Spirit. We may not see the same power today as we saw at Pentecost, but this does not mean He has gone. Perhaps He is just working in different ways—working to get us ready for a mighty outpouring of Holy Spirit power. I believe it’s coming, friends, and truly, I believe it’s almost here!

My question for you is this: Have you received that power? Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit? Is He shining through your life—transforming you like he transformed Peter, and using you to share His word? Are you praying every day for the outpouring of Pentecost, and are you working now with every fiber of your being to spread God’s love? Good—because Pentecost will be here again, before you know it!

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