First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“A Pentecost People!”
Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:1-13
It was a warm spring day in Jerusalem. It’s about 9:00 am Jerusalem time. Everyone was excited about the Feast of Weeks. They called it Shavuot, or Pentecost. The Feast commemorates the giving of the Law. They counted the days down with anticipation. From Passover to the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt Sinai — exactly 7 weeks, 50 days. And so from all over the Mediterranean basin and beyond, Jews who had scattered descended upon Jerusalem for a 2 day celebration.
Though it seemed a very normal and typical celebration day in Jerusalem, it turned out to be an awesome day. The world didn’t know what the Lord had in store for His people. On Pentecost, God did something surprising, something these Jewish pilgrims could not have expected. Now, the 120 followers of Jesus gathered praying in the Upper Room knew what Jesus had said before His ascension. Just before He ascended to heaven, the Lord had promised: “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). But the visitors to Jerusalem knew nothing of Jesus’ promise.
When the wind blew, when the Holy Spirit descended, when the fire lit over the heads of the 120, when they heard them speaking their languages, miraculously empowered by God, the crowds were amazed. Some thought they were drunk, even though it was only 9 a.m.!
Pentecost – today is Pentecost Sunday. It’s the day on the Christian Calendar when churches around the world commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. Pentecost sometimes is overlooked. It may seem less important than Christmas (the Festival of the Incarnation) or Easter (the Festival of the Resurrection). Yet Pentecost is foundational for our faith, especially for our life together as the Church, the People of God. As we think about Pentecost today and consider Acts chapter 2, I would like to offer two lessons from Pentecost:
First: We Really Need the Holy Spirit
We can’t understand what happened in Acts chapter 2 unless we know something about Joel chapter 2. When some people in the crowd at Pentecost accused the 120 of celebrating Shavuot a little too much, Peter stood before a crowd of Jews and appealed to the Jewish prophet, Joel. Joel had prophesied what God would do on the day of Pentecost. In his sermon to mostly Jewish audience in Acts 2:17, Peter quotes the words of Joel 2:28, “After that, I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.”
God promised that one day He will pour out His Spirit upon His people. His generosity in Christ will be shown to everyone. He will permanently dwell among us. The Old Testament saints longed for this day.
The first lesson we need to remember on this Pentecost Sunday is that we really need the Holy Spirit. We need the companionship of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew that following Him in the world is not easy. The task ahead of the disciples was not easy. There was no way that the Church in its own power was up to the job. They absolutely had to receive God’s power; the power of the Holy Spirit.
One of my favorite African American Spirituals is “Give Me Jesus!” The earliest known version of “Give Me Jesus” was published in 1845 by the Rev. Jacob Knapp, a Baptist minister from New York. It goes like this: (1) “In the morning, when I rise … Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus … You can have all this world … But give me Jesus. (2) And when I am alone … Oh, and when I am alone … Give me Jesus … You can have all this world … But give me Jesus. (3) And when I come to die … Oh, and when I come to die. Give me Jesus … You can have all this world … But give me Jesus.” God’s presence is what we need the most.
Friends, if on that day long ago, the followers of Jesus really needed the Holy Spirit, then hear this: We really need the Holy Spirit today! We simply cannot follow Jesus closely or serve Him faithfully if we operate in our own weakness.
Second: We Really Need Each Other
But there is a second lesson we are reminded of on Pentecost. Not only do we really need the Holy Spirit, but we also need each other. It should strike us that Jesus could have sent the Holy Spirit on each of the 120 followers individually when they were praying at home alone. Instead, the Holy Spirit fell when the disciples were in the Upper Room praying together. There is something about joining forces that moves spiritual mountains.
What is striking about Acts 2 is that it begins with togetherness and it ends with togetherness. Acts 2:42 speaks of shared teaching, shared meals, shared prayers, even shared possessions. The Holy Spirit united their hearts in singleness of purpose and mission. Simply put, we cannot accomplish individually the mission God that God has given us.
A few weeks ago, I pointed out that community is at the heart of Jesus movement and we should make it our priority to unite ourselves with the Body of Christ. Faith, I said, is a journey and it’s not meant to be traveled alone. Community is extremely important. We get fed in this community. We are protected in this community. We are safer in this community. We reach our potential in the church community. We love and we are loved in this community. We exercise our spiritual gifts in this community. We get blessed and we become a blessing to others in this community.
Friends, we have been called to be a Pentecostal people. Of course, I am not referring to a certain denomination, rather, I am calling all of us today to demonstrate a Pentecostal spirit; to live as Pentecostal people; that is to recognize our daily need and dependency on the Holy Spirit. The good thing is that we do this in community. We lean on the wisdom of the body of Christ. We journey together. We follow together. The power of God the Holy Spirit and the power of being part of the community of Christ are two ways that capture the spirit of Pentecost. On these two important elements rise or fall our witness in the world. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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