What is God doing?

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Father in heaven,We thank you that you look over all of the world and understand it completely because you made it. We thank you that you speak. Help us to hear and to learn how to live wisely and to love truly in this world you have made.For Jesus’ honour and glory, Amen

What is God doing? Have you ever asked that question before? Maybe you don’t yet believe in God, or you don’t believe in a God who has plans and carries them out. Do you even wonder what’s going on in the world? Don’t we want to know what’s going on so that we know what we should do? If we’re going to invest money, we want to know what the market is doing. If we’re going to pick a fantasy football team, we want to know how the season is going. If we’re hoping to go on a picnic we want to know what the weather is doing. Well, if there is a God who made everything and keeps it running, don’t we want to know what he’s planning on doing?

What is God doing? The book of Acts tells us what God did in the days and years after Jesus had died for sins, risen again and ascended into heaven. It tells us what God planned, and it shows us how he chooses to accomplish it. It sets the direction and mission for followers of Jesus today. Look down at Acts 2.21 – what is God doing? According to Peter, God is bringing this to pass:

…everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

It is a rescue mission. It’s a salvation plan. That makes it a priority. Imagine Dave volunteers for the RNLI. He loves the teamwork, he loves taking the boats out, he loves working the radio, and he loves the training exercises. But supposing the mayday call came in and Dave didn’t drop everything he was doing to answer it. It’s just unthinkable. Rescue missions take priority.

Acts 2 describes the hinge moment between the two stages of God’s plan. We can think of all of history divided between these two stages. Salvation accomplished by the Son of God, and Salvation applied by the Spirit of God. We live in the Acts era of God’s salvation plan. It’s good to know understand the times we live in. I’ve been enjoying watching Clarkson’s Farm and learning with Jeremy Clarkson the demands and labours that go into making a packet of crisps. Jeremy Clarkson is a great example of misunderstanding the times and the seasons (he’s constantly behind planting his crops), he needs to be helped out by his capable and long suffering colleagues Caleb Cooper and Cheerful Charlie. One moment was when it was time for harvest and Jeremy is nowhere to be seen Caleb goes looking for him and finds he’s changing the tyres of his Lamborghini tractor. “What are you doing that for?” exclaims Caleb. “That’s a winter job! We’re in summer! We need to be in these tractors getting the harvest in!”

We need to know what age we’re in – we’re in the Acts age of God’s plan. Salvation has been accomplished by Christ, the Son of God. It now needs to be applied by the Spirit of God. It’s wonderful news that Salvation is from God, from first to last. He hasn’t left the field and left it to chance. He will carry it on to completion. God the father wills it, God the Son accomplishes it, and God the Spirit applies it. And Acts 2 describes the beginning of this next stage in the plan. It is the beginning; 1. Of the outpouring of the Spirit, 2. To get the Gospel to the ends of the earth. So let’s look:

1. The Outpouring of the Spirit

Acts 2.1-15 describe how the Spirit came to the Apostles. There may have been others with them – They were all together in one place could refer to the company of 120 from Acts, or it could refer to just the 12 Apostles with Matthias now numbered among them. In either case, in Acts 2.14 we see that it is Peter, the Apostle, standing with the other 11 Apostles, who lifts up his voice to address the crowds. We are not meant to read this as a description of normal conversion. The sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit is not whether or not there was mighty rushing wind at the time of their conversion, or that a tongue like fire rested upon them, or that they have the ability to speak in different languages. The sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit is whether or not they call on the name of the Lord to be saved. What is going on here is God is making clear that the Spirit has come and the next stage of his rescue plan can begin.

Pentecost is from the Greek word meaning fiftieth – marking the 50th day after Passover. It corresponded to the Old Testament Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23.15-21). The Feast of Weeks was originally celebrated fifty days after the First Fruits offering. I’m afraid I don’t have a gardening bone in my body, but even I understand the concept of first fruits – they are the fruit that comes first. They are a sign that the tree or the field is fruitful. They are the sign that a harvest is coming! Fifty days later there’s a festival to enjoy the harvest! What does Pentecost mean in the New Testament and for us today? Christ has risen! He is the first fruits of new and eternal life. Salvation has been accomplished! Now the Spirit is given to apply that salvation to the world – so that it may be enjoyed! Acts 2 describes the beginning of the Outpouring of the Spirit:

2. To Get the Gospel to the Ends of The Earth.

Salvation has been accomplished. That is the Gospel. It is a message of victory and it calls for a response. The criteria for being an Apostle was that they must be an eyewitness of the life, death, resurrection and Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1.21). They had to be able to speak reliably about these events, because these events are the Gospel. And their mission from the risen Lord Jesus was to be his witnesses (Acts 1.8):

in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Salvation has been accomplished. It now needs to be proclaimed and applied to the ends of the earth. That is why, in Acts 2.5, Luke says there were devout men from every nation under heaven – and then only goes on to list about 15 regions in the mediterranean and middle east. He’s not being deceitful or careless: he’s signalling to us that God’s plan to get the Gospel to the ends of the earth is beginning, and these nations are representative of that plan. Think of Dave, the RNLI volunteer – say he gets a mayday call from a crew of ten sailors. Well, his mission is to rescue ten sailors. He won’t head out with the vague intention of picking up two or three if he can. He and his team mates will set their sights on rescuing them all. Apparently the largest RNLI rescue operation was in 1907 – the 12,000 tonne SS Suevic hit a reef off Cornwall. In gale force winds and dense fogs, RNLI boats rowed out repeatedly for 16 hours and rescued 456 passengers, including 70 babies. Just so with God and his rescue mission: He hasn’t left the field at Christ’s ascension. He is still working, by his Spirit, to save his people. The Gospel has got to get to the ends of the earth – and so God has poured out his Spirit to accomplish that. And The Spirit works by empowering his people to pass it on to others.

So, we see one really practical way in Acts 2.4-6 he enables the Apostles and those with them to speak in different languages. Again, just like the nations listed – this is not supposed to be descriptive of what happens every time someone receives the Holy Spirit. It is supposed to highlight one of the key ministries of the Holy Spirit – which is to bring knowledge of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. So see how Peter interprets these events in the light of Scripture (Acts 2.17-18):

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,and your young men shall see visions,and your old men shall dream dreams;even on my male servants and female servantsin those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy

Do you see that the result of the Spirit being poured out is that God’s people prophesy? That doesn’t mean God will regularly give Christians divine revelation about what the weather will be on the weekend or who will win the World Cup. Prophecy in the Old Testament meant being given insight into the heavenly world. Visions and dreams were ways that God would sometimes communicate with the prophets. And prophecy itself was always verbal (either spoken or written) revealing God’s will, making God known. So whereas in the past the Holy Spirit would come on a few people to give them knowledge of God’s will – These days will be marked by his ministry amongst all people. Young, old, men, women, rich and poor. And Acts 2, Pentecost, is the like the lighting of a fuse:

• The Holy Spirit falls on the Apostles
• The Apostles are empowered to proclaim the Gospel
• Those who hear repent and believe and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
• And then they go about proclaiming the word of God
• And through opposition, set-backs, persecution, and trials, the Holy Spirit leads the new Christians to take the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, then to Europe and Asia and Africa

Everyone has a part to play, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to play that part. It’s a bit like this: Imagine this Rugby ball is the Gospel. This is the witness of the Apostles – The Holy Spirit enabled them to bear witness to Jesus and pass it on to others. And it’s gone down through the ages and all across the world until it’s reached you and me in Jesmond. And when it reaches you and me, the Holy Spirit enables us to understand it, and to respond to it – and gives us faith that leads to repentance. And then he wants us to pass it on and God promises that as we pass it on, his Holy Spirit will be at work. Now what will that be like? Acts 2.19-21 God says:

And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Now here’s the thing: I don’t know what will happen when I pass this Gospel on. My worry is that the Holy Spirit is going to leave me hanging. I don’t know if I pass this Rugby Ball on, God may suddenly turn the sun to darkness or the moon to blood. To be honest, sometimes I feel there’s a greater chance that will happen than some of my friends changing their mind about Jesus and putting their faith in him. I don’t know what will happen. But, it seems so unlikely that if I pass this rugby ball on it’s going to make any difference – to the world or to my friend. If anything, I believe it’s more likely to go horribly wrong. I don’t know what will happen if I pass on the Gospel to another person. But here’s what we do know for sure, because God has told us and God doesn’t lie. This Gospel must get to the ends of the earth – and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. I don’t know what will happen if I speak to someone about Jesus, but we can find out!

We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and realise we’ve sleep walked through these last days – not seeing what God is doing, not listening to what he wants us to do. We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and say we’ve only played it safe, risked nothing, trusted God for nothing but our own needs – never having taken our courage in our hands and moved in love towards a friend, relative or neighbour, fired off a quick arrow prayer asking for the Holy Spirit’s help, and said “Have you heard about Jesus Christ? Have you heard that salvation has been accomplished and a happy and indestructible hope has been made available to us? May I tell you more?” And that is hard to do! There are so many times I look back and think I wish I’d said something. What would have happened? I’ll never know. But the great news is we can always find out what will happen.

Maybe you spent the weekend with someone and they told you about a problem they were having and you had absolutely no idea what to say.
What’s stopping you from picking up the phone and saying something like “I’ve just been thinking about what we talked about – and I don’t have any answers or wisdom to give, you’ve just been on my mind these past few days. I’ve been praying for you. There’s so much in life I don’t understand, but I know Jesus does – have you heard about him? May I tell you about him?” What will happen?

Passing on the Gospel is hard. A 2022 survey asked some non-Christians to describe the Christian church. 1 in 4 described it as hypocritical and narrow minded. 16 percent described it as homophobic. (Talking Jesus 2022 “How non-Christians describe the Christian Church). What’s interesting is that the same people were asked how they would describe their Christian friend (if they had one): 62% said friendly. 50% said caring. 32% said generous. Only 5% said homophobic. Only 10% said narrow minded. That means that most of the time, people are getting their impressions about Christians and Christianity, not from actual Christian they’ve met, but by what some people are saying rather loudly about Christians. And that’s the world we’re stepping into and who we’re trying to share the Good News about Jesus’ rescue. It’s hard work – and we’re going to need the Holy Spirit’s help! But let’s be those who step out in faith, love and courage – and aim with God’s help to play our part in getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Because these are the days where God is pouring out his Spirit and applying his salvation all over the world. Let’s pray:

Father in heaven, we thank you that you know all things, the end from the beginning. We thank you that you speak to us to make us wise about the times we live in. Please give us faith, courage and love to take your Gospel to the ends of the earth. Please help us to speak about Jesus, and please pour out your Spirit on our city and lead many to eternal life, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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