Today’s Reading: Acts 2
The church was entering a time that would prove to be the most difficult to be a Christian. Believers would die or be persecuted for following Jesus. The persecution started in the first century and continued for three centuries under the orders of Roman emperors Nero to Diocletian who ordered some of the most horrific things done to Christians. Jesus knew this difficult time lay ahead for His followers so He wanted to make sure they were prepared.
One of the greatest movies is Gladiator. One of the deleted scenes on the DVD depicts Russell Crowe, a once-powerful Roman general who had been forced to become a common gladiator, in the bowels of the Colosseum viewing the Christians being fed to the lions. It was accurately portrayed that he would view the Christians’ persecution before the gladiators would go into the fight. Why? To fill the stomachs of the lions so they would be more playful with the gladiators during the games.
Why did the Romans kill the early Christians? Not for worshiping Jesus but for not worshiping and acknowledging all the other gods in the Roman Empire, because they clung to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. The first-century government hated the Christians not because they were Christians but because they didn’t say all the other religions were legit. We call that pluralism—all religions are equal.
So at the beginning of Acts, with the creation of the early church, Jesus was equipping them with something for the worst times Christianity would face. He was also equipping us. How does God get His people ready for this type of environment? He gives a gift—the gift of the Holy Spirit, as we read in today’s chapter:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
This is not a denominational thing. This is not a Pentecostal thing. This is a Jesus thing.
I have been fortunate that I was raised by great Christian parents and had godly grandparents. From a young age, I was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. When I was a pastor for thirty years in Detroit, someone once told me that they could do a better job on those streets because they have experienced that world, and I haven’t. They had a life of addiction that I did not have so they could speak to the people on the street better than I could. That did not seem right to me—the best way to be effective in ministering to the world is to experience the world? I don’t think so.
This is the reason for Acts 2. The best way to face the world is not to experience it and see that sin is not fulfilling. God doesn’t say taste and see the world is no good; God goes the other way: taste and see that the Lord is good. Jesus didn’t tell Peter to get high, Martha to experience sex outside of marriage, James to get drunk, John to go to prison and kill someone so they could all really minister to people. He said an experience with God is what we need to tell people about God’s kingdom and living a Holy-Spirit-filled life. Jesus knew that our power was in experiencing God, not in experiencing sin. Sin takes away, God fills and gives.
So when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, He wants to give you a power to face what is ahead and equip you to share the Good News unafraid.
If Jesus said that the best thing for us was for Him to leave so He could send the Holy Spirit, then it is best. And He will help us through the hardest times.
We need another Pentecost. We need this fire. We need the Holy Spirit.
The founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, wrote a song called “Send the Fire.” Consider his first verse:
Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame, send the fire!
Thy blood-bought gift today we claim, send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host, give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost, send the fire!