To the ends of the earth

Pentecost, 31 May 2020

Acts 2:1-21

When the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they didn’t know America or the Philippines existed; they only knew the world around them.  Everyone believed the earth was flat, and if you sailed far enough you would fall off the end.  That was how they understood the instruction to preach to the ends of the earth.  Today we know the earth is round, with no end or beginning, so for us it means all the earth.  The disciples believed the world was massive: how would they reach the ends of the earth when they were so small?  A prayer of a Chinese bishop begins, “The waters are so vast and my boat is so small…”  On the day of Pentecost, they believed God would do something. 

In 1951, my parents moved from the town of their birth, a town of 25,000 people, to a large city which now has a population of 1.5 million and a metropolitan area of over 2.5 million. They regarded this move as very serious, at a time when most people lived in small towns and never left their home.  If you’ve moved not only to another city but another country, or have family members who’ve done so, you know the experience of distance.  I grew up away from my extended family, but twice a year we travelled 325 miles, 5 hours by car.  We thought it was a long journey; nowadays people do it regularly and think nothing of it. Europe, Asia and Africa were so far away that I never thought I’d see them.  When my friend went to California by plane, it was something I couldn’t imagine.  In the late 1970s I wanted to go to England and Israel, but never thought it would happen: I expected to spend my life ministering in Massachusetts, where I was living then, and that was God’s call.  Now the world has become much smaller with air travel and technology. I’ve literally travelled around the world and seen things I never thought I’d see.  I’ve met people in places I didn’t know existed until a few years ago but are now dear to my heart.

Jesus told His disciples that when the Holy Spirit came they would receive power to preach to the ends of the earth.  That’s happening today by internet in places where we can’t go physically.  The Gospel is reaching people, and some are risking their lives by listening to live streams.  You have the potential to share this live stream with people around the world and to share the Gospel by pushing a button.

God’s plan is bigger

As big as the disciples saw the mission, they didn’t know how big it was, that the Gospel would reach countries they didn’t even know existed.  Yet it was in God’s plan from the beginning that the Philippines would be converted through Spanish missionaries and become the only Christian nation in southeast Asia; and it isn’t finished yet: He has a plan for all southeast Asia.  The disciples left their homes and took the Gospel to what they considered the ends of the earth, from Europe to India, thousands of miles from where they were born.

God has a plan for us: it’s bigger than our plan, bigger than where we live, bigger than our circumstances.  It’s bigger than our plan for our children.  My father had a plan for me: the first in his family to have a college education, he was proud of his diploma and wanted me to have one; he wanted me to be a professional businessman like him.  It wasn’t his plan for me to be a priest or bishop, and he never saw me travelling around the world.  He had a big vision for me, from a desire for me to have a good life, but God’s vision was bigger.  My father’s vision wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t big enough.  We all have dreams for our children, but we need to remember that God’s dream is bigger, and release them into it.  His plan for them and for us is to be in His Kingdom and do the work of the Kingdom.

God’s vision of love 

The disciples gathered in the upper room, praying and waiting for something powerful to happen.  Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Their experience with Jesus had transformed their lives as they saw miracles, including resurrections; and Jesus said, now there’s something else, something bigger.  The Holy Spirit came upon them.  We read the description: the shaking, wind and fire.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit to go into the world and bring the good news: that God loves us and has forgiven us and we can be reconciled with God if we repent and turn to Him.  The power they received was not fire and wind, but God’s love manifested in fire and wind.  His love drove out their fear and expanded their dream and vision.  The Holy Spirit poured the love of God into their hearts.  God’s love is what we receive when we look upon the cross. Jesus on the cross is the glory and power of God.  This love that was poured into them became a love for others.

They went out and began to speak, not in a prayer language, but in the languages of different tribes and nations, because they were called out to those nations.  They told people they could have eternal life if they would repent and believe in Jesus, and 3,000 were converted and became part of the church.  The Spirit gave them all they needed for this mission.  God wants us to go out and proclaim the message of Jesus: that God’s love shown on the cross, if we turn to Him, becomes ours, and abundant life is available to us. We’ll receive all we need spiritually and even materially to do that.  We’ll receive prayer languages and spiritual gifts when God’s love fills us so much that, like the disciples, we begin to be convinced that real life, real joy is found not in survival, not in the world, but in the selfless, sacrificial life lived for others.  May God give us that vision and dream. May He give us the grace to hear His voice and speak His voice into the world.

Ask for the Holy Spirit

Father, we are so grateful for the Holy Spirit.  We ask You, Holy Spirit, to renew the face of the earth.  We come to You, Lord, in an expectation that has been birthed in desperation. This pandemic has created in us a desperate need and desire for You alone.  Meet us now in that desperation, and release again Your Holy Spirit.  Fill us afresh; as our fathers have prayed for generations, send Your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.  We wait for it, we long for it and we desire it.  We ask You to do it now, in Jesus’ name.

If you haven’t been baptised in the Holy Spirit, I want to pray with you.  “How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask”: the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, as shown in Acts, is released when we ask.

Dear Lord Jesus, I renounce satan and all my sinful ways that keep me separated from You.  I thank You for dying on the cross to save me from my sins and with Your resurrection giving me new life in You.  I want to surrender myself to You and follow You as the Lord of my heart. I ask You to baptise me in the Holy Spirit and in power, that I may follow You more closely and love You more deeply all the days of my life.  Let the gifts of the Holy Spirit come alive in me.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

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