June 11, 2011

Sermon for Pentecost

The Beginning of the End
Acts 2:1-11
June 12, 2011

What would a perfect world look like? That question can bring forth many different answers, depending on the views and values of the people answering it. For some the perfect world is a teeming city; for others it's a quiet countryside. For some it is a life of idleness; for others it is the freedom to put their creative talents into meaningful work. Obviously Man's natural inclination toward sin colours our view of the perfect world, and the more we are influenced by it, the less perfect our imagined world becomes. It is because of sinful people putting their sinful plans into action that our word is so utterly imperfect right now. But in our better moments, maybe we can agree on some things that a real perfect world would have.

Justice might be one of those things. Justice means all people would get what they deserve. Those who work hard and choose wisely would be allowed to reap the just rewards of their labours. People would be free to attempt to achieve their dreams, not being held back by race or class or artificial barriers. Courts would truly rule according to the principles of truth and justice. Government would be free of corruption, and apply itself to its true function of securing our rights and freedom.

Peace would be an important part of a perfect world. Nation would not lift up sword against nation, nor would there be violence or oppression inside the nation, the community, or the home. People would be able to walk the streets of the cities again, to sleep in safety at night, to sit on the park bench, or walk a country road without fear of crime or violence. Every person would be free to enjoy life, with none to make him afraid.

A perfect world would be characterised by a healthy dose of good old fashioned human kindness and respect, what the hippies used to call, "love." Instead of looking for ways to gain an advantage over others, which could be exploited for personal and economic advantage, people would look for ways to be helpful and to build up one another.

A perfect world would also be characterised by a strong sense of self-reliance, the good kind that takes responsibility for one's own life and achievements, rather than expecting others to do it for them. This self-reliance is the kind that makes person say, "I am going to achieve something in life. I am going to contribute to the physical, financial, and spiritual well-being of life on this planet."

Of course a perfect world is a world of people at peace with God. It is a world of people who live by His laws and love Him in their hearts. This is foundational. Without this, the rest is impossible.

Even a casual look at the Bible shows that a "perfect world" is promised and expected by its human authors. One of my favorite passages is Isaiah 2:2-4. I think God must like it too for He repeats it almost word for word in Micah 4:2-4. Let me read it as it is found in the book of Micah.

"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it."

Micah 4:1-4

These words are not about what mankind might accomplish, if we get our act together. These words are about what God will accomplish for us by His power and through His grace. These words are the promise of God. They describe the reason why God created the world, and why He works in grace with fallen people, and why Christ came into this world, and why He gave His life on the cross. God did all of these things to accomplish what He promised in these words. He did all of this to establish a Kingdom for Himself, where His people can live in a perfect world, in perfect peace with Him, forever.

I'm going to say something rather shocking; the Church is that perfect world. The Church is that perfect Kingdom of God, created in Christ Jesus, to love Him above all things and to enjoy His blessings and presence forever. The reason my statement is shocking is that we are all aware of the deplorable state of the visible Church. We could talk about her faults for hours, but let's just say for now that she is still a bit shy of perfection. Christ, talking about this very issue said the visible Church is like a wheat field having both wheat and tares. But the day will come when the tares are weeded out, and the wheat is gathered home to God forever. The day will come when all of the promises of the Bible will be fulfilled. They will be accomplished in their absolute fullest possible sense. We will dwell in the immediate glory and light of God (Rev.21:11, 22:4). We will eat of the Tree of Life every day (Rev. 22:2). We will drink of the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17), and we will live in a world of real perfection for we will dwell in Christ and He will dwell in us.

Obviously that day has not arrived in its fullness yet. But it is dawning. We can see its beginning. We can see the darkness beginning to fade, and the first hint of light in the Eastern Sky. The prophets foresaw it. The Temple and sacrifices foreshadowed it. The ministry of Christ on earth made it possible. And the coming of the Holy Spirit began it. We miss the point of Pentecost when we focus on tongues. They were simply a temporary sign that the long awaited day had arrived. The era of fulfillment is upon us. We live in it here and now. The law is going forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem through Christ and His Church. He is bringing the nations into it, and in it we have a foretaste of our final fellowship with Him and each other. It is only a foretaste now because we still carry within us the inclination toward sin, because our understanding is sketchy and incomplete, and because tares exist even in the Church. But, though we have only the foretaste, we do have the foretaste. I like the way God expresses this through the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:14. He calls the Holy Spirit the "earnest of our inheritance." "Earnest" means the down payment. It is the beginning of something greater that is promised. So the Holy Spirit is just the beginning of what God has in store for His Church. And we have the promise of God that He who has begun this good work will bring it to completion. This is the meaning of the Day of Pentecost.