The Birth Of The Church
May 31, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today is Pentecost (The Festival Of The Descent Of The Holy Spirit). This day is, what could be called, "The Birthday Of The Church." In Acts chapter two it documents how the church was born and how the history of [the church's] mission got its start.
2. "As the day of Pentecost came, when the group was gathered together as one, all of a sudden, a sound like that of a strong wind blowing in was heard from heaven, and it resounded in the house where they were sitting. And tongues split like flames appeared and remained on each of the people. Whereupon, the group was filled with the Holy Spirit, and as 'the spirit' caused them to speak, they began to speak in the languages of other nations," (Acts 2:1-4).
3. A pretty strange thing seems to be written here. But, generations of Christians have been telling this strange event for two thousand years. While reading this passage out loud over and over, they have celebrated Pentecost. Therefore, we too are celebrating Pentecost in this same way.
The Church Was Born Through An Event From Heaven
4. What in the world has the church for generations been passing on from one generation to the next? Each year, while celebrating Pentecost, what have they been remembering? If put succinctly, it would be that "Human beings did not give birth to the church."
5. Please look at the verse from just ago. In it the text says, "all of a sudden." In other words, it means a human being did not plan it. It did not come into existence by humans designing it, humans arranging it by careful planning. Next, the text says, "a sound like that of a strong wind blowing in" was heard. The phrase "like that of" is important. It was absolutely a sound "like that of" but completely different from the "strong winds" that we usually experience. And it is recorded in the text that it was heard "from heaven." It is not merely speaking the direction. It means that it did not come from this world, but from beyond, from God. Also, the text records that "tongues like flames" appeared. Unless "the flames" are within human experience, this too is clearly not "tongues."
6. All of these expressions are pointing to the fact that this event arrived in from beyond. They did not have earthly causation. Humans did not bring forth the church. That is the first message which this passage is communicating and passing on. Some persons with powerful leadership skills did not come along and gather up disciples, and then build a church. Nor can the claim be made that the disciples built the church by voluntarily uniting under one ideology. Nor was the church born as a result of bonding together as one against a common enemy and for a common task. As we've already seen, it is something that came from God, it came neither from strong winds, nor flames, nor this world, as is written here in this text. This wind is not the wind of ideas from this world, this flame is not the zeal and the passion that human beings stir up and burst into flames. Having nothing whatsoever at all to do with any such things, the church was born.
7. People are always seeking for the winds and the flames of this world. They put their hopes in the things that come from this passing world, and they let themselves go over to the things that come from society. However, the disciples who were there did not. The text says, "The group was assembled as one." What were they doing while assembled together? They were praying. It was just as it is written in chapter one and verse fourteen, "They were all praying fervently along with the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." That they were praying means to say that they were expecting for an event not from this world but from a place that transcends this world, from beyond, from heaven. And an event from heaven did take place [at that].
8. Each year the church remembers this and has affirmed it. Whenever there is an assembly in which humans have assembled on their own will, they can only expect what comes from human beings. However, the church is not like that. The same can be said for Shoei Church. [Our] church also exists in the history of the church which had begun through such a heavenly event. Right now we are assembling in that same manner, in the [long] flow of the church which had begun as an event from heaven. That's the kind of [entity] the church is.
9. As a result then, even in this church of ours, events from heaven, events that come through the Holy Spirit take place. For example, we will have after this a baptismal service. Water will be poured over a person. Getting the water ready and pouring the water are what the humans do. It's an activity in the world. But, if baptism merely comes from human beings and if it is no more than an activity of this world, then nothing would be as trivial as this. The person receiving baptism would only be having water poured on him or her and feeling cold for nothing. However, for the very reason that this is not the case, the church has kept this up for two thousand years. It did not stop at any time along the way. It didn't stop, not for persecutions, not for anything. That's because it is not some mere activity of this world, but that a heavenly event takes place. An event that comes from the spirit of God takes place. At that time a person becomes one with Christ, gets a share in the atonement for sin that comes from Christ, and upon dying with Christ is born again. As a child of God [the person] is born again, begins to live by calling God as the heavenly father and calling out like a baby to him. This type of heavenly event, an event which is invisible but yet comes from God, is happenning.
10. The Lord's Supper afterwards is the same way, too. We will divide out the small fragments of bread and the small cups. Getting the bread and the grape juice ready and distributing them are what the humans do. It's an activity in the world. If the Lord's Supper is no more than an activity of this world, then nothing would be as trivial as this. It would be like playing house. However, for the very reason that this is not the case, the church has kept this up for two thousand years. It did not stop at any time along the way. It didn't stop, not for persecutions, not for anything. That's because it is not some mere activity of this world. A heavenly event takes place. An event that comes from the spirit of God takes place. Just as surely as we see the bread with our eyes, taste it with our tongues, and after eating it, it goes inside us, we share in the grace of the atonement for sin that comes from the cross of Christ over and over again. In addition, just as bread nourishes the life of the physical body, as we share in Christ's body and blood, we receive the nourishment of eternal life.
11. Indeed, it is not limited to only baptism or the Lord's Supper in particular. Even this worship service is already a work of God. In it we are turning to the invisible One and we are praising him as we join our hearts together. Even though a person meets with hard times every day, he or she comes here on Sundays and gives praises for God. Is that normal? Furthermore, by nature we used to be in a totally different place and we used to live totally differently, but now we are offering up worship like this with united hearts. Is that normal? No, it isn't. So we are being touched by an event already from heaven. We are in the midst of the great handiwork of God here in this place today.
Filled With The Holy Spirit
12. Thus, today's passage of scripture is relating that the church was born as an event from heaven, through the handiwork of God. "All of a sudden, a sound like that of a strong wind blowing in was heard from heaven, and it resounded in the house where they were sitting. And tongues split like flames appeared and remained on each of the people." That was the beginning. I mentioned that this was the first message. But, then there is more to follow. The text says, "Whereupon, the group was filled with the Holy Spirit, and as 'the spirit' caused them to speak, they began to speak in the languages of other nations." It is this expression of "[They] were filled with the Holy Spirit." It is the other thing that we want to stop and take a look at today.
13. Expressions that are very similar to that of "to be filled with the Holy Spirit" can be found in the scriptures. For example, [it has the expression] "to be filled with rage." Going by the New Interconfessional Version, [a Japanese translation], it is freely translated as "to be indignant." Or else, it is the expression, "to be filled with fear." I think either meaning is understandable for us. Have you ever been filled with rage? You are so mad, you are mad and nothing can stop it. You can't even control yourself you're so mad. All your restraints end up kaput. Because we're being moved by rage, we'll say things we shouldn't ever say. There may even be times we end up insulting others even though we best not do so. In this way then, to say, "to be filled" means "to be controlled, to be under the control of." When we cannot control ourselves, we are controlled by anger and end up moved by it. That is what "being filled with anger" means.
14. When it is "anger" that is filling us, that is a totally uptight position to be in, but what is it like when it is "the Holy Spirit" [who is doing the filling]? Isn't it pleasant when one is filled by the Holy Spirit and being controlled by the spirit of God? We are moved by the love of God, we are moved by the thoughts of God of wanting to deliver every person. We are filled by the power of God who delivers this world, and the power of God's salvation through us is revealed and the handiwork of God is revealed. In this way then, God himself is truly in control and God shows himself to us. That is what being filled by the Holy Spirit means.
15. "The group was filled with the Holy Spirit." God filled the group that was there with the Holy Spirit. For what purpose [did he do that]? Of course, it was so that he [could] use them. It was so that he [could] fulfill his salvation to every people group [from] every kind of nation having every kind of language. In that sense, we could make the case that the event [described as] "As 'the spirit' caused them to speak, they began to speak in the languages of other nations" was a very symbolical one. God was willing to use them for the salvation of this world.
16. When you think about it, it is curious and mysterious. If God was saving the world, shouldn't it better be if he had done it himself personally? In a manner like a sound resounding from heaven like a strong wind blowing in, in a mysterious manner like tongues like flames appearing, shouldn't [he] personally from heaven save the people in a completely supernatural way? However, though, it seems God did not will it that way. Through and through God is willing to save people by using human beings. When the sound resounded from heaven like a strong wind blowing in it was only the beginning. Also these tongues like flames appearing was limited at the start to this one time only. After that, [God] filled the people with the Holy Spirit, and used them and then through them God advanced his work of salvation [to where we are now].
17. In this way then, the church has a presence and exists even here in Shimokitazawa. In this way then, we too are assembled in this place. Is it exactly the way they had it? Are there persons who have come here because tongues like flames have been revealed and they were led by those tongues? I don't think there are. More likely it is because somebody was used by God that I am here in this place or that you are here in this place. So, we too have a presence and exist in the handiwork of God which is at work through the agency of human beings. Since that is true, then isn't it our turn now? God is filling us too with the Holy Spirit, he is using us, and he is willing to advance the work of salvation further and further on.
18. Let's seek to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Let's earnestly pray like those disciples did as they "were fervently praying with united hearts." Our living filled not by anger and fear or by any other single thing but by the Holy Spirit and our being controlled by the Holy Spirit is not for ourselves. It is for the salvation of our families, it is for the salvation of our friends, and if we go even further with it, it is for the salvation of the world. God is willing to deliver people by using us. Let's be receptive to letting God make us vessels which carry God's salvation.