Ken's Pastoral Letter for May
As we enter into May and prepare to celebrate Pentecost later this month we are reminded of the need in the church for the dynamic of the Holy Spirit to empower and to direct our efforts in witness and ministry. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in Jerusalem, where they had been commanded by the risen Jesus to wait ‘to be endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49), marked the birth and the commissioning of the Church. When the Spirit fell upon her she immediately began that mission and three thousand souls were added to her number on that day alone. (Acts 2:41).
It was not that the disciples hadn’t been witnessing already since the ascension. Luke records that after the ascension the disciples ‘returned to Jerusalem with great joy ….. and stayed continually at the temple, praising God.’ (Luke 24:52-53). Evidently they were not hiding away in the upper room for fear of the Jewish religious authorities, or the Romans, but were, it seems, straining to be under way with their ministry. It is thought likely that the upper room was actually in the temple precincts. Hardly a place to hide from the religious authorities!
But they had been told to wait and so they waited! Meantime, and before the Spirit fell, they had elected a replacement for Judas, as they saw fit from scripture, and as Peter had directed them. (Acts 1:15-26). Perhaps this claim to be fulfilling the Book of Psalms in this particular regard also arose out of the post resurrection conversations they’d had with Jesus concerning the scriptures. The business of the community carried on therefore with faith and renewed understanding - and with renewed courage! They had all abandoned Jesus at Gethsemane, and Peter even later denied Him, but all that was in the past since they had walked and talked with Him again – Jesus of Nazareth back from the grave – victorious over death. The world could no longer be the same for them now and they were ready to go out and tell their testimony to whoever would listen!
Jesus had spent forty days with them teaching them what was said about Him in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets and the Psalms, (Luke 24:36-49). Sometimes He was physically with them in resurrected form, while at other times He was clearly present yet not visible, as he demonstrated when he reappeared to invite the previously absent Thomas to put his hands in to the wound in his side, ‘to touch and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’ (Luke 24:39). No one needed to tell Jesus what Thomas had said in His absence for Jesus had never really been absent! Visible or invisible He was equally present, and the purpose of these forty days from the resurrection to the ascension seems as much as anything else to have been to wean the disciples off their dependency upon His corporeal form, his bodily presence; to convince them that He was with them always – even unto the end of the age! (Matthew 28:20)
So, they had their confidence back, even a bolder courage than before. Their world view was unalterably changed by His return from death and their understanding of scripture since Jesus had opened their eyes to its fulfilment in Himself was radically altered. But something else was necessary; they had to be endued with power from on high. The Holy Spirit needed to come to them and lead them out.
As we mark another Pentecost we would be wise to remind ourselves that for all our convictions and our gifts and skills employed intelligently in His service, just like those early disciples, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that we need for successful mission and that this cannot be guaranteed by mere liturgical invocation in our services, nor must it be simply assumed because Jesus promised that the Comforter would come. (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; the very presence of God in our midst, and as such is necessarily both comforting and disconcerting at the same time. We need to get to know Who it is we depend upon for our Christian lives and witness; something our Pentecostal brothers and sisters are very aware of in world-wide churches today that are vastly superior in numbers to anything in the UK.
Keith Warrington in his BST* volume ‘The Message of the Holy Spirit’ says:
‘He is like the universe – an endless resource for investigation and wonder. The universe delights us, fires our imagination, leaves us speechless, reminds us of our smallness and motivates us to explore it. So also the Spirit is our infinite source of enquiry, intrigue, exploration and discovery. The Spirit desires us to encounter him but so that we may partner him more intimately.’
That intimate partnership is what we need. Even if it upsets all our plans and convinces us of our smallness - so be it! Only let God have His way among us by His Spirit. What a challenge! What a promise!
Yours always in Christian love,
*The Bible Speaks Today, IVP. 2009.