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Sermon for May 23, 2021 (Pentecost)

Speaking Of Life 3026 | The Groans of Our Heart

We sometimes find ourselves out of words when we are overwhelmed with emotions. This is similar with our relationship with God. We often find it difficult to talk to him or even fail to express the entirety of our emotions. God tells us in Romans 8 that he knows our deepest thoughts and even our worst heartaches. Let us be assured that when we feel like all is lost, God is always there to listen to us and ready to embrace us with arms wide open.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3026 | The Groans of Our Heart
Greg Williams

Sometimes words are not enough. When a child is born, it is hard to put into words the joy that comes from the miracle of a new life coming into the world. When we lose a loved one, words fail to convey the depth of our grief. Oftentimes, the beauty of creation is so overwhelming, our only response is silent reverence. In these moments, words fail to express the depth of our emotions.

The same is true in our relationship to God. Not only do we have difficulty finding words to express the depth of our need for God, but we also often find ourselves struggling with words when we talk to God. Fortunately, we have help. Notice what Paul tells the believers in Rome:

[Look down]

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 8:22-23

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27

Our need for God is so great that we groan inside for him. Words cannot express how much we need the redemption that is found in Jesus Christ. We need the Holy Spirit to intercede for us. And that’s one of the reasons we celebrate Pentecost. It was the day when the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples, launched the church, and began the church’s mission to the world. With spectacular signs and wonders, Pentecost revealed God’s desire to dwell in the hearts of his people. He wants to live inside us because that is where we need to be healed — that is where we groan.

The amazing thing is that the Holy Spirit understands the groans of our heart. He understands the words we cannot express. Not only does he understand, but he takes our wordless prayers and brings them to the Father on our behalf. The Holy Spirit groans with us, expressing the depth of our need for God as only he can. Even when we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit knows, and he intercedes on our behalf. Because of the humanity of Jesus Christ, God understands us completely, and the Spirit uses that knowledge to pray for us perfectly. So, when we turn to God, we are turning to a Father who already knows what we need and, to Jesus Christ, our big brother who fully identifies with our human experience.

When our words are not enough; when words fail us, it is good to know that God never will. He is always with us and he always understands.

I am Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b · Acts 2:1-21 · Romans 8:22-27 · John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The theme for this week is transformed by the Holy Spirit. The call to worship Psalm is a celebration of creation, which was created by sending the Spirit. Acts 2 speaks about the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, which launched the church and announced its mission to the world. Romans 8 explains that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf and teaches us how to pray. Jesus taught in John that the Holy Spirit is our advocate and leads us into all truth.

The Fire Starter

Acts 2:1-21

Today is Pentecost, a day when we celebrate the birth of the church by the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is also a day that launched the church’s participation in Jesus’ mission to the world. While these things are true, Pentecost was started well before the disciples gathered in the upper room. We are going to talk about the origin of Pentecost in order to understand in more depth what this day means for us. Let us look at the Pentecost story in Acts 2.

Read Acts 2:1-21

There is a lot of symbolism in Pentecost—a day that celebrated bringing in the first harvest of crops. Viewed through the historic meaning of Pentecost, what happened in Jerusalem was supposed to spread and signal an abundant harvest of people who are born of the Spirit.

The wind is significant. The wind is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who hovered over the disciples on this day hovered over the void at the dawn of creation. In both cases, it was almost like the Holy Spirit was anxiously and joyously anticipating the new thing God was getting ready to do. The wind signaled that the Spirit was there, and he was about to bring about a new creation—a new type of human made in the new humanity forged by Jesus Christ.

The speaking in different languages is also significant. Pentecost was the great undoing of the Tower of Babel. Back then, humans wanted to advance themselves and create a world apart from God. If left unchecked, the entire world would be united in evil and determined to reject and ignore the redemptive plans God had for humanity. In his mercy, God confused their languages to disrupt their ill-fated plans. At Pentecost, God used languages to bring people to himself. No longer would languages be used to divide people. Now, God would use language to bring people together.

Finally, the fire is vital, and this is what we will spend the rest of the message on. This fire burned on the disciples signaling that the age of God dwelling in a physical location like the tabernacle and the temple was over. At the inauguration of both the tabernacle and the temple, fire was a symbol God used to signal his presence. So, when the tongues of fire settled upon the disciples, God was announcing a new era. No longer would God’s presence rest in a house made of leather or stone. Now, God’s dwelling place would be in the hearts of his people. We are his temple, the place where heaven and earth meet, the place where God interacts with humanity.

To properly address the topic of the fire, we need to go back to the spark that caused the fire. Pentecost did not just happen—rather, it was ignited years prior. Before he began his ministry, John the Baptist foretold of a coming Fire Starter, and he told us the kind of ministry he would have. Luke writes:

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16)

As John predicted, the Fire Starter did come, and his ministry was as John predicted. During his ministry, this Fire Starter spoke of his work and how anxious he was for his fire to be lit. In Luke, he states:

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (Luke 12:49)

As you have likely already guessed, Jesus Christ is the Fire Starter. He is the origin of the fire that blazed on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. It was Jesus’ fire that burned in the upper room and signaled the beginning of a new age. Peter, in his message, echoed the voices of the Old Testament writers and called this new era the Day of the Lord, and this new age was ushered in by wind and fire.

But, what does this mean? Is not fire destructive? Does Jesus’ fire bring punishment, judgment, and death? If you listen to how some portray the gospel today, you might conclude the answer would be “yes.” There are some who believe and preach that the gospel is about fear. They portray God as angry and vengeful, and we are to obey him to avoid harsh judgment. They teach we should be afraid to disobey. To those with this view, the gospel is not “good news” but rather a warning of impending doom. Thankfully, this view of the gospel and the Fire Starter do not line up with what we find in Scripture. They don’t realize our obedience is a byproduct of our love for him. In the Bible, the qualities of fire are purification, presence, and power. Understanding these three aspects of fire from a biblical perspective will help us understand what the Holy Spirit unleashed on the day of Pentecost.

The fire of Jesus is a purifying fire because it cleanses us of sin. The cross dealt with humanity’s sin once for all time. However, because sin still causes pain, God works in each of us to help us turn away from the things that hurt us or cause us to turn away from him. The fire is not violent, burning our sin away and harming us in the process. Rather, Jesus is a warm hearth fire inviting us to shed our sin like someone in the Northern Hemisphere would shed a heavy winter coat when sitting in front of a cozy fireplace. We gladly give up the parts of us oriented away from God in response to his goodness. We lose our taste for sin as we experience God’s love, mercy, and grace.

The fire of Jesus symbolizes the enduring presence of God. When God called Moses to shepherd his people out of Egyptian slavery, he appeared to him as a burning bush. Later, when the Israelites were leaving Egypt and did not know where to go, God appeared in a cloud by day and fire in the sky at night. When they arrived at the place in the desert where God wanted to interact with them, God revealed himself as a mountain on fire. From the earliest seeds of our faith, God has used fire to symbolize his presence. The fire that appeared on Pentecost signaled that God was with his disciples now and forever. Every flickering flame declared God’s words captured in the book of Hebrews, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV).

Finally, the fire of Christ represents the power of God to save and restore. Those on whom Jesus’ fire fell were not the ones a respectable rabbi would choose. At best, they were unremarkable. But something happened to them after they encountered Christ. They were not the same. Jesus made them new—not just a cleaned-up version of their old selves, but something entirely different. God equipped them with power to be his witnesses throughout the world. They boldly preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and their words were confirmed by awesome miracles. These formerly mediocre men defied the greatest empire the world had ever seen. These unnoticed and underestimated men confronted the spiritual forces of darkness without flinching. The sign God gave that he was going to use these men to turn the world upside down was the fire of Pentecost.

The qualities of Jesus’ fire work together in everyone who follows Christ. When God gives us faith in Jesus, he purifies and burns away the things that are not him so we can see him clearly. Then, he kindles the fire of his enduring presence, drawing us nearer to him and reminding us continually that we are children of light. Finally, he uses his power to make us new—to refine us into who we are supposed to be—and empower us with gifts to participate in his work. Each believer has had his/her own personal Pentecost experience and Jesus’ fire burns in us.

The fire of Pentecost was not just an individual experience, it was also communal. Those on whom the fire fell immediately went out and boldly proclaimed who Jesus was in various languages because fire spreads. Jesus, the Fire Starter, shared his fire with the church, and the church, in turn, should work to share that fire with others. We should carry the fire of Jesus into every corner of our society so it can burn away injustice, prejudice, oppression, despair, and unbelief. Jesus’ fire can never be contained. Praise be to God who invites us to participate in his work to spread his fire to all humanity.

What started in the upper room on Pentecost continues today. The fire that fell on the disciples is kindled in us as well. May God bless us to burn as brightly. May he cause us to spread that fire in our communities. May that fire purify us, remind us of his presence, and fill us with his power all for his glory.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • To you, what does it mean to be transformed by the Holy Spirit?
  • How does it feel to know the Holy Spirit understands the groans of your heart?
  • Several symbols of Pentecost were mentioned in the sermon — the harvest, wind, tongues, fire. To you, which is the most compelling?
  • Why do you think God uses fire as a symbol of his presence?
  • What are some ways we can spread the fire of Jesus Christ?

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