[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today. Today is Pentecost Day, the third great festival of the Church Year.]
If there’s nothing else you remember from today’s sermon, please remember this: There are no second class believers!
Our Bible lessons from Numbers and Acts for this Pentecost, the festival of the Holy Spirit, drive this point home. In the whole history of the world, any person who has called on the Name of the Lord is saved from sin and death and futility. That includes you!
Bob Dylan once sang that “even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.” It was a reminder that all human beings are equal in their failings, flaws, and sins.
Dylan was right. But those who believe in Jesus Christ are also covered by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for sinners like you and me. We are covered by the grace—the charitable forgiveness and acceptance of God—given to all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ. There are no second class believers!
There are differences in function among us. But that doesn’t make a preacher more important than a plumber, or a theologian more of a Christian than a teacher. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
God always grants the Holy Spirit to every believer, no matter what their individual talents or professions, all for the same single purpose.
Please pull out the special insert and look at our first lesson from Numbers. Now, to those of you who have been participating in Read the Bible in a Year, the background of this particular passage will be familiar. Numbers recounts some of what happened when God’s people, Israel, after more than 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, wandered in the wilderness for forty years before arriving in the land that God had promised them.
Numbers tells us that God’s people tested God (or rebelled against God) seven times in this period. (Likely they tested God even more than that. But Numbers tells us about seven major incidents.) Our text comes in the narration of the second test, a time when not just the people of Israel rebelled against God, but their leader Moses did too!*
Just a short time before, the people had been on the brink of starvation when God started daily to provide them with manna, a mysterious bread-like substance. The people had been grateful for God’s provision for a time. But now the people were whining about wanting to have meat to eat. “We’re tired of this manna!” they said. Fed up with the complaining of the people, God tells Moses, “The people want meat? I’ll give them meat. I’ll give them so much meat that they’ll end up vomiting it through their noses.”
That’s a lot of meat! And it’s this overabundant promise and threat that saw Moses rebel against God. Totally forgetting who had been providing Israel—and him—with “daily bread,” Moses asks where on earth he was supposed to get so much meat? He also wonders what God expected him to do with such a people. Here, Moses is expressing two feelings: doubts about God’s power and frustration with having to be Israel’s earthly leader.
To Moses’ doubts, God asks, “Is the Lord’s power limited?” (Or, more literally, “Is the Lord’s hand too short?”) Here, God was reminding Moses that He was no less powerful than He had been on the day He delivered them from Pharaoh. In the midst of crises, we need to remember that the God Who was helping us yesterday can still help us today.
To Moses’ frustrations, God orders that seventy elders of Israel be gathered near the tent containing the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence lived among His people. There, God poured out His Spirit on the seventy. They began to prophesy. That is, they spoke God’s Word. Moses didn’t need to go it alone in sharing God’s Word with the people. Just as happened on Pentecost ten days after the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, the elders with Moses in about 1400BC, were empowered to tell about “the mighty deeds of God.”
After this amazing event took place, two other Israelites, Eldad and Medad, neither one an elder, who had drawn close to God just as the elders were getting together, gave evidence that God’s Spirit had come to them, too. They began to proclaim God’s greatness. They prophesied.
A young man heard this and found it highly irregular. This guy was like the person who says at a Church Council meeting, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Or even worse, the person at the same meeting who adds, “And we never will.” He didn’t think that Eldad and Medad were authorized to have the Holy Spirit. So, he ratted them out. Hearing this complaint, Joshua begged Moses to stop Eldad and Medad. But Moses wouldn’t do that. “Are you jealous for my sake?” Moses asks Joshua. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!”
Pentecost celebrates the day when God’s Holy Spirit came to the first followers of Jesus. Just as Jesus had instructed them before He ascended into heaven, they had prayed for the Spirit’s power to come upon them. And He did, empowering them to tell, in ways the thousands gathered in Jerusalem that day could understand, the mighty works of God. That included the mightiest work of all, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, true God and true human being, so that all who turn from sin and believe in Him can live eternally with God!
The odd thing is that the Holy Spirit had already been given to these believers. In John, chapter 20, the risen Jesus breathed on the first Christians and told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But you see, the Holy Spirit can breathe on us anew, even when our enthusiasm is waning or times are tough.
That’s because the Spirit is infinite. He’s not like gas you pump into your car that runs out. And even if you’re full of the Spirit, He can fill you up even more. The Spirit can be “pressed down, shaken together, running over” in us. The Spirit ensures that there are no second-class believers. All who believe in Jesus Christ are given the capacity to trust in God and the ability, within their own spheres of life, to share Christ with others.
Of course, some Christians would rather remain second-class believers. That way, they don’t feel the need to live or share their faith. The excuses are many: “Let the younger ones do it. I did my time.” “I’m not very good at that.” “I don’t know my Bible very well (and I’m not going to try to do so either).” And so on.
But others are happy to have the Spirit’s power to fulfill their calling to spread the Good News of Jesus in their own ways. At a conference, I heard a pastor recount the day he told a carpenter (God likes carpenters, you know) that even in his carpentry shop, he could be an ambassador for Jesus. Tears welled up in the man’s eyes as he asked, “I can do that?”
In recent days, I’ve read about other Christians who have claimed their God-given places as first-class believers who share Jesus with the world. I read about an engineering student who graduated magna cum laude who’d had offers from top firms. But during his junior year, he’d given his life to Christ and subsequently decided to take a lower-paying job with a firm that worked to provide engineering for people in Third World countries.
I read about a teacher who had worked in a suburban school district, but decided that her way of following Christ must take her to an inner-city classroom instead. But she went the extra mile, visiting her students’ homes, trying in her own way to share Jesus. At one home, she discovered that the girl in her class was one of five children, aged 3 to 15, being raised by a single mom in a few rooms, with a few beds, their apartment heated by the kitchen oven being turned on and left open. That teacher didn’t go to the church council to ask for permission to be a Christian. She simply went to some of her prayer partners from church and together, they began taking care of this family, telling them about Jesus as they did.
I read too, about a retired couple who spend most of their time going to the sites of natural disasters, bringing help. The husband even went to Sri Lanka during a civil war. When asked why they do what they do, this guy asked, “What else would we do in our retirement years?” Besides, he went on, his main object in life is to share Jesus with as many people as possible.
All of these people—and millions more—have shaken off the lie about some Christians being more important than others or being more able to spread the Good News of Jesus than others. They’ve committed themselves to sharing Jesus where they are, with the gifts the Holy Spirit has given to them.
Another person like this is our own Mike McGonagle. Once again this year, Mike will be working with our youth on their local mission “trip.” Mike can share Christ in ways that I never could because the Spirit has blessed Mike with gifts I don’t possess. And Mike will tell you that last year’s mission was one of the most gratifying experiences of his life. The service God may call us to render in Jesus’ Name will vary widely, but the Holy Spirit can empower each of us in our own individual serving.
Martin Luther said, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is [also] a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” In the power of the Spirit, we are both lords and servants, all in the Name of Jesus. There are no second-class believers.
Let today be your Pentecost. Claim all it is that God has called you to be and that the Holy Spirit has empowered you to be: In your own way, dare to tell others about Jesus.
In a word, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, take the life God has given to you and LIVE! Amen!
*Moses did this again during the sixth rebellion of the people against God recorded in Numbers.