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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. Luke 1:26–35 It’s great to welcome you again, Todd, Bishop Todd Atkinson, of the Anglican church in Canada. He’s been here before, and several of you know him. Todd and Howard, who’s on staff with him up in Lethbridge, Canada, talked yesterday about prophecy, healing, and deliverance, and they’ll be doing it also this evening at five o’clock for Firstfruits. But Todd is our guest preacher this morning, and, Todd, it’s great to have you here this morning. What a blessing. We’re going to pray for you right now. Lord God, we pray for Your Spirit to move in Todd, to give Your word, Your word for this world, Your word for this church, Your word for this city. Fill him, Father, with Your love in the Holy Spirit, and let the same Holy Spirit fill us with receptivity to what You’re saying to each one of us. In Christ’s name, amen. Good morning, nice to be back with you. You could probably say that back to me. So many familiar faces now. I think I’ve maybe been here four or five times, and already it feels like a second home. Bishop Philip, my heart has been very knit with him over the last several years, as with Claudia and David and his family and you as a congregation. And so I see so many wonderful faces. I mean it. It’s really lovely to come and be back with you this weekend. On this, the first Sunday of Advent, as we turn our attention to the birth of our Lord, I want to take a few moments this morning to cause for us to reflect upon the birth of the church, because the parallels are many, and they are significant. There are some things I would want to commend to you today about the birth of the church, some of the ways in which the church was birthed, what it was birthed into, the great emphasis and priorities around the birth of the church, that we would make them our personal emphasis, that we would make them our personal priorities. And I think it will become increasingly important that we take the priorities of God and make them the priorities of our heart and of our homes. [This is] increasingly important for the next chapter of the church. So, we had it read to us from Acts chapter 2 around the birth of the church. I want to say three things about the birth of the church. First, I’m going to touch a little bit about Acts chapter 1. This very famous passage is before the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, where he speaks to His disciples and He said, “You have heard this from me. John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” He says to tarry in Jerusalem, stay in Jerusalem, do not move until—keyword, until—you receive the Holy Spirit. I want you to consider the disciples’ spiritual pedigree. These were the ones that were handpicked by our Lord Jesus Christ, with Him from the beginning of his public ministry, personally trained and discipled by Him, invested into Him, eyewitnesses of His death and of His resurrection, forty days after the resurrection again being under His teaching. How do you get better preparation than that? How, since the birth of the church from that time to this, could you get better discipleship than that? And yet our Lord says to them these words in Acts chapter 1: “Do not leave and go about the mission that I have for you until you receive power from on high, until you receive the Holy Spirit.” And if that was true and necessary of them, how much truer is that of us? How much more necessary for those who didn’t receive that kind of training? Who didn’t receive that kind of preparation? That as we consider what’s ahead of us, as you consider what’s ahead of you as a church, your own personal call and endeavors, that there is a sense of waiting to receive the fullness of God, waiting to move forward, not in our own power but to move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 says when the day of Pentecost had fully come, the Holy Spirit came from heaven and a light hit upon them all, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. So the first thing about the church and the birth of the church is that this is a church that was strong in Spirit. The Holy Spirit was not a peripheral matter. It wasn’t something of secondary importance. The very birth of the church was a birth into the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we would do well today to do some self-examination and say, “Does the person of the Holy Spirit have that place in my life? Do I think of Him as upfront and central, as necessary, or do I treat the Holy Spirit and His ministry as something peripheral, something secondary?”—something you can have or do without or something that we might say, “Well, that’s not really for me, that Holy Spirit stuff. Well, I belong to a charismatic church, and it’s for some people, but it’s not for me.” Can you imagine the early disciples saying that to Jesus? “Wait in Jerusalem until you see the Holy Spirit…” “Well, you know, Lord, that’s not really for me. Some of these disciples—I mean Peter, James and John—they’re always shooting their mouth off. They’re kind of more charismatic figures. I don’t if that’s really for me, that stuff.” Of course, you can’t imagine any of the twelve ever saying anything quite as presumptuous as that because the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t for a personality type. The gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t for a particular kind of expression. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the very enablement that every one of us need to be who Jesus has called us to be and to do what He has called us to do. So in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit comes in power, and it creates a spiritual interest in the crowds, watching this phenomenon of God. They come to the apostles, and they say, “What is this?” They’re looking for some explanation. They’re amazed, but they are looking for an explanation. And it’s OK if the Holy Spirit acts in ways that causes people to say, “What in the world is this? What’s happening?” And so Peter stands up with the eleven, representing the full apostolate, and I love the fact—where does he look to to provide them for an answer to the coming of the Holy Spirit? He speaks to them from Holy Scripture. And for a guy who began as a fisherman, he’s showing some great biblical acumen here. If you take some time to read through his sermon, he is showing a mastery of the Old Testament Scriptures. He’s quoting very well from the Psalms, he shows a familiarity with the Old Testament prophets, particularly the latter prophets, the minor prophets. One of my deacons’ name is Amos. I always say, “Amos, you’re no minor prophet to me.” He’s not just a minor figure. And, of course, the minor prophets weren’t minor because they were saying something insignificant but often just because they had shorter writings. And so he shows familiarity with the minor prophets. He shows familiarity with the big picture of what God is doing through the centuries, the great plan of redemption, how that features in Christ. And so here’s a church that is strong in the Spirit, but it’s a church that is strong in Holy Scripture. It wasn’t the kind of church where it felt like you had to choose one over the other. Are we going to be strong in Spirit? Are we going to be strong in Scripture? They could have never conceived of such dualisms. Strong in Scripture. So I say to every one of us today, if that’s true the birth of the church, we, too, should be true of what we are immersed in, birthed in. Are you a Christian? Am I a Christian? Someone will say, “That guy is strong in Spirit. Holy Spirit has a central place in his heart and life.” Would they look at you and me and say, “They’re strong in Holy Scripture”? If we had more time we would go through Peter’s sermon, which, of course, culminates in showing how the Old Testament Scripture foreshadows and points to—always—the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and illumines His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. [He gives] this wonderful, high, exalted view of Jesus; he exalts Jesus through the preaching of Holy Scripture. Strong in Spirit. Strong in Scriptures. When he finishes his sermon, the crowd says, “We are cut to the heart.” OK, so here’s the kind of preaching that appeals to head, but it appeals to heart. People are moved by what he’s saying. And it’s not because there is a lack of content; it is because the Scripture, the whole of the Scripture, will always appeal to the whole of the person, spoke to their mind, mastery of Old Testament Scriptures. But it spoke to their heart, and they come to him, and they say, “We are cut to the heart. This is not the kind of sermon that we can do nothing with.” They asked the question, “What shall we then do? You’ve got us. This message about Jesus, this coming of the Holy Spirit, you’ve got our attention. The only thing is that we don’t even know what an appropriate response would look like to this message. So you just tell us. What would God have us do, and we’ll do it.” Isn’t that marvelous? That’s the kind of Christian I want to be. I want to be able to discern the moving of the Spirit. I want to be able to hear the preaching of the Holy Scripture, and I want to be able to say, “I’m cut to the heart.” I want to have such a soft heart. Not a hard heart. One that can be moved when God is moving it, and when I don’t feel like that, I pray it back into my life, [to be] cut to the heart. I want to be able to say, “Lord, You’ve got me. I know this is You speaking to me, so what would You have me do?” When God speaks to you, always ask that question. When God speaks to you, it isn’t just to entertain you for the moment. When God speaks to you, it’s not just a little spiritual tidbit to draw momentary inspiration with so that we can go to lunch after church and say, “Well, wasn’t that a lovely message?” or “Wasn’t he a little bit bombastic? He has a bit of a forceful style, but he’s only here every six or eight months so…” It’s nice to have a little foreign flare in the church once in a while. Or do we go home and say, “God is speaking to us through Holy Scriptures and through the moving of the Spirit. Family, what should we do?” If you haven’t asked that question for a while, you are long overdue. These people aren’t even Christians yet, and they’re asking that word. How much more we who know God and love God? What shall we then do? Before we read on, I want you to imagine yourself in that situation. Peter stands up, preaches the Word of God, and thousands of people say to him, “You’ve got us. We want to respond positively; we just don’t know what a positive response looks like. What would you have us do? What is a positive response to this message?” And so my question to you is, if you were asked that question, what would you say? A thousand people gathered, “We want to respond. What would you have us do?” What would you say to them? Would you say, “I don’t know; find a Billy Graham crusade”? My background—by the time I was eighteen, I was trained by a European member of the Billy Graham team, and so that was my life. That was my kind of ethos , I loved it, still love it. But I’ve wrestled over this passage, because in those days there was an answer. Whether it was a thousand people, or one person, who came and said, “What should we do?” I’d say, “Pray the sinner’s prayer. Here’s a tract. Here’s the ‘Four Spiritual Laws.’” I would say, “Ask Jesus into your heart.” None of these are bad answers. The question is that it’s actually not the apostolic answer. It’s not the answer that the original apostles provided. So that was concerning to me. Not that there were the wrong answers, but why wasn’t I given the answer Peter gave? What was his answer, and how does it differ from mine? They were cut to the heart—“What shall we do? We want to respond to Jesus. What shall we do?”—and the answer was “Repent and be baptized.” Much can be said about the answer. What I want to emphasize today is that the answer was by nature a sacramental answer. It’s OK to say this—you’re a sacramental church. It was a sacramental answer: “Repent and be baptized.” Baptism is one of the chief sacraments. By sacrament, we mean it is a visible means through which God communicates or gives to us His invisible grace. That’s a sacrament. And the gospel is intrinsically sacramental. “Repent and be baptized, and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.” That’s a deeply sacramental answer. Here is a church that are strong in Spirit. Here is a church that are strong in Holy Scriptures. But here is a church that are strong in holy sacrament. When I became a Christian—I think it was summer camp—and I think the same thing, the answer was to ask Jesus into my heart. I did. But two years later, I was going on a mission trip, which happened to be in upstate New York, and so part of the application process was the question, “Have you been baptized?” I hadn’t. No one had ever spoken to me about baptism. So obviously, I love my background, and I love the people whom I became Christians amongst, but they very fact that no one had ever even mentioned baptism means it was far from a priority. So I had to go to my pastor and say, “I’m going on a mission trip. They won’t let me go unless I’m baptized.” I had to get baptized to check the boxes, which is not the end of the world—I got baptized—but there’s something beautiful about returning to original things, about returning to the way it was meant to look. This is the first thing these people hear, literally the first sermon: “Repent, and be baptized. You shall receive the Holy Spirit.” In other words, God, through baptism, is going to convey to you the most marvelous gifts and graces. And so my question to some of you in a sacramental church is do you understand the sacraments? Do you understand the power and the potential of the sacraments? Before we were becoming Anglican, we were a— I call it—a moderate charismatic church. Don’t ask me why I call it moderate because it may imply that they’re not all moderate. I’m not meaning to say anything about anybody else. We just called ourselves that. So the sacraments were very foreign to us. But if there’s anything the charismatics understand, it is the concept of encounter, that God is not a God only to be learned of from a distance, an impersonal knowledge of Him, that He is a God who can be known very personally and can be encountered. All I had to teach our people is that in the sacraments God wants to encounter you. God wants to meet with you. And I taught it, and I built anticipation, so when people come forward for Communion in our church, guess what they’re expecting? Encounter. They are expecting the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which every Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Anglican, any of the historic churches believe in the presence of grace in the Eucharist—supposed to be. Through one nuance or another, we believe in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but do we teach our people the implications of that, that He can be encountered, that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist isn’t just a theological notion to something for higher education purposes? I’m just amazed that our people actually believe me when I taught them Christ can be encountered, His presence is in the sacrament, and He wants to meet with you. They’re like, “I’ll have that!” So they come forward expecting encounter, and guess what the result is? They have encounters with Jesus every single week. Now I’m being asked by people who are long-term Anglicans if I could come and preside at the Eucharist of their church because they want to—what they’ve believed all their life—they want to actually encounter the presence of God in the sacraments, be it baptism or the Eucharist. What happens with you when you participate in the sacraments? Peter said, so this is apostolic authority, “Be baptized, and you will receive the Holy Spirit. You will encounter the Holy Spirit.” Isn’t that what he said? “You will receive the Holy Spirit.” Are you meeting with God in the sacraments? Are you expecting that? Are you anticipating that? Because I think as you go into your next chapter, if this is what the church was birthed in, this is also what grows the church. Why do I say this? Because Acts 2:1 tells me that. How does it tell me that? It begins with the phrase “on the day of Pentecost.” Pentecost was an Old Testament Jewish feast. It was called Pentecost in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Pente [means] “five,” so fifty days. Fifty says since the Passover. Fifty days inclusive of the Passover. It was also called the Feast of Weeks because forty-nine is a week of weeks. Forty-nine days plus the Passover is fifty days, the week of weeks. But do you know its other name? The Feast of Harvest. There were two harvests, one at the beginning of the growing season and one at the end of the growing season. So they had a whole festival at the beginning of the growing season, the first crop to be taken off the land. They had a harvest, and they celebrated the harvest that God had given them, and it was also anticipated that there would be an even greater harvest at the end of the growing season. So the question is why does God establish the birth of the church on that feast? Because it explains why at the end of these three things—Spirit, Scripture, sacrament—there is an absolute harvest of souls. Thousands come to Christ on a single day as an to offering God. God is harvesting. He’s harvesting through the coming of the Spirit. He’s harvesting through the preaching of the Scripture. He’s harvesting through the presence of the sacraments. But God was at work harvesting, which was foreshadowing. If there is a harvest at the beginning of the church age, what would we anticipate at end of the growing season, the end of the church age? An even greater harvest! So the church was birthed in harvest, God sovereignly acting among people, and people coming to Christ by the thousands. As we approach the end of the age, the end of the growing season, that first harvest foreshadows a greater harvest. I find it interesting, very significant. You know, from the time that I first came here, this building to me was never just a building. It’s a symbol of many good things. I have an acquaintance that I met when I lived in Wales, a Welsh historian, who happened to be studying the fact that around the turn of last century there was a proliferation of new buildings across Wales, which everybody assumed had followed the great Welsh revival: 1904, 1905. So many people—a hundred thousand people in little Wales—were swept into the kingdom of God in four months, a great move of God’s Spirit. So it was always assumed that all these new buildings were built after that to accommodate the growth. This historian took me aside and said, “We’ve never realized until the last few years, there’s actually been some research done into this, and to our absolute surprise, all these buildings were built just prior to the revival. We can only conclude that God was getting the barn ready before He filled them.” Funny how that stood with me all those years. God in His providence, God in His sovereignty, in His all-knowing and all-seeing way was laying the groundwork and getting things ready. If you were to ask me, “What should we do to get ready? If we want to engage with God, if we want to see a move of God in our city, if we want to have the joy of watching God harvest people for His own self and His own glory, what would we do in a unified way to get ready?” I would encourage you in three directions. I would encourage you, “Become strong in Spirit. Do not treat the Holy Spirit like someone else’s inheritance. I would get on my knees and say, ‘Lord, I am sorry for any resistance I’ve ever had to the person, to the moving, to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If Peter didn’t have a hesitancy, if the apostles of old didn’t have a hesitancy, if they stood in need of Him and didn’t even want to move forward into their mission without Him, then neither should I.’ I’d get on my knees and repent of any hesitancy I’ve had, any lackadaisicalness. I’d become strong in Spirit. If I wanted to prepare for the days to come, I’d become strong in Holy Scripture. I’d increase my prayer time. I’d increase my time in the Holy Word. I’d let God speak to me.” Every thought I’m bringing you today is only because I’ve immersed myself in Holy Scripture. I’ve spent time there. I meet with God in Holy Scripture. Just like the sacraments are a place to encounter God, Holy Scripture is a place to encounter a holy God. I would reinstitute the practice of daily devotions. I’d reinstitute the practice of a daily prayer time every day. It’d be my way of saying, “Lord, it’s more important than anything else I could do today. I need an hour with God. I need time with You. It’s the only way that I can combat, push back, the tides of secularism. The only way I can keep my first love from going cold is to make sure that I tuck in near the fire and put my cold, lean soul in front of the hot embers of Your love, and let them set me aflame again.” I’d ask for a filling of the Holy Spirit. I’d ask Him to cleanse me of everything that grieves Him and everything that could turn my heart aside. I’d ask for a fresh love for Holy Scripture and a fresh immersing of myself in Holy Scripture, and I’d ask for a fresh revelation. Whether the sacraments are new to me or old to me, I’d ask for fresh revelation of what is available to me in the sacraments and how I receive it by faith. What else do we do? Are we going to do it just because we’ve been Anglicans all our life? Do we love it for its own sake, or do we love it because it reveals Jesus? So even the highest sacramentalist—you think of the great sacramental revival, the Oxford movement of the 1800s. The leaders of the Oxford movement taught that if you love some of the sacraments and symbols of the church, if you love them, and you don’t know what they mean, you don’t know what they point to, if you love them for their own sake for any reason apart from Christ, then they have become idols to you. This is the great leaders of the sacramental revival saying if you love these things just because they’re tradition, if you love these things just because you love ritual, if you love these things for any reason other than the fact that they convey and carry and reveal Jesus to us, then they are an idol to you, and they will not make your heart grow warm, but they will add to its coldness. A sacrament of God is God’s way of communicating, giving Himself to us. Remember in the Old Testament when God blessed His people, the Hebrew people coming out of Egypt, He caused for the Egyptians to give them all of their gold and silver? It was a gift from God, but the people’s hearts fixed on the gold and the silver. They literally made an idol of gold. The gift became more important than the Giver, and they lost the gift. Do I love the sacraments? Yes, I love the God who gives Himself to me in the sacraments. I wouldn’t belong to a sacramental church if I didn’t think God was in it, let alone be a bishop of one. If I couldn’t see the gospel there, if I couldn’t see Jesus there, if I couldn’t meet with Him there, would I love such things for their own sake? Would they become a golden calf to me? God forbid. No, I love the Holy Spirit because He’s always pointing me to Jesus, I love Holy Scriptures because they’re always pointing me to Jesus, and I love holy sacraments because they’re always pointing me to Jesus. I love all three. And I could never conceive of choosing one over the other. In the early church they were absolutely inseparable. In fact, in one verse, repent, believe the gospel, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit—following Peter’s sermon. They could not separate the Spirit from the Scriptures from the sacraments. The apostles could never have conceived of such separation. Ant that’s why our modern church looks back upon them as exemplars, as a point to return to from our fragmentation. What God has brought together, let no man separate. As we go into a time of worship in a moment, I have some things for you to consider. Of those three great themes in the birth of the church, incidentally the exact same three themes are in the birth of the world, Genesis chapter 1. Oh, how I wish I had time to go through Genesis chapter 1 with you. The birth of the world is the Holy Spirit brooding, the word of God speaking, and the goodness of God being conveyed to us in tangible form. Creation is a sacrament, invisible goodness of God being conveyed to us through visible physical means. And the exact same three themes are in the passage we read with Mary, the birth of Jesus, the incarnation. It’s the Holy Spirit hovering over Mary, producing the birthing of the Son of God in her. Her response is “May it be unto me according to thy word.” And the invisible, eternal, logos—Son of God—birthed into her womb into a physical form, the ultimate highest, the sacrament of sacraments, the body of Jesus. So as we go into a response time, two questions I’d like you to ask yourself in the presence of God: Which of those three to this point has been my prime way of meeting with God? And I want you to give Him thanks. Maybe you’d say, “I’m a Bible man.” That’s a wonderful thing. I want you to take a moment and thank God for this part of your journey and from this point on that God has met with you and conveyed to you His goodness, love, and His gospel through Holy Scriptures. But as we have a time of response in the presence of God, I’d also like you to ask, Which ones are the ones that are most foreign to me? And that’s OK. Ten years ago, if you had asked me—a little more than ten, I guess . . . fifteen years ago—if you had repeated to me the very sermon I just preached you, I would have disagreed with you. It was said of Paul that he preached the gospel he formally persecuted. There was a time he didn’t agree with that message. There was a time I would not have agreed with this message. “What do you mean the sacraments? What in the world is a sacrament, and why are they such a big deal?” I would have asked fifteen years ago. For maybe you it’s the sacraments. You’d have to say, “I really love the Holy Spirit. I’ve experienced His moving, but at the end of the service or any other time we’re doing the sacraments, I’m a little bit oblivious, and I can’t figure what this is all about. I come because of the worship, and I just go through the sacrament part.” Then I want you to take that part and say, “Jesus, if the church was birthed into these three equally, I want to be immersed in these three. Thank you for the ones that I feel strong in, but the ones I don’t feel strong in, the ones I don’t really understand, I will still commit myself to. I will ask for You to reveal them to me. I will come and engage in them with a higher sense of participation and giving of myself, a higher sense of anticipation for what You will do for me. The next time there’s an evening of praying for the Holy Spirit, I avoid those, I feel a little awkward. I’m never sure what anybody’s going to do to me. I’m going to go to the next one because that is the area that I’m least familiar with. And if the church was birthed equally into the three emphases, then I guess I’ll be there too.” So bow your heads in a word of prayer. First one, I’d like you to give thanks to God for the one that is your area of strength, and I need you to be gracious, because your answer is not the same as everybody else’s here. You’d be surprised how other people here meet with Jesus in different ways than you do—the same Lord. So, I’d like you to take a moment and just really worship Him here. Give Him thanks for the way He has given Himself to you. Secondly, right now in the present of the Lord, if there has been hesitancy or resistance toward any of these three, I’d like you to bathe that in repentance right now. “Lord, I’m sorry, maybe because I didn’t really know what was going on, maybe because I felt a little out of control. Because I can control my Bible reading, what I read and what I don’t. But some of these are out of my control, and I don’t like feeling that, and I have not trusted You.” And I’d like you to bathe that in repentance where you have felt obstinate, where you have dug in your heels. I’d like to encourage you to take the handbrake off. I’m not asking you to trust me. That would be foolhardy. I’m asking you just to say, “God, you never given a bad gift. I trust you.” Todd’s not calling for wholesale trust in leaders here today, when we all have our stories and we’ve been hurt. I’d just like you to look into the face of Jesus, who’s the very heart and fount of these three emphases, and say, “Could I afford to take the handbrake off because of Him?” When Peter was afraid of walking on the water, do you know what he said? “If it’s You, Lord, if it’s really You, bid me come. That’s all I need to know.” It was scary to him. “But if it’s You.” At first, he thought it was an evil spirit, a ghost. “But if it’s You, I’ll come into that area that I used to find scary. Just bid me come, and I’ll come.” Jesus, I think, is bidding you come today. So just ask Him, “Jesus, would You meet me in the Holy Scriptures? I’m not just doing it to become more learned so that I have answers and I look like an answer man. I’m doing it because I want to hear Your voice. Would You speak to me and meet with me in the sacraments in a whole new way, and would You meet me in the ministry of the Holy Spirit? I open my heart. It’s not closed anymore. In fact, I feel like I’ve been wandering recently, and I think that this is God speaking to me. I have felt a little bit lost, my love for Jesus isn’t what used to be, and I think this is His invitation into new things.” Come, Holy Spirit. Reveal to us the beauty of Pentecost. Give us a love for Holy Scripture. Meet us in the sacraments. Because if we embrace all three, we need them to see days of harvest.

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