There's a rumor afloat.
A strange new group in town is attracting members left and right. Every day people are joining this group and forming what can only be described as a spiritual movement. When I first heard about it all I knew was that it had something to do with a prophecy being fulfilled…
The rumor is that the "Last Day" is upon us. This group is convinced that a prophecy written hundreds of years ago has finally come true. It's a prophecy about everyone being filled up with God. And like I said, this movement is growing.
Why are so many people flocking to this strange new group? Well, just a few weeks ago a crowd of over hundred people took to the streets speaking all sorts of different languages. These men and women were shouting out in tongues not their own. A friend of mine saw it happen and heard the words. He told me he thought they were drunk.
But then this man named Peter took center stage and quoted the prophecy which they claimed had come true. And the people – over 3,000 people! – who heard him speak believed what he had to say. A new spiritual movement was under way and more are joining every day.
I'm the kind of person who gets excited about things like this, but I'm also a bit skeptical when so many people get interested in something so quickly. So I decided to do a little investigation of my own. Here's what I found out.
First of all, I looked up the prophecy itself. It was spoken by the Prophet Joel long ago: " 'In the last days,' says God, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophecy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' "
That's plain enough. And according to my eye-witness, these things were starting to happen. He then told me what the spokesman, Peter, had to say. These men and women speaking in tongues were not drunk as the people supposed – it was only 9 in the morning! – they were filled with God's Spirit because a miracle had taken place.
Peter then went on to speak about a man named Jesus the Nazarene who was a miracle worker and went about doing good. About 2 months ago this Jesus was nailed to a cross and executed. And from what Peter said, we all had a hand in it. Some of the crowd actually cried out for Jesus’ blood. Others sat quietly by, afraid to defend him. Others, like myself, didn’t care one way or another. That made us all guilty, I suppose.
But then something spectacular happened. After Jesus – who was called the Christ – was put to death God raised him from the grave and freed him from death’s agony to walk the earth again. Peter said that Jesus appeared to him and the rest of his followers to explain the meaning of it all.
Well, I did some poking around and spoke to several of these witnesses to see if what Peter said was true. I discovered that over 500 people saw Jesus alive after he’d been certified dead. They told me that Jesus visited with them, ate with them, and continued to teach them for about 40 days after his resurrection. Then, in an astounding display of glory, Jesus left them and ascended to heaven, to the "right hand of God."
Before he left, however, Jesus promised to send someone to be a guide and leader to his followers. Someone who would help form a new movement that would spread the Kingdom of God to the whole world. The person Jesus was talking about was the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of the Living God that was promised long ago through the Prophet Joel.
These followers of Christ, it was explained to me, had only to wait and pray to receive this promised Leader. Then, just a few weeks back, it happened. The prophecy was fulfilled and over 100 men and women were filled up with God – God's Spirit – and began to speak in all sorts of languages.
Peter explained all of this to the crowd gathered in amazement that day and then said, "Let all the House of Israel know for certain that God has made Jesus the Nazarene both Lord and Christ – this same Jesus whom you crucified."
When the crowd heard this, many were cut to the heart. They were convicted in their spirits, they knew in their minds that something powerful was taking place and that they needed to be a part of it or else they would miss the opportunity of a lifetime to come close to God.
A few of my friends who were there that day rushed to Peter and the other followers of Christ and asked what they should do. Peter gave a two-fold answer.
First, repent. That is, change the direction you are going and ask for forgiveness for your sinful life. Peter explained that our relationship with God is wrong and we have to make it right. The way to do that is simply by asking God to turn us around so that we can receive, accept God’s forgiveness.
The second part of Peter's answer was to be baptized. What can we do to come close to God? Repent and be baptized. We were all taught that baptism is for pagan converts – a sign that they are leaving their old life and dedicating themselves to God. And this was exactly Peter's point. Baptism is a sign of discipleship and every follower of Christ is baptized to express their commitment to their savior. For when a person goes under the water it signifies their death with Jesus; when a person comes out of the water it is a resurrection – the old person has died and a new person is born.
And just like when a baby is born, with that first spank the baby wails it is a sign of life. So too, the person who is born of God receives the Holy Spirit, the sign of eternal life. This is what it means to be born again.
"What should we do?" my friends asked.
"Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which is the promise of God for you and your children and for all who are far off."
Peter then pleaded with the crowd to disentangle themselves from the clutches of a perverse society. And 3000 people received that message and were baptized. As I reflected on what I'd learned, I came to realize that to be a follower of Christ, one needs to accept the message that we put Jesus on the cross and repent of our sin, receive forgiveness, be baptized and receive the Spirit, and then live a new life. This made sense.
But the results prove the message, don't they? I was excited to witness a spiritual wave sweep the city, but I'm also somewhat of a pragmatist. I understood Peter’s message, I saw that the prophecy was being fulfilled in many lives, I see this movement growing, but I want to know if it's going to last.
I've done my private eye work as to who this Jesus is and I do believe he is the Christ. Now I'm looking into this new fellowship that is forming by God's Spirit. Is it for real? Does it have the staying power needed to change this world for the better?
Here are some of my observations. I see some very promising signs.
First of all, I see a people eager to learn. These new followers of Christ are devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They're learning all they can about Jesus and how to live in a right relationship with God. Often times, when movements begin the people think they already know all the answers. This new movement is constantly learning about God and how to live for God.
Second, this group shares with each other. Not only do they fellowship together and are becoming friends, they're actually going out on a limb for each other. If one person is in physical need others will help. If it means selling some personal possessions then they do that. These people are really acting like brothers and sisters of Christ.
Third, they're breaking break together in each other’s homes. After worshiping in the Temple, they’ll go back to different houses and share supper together. Part of this meal includes celebrating what Jesus has done – his victory over death. Worship of the Lord permeates everything they do, even meals together.
Finally, these new followers of Christ devote themselves to prayer. This is significant because it means they aren’t relying on their own power to make this thing work. It isn’t just a good idea that they are trying to spread – it is a movement of life change that is based on God’s power.
So do I think this is for real and that it will last? Yes. Yes I do! This growing group of believers are learning, they're sharing, they're worshiping through breaking bread together, and they're praying. All together these are the signs of a healthy spiritual movement.
You may have heard the rumor that a strange new group in town is attracting members left and right. When I first heard about it all I knew was that it had to do with something spiritual. Now I know that is from God who is pouring out his Spirit on all people. And all who believe this prophecy and call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Copyright 2005 Lyn Perry
First preached First Baptist Church, Wichita, KS
Permission granted to reprint with acknowledgment of copyright.