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God’s Fantastic Arithmetic

Acts 2:37-47

Let me say a word today about God’s fantastic arithmetic. God does not know how to subtract or divide. He only knows how to add and multiply. Here’s what I mean.

Once upon a time there was not a single Christian on the face of this earth. Then God sent His Son into the world. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” During a three year ministry, this Jesus gathered about Him a nucleus of twelve and some others. One defected. Later another was elected to take his place. In the course of events, Jesus was cursed, reviled, and ultimately crucified. He died and was buried. On the third day, He was raised from the dead. He then appeared to His followers just as He promised He would.

In one such appearance after the resurrection, He told the faithful ones: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.” Think of it. One person, Jesus, living in a small remote land, says to a handful of undistinguished followers nearly 2,000 years ago: “Our influence shall cover the earth.” Nothing could have sounded more preposterous than that. Yet they believed what He said. You see, He had changed their lives, and because of that, they believed He could change the world.

The event of which He had spoken was not long in coming. One hundred and twenty of the devout were gathered in a second floor meeting place. Then a fantastic thing happened. The Bible says: “Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rushing of a mighty wind and it filled the house where they were sitting and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.” It had happened. The promised power, the almighty thrust, the shuddering blast with which God would launch His church had occurred. It was called Pentecost.

What transpired there that day is impossible to explain, but still, it happened. The ever-mounting force of God’s redeeming purpose began to pulsate in the lives of converted men and women—and the Church of Jesus Christ was born. It did not come about in an orderly meeting where people calmly and logically decided to inaugurate some kind of sacred society. Its birth pangs took place in a quiet gathering where suddenly people were transformed in such a way that they were accused of being intoxicated. And so they were—not with bottled spirits, but with the Holy Spirit. The invasion of Christ’s power into their lives affected them so profoundly that they in turn affected others. So you do not prove Pentecost. You do not analyze it. You do not explain it. You simply measure its reality by its results. The Bible says: “And there were added to the Church that day about three thousand souls.”

Do you sense the progression? It all began with one person, Jesus. Next there were twelve. Then there were a hundred and twenty. Now there were three thousand more—all in a country less than the size of the state of New Jersey. A cynic might have said: “Just a little excitement in Jerusalem. After the novelty wears off, it will all disappear.” But that is not what happened. Instead, ordinary people began to live extraordinary lives. One loving heart set another aflame and the concentric circles grew and grew in size and influence, like what happens when you toss a rock into the quiet waters of a lake.

That’s God’s fantastic arithmetic! 1—12—120—3,000. Then just three hundred years later, the total number of converts to Christianity had reached seven million. The Church had spread 1,500 miles east and west, 1,000 miles north and south. Nothing could stop its spread as the centuries have unfolded. As a result, on this Pentecost of 1986, the number of Christians has reached more than one billion—the prediction of Jesus Christ has come true: the Christian faith has circled the globe. From one to one billion—hat is God’s fantastic arithmetic.

And it is happening still. The miracle of God’s power is still available to us through His son, Jesus Christ. How does it happen? Well, you can’t explain it. You can’t rationalize it. You can’t analyze it. You can only see the results. And what results they are!

Captain Ernest Gordon was interned during the war in a Japanese prison camp. He has movingly described this experience of a living hell in his book Through the Valley of the Kwai. Our senses recoil as he shows us the appalling picture of human beings exploited and starved and tortured and degraded to the status of animals by the brutality of their captors. Reduced to skeletons, riddled with disease, battered in spirit, they survived by the law of the jungle. They watched one another die without emotion. Indeed they viewed death as the only escape from an unbearable existence. Then Gordon says, there came a Spiritual awakening in this jungle hell. Inspired by the stalwart faith of a few, these hopeless prisoners of war built a church, a place to worship in the jungle. Gordon describes it as “a church of the Spirit, called into existence as a joyful response to God’s love.” This reawakening of faith caused a miraculous change in the morale of the prisoners. It transformed the whole life of the camp. Men gave up their lives for their brothers. They helped one another to live. Gordon writes: “The church of the Spirit was the throbbing heart that gave life to that camp. From it we received the inspiration that made life possible.”

Well, this church can be the church of the Spirit—a place where God’s power floods people with new life and new hope. His Spirit of power is just as real here today as it was to those disciples on Pentecost. They were waiting. They were receptive.They were tuned in. And the spirit came! The same thing can happen here. It can happen when we remember the suffering and the sacrifice, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. It can happen when we specifically ask God for the forgiveness of our sins. It can happen when we say—and mean it when we say it: “Lord, what do you want me to do in life? I offer myself to you, nothing held back.” The fantastic power of God goes to work right then and there. The Holy Spirit comes rushing into our lives. The miracle of Pentecost is renewed—and new life in Jesus Christ will begin. And, one day it will be written that on this Pentecost of 1986, there was added to the Church your soul..

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