Have you ever been out of breath? Now, I'm not talking about a game of racquet ball, after you haven't played in six months. I'm talking about you can't get your next breath.
My dad built a tree-house for me, and of course it was made out of piano crates. It was a nice tree-house, but I had to modify it a little bit. I took some rope and a board that had a hole in it, a two by four, about eighteen inches long, and I threaded the rope through that hole. Then tied the rope to the base of the tree and up to the top of my tree-house. That was my zip-line. I don't think they were called zip-lines back then. I thought I had invented this idea of escape. What I would be escaping from I don't remember. You'd have to probe the imagination of a little boy to figure that out. Every good tree-house has an escape route, and that was mine. Out the back, down the zip- line, and it worked very well and I got away from everything I was getting away from. One day I was getting away from something that was in my imagination and I jumped on the zip-line. I don't remember if the rope broke. It was in my pre-Pathfinder days, so my knot probably was not very secure. But, anyway, I just remember the sense of falling from what seemed like great heights and landing flat on my back. You know what happened; the wind is knocked out of you. There's no more desperate feeling that I can imagine than having no breath. Everything else is forgotten at that point, including whatever it was I was escaping from. That was forgotten. The real problems of life are forgotten if you have the wind knocked out of you, because the only thing you can think of is, "Where is my next breath coming from? Am I ever going to breathe again? Or am I going to die right here?" All else is meaningless without breath. It seemed like eternity to me, but it was probably only three seconds before my lungs expanded once again. And that stuck in my mind to this day. It was so important to me as a little boy, that I could breathe. And, that's happened several times since, unfortunately.
I feel fortunate not to suffer from asthma as some do. I can't think of a more panicky feeling in not knowing, "Will I be able to breathe all day long today?" Also, when I was a little boy, I was playing on the playground of the school and I was playing with a buddy and I looked into the cemetery next to the school and there was a back-hoe at work. I didn't understand such things. I asked my buddy, "What are they doing?" "Oh, they're digging a grave." "Really?" "Yes, my grandma died." "What happened?" "She died...My ma said...emphysema or something." "What's that?" "I don't really know, but they said that she could breathe out, but not in very good." And, that stuck in my mind, because I tried it. What would it be like to not to breathe in but to exhale? And that horrified me. And I still remember that; not being able to breathe.
I can think of nothing that we take more for granted than our next breath, unless maybe you have one of these diseases. We take it for granted until it's gone. There is nothing more desperately important to us than oxygen! Every other concern of the day is forgotten until we can breath again.
What about spiritual oxygen? Are we taking that gift for granted? If we are not filled with the Spirit, are we desperately desiring it? Is all else of little importance until we have the Spirit within us? Which is more dangerous? Catching emphysema from smoking? Or Spiritual Emphysema?
Throughout the Scriptures, words meaning "breath, wind, breeze, etc.," are synonymous with the Holy Spirit. You'll notice this in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament you'll here "ruah," breath, the Spirit. In the New Testament you hear pneuma In Greek, these words are linked to the word "pneuma." You have heard of a pneumatic drill? It runs on air power. Pneumonia means trouble with the lungs. It all comes from this word that is used in association with the power of the Holy Spirit.
With this in mind, turn to the book of Acts. Not the first part of Acts where we have been studying how the Holy Spirit empowered the early Christian Church, but later in Acts where we come across a man named, Paul. Acts 17. When Paul was named Saul in his earlier days, he thought that he was filled with the Spirit of God. He thought he was doing what God wanted him to do. Then he got knocked off his high horse. Sometimes I need to be knocked off my horse. You've heard somebody: "He's on his high horse up there." We need to be knocked off our horses, sometimes, to find out that what we have been sincerely doing we've been sincerely wrong at. I've been sincerely wrong many times. Saul, Paul, had been fighting against God's church rather than for it! He went from ruining the lives of God's people to sacrificing his own life for God's church.
We also find that he did not run from the persecution he knew would come by taking his new experience and hiding in the mountains somewhere. He didn't run away with this new thought. "They're going to persecute me like I was persecuting them." No! He just as boldly shared the gospel. He began fulfilling the Gospel Commission by sharing this experience with compassion everywhere he went.
In Acts 17 we find him preaching, of all places, to the people of Athens, the most learned people of the day, they thought. Let's start with verse 22.
Acts 17:22. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus [Mars Hill] and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious."
Some of your translations may say "superstitious." But the NKJV and the NIV are a little more precise when they say "very religious." Paul would not wish to alienate his audience by insulting them in the first sentence of his speech. He actually is looking for a way to complement these idol-worshipers as much as he can. It's hard to compliment an idol-worshipper: "I see that you're very religious." That's about as far as you can go. But he had to win their trust just enough to get them to hear more.
Acts 17:23. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
To see this phrase "unknown god" in Greek sent a shiver up my spine. "Agnostos Theos"-- This is where we get the word "Agnostic." These people were observant enough at least to recognize that some of the things that went on around them could not be blamed or accredited to any of their idols. So they worshiped one they could not seem to invent. Paul shares with them a little knowledge about their unknown God because Paul knows their unknown God.
Acts 17:24. "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands."
You see what Paul is doing. He is elevating their unknown God above their idols. He's not saying, "My God is better than your god." He's saying, "Your God is better than your god. This one that you have the altar to. He's better. He's supreme." He actually is quoting something he heard Stephen say, in this verse. He stoned Stephen for saying this very thing a short time earlier. Now, he is preaching it himself!
Acts 17:25. "And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else." "This unknown God of yours is superior. It is impossible to conceptualize Him as an idol. He doesn't need your gifts to survive. He gives survival! He gives life. He gives breath." Here is that word, "breath," from pneuma and pnoen. Hold this spot and go back to Acts 2.
A few weeks ago in this series, Pastor Gettys preached on this verse. Acts 2:1, 2. When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. The word here for "wind" is the same word we find in Acts 17:25 translated as "breath." We're not talking here about breathing, What it says here is that it gives us life. This God gives life and the power of the Holy Spirit and everything else, like a mighty rushing wind! What a God!
Acts 17:26. "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live."
The Athenians had a superiority complex. They felt that they were physically, mentally, and spiritually superior to any other people. They were the master race. Even in a history book you are told they were the master race of the day. Paul tells them that this unknown God created all of them from the blood of the same man. They are equals, in the eyes of this powerful God, with all whom they had looked down upon. They are all from the same man: Adam. "You're equal."
Acts 17:27 and 28. "God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'"
You Athenians, we McDonald Roadians, need what this God has to give. Do you feel that need as desperately as you need your next breath? Which is more important? Do you remember what the three Hebrews said in front of the fiery furnace? "If our God chooses to save us or of He does not, what does that matter?" What mattered to them was the Spiritual Breath rather than the physical breath. Do you seek Him? Will you reach out for Him? You will find Him. He is not far from each one of us for we are His children!
This is what Jesus tried to teach His disciples when He washed their feet. They were of the same blood. Not one of them was seen by God as superior to another. They were not to assume that one had a better relationship with Jesus than another. They went from feeling they were the best of the new church to feeling unworthy to be a servant in that church when Jesus washed their feet. That is the kind of workers Jesus needed then and that is the kind of workers Jesus needs now, because we are unworthy. But He has chosen us. We are His children.
Only when they became humble before God and each other were they able to even begin to understand what the bread and wine really meant. Only then had they begun preparation to receive the Pneuma, the Breath, the Ruah, the Spirit of Christ, as a Mighty Rushing Wind.
May the symbol of humility that we are about to participate in be a true symbol of what is happening in our hearts. Then we can be prepared to receive Jesus and His Spirit. Then we can be used just as powerfully by the Holy Spirit in the late Christian Church as they were in the Early Christian Church.
Hymn of Praise: #246, Worthy, Worthy is the Lamb Scripture: Acts 17:24-25 Hymn of Response: #407, Sent Forth by God's Blessing
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last updated 9/29/2003 by Bob Beckett.