The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost

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The day began like any other. How often do we wake up in the morning and consider that today is just like so many that have gone in the past? What is so different about today compared to the last seven days? If we are honest, probably not a lot!

It’s amazing how we take things for granted. If we are Christians, we can even take our faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives for granted. The Holy Spirit is one of the three "persons" who comprise the God of the Bible - sometimes called the "Godhead" by theologians. He is one with God the Father and God the Son. In the past, He was often referred to as the "Holy Ghost" but language and the meanings of words change over times, so "Holy Spirit" is a better translation for us today. He longs for us to talk with Him. He has been sent here to be with us in a non-physical way and has been variously called our "comforter", "counsellor", "helper", "advocate", "intercessor", "strengthener" and "standby". When God the Son lived on earth, He was restricted by His body to being in one place at one time. The Holy Spirit can be with all believers everywhere at any time or place. What more do we need?

Towards the end of His life, Jesus explained to His disciples that He was going to send the Holy Spirit to them, who would be a powerful presence to convince people of sin, righteousness and judgement. He described how the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth, reminding them of Jesus and all that He had taught and guiding them through events to come in the future (John 16:5-15; John 14:25-26).

So, the day began like any other – probably with bright blue skies – but the disciples were not expecting it to bring any more than any other day (Acts 2:1-4). However, this was to be a day like no other. The Bible is actually quite explicit about what happened: a sound like wind in a storm; tongues of what appeared to be fire resting on their heads; all the disciples speaking in other languages so that onlookers from all over the known world were able to hear the wonders of God being declared in their own language (Acts 2:5-6).

A similar example of God making a memorable appearance can be found in the "Old Testament". The prophet, Elijah, had just given taken part in a spectacular clash with the religious leaders of an idolatrous cult. Following a three-year drought, in the midst of a public confrontation at Mount Carmel and in direct response to a prayer from Elijah, God had sent firstly fire - to light a sacrificial bonfire drenched with water - then rain to soak the entire country. But his success only served to provoke the king's wife (Jezebel) into threatening him with dire retribution and Elijah fled for his life to a distant mountain (Horeb). There he experienced a series of similar events: rushing wind, an earthquake and fire or lightning from on high. But God was not to be found in these overt demonstrations of power. Instead He spoke to Elijah in a "still, small voice" (1 Kings 19:1-3; 1 Kings 19:11-13).

The Holy Spirit

However, on this day, the Day of Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit was in the spectacular events. The sound of the mighty wind conveyed the presence and power of God in what was happening. The "tongues of fire" signified the strength of this "anointing" and its individual application. None of the disciples were excluded. The record states that all the believers - the entire church - were in one place at the time. Nobody missed out, but it was only the gathered disciples who received this power. No one who is not a Christian disciple has ever received this power to this day.

When churches begin to move in power, people sit up and take notice. When believers "catch fire" in this way, people will come to watch! Some will attempt to pour cold water over what's happening but God's Spirit is not so easily quenched. When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, the exceptional thing that attracted Moses was that the bush itself was not consumed. This caught Moses’ attention and God was able to speak to him and to commission him to set His people free (Exodus 3:1-10).

When churches begin to "burn" in revival, they will not be consumed either, but will go from strength to strength, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is part of the preparation of the "Bride of Christ", as represented by churches throughout the world. Acceptance of God's power in this way also serves to set God’s people free. Just as phenomena such as the burning bush cannot be engineered or re-created by human science, neither can this movement of God that we will call "revival" be brought about by human systems or even church leaders. "Revival" implies a re-awakening of something which was once alive but has fallen unconscious or died. Throughout human history, God's sovereign power has flared up from time to time and in different places. Often, people who had taken their humdrum lives for granted were suddenly caught up in the rushing wind of God's Spirit, sweeping like a fire through the land. Such movements can ignite spontaneously wherever Christian disciples gather to pray and seek God's word to them.

Those disciples on the Day of Pentecost had an unforgettable experience of God. It is certainly not wrong to experience God. Being human (as God created us) means that we need to have heart-knowledge as well as head-knowledge. Those who were present on that day would never forget it; not just those who were filled with the Holy Spirit, but those who witnessed His arrival, together with the ability of the disciples to speak in other languages. The speaking was not of itself the most amazing thing; it was the fact that those who listened heard these people speak in their own languages. In no time at all, a massive crowd gathered – more than three thousand people.

What had happened had been prophesied by the prophet, Joel, hundreds of years earlier (Joel 2:28-32). These were godly, Jewish people from every nation in the known world. When God does something, He chooses His timing perfectly. What better way to announce the fulfilment of something promised, than to display it to these representatives of all the nations at the same time? Be assured that the Jewish people present would have taken the message back home very quickly!

Holy Spirit as helper

When Jesus surrendered His life to a Roman execution, access to God was thrown open to all humanity but, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all who had become disciples. Indeed, from that moment onwards, He continues to be poured out on all new disciples who offer themselves to God. But God doesn't force us to accept His power or His gifts. Such an "anointing" marks us out as different. On the Day of Pentecost, many people thought that the disciples were drunk - so unusual and striking was their behaviour (Acts 2:7-13). If we are going to walk in Jesus' footsteps and live under His power and authority, equipped with all His gifts and resources, then we must allow His Spirit to fill us - but it remains our ultimate choice and decision.

An interesting aspect of this manifestation of God's power was that many of the disciples had come from the Galilee - an area in the Northern part of the country, far from the capital city and where people were looked down on as being rough-speaking, uncultured and largely uneducated. Where had such people learned to speak all these languages? There will always be those who want to destroy and demean the work of God. We have a spiritual adversary (Satan) who constantly seeks to undermine what God is doing in the world. One of his favourite methods is to encourage mockery of such work. He will also do his best to sow discord between believers, to inflate leaders with pride or, like the Egyptian sorcerers in Moses' day, to replicate signs and wonders that distract us from genuine gifts of the Spirit. It is not surprising, therefore, that earlier revivals (such as the Welsh Revival in the early 1900s of the Hebridean Revival in the 1950s) are eventually damped down and all but extinguished. But Jesus only needs disciples who will surrender themselves to Him and allow themselves to be filled with His Spirit for fresh revival to flare up once more.

Peter preaches to the crowd - Acts 2:14-41

Peter saw that what was happening that day required some explanation so he stood up and addressed the crowd. But, before we look at that in detail, let's take a moment to consider what had been happening recently in Peter's life. A little over seven weeks previously, Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus, not once but three times. In fact, all of the disciples had turned tail and run away when the Temple Guard arrested Jesus. Since then, they had been living in fear of the authorities, locked in an upper room, waiting and praying. Then Jesus, after rising from the dead, had come to visit them and spend time with them. They had seen Him ascend into heaven and now the Holy Spirit had come to them and filled them with Himself.

As promised, the Spirit began to remind them of Jesus and what He had taught; refreshing their memories, reinforcing Jesus' teaching and even beginning to extend their understanding of God's plan and purposes. The disciples had begun to understand that the "last days" (spoken of by Joel) would include all the time between Jesus' "incarnation" (His birth as a human baby) and His "second coming" on “the great and glorious day of the Lord" (Acts 2:20). Jesus would be returning for His "bride" - that vast congregation of Christian disciples from all ages that we know collectively as "the Church".

In Jesus' day, the choice of a marriage partner was rather more of a family affair but, having settled upon a suitable match, the husband and wife would become engaged, but the husband would then leave his wife and return to his own home to prepare somewhere for the two of them to start a new life. Before leaving, he would give her presents such as clothing to help her prepare for the wedding day. When the bride was ready, the wedding itself would be arranged, after which the married couple would go to the new house to start their new life together. The disciples came to understand that the Holy Spirit was Jesus' gift to His bride, to be used to prepare her for their eventual wedding day. Jesus told a story about the bridegroom who was delayed and the ten bridesmaids, some of whom were wise and kept stocked up with reserves, but some of whom failed to prepare properly. Jesus has gone back to His Father's home to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3). He will return, but only when His Father has determined the actual wedding day. Until then, we - as members of the "bride" - must prepare ourselves.

Peter, who until this time had been somewhat volatile and unreliable, now demonstrated a new steadfastness of purpose and character, becoming the "rock" as Jesus had renamed him. He stood up to tell the Jewish people, in no uncertain words, the significance of the events that were unfolding before them. As he did so, the Holy Spirit inspired him to talk about Jesus being the promised "deliverer" (or "messiah") about whom King David and many other prophets had spoken. Openly and clearly, he charged them with having executed God's promised saviour (Acts 2:36). But then he also told them about Jesus' resurrection and the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation through repentance. The effect on the crowd was palpable. The Bible states that they were "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). Some three thousand people responded to Peter's words in repentance and faith. They were baptised and accepted as members of the new "church" - the bride of Christ.

We need to realise that the Holy Spirit is still able to work just as powerfully today and allow Him to do that work through us. It isn't up to us to change peoples' minds; only God can do that. But we can be the witnesses - the hard evidence - that God the Holy Spirit needs to point people towards Jesus and what He has done for us. Our lives can speak eloquently of His power and presence in the world, through our own attitudes and relationships with people. When people ask why we do (or don't do) certain things; why we live in the way that we do; why we treasure the values that we hold fast; then we can simply tell them about what it means to us to know Jesus and invite them to join us as pilgrims or disciples. Through such simple ways are fresh revivals born!


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