Pentecost - The Holy Spirit, a journey of discovery!

'What the church today lacks is the vision and power that was present at Pentecost, The Spirit can bring both if we will only accept what God wants to freely give.'

Genesis1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was barren, with no form of life; it was under a roaring ocean covered with darkness. But the Spirit of God was moving over the water.

Our journey starts right at the beginning of the bible, just in case you thought that interest in the Holy Spirit was a modern phenomenon, confined to the ‘Happy Clappy’ brigade of Pentecostals and Charismatics of the modern generation. As an aside it’s worth pointing out that at the beginning of the 20th century there were no Pentecostals as such. In the 1970s it was estimated that there might be 20 million worldwide, and today that figure is considerably larger. In an age when the established Church is contracting in numbers, perhaps that fact needs lodging in the back of our mind.

Back to Genesis. The word used for the Spirit of God in both Hebrew and Greek is highly significant. Ruach in Hebrew and Pneuma in Greek have three meanings of ‘wind’, ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’.

The Sprit of God that we read about in Genesis is God’s life-giving breath, His creative power in this world from day one. It’s a mysterious wind, nothing that can be bottled or tamed by man for his own devices. As Jesus told a searching Nicodemus ‘The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.’

It’s not only a mysterious wind, it’s also a pretty powerful wind

Genesis 8:1 God did not forget about Noah and the animals with him in the boat. So God made a wind blow, and the water started going down.

Exodus 14:21 Moses stretched his arm over the sea, and the Lord sent a strong east wind that blew all night until there was dry land where the water had been. The sea opened up, 22 and the Israelites walked through on dry land with a wall of water on each side.

It’s this mixture of mystery and power that touch the teaching about the Spirit of God both in the Old Testament and the New. It is not something that man can conjure up, this is God the creator in action. There are so many references to God acting like a wind, strong and uncontrollable. It is God who sends the wind, He controls it, and He causes it to cease. This is something way beyond the control the control of mankind.

In the same uncontrollable way, throughout the Old Testament we read of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon people, ordinary people. Gideon was an ordinary man until ‘the Spirit of the Lord took possession of him’. Then he became instrumental in the deliverance of his country. And what about Samson? It was when ‘the Lord’s Spirit took control of Samson, and with his bare hands he tore the lion apart, as though it had been a young goat.’ (Judges 14:6)

And this strength that Samson had was not of his own doing, as he was famously reminded when he disobeyed god at Delilah’s prompting and woke up to find that ‘the Lord had left him’ (Judges 16:20)

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is also closely connected with the Word of God.

Psalm 33:6 The Lord made the heavens and everything in them by his word.

2 Samuel 23:2 The Spirit of the Lord has told me what to say.

Isaiah 61:1 ‘The Spirit of the Lord God has taken control of me! The Lord has chosen and sent me to tell the oppressed the good news, to heal the brokenhearted, and to announce freedom for prisoners and captives.’

And so it continues throughout the Old Testament. Men speak the Word of God because the Spirit of God comes upon them and God speaks through them.

And for the people of Israel there was another aspect of God’s Spirit that they clung to, and this was the promise, the hope of what was to come. Listen to that memorable passage from Isaiah 11:2ff

‘Like a branch that sprouts from a stump, someone from David’s family will someday be king. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the Lord. 3 His greatest joy will be to obey the Lord. This king won’t judge by appearances or listen to rumours. 4 The poor and the needy will be treated with fairness and with justice. His word will be law everywhere in the land’

There is another aspect of God’s Spirit that we need to look at, because it seems to be connected with the Pentecost story, and that is the occasion when Moses went up the mountain to meet with god and came down with the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 19:16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning. A thick cloud covered the mountain, a loud trumpet blast was heard, and everyone in camp trembled with fear. 17 Moses led them out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had come down in a flaming fire. Smoke poured out of the mountain just like a furnace, and the whole mountain shook. 19 The trumpet blew louder and louder. Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder. 20 The Lord came down to the top of Mount Sinai and told Moses to meet him there. 21 Then he said, "Moses, go and warn the people not to cross the boundary that you set at the foot of the mountain. They must not cross it to come and look at me, because if they do, many of them will die. 22 Only the priests may come near me, and they must obey strict rules before I let them. If they don’t, they will be punished." 23 Moses replied, "The people cannot come up the mountain. You warned us to stay away because it is holy." 24 Then the Lord told Moses, "Go down and bring Aaron back here with you. But the priests and people must not try to push their way through, or I will rush at them like a flood!" 25 After Moses had gone back down, he told the people what the Lord had said.

Then there’s the verses containing the Ten Commandments, followed by:

20:18 The people trembled with fear when they heard the thunder and the trumpet and saw the lightning and the smoke coming from the mountain. They stood a long way off 19 and said to Moses, "If you speak to us, we will listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we will die!" 20 "Don’t be afraid!" Moses replied. "God has come only to test you, so that by obeying him you won’t sin." 21 But when Moses went near the thick cloud where God was, the people stayed a long way off.

God then not just as wind or breath but as fire, as He meets with Moses and equips His people by giving them the guidelines by which they should live their lives, the Ten Commandments.

Let’s leave the Old Testament in our whistle-stop journey, with these pictures in our mind of God’s Spirit

  1. The wind or breath, a power as uncontrollable as the elements we know from our everyday lives - from the gentlest breeze to the mightiest hurricane - beyond the power of mankind to control.
  2. The connection between the breath and the Word. The Spirit enabled the Old Testament prophets to say the things they did, to challenge the people with the truth of God’s word. The Spirit could take ordinary people and do extraordinary things with them.
  3. The Spirit not only as wind but as fire
  4. The Spirit as the hope of what was yet to come; the promise of Messiah.

From the Old Testament we pass onto the New, and immediately to John Chapter 14. There was a very real feeling among Jesus’ followers that maybe here, in this man who they were following was the One who had been promised in the prophesies of Scripture. Here was the One of whom Isaiah had foretold when he talked of ‘‘Like a branch that sprouts from a stump, someone from David’s family will someday be king. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the Lord.’

But how difficult it must have been for them there, at that moment in time with a real flesh and blood man in front of them to equate Jesus with God. It’s far easier for us looking at the situation 2000 years on to say ‘How could they have been so thick as to take so long to suss it all out,’ but here was a very human Jesus saying and doing things which challenged everything that was accepted within the established religious life of the day. Even at the end, Jesus must have despaired that his disciples were still struggling to accept the truth of who He was and What was about to happen to Him, and how that would affect their lives.

John 14:8 Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need." 9 Jesus replied: Philip, I have been with you for a long time. Don’t you know who I am? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. How can you ask me to show you the Father? 10 Don’t you believe that I am one with the Father and that the Father is one with me? What I say isn’t said on my own. The Father who lives in me does these things. 11 Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. 12 I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father. 13 Ask me, and I will do whatever you ask. This way the Son will bring honor to the Father. 14 I will do whatever you ask me to do. 15 Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will do as I command. 16 Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. 17 The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.

Jesus has only a limited time on earth, and He has to make provision for the future and equip those who are to continue His mission. His disciples are the future. Ordinary people, a ragbag of humanity. ‘I won’t be with you much longer,’ says Jesus. ‘But, I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you.’

Again there is the sense of mystery with the Spirit ‘The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.’

The Old Testament had within it a promise of what was to come. Christians look at the Old Testament and see within the words of the prophets the foretelling of a Messiah, one who would bring God’s people back into fellowship with their creator.

The Gospels also contain a promise of what was to come. Jesus pointed beyond his life and death towards the day when God would be active again through His Spirit. The actual word used in the passage in John’s Gospel is ‘Paraclete’ which is difficult to translate, but Jesus looks to One who will take His place in the lives of those who know Him.

And then of course we come to the book of Acts and the story of that Pentecost day when the followers of Jesus were gathered together wondering what on earth was going to happen now that Jesus had died. How could they, a small bunch of ordinary people carry on the message and mission of Jesus when they were faced with a hostile world that had put this same Jesus to death on a cross?

ACTS 2:1 On the day of Pentecost all the Lord’s followers were together in one place. 2 Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting. 3 Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. 4 The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak. 5 Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. 6 And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. 7 They were excited and amazed, and said: Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee? 8 Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? 9 Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, 11 Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done. 12 Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, "What does all this mean?" 13 Others made fun of the Lord’s followers and said, "They are drunk." 14 Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd:

Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say! 15 You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 But this is what God had the prophet Joel say,

17 "When the last days come,

I will give my Spirit

to everyone.

Your sons and daughters

will prophesy.

Your young men

will see visions,

and your old men

will have dreams.

18 In those days I will give

my Spirit to my servants,

both men and women,

and they will prophesy.

19 I will work miracles

in the sky above

and wonders

on the earth below.

There will be blood and fire

and clouds of smoke.

20 The sun will turn dark,

and the moon

will be as red as blood

before the great

and wonderful day

of the Lord appears.

21 Then the Lord

will save everyone

who asks for his help."

Note the mighty wind and what seemed like fire which entered that small room and the lives of those ordinary people. Did it leave them unaffected? I think not! The people are amazed at the transformation that takes place. Those men are empowered. Not only do they go out and preach the Good News, they do it in a way that all can understand, whatever their language. Peter recalls some verses of the Prophet Joel which seem so relevant to that situation, and hints that this power that the people are so amazed at is something that was promised many years previously.

And why has it taken so long for this power to be manifested among God’s people? Well, you have to look a little further in the chapter. The people saw what was happening and obviously wanted a piece of the action. ‘What must we do?’ they asked.

‘Just ask’ replies Peter, ‘and it’s yours’

No he doesn’t, unfortunately.

Acts 2: 37 ‘When the people heard this, they were very upset. They asked Peter and the other apostles, "Friends, what shall we do?" 38 Peter said, "Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is for you and your children. It is for everyone our Lord God will choose, no matter where they live."’

God’s people had drifted so far from Him that they had even killed His Son. But does God leave it at that? Does he wash His hands of His people and say ‘Enough is enough’

No, like the father of the Prodigal Son he is still there waiting with open arms for his loved ones to return to Him. And the blessing that comes to those who make that journey is the Spirit, the One promised by Jesus, the same Spirit of the Old Testament who empowered the prophets; the same Spirit who raised up ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Isn’t that just what happened at Pentecost?

Ordinary people; fishermen, tradesmen, tent makers and tax collectors were suddenly capable of extraordinary things - they preached with confidence, spoke the Word of God so powerfully that lives were changes, brought the healing touch of God to broken lives, lived lives that were transformed to the point where people saw them and were convicted and convinced.

The Church has always had plenty of members who know about as much about the Holy Spirit as those at Ephasus who when asked by Paul ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ reply ‘No, we’ve never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit’

Of course, they’ve heard sermons on the Holy Spirit, but never thought that it related to them, that they could experience this same power in their lives. And that, unfortunately is how the world views them. Imagine a Rolls Royce with the engine of a lawnmower under the bonnet, which is about as exciting as it gets at times.

Believe me, 20-30 million Pentecostals in this world are on to something that parts of the established Church have chosen to ignore at their peril. The Spirit of God, that breath of life, that mighty wind, that fire which was present throughout the Old Testament and also through the New in the life of Jesus and His disciples did not cease working as soon as the bible as we know it was put into type. In our own town and in towns across this land Christians are beginning to experience the power of the Spirit of God in their lives in the same way as it happened on that amazing Pentecost morning.

All that is needed is for God’s people to do exactly what those early listeners at Pentecost were told to do, make that journey back from where we are now into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father, and the blessing of the Spirit will follow.

Then the world will take notice and listen, then the pews in our churches will be filled again. What the church today lacks is the vision and power that was present at Pentecost, The Spirit can bring both if we will only accept what God wants to freely give.


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