What are the three most significant holidays in the church calendar?
a) Christmas, Easter, Independence Day?
b) Christmas, Easter, the Fall Festival?
c) Christmas, Good Friday, Easter?
d) Christmas, Easter, Pentecost?
If you chose (c) you would be correct, but if you chose (d) you would be more in line with something that mattered in the lives of the apostles in a way that we tend to overlook. Acts 20:16 says, ‘For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus…for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.’ Think of it, Paul was hurrying to travel by sea, about 1000 miles, in order to be in Jerusalem for this feast.
This Sunday, May 20, is Pentecost Sunday – the day the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and launched the New Testament Church into action. For Paul, the infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit was the means by which God would now reveal Himself.
The place of the Holy Spirit in the minds of many Christians and in the ministry of churches has always been challenging. One person said this, “God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me; and God the Son I can quite understand; but God the Holy Spirit is a gray, oblong blur.” I have the sense that if that person lived in Jesus’ day she would have said ‘I don’t understand Jesus at all’ – for God cannot be held in our little container of understanding.
Gordon Fee has written an outstanding book on the work of the Holy Spirit called ‘Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God’. He writes,
‘Not only has the coming of Christ changed everything for Paul, so too the coming of the Spirit. In dealing with the Spirit, we are dealing with none other than the personal presence of God. God the Spirit is now His personal presence among us. He, in essence, took over God’s work of salvation on the Day of Pentecost.’
This is what Jesus says in Jn.16:13 – When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.’ Do you see what Jesus is saying? The Holy Spirit is going to speak to us. He is going to lead us into all truth. He is going to tell us of things to come. He is going to glorify Jesus. Later, Jesus tells the disciples the Holy Spirit is going to empower us to do the work that God ordains for us to do.
In other words, we are never on our own in the work of God redeeming, sanctifying, and glorifying.
The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the gifts of the Spirit to do the works of God – prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, discernment, giving, serving, leading, administration, discerning of spirits, witness. And the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the fruit of the Spirit to reflect the nature of God – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
The Christian life can only be lived by dependency upon the Holy Spirit. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows we cannot live the life of godliness in our own strength, will, effort. It takes God in us to do His will in us. As Paul says: For God is at work in you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. ‘Both to will and to do’ – What an encouragement for us!
Again, citing Fee:
Here, then, is one of the shifts that must take place in our thinking and experience if we are to be biblical, and thus more effective, in our postmodern world. We must not merely cite the creed but believe and experience the presence of God in the person of the Spirit.
Do you know that personal experience, that personal presence, that personal empowering of the Holy Spirit in your life? This Friday, May 18 we are setting aside time for prayer and seeking the Holy Spirit. This Sunday, May 20 we will be celebrating Pentecost – the launching with power of the New Testament Church.