What happened at Pentecost
Pentecost Sunday is one of the most important days in the Christian year. Because it was on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ten days after his ascension to heaven, that Jesus sent his the Holy Spirit onto his followers. It was a moment that was to change the world forever.
So what happened on the day of Pentecost? Just before Jesus returned to heaven he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, the day that the Jews held their harvest festival, the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit:
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:2-4)
Who is the Holy Spirit?
In the King James version of the Bible it talks of the ‘Holy Ghost’, but the Holy Spirit is not a ghost but a Person. The Holy Spirit is sometimes described as the Spirit of Christ or the Spirit of Jesus. He is the way in which Jesus is present with his people. If you want a schoolchild’s definition, the Holy Spirit is ‘Jesus’ other self’. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as the parakletos (John 14:16), which means counsellor, comforter, encourager.
When Jesus walking the earth, he could only be in one place and one time, but now through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can be with each one of us, just as he promised when he said he would be with us always, to the very end of the age (Mt 28:20).
What does the Holy Spirit do?
The Transforming Spirit
First of all, the Holy Spirit is a transforming spirit. He has the power to convert and change people in the most extraordinary ways.
We see this in the disciples. Only weeks before receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples had abandoned Jesus when he was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. They were men fearful and scared, afraid that they too would suffer the same fate as Jesus.
And yet on the day of Pentecost, when they were filled with God's Holy Spirit they were changed from meek timid men, into men filled with an incredible boldness and courage.
And this is what the Holy Spirit does today. He changes and transforms people and structures. He literally turns lives around. I remember listening to one man’s testimony of how his life was completely turned around when he experienced God's Holy Spirit in his life for the first time. Put bluntly his life was a mess, he was an alcoholic, he was aggressive and abusive, and as a result of this his relationship with his wife and family was in tatters. But one day he encountered God's Holy Spirit, and he was transformed. So radical and so amazing was this transformation that his family hardly recognized him. He was a new man. Through God’s Holy Spirit he was healed off his addictions, and he became a completely different person.
And this is how God's Holy Spirit often works. He has the power to change our hearts and minds, and bring about a change in attitudes. God's Holy Spirit also has the power to individuals, whole churches, and even whole communities. It is the power of God given to the church, and given to us as Christians.
The whole book of Acts demonstrates the amazing power of God's spirit, with many amazing transformations, people being healed, and even the dead raised to life. And it is the same Holy Spirit that is at work in the world today.
The Equipping Spirit
The Holy Spirit is also an equipping spirit. Jesus' last command was for his followers to continue his ministry. But we are not asked to do this alone, Jesus has equipped us for this task by giving us the Holy Spirit.
Paul in 1 Corinthians tells us that there are many gifts that God gives us. Some we may describe as being supernatural gifts, for example the gift of tongues, the gift of prophecy, the gift of healing. Some times these gifts may appear more ordinary. For instance the gift of wisdom, the gift of faith, or the gift of love. But whatever gifts they may be God gives us each of these gifts for a purpose. As Paul writes, There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Cor 12:4-7)
God has a task for his church, and for each one of us. And he equips us to fulfill that task. Just as an engine needs fuel to work, so we need the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul writing to the Christians in Ephesus and tells them to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that Paul uses is in the present continuous tense. It means “Go on being filled over and over and over again.” As Christians we need to be filled afresh with God’s Holy Spirit every day.
The Life Giving Spirit
Finally, the Holy Spirit is a life giving spirit.
Pentecost was a Jewish celebration of the wheat harvest. It was one this day, the day when people celebrated the harvest, that God sent his Holy Spirit to bring in a new harvest. To bring life to his church. On that first Pentecost there were only 120 Christians in Jerusalem. By the end of the day there were over three thousand. That is the power of the Holy Spirit.
And it is the Holy Spirit that breathes life into our churches. Without it, churches stagnate and die, but with it churches are transformed and better equipped to hear and respond to God’s call.
It is the Holy Spirit gives life to us as Christians. Through it God works out his plan for each one of us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we go as Christians, and we see more of the fruits of the spirit in our own lives. Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Spirit of God has the power to mend broken hearts, to set us free from the things that bind us, to release those people who have been imprisoned by their own wrong-doing; and to bring God’s comfort and peace.
So we see that the Holy Spirit is a transforming spirit, an equipping and enabling spirit and a life giving spirit. My own experience of God has been transformed by the power of God’s Spirit. Through an encounter of God’s Spirit, Jesus has become much more personal for me. I have encountered him in the most extraordinary way, I’ve felt his power and presence in my life. I’ve felt cleansed and washed clean, in a way I never thought possible. And it’s enriched my life more than anything else has, or ever can. And I’m convinced the more we are open to God’s Holy Spirit the more we will see remarkably things happening. In our own lives, in our churches, in our communities, and in our world.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit is for each one of us. On the day of Pentecost Peter stood in front of the crowds in Jerusalem and said ‘The promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:39)
The word Pentecost means 'fiftieth day', because the Jewish celebration of Pentecost took place 50 days after Passover. My prayer is that here at St Martin's, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we may experience a fresh outpouring of God's Holy Spirit. Amen.