Today we celebrate Pentecost, that ancient Jewish festival, 50 days after Passover, when the people of God celebrate that God keeps His promises, that His covenant is true, and that He does provide all that we need.
And, as Christians, today we celebrate one very particular Feast of Pentecost, one that followed one very particular Passover. 50 days after Jesus – the true Lamb of God, that once true, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice was slain once and for all for the sin of the world, on that Great Passover we call Easter, we then had the Great Pentecost.
Going back to the time of Moses, Passover was about salvation and Pentecost was about God’s faithfulness. And that’s still true today for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ: God does keep His promises; His covenant is true; and yes, God really does and will provide all that we need.
And how does He show that? By sending God the Holy Spirit, not just to a select few, not just to the chosen and anointed king or the prophets like under the Old Covenant. No, by doing just as he promised in Jeremiah 31, pouring out His Spirit on all who are willing to be His people, and allow Him to truly be their God.
This day, Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, the beginning of the spread of the Gospel to all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations, is all about God keeping His promises, as God becomes present in the every believer by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is Essential
Belief in the Holy Spirit is essential to what it means to be a Christian.
…But, I think it’s also fair to say that, for many of us, we’re not sure who God the Holy Spirit is, or what He’s all about.
We know there are spiritual gifts, we know sometimes there are great revivals when all the people in a place sense the Holy Spirit in their presence, we know some people pray in tongues or feel God’s special anointing as they pray to know God’s will; we also know some false teachers in the Church today try to lead people astray with clever-sounding lines like “the Spirit is doing a new thing”, as though God’s plan wasn’t established from before the foundation of the world..
…so many good sermons in there, but they are all sermons for another day.
Because the fundamental question that you and I need to be able to answer as apprentices and ambassadors of Christ is this: why did the Holy Spirit come?
So let me ask you – because you arethe witnesses that Christ Himself has called to go and bring the good news to your friends and your neighbour and that co-worker who really drives you nuts, because you’re the one with that calling on your life, right? Amen?
So why did the Holy Spirit come?
Do we ourselves know the story well enough that we can tell it to another?
Well, for those of us who need a refresher, the good news is that, scripture and the life of Jesus make the answers clear.
The Holy Spirit does many things in our lives, He gives gifts, He calls, He guides and directs, He strengthens, He rebukes, He comforts, He empowers, but each and every one of these can be summarized in this one simple truth: The Holy Spirit makes us truly alive in Jesus.
Not that the Holy Spirit makes us alive in the bodily sense – no, there are plenty of people who are living and breathing without the Holy Spirit, and all of us will breath our last as the wages of live in a sinful world are paid and we stand before the judgement seat.
But as we know from scripture, a person can be living and breathing, and yet they find themselves dead in their sin, powerless to earn forgiveness, powerless on their own to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil.
But, my friends, the message of Pentecost is this: the Holy Spirit makes us truly alive in Jesus.
Sometimes we need to think about “How”
Our church calendar is organized to help us recognize this fact: after all, Pentecost is an ancient Jewish feast, always on that 50th day after Passover. That’s on purpose, because the sending of the Holy Spirit is directly connected to the events of Holy Week.
Why did the Holy Spirit come? To make us truly alive.
But how? By applying the work of Christ on Good Friday and Easter to our lives today. That’s how!
Have you thought about that before? How does the work of one man on a cross two thousand years ago actually make a difference in your life here and now? How does the victory of one man over the grave at Easter get applied to you and lead you to eternal life?
It’s a thing that many life-long Christians take for granted and never pause to think about, but if you start doing your God-given work of sharing your faith with your neighbours, you’ll find that it’s only logical that people want to know how.
And the answer, of course, is Pentecost: that, after we call on Christ as Lord, the Holy Spirit comes into each of us who are willing, and when our body and soul become infused with the Holy Spirit of God, then we become truly alive. That’s how we share in the risen life of Jesus. That’s how it’s no longer about “me”, but “Christ in me”.
Let’s walk through that, shall we?
Let’s pretend your neighbour comes to your house. They’ve been watching and wondering for years. They know there’s something different about you, that you go to church, and you have a hope and a faith that sustains you through the hardest of times. And unbeknownst to you, the Holy Spirit has been knocking on the door of their heart, and now here they are, knocking on your door (knock, knock, knock). They come in, you pour up a cup of tea, and here they are, out of the blue asking you “you know, your faith seems so much more real than the religion I learned back in school. I was going to go to church, but you know, I just can’t get past the cruelty of an innocent man dying such a horrendous death. I just don’t get it”.
Now, if this were me, this is where my stomach flips and I wish I could hide away… because, you might not know this, but I’m actually incredibly shy and nervous about speaking to anyone about anything (yes, I’m the sort of guy who sits and stares at the phone for 15 minutes to get the courage to pick it up and dial a number).
But, also for me, this is when I’ve learned to feel – actually feel – the Holy Spirit. This is when I physically feel a tingle on my neck, a tingle that tells me: ‘you have an opportunity. Now, are you going to be faithful?’
It can happen to you, too, a tingle, or a feeling in your gut, where God is saying “will you be faithful”.
So, imagine with me, your friend is there, sitting at your table with a cup of tea, and they brought up faith all out of nowhere. They’ve been thinking about Christianity, but like they said “I just don’t get it”.
Now, you have a choice, don’t you.
Option A: You can say, yes, well, it’s all hard to understand, you should call the minister. What do you think about that? (I wish I had a buzzer for the wrong answer sound)
Option B: You can say, “yes my dear, it’s hard to understand, but it’s all ok, just think positive and be true to yourself because all paths lead to God”. (anyone got that buzzer?)
Or, Option C: You can, very simply, use the events of Jesus’ life, from Holy Week to Pentecost, to explain how it is that the events of long ago change lives from then until now.
It might go like this:
(and for me, this is when I feel that tingle again, a sort of ‘push in the right direction’ from the Holy Spirit within).
Start with Good Friday: The crucifixion was a terrible thing, and the world was a violent place, the Romans crucified tens of thousands of people. But the reason Jesus had to die is so He could do what we could never do for ourselves.
A guilty person can’t undo their guilt. No amount of money or time or making amends can undo the guilt. No human could make themselves right with God, it takes God coming and doing that for us.
Then look to Easter: It’s only because Jesus was an innocent man and fully God that his death wasn’t a defeat, it was a victory! Death wanted to hold him down, but he’s alive forevermore. He gives us hope for life beyond the grave. The Bible calls him the “second Adam”, meaning he gives humanity a fresh start, he shows us humanity as it was originally intended, thriving with abundant life, not weighed down by death and decay.
Then look to the Ascension: My faith is not just a spiritual thing. Positive thinking only gets us so far, as do other religions, because we’re not just souls stuck in a body. Our bodies are who we are, we are physical. We can’t just escape into our minds. I have hope because, as ridiculous as it sounds, Jesus returned to heaven with his risen body to prepare a place for me, and I don’t fully understand all of that, but I know God will restore all things and make them new, and that means there is life beyond the grave.
And then Pentecost holds it all together: But for here and now, as you know, life can be a mess. My life hasn’t been all rosy, I’ve messed up, I’ve got struggles and habits I can’t break, and life gets me down: people are sick, and we’re tired and exhausted, and sometimes the world looks like it’s going to hell in a handbasket. But, I just trust that God says I don’t need to fix it myself. The whole point of Good Friday is that Jesus did what I can’t do for myself. A little bandage or a few good deeds can’t fix what’s wrong with us, we need new life, a fresh start. I don’t know how it all works, but what I do know is that my life changed when it stopped being about me, my trying to be strong, my hiding from things, my body dealing with sickness, my soul and mind trying to process what happened in my life, when it stopped being about me, me, me, and instead, when it started to be about “we”. God, and me, and all the other people in my church family – what a crazy bunch, and some you’d never expect to be hanging around with in a million years! – but everything changed when it stopped being about me, and when I let God come in and make it about “we” instead. When bad things happen, I know it’s out of my control, so I bring it to God and to my church family, and I know that if Jesus can overcome death and make all things new, then whatever the mess my life is, it’s no match for him.
The Holy Spirit at work in you… even today!
And my friends, if this is you at your dining room table, and your friend knocked on your door and brought this up on their own, you have a choice.
Did Jesus do on the cross what you could never do for yourself?
Have your sins been forgiven?
Did Jesus conquer death and the grave and rise to eternal life?
Is Jesus gone to prepare a place for you?
Is the Holy Spirit at work in you, to make you fully alive,
to let you share in that new life of Jesus?
Well, my friends, the best way you can grow into that new life, and take it from me, is to take a deep breath, get over that fear or shyness, and when you have an opportunity, when you feel that tingle, when you experience that weird thing that you now know is the Holy Spirit pushing you… go for it!
Don’t take option A and leave it to the minister. Don’t take option B, denying your faith and following the ways of the world. No, if God can conquer the grave and forgive your sin, and make all things new, don’t you think He can give you the words to say to your neighbour over a cup of tea? Of course he can! …God can, but will you let him?