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Pentecost - an Introduction

Christian Basics - Pentecost

Genesis 1:1-2, Acts 2:1-21

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."

A Mysterious Wind

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

Genesis 8:1

Exodus 14:21-22

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 Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners"

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. 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. His greatest joy will be to obey the Lord. This king won’t judge by appearances or listen to rumours.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 19:16-25

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

Exodus 20:18-21

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

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.

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.

Wind and Fire

The Spirit not only as wind but as fire

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.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 14:8-17

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.

What a Difference

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 2:1-21

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.

"Repent and be baptized!" comes the answer! "And everything else follows!" Acts 2:37-39

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.

And What of Us?

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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