2,000 years ago, Jesus walked the earth. He was a revolutionary, and the world doesn’t like revolutionaries. The world kills revolutionaries! And the world killed Jesus. But three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and walked among people for 40 days. Then he ascended into heaven, but just before left, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.
The disciples wanted to talk about the timing of upcoming events, but Jesus reminded them to stay on task, saying that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Christ in the world (see Acts 1.3-11).
“According to the Pentecost experience, the ‘flaming fire’ of the Holy Spirit makes those it touches incandescent in the presence of God.” (Jürgen Moltmann)
But this isn’t the first time Jesus told his disciples about sending the Holy Spirit: John 14.15-17, 23-26
Ten days before the Feast of Pentecost, Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples may have had a sense that something special was about to happen. Several weeks earlier, Jesus was crucified at Passover; he was buried during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and he rose from the dead during the Feast of Firstfruits. And now, Pentecost was just around the corner!
Pentecost (Greek: “50 days”) is the Hebrew festival Shavuot (“weeks,” i.e. 7 weeks after Passover). During this festival, people bring gifts and offerings of grain as well as a number of burnt offerings, beginning at dawn. At 9:00 am, there’s a worship service in the Temple where thousands of people gather to worship God.
It was about that time when something happened that forever changed the course of history. It all started with a sound, the sound of a rushing mighty wind. God was breathing on his people, breathing new life into them and empowering them for the mission, the revolution of God!
When I think of wind and breath as images of God’s Spirit, I think of Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). God took a hopeless valley of dead, dry, disconnected bones. Not only did God reconnect those bones; not only did God restored their flesh. But God also breathed new life into them! And, on the day of Pentecost, God breathed new life into his people!
The Scriptures says, “everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.4). Miraculously, they spoke about the Good News in the languages the people gathered there — people from all over the world! At first, they were confused, thinking this group of people must be drunk. But Peter, filled with the Spirit, told the story about the new thing what God was doing. About 3,000 people responded to God’s Spirit, surrendered their lives to God, and joined the revolution to spread the Good News all around the world!
We normally emphasize Christmas and Easter (obviously important days!), but the reality is that without Pentecost, we would never had heard of Christmas or Easter. Pentecost was the day that God prepared and empowered a mighty missionary force for mission!
Fire is one of the images of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, Scripture says that “tongues of fire” settled on the disciples. And John the Baptist once said, “I baptize with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3.16). The writer to the Hebrews says, “our God is a consuming fire” (12.29, quoting Deuteronomy 4.24).
Other places where fire is seen in Scripture …
- Moses encountered God at the burning bush.
- God led Israel in the wilderness by a pillar of fire at night.
- Israel saw God’s fire at Mt Sinai.
- Elijah called down God’s fire to show people that the Lord was God, Baal wasn’t!
I love the book of Acts. Acts is the history of the earliest years of the church. The book of Acts is commonly referred to as “Acts of the Apostles,” but it’s original name was simply “Acts.” More accurately, it’s the Acts of the Holy Spirit through his people.
One of the things I love about the book of Acts is that there is no solid conclusion; no statement saying, “The End,” or even an “Amen.” The Acts of the Holy Spirit is still being written; it’s work in progress (IOW, we’re in Acts 29)! God is still acting in the world through revolutionary disciples.
What the Holy Spirit means to me …
I am grateful for the Holy Spirit. I cannot imagine life — certainly not the life of following Christ – without the Holy Spirit!
Connection with God: I connect with God through the Holy Spirit. I worship God in spirit and in truth. I communicate with God through the Spirit, and the Spirit intercedes for me.
Being led by the Spirit: (Matthew 4.1; Galatians 5.16-17, 24-25)
Empowerment for ministry: Jesus said “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The Greek word for power is where we get our English word dynamite. If our ministry, our witness, has any power at all, it alone comes from the Holy Spirit!
“I have entered into the ministry of Jesus Christ, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the world.” (Stephen Seamands).
I pray for God’s help and blessing on my ministry. I seek to do what God wants me to do. It’s God’s ministry, not mine. I want to do everything I do for God and with God! And I depend on the Holy Spirit to already be at work in people’s hearts preparing them for the ministry he wants to do through me.
And Pentecost is not a one-time only event, but an ongoing one! In fact, we need empowerment today as much as ever before! We need empowerment to be witnesses. Pentecost is not primarily about an experience; it’s about empowerment, empowerment for mission!
Pentecost is ultimately about mission. One day, Isaiah encountered God in a fresh, intimate way. He saw God, and he saw angels worshiping God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (See Isaiah 6.1-8).
That experience with God called for action. It wasn’t about the experience as much as it was about empowerment for mission! Isaiah heard God asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?” Isaiah responded, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
When people respond to God call, God prepares them by giving them his Spirit. He sets them on fire! A common understanding Acts is being “full of the Holy Spirit” or being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” May we respond to God’s call, and may God set us on fire!
Part of that process involves, as it did for Isaiah, being refined by fire: Malachi 3.1-3
“Refine Me” (Jennifer Knapp)
Lord, come with Your fire / burn my desires; refine me / Lord, my will has deceived me / Please come and free me / Come rescue this child / For I long to be reconciled to You
O God, set us on fire, empower us for the mission, and send us out into the world to be witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ!