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The Holy Spirit

Updated: May 24

Pentecost is the day God’s Spirit came with such power and fury that no one was ever the same again.

Pentecost Sunday is when churches celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit from Jesus and the Father. Pentecost means fifty days. It was a Jewish festival to celebrate the grain harvest that took place fifty days after the Jewish Passover. So pilgrims from many different nations had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate.

Jesus has risen from the dead during Passover weekend so it had been about fifty days, and he had now ascended to the Father.

The disciples were all together in one place waiting and praying. Jesus had told the disciples to wait in the city for what he called, “the promise of the Father.” And he told them they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

Apparently, being with Jesus is not enough to live the life God intends us to live. Apparently, witnessing Jesus’ cross and resurrection firsthand was not enough. Just having the desire to serve God is not enough. Jesus followers had all this.

But Jesus himself had said, “you need more.” And on the day of Pentecost, that “more” came as God poured out the Holy Spirit upon those disciples waiting and praying in Jerusalem.

The Holy Spirit came as a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire rested on each of the disciples as they began to speak in languages of the various nations that had come to Jerusalem for the festival. Some of them were hearing the disciples speak in their own languages.

The tongues of fire were not literal flames. Luke, the writer of Acts, says they “seemed to be.” It was the best description that could be given. “Fire” in the Old Testament often indicates the presence of God. It especially shows his burning holiness and purity.[1] These tongues portrayed the power of the words of the disciples as they declared the wonders of God. This was also a sign of the holy presence of God.[2]

Other places in Scripture the Spirit comes as a dove and other times as breath.

The people in Jerusalem who were seeing and hearing all of this were amazed and perplexed and wanted to know what this all meant. Some just thought the disciples were drunk with new wine.

But then it says Peter raised his voice and addressed the crowd. Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus just weeks before. Peter, the coward who would not stand up for Jesus when Jesus was being tried, now stands with the eleven and gives what we consider his Pentecost Day sermon.

Peter interprets for the masses what is happening. He begins by quoting the Old Testament prophet Joel who said a day would come when God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. Peter said that is being fulfilled right now in what they were experiencing in the streets of Jerusalem.

And then Peter goes on to talk about Jesus. He doesn’t talk about the Holy Spirit. He talks about Jesus – his life, his crucifixion and how he was raised by the Father from death. Peter says, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (v. 33)

People were convicted. People wanted to know how to respond. And it says that three thousand people believed and were baptized that day. Pentecost is a major event for Christianity. It was the day the church began. (Ohhhhh!!)

I want to speak to what the Holy Spirit does, and why he matters.

We know about our Heavenly Father, the Creator of heaven and earth. We obviously pay a lot of attention to Jesus Christ, the Son, our Lord.

But the Holy Spirit? We can be pretty unsure about him, his whereabouts and what difference, if any, he makes to us. We might have a vague understanding of him at best.

But the Spirit is not a side dish to Christian faith. He is not an optional add-on to our lives. The Holy Spirit is at the core of Christianity.

Pentecost was not the beginning of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God has been present from before all time. He was present at Creation “hovering” upon the waters,[3] as it says in the second verse of Genesis.

In the Old Testament we see the Spirit coming upon special people at special times for special purposes. John the Baptist said that when the Messiah came he would baptize people with the Holy Spirit.

On that Pentecost day, when the Spirit came as a violent, mighty wind and with tongues of fire, he was coming in his fullness, like a mighty downpour of rain.

Perhaps more than anything the Holy Spirit helps us to see, understand and live for Jesus. He shines understanding and light on the person of Jesus. His job is to magnify, make clear and put the spotlight on Christ.

It’s interesting that after Pentecost the disciples do not become witnesses to the Holy Spirit and go around primarily talking about him. No, they talk about and point to Christ. The Spirit gives power to their ministry, but the message was “Jesus is Lord.”

The Holy Spirit doesn’t draw attention to himself. The Bible scholar Dale Bruner wrote a book on the Holy Spirit subtitled “The Shy Member of the Trinity” because the Holy Spirit seems to work in the background, underground, behind the scenes. “The work of the Holy Spirit is the honoring of Jesus Christ.”[4]

The Lord Jesus will be honored more in our lives as we know the Spirit.

Who is the Holy Spirit and what does the Spirit do?

I am going to take us on a very quick, whirlwind synopsis from the Scriptures on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. So here we go:

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, who is God. He is and always has been in relationship with the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is a person – though immaterial - in that he thinks, communicates, feels, can be known and has personality, if you will, just like the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit revealed the mind of God to the Old Testament prophets and gave boldness to the apostles to proclaim Christ.

The Spirit came upon Mary to bring about the divine and unique birth of Christ.

So unified is he with Jesus that sometimes the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ.[5] In the Gospels we read that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism. He read that Jesus was full of the Spirit, anointed by the Spirit, led by the Spirit and lived in the power of the Spirit.[6]

The Holy Spirit teaches us about Jesus and takes what is of Christ and makes those things known to us.

He convicts us when we are wrong before the Lord and shows us what is right.

He enables us to speak about God to others.

He gives us gifts – abilities blessed to us by God - to be used to serve the church and others. There are spiritual gifts of preaching, teaching, serving, healing, giving, organizing, wisdom, knowledge to name just a few of what is possibly an endless list.

The Scriptures tell us that the Spirit helps us to pray and he prays for us.

He marks us as belonging to God and saved by Christ.

He comforts, guides and helps us in our daily lives. One of the names for the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ used is the “paraclete” which literally means “the one who comes alongside.” In our Bible it is often translated “comforter” or “helper” or “advocate.”

He leads us to experience God.

He inspires us to serve and live for God with power, sometimes supernaturally enabling us to endure or do things that on our own power would be unimaginable.

He testifies and speaks to our consciences about what God wants us to do and be. If you sense God is speaking to you then listen. It could very well be the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit brings us to life spiritually now and certainly will bring us to life when we are resurrected after our physical death.

He confirms for us that we are sons and daughters of God.

He give us wisdom and opens us to receive words from God.

He grows what are called the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

He transforms us more and more into what God wants us to be.

The Holy Spirit unifies. He does not divide.

He can only be received by those who want Jesus Christ.

Jesus called him the Spirit of truth. He is also called “the promise of the Father”.

The Holy Spirit is not to be earned or manufactured. He is a gift. He is given to all those who turn to and belong to Jesus Christ to help us live with and for him.

And there is probably much more that we could say, but I hope you see how much the Holy Spirit does for us. He is essential.

Why does the Holy Spirit matter? What difference does it make if we believe or think about the Spirit? Isn’t he optional?

Well, think about this. Jesus is not here anymore. He has been on this earth but has left and is now at the right hand of the Father. So how are we going to have him? How will we know and experience him?

Because he has sent the Holy Spirit to be his presence with us now.

Jesus told his disciples that he would be going away, but that this was to their advantage because then the Spirit, who is able to be God with everyone, everywhere, and all of the time, would come.

Why do we need the Spirit? Because we need God to be with us and in us. And because the Spirit is God then God is with us at all times and places.

Here is further reason why the Holy Spirit matters: Can you live the life of faith on your own?

Can you love, forgive, pray, do anything for God on your own? If not, who and what will help you? Yes, God will help, but he helps us through his Spirit. That’s why Jesus before he left this earth told his followers to hang out in Jerusalem and pray. Then they would be clothed from on high with the promised Holy Spirit. Then they could go and do the work Jesus had for them.

The Holy Spirit is fundamental to Christian faith and living.

In essence, the Holy Spirit draws us into the life with God. Just as we can’t be alive without what we might call the “human spirit”, our very breath, so we can’t live or be alive to God without God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the breath of God in us.

If someone came to us and said it really doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus in order to be a Christian and join the church, we would gasp and say “Sorry, but Jesus is essential to being a Christian.” But if someone says, it doesn’t matter what you believe about the Holy Spirit, we might not say a word. We easily remain ignorant of him.

Do you know why the Holy Spirit is so hard for us? Because he is invisible. He has no substance or matter. That is what “spirit” means.

He is so subtle. Maybe this is why many Christians remain apathetic when it comes to the Holy Spirit. And maybe that is why we sometimes feel we lack power in our Christian living.

We may not be able to see him or grasp him, but we can feel and sense him. We can learn the signs of his presence.

When Scripture or a sermon speaks to me, that is the Spirit.

When a song or hymn sends chills through me, that is the Spirit.

When I am convicted about something wrong in my life and I am moved to turn around and go a different direction, that is the Spirit.

When I sense the forgiveness and grace of God, and feel unburdened of guilt, that is the Spirit.

When I should be breaking under certain stressful and painful circumstances, but I am not, that is the Spirit.

When I am moved to pray, that is the Spirit.

When I think about God or am attracted to God in anyway, that is the Spirit.

When I experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness within myself and am able to show that to others, that is the Spirit.

When I sense strength to do something that seems so beyond me, and it’s like I am being lifted up on invisible arms, that is the Spirit.

Even the smallest thought or movement toward God is evidence of the Holy Spirit doing something in us.

When I find myself being drawn into the community of God, the church, that is the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is like a magnet for Jesus Christ. Just as a magnet attracts things to it and holds them, so the Spirit attracts us to God and holds us to him.

Don’t worry about “getting” the Holy Spirit. Sometimes people make the Holy Spirit to be some special add on for super spiritual Christians. That is not what we find in the Bible. If you trust Christ as your Lord you have him.

The question isn’t how much of the Holy Spirit you have. The question is how much does he have of you.

The less we want to honor Christ in our lives, the less room the Holy Spirit will have to move in us. The more we want to honor Christ, the more room the Spirit has to work.

But every believer in Christ has the Holy Spirit. He is not just for “special Christians”. He is given to all believers, quite frankly, whether you want him or not. The Spirit is not optional anymore than the battery in your car is optional.

You may not see him, always understand him or even be aware of him. Just know that he is there and living in all those who belong to Jesus. And he is key to a richer, fuller, deeper life in Christ.

[1] Ex. 3:2; 13:21; 19:18; 40:38; Isa. 4:5; Ezek 1:4) [2] ESV Study Bible note [3] Genesis 1:2 [4] The Holy Spirit: Shy Member of the Trinity, Bruner and Hordern, p. 15 [5] Romans 8:9 [6] Luke 3:22, 4:1, 14, 18

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