The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ. Christians are given the Spirit. Therefore, our main responsibility as Christians is to receive. Christianity is distinctive in this sense – it is primarily a religion of receiving. The Christian life is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in our own strength. The function of faith is to receive what grace offers. We are saved and sanctified by grace alone through faith. God lives in and through us by means of the Spirit. The miraculous and the supernatural cannot be done by any human person. It can, however, be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We may put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be a certain way and to do certain things. The result is that we are tired. Every time we catch our breath, someone else needs something else. Yet, what if Christianity is not chiefly about giving, but about receiving? What if the Christian life was about putting ourselves in a position to receive through prayer and humility? The opposite of receiving is not giving – it is pride.
Maybe this kind of talk causes some uncomfortable feelings with you. This is no adventure into passivity or laziness. This is about receiving grace from God by means of the Holy Spirit and allowing God the Spirit to work in and through us to the glory of Christ. Jesus said we would do greater works than even he himself with the advent of the Spirit! (John 14:12-14). The question then becomes: Will we let God be God? Will we participate with God, and allow the Spirit to work? Will we petition God and let him do whatever he wants to do in and through us?
The Spirit is elsewhere in Scripture described as a gentle and encouraging presence, a counselor and comforter. Yet, not at Pentecost – the Spirit is portrayed like wind and fire (Acts 2:1-21). Neither a gentle breeze, nor a warm campfire – instead, a violent presence! The Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not some gentleman caller entering politely when invited. Rather, the Spirit appears more like a drunken sailor who bursts into the room and causes and big ruckus. There is nothing subtle about the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit is electric and volcanic, causing a huge upheaval. This is a big God with a big Word looking to expand out into a big world.
Because of Pentecost, believers are marked by God’s Spirit. The life of God within them is the life of the Spirit. God wants to pour out the Spirit on all kinds of people. He wants to fill people to overflowing so that what comes out of them is “prophecy.” That is, inspired speech and words coming from a spiritual heart full of the Spirit. Just as an inebriated person says and does things he/she would not typically say or do because they are filled with alcohol, so the person filled with God’s Spirit says things and does things that they would not typically say or do because their inspiration and courage do not come from themselves but is a result of God within them.
God transformed the little band of Christ followers from learners, to practitioners sent out with a mission. Being on a mission from God is not so much about ability; it is about being filled and sent. First time parents may read and learn all they can about parenting before their child is born. Yet, when that little bundle comes into the world and the hospital puts this kid in your arms and sends you out, you feel inadequate for the task. Parenting becomes a kind of supernatural affair where you pray and learn on the fly, finding out that you need something beyond yourself to get anywhere in raising this screaming, pooping, sleeping person who depends completely on you for everything.
God has sent us into the world to make disciples and we may feel largely inadequate for the task. However, this has more to do with receiving the Spirit. The Spirit comes looking to turn our lives upside-down with new life in Jesus Christ.
Pentecost means the Spirit has come to shake things up and accomplish among God’s people what they could never do on their own. The church in the New Testament was not a country club for people to simply enjoy the perks of membership. The church in Acts 2 is more like a place where the people seem drunk because they are all talking with inspired speech from the Holy Spirit.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Maybe we do not need to be saved in the sense that we have already called on the name of the Lord concerning forgiveness of sins in Christ. Yet, maybe we need to call on the name of the Lord to be delivered from our misguided attempts to see the Christian life as a pleasant affair. Perhaps we need deliverance from disordered priorities and misguided loves. We may need to be saved from ourselves so that we are open to the Holy Spirit with palms up receiving from him whatever it is he wants to do in and through us, rather than telling God what we think he needs to do. Prayer, then, is more about receiving the Spirit and God’s purposes for us rather than giving God an earful and expecting him to buy into our plans.
Pentecost is the launching pad of the church’s mission – it was explosive because the Spirit is a kind of wild man who fills people up to overflowing with himself so that what comes out of them is inspired speech and missional actions. If a language barrier cannot stop the Spirit from operating, then how much more can God transform us and use us in the lives of those around us?
How we interpret events is important. Peter interpreted the believers of Jesus speaking different languages as the outpouring of the Spirit. This outpouring of the Spirit is a sign that the end is near. This giving of the Spirit will be inclusive – there is room for all kinds of people. And, through the Spirit, God will save all who call on his name. The way we interpret events is based upon what kind of relationships we have. Peter had a relationship with God that caused him to go constantly to prayer so that when the Spirit showed up, he interpreted that God was up to something.
Next week my wife and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage. How I interpret my anniversary is based upon what kind of relationship I have with my wife. A good relationship means that it will be a day of celebration and joy with the anticipation of more years together. A bad relationship would bring an interpretation of the day with anger or regret. If there is a bland relationship in which two people are married but just live under the same roof, then it is just another anniversary and there is no regret, but also no celebration or any anticipation of the future – it just is another day.
This is not just another day. It is Pentecost! Just as marriages occasionally need a spark and a fire and a fresh wind, so we need the Holy Spirit to breathe on us because God wants to do something within us that results in the church becoming afire with mission! How we interpret this day of Pentecost says a lot about our relationship to Jesus Christ. How we spend our day today says a lot about how we interpret the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let us be filled with the Spirit and with joy as we anticipate what our God will do now, and in the years to come.