The Holy Spirit Comes Down
The people were gathered to celebrate Pentecost. Contrary to what many Christians think, Pentecost was originally a Jewish Holiday, Shavuot – The Festival of Weeks – When Moses was given the Law 50 days after the Exodus began.
The people were gathered to celebrate this Festival, but I doubt they knew what was in store. First of all, let’s think of what the disciples and many others had already been through. Their Teacher and Leader, Jesus, was Crucified. That was brutal and tragic to them. They were left without the One on whom they depended. Suddenly, 3 days later, Jesus rose from the dead. Take a minute to think about that– Dead People Just Don’t Rise. Of course the body was stolen! Right??? Wrong!!!! Jesus then appeared to his disciples and many others. Again, think about it – Dead people don’t rise, and they certainly don’t walk around, much less talk. Of course the disciples and other followers were in shock. But it gets better. Jesus then rose bodily into Heaven. Now, think what his followers were thinking –Dead people don’t rise…They don’t walk around and talk…And certainly NO ONE is taken up to Heaven bodily.Right??? In most cases, yes, right…but when it comes to Jesus, this is exactly what happened. Can you understand why the disciples were confused?
But, it didn’t stop there. They gathered for some sense of normality for Pentecost (Shavuot), and suddenly the Holy Spirit descended and appeared like Tongues of Fire. The people then began to speak in the languages of all the foreigners gathered there so everyone understood in their native tongue. Now certainly, not only do the dead not rise, they don’t walk around and talk, they don’t ascend to heaven, and absolutely, fire doesn’t come out of the sky and empower people to speak in other languages. Right??? Wrong!!! At least on that day!!!
You can imagine the confusion and why people said that some were drunk! This stuff just doesn’t happen on a regular basis! But, Jesus told them this would happen. He told them the Holy Spirit would come. He said they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit…but he couldn’t have meant this…Right??? Wrong!!!
Suddenly Peter – The disciple who denied Jesus – The disciple who tempted Jesus saying he didn’t have to die (I’m guessing he meant they would protect him, or that Jesus was just wrong). Suddenly Peter became bold. He stood up and quoted the prophecy from Joel.
So, we have these Tongues of Fire coming down and a violent rush of wind, but no one is being burned. How??? Well, just like in this scripture, when God appears there is usually fire and/or wind (and yes, the Holy Spirit is one Person of the Triune God – Go to the end of this sermon for my simplistic explanation of the Trinity if you’re confused…I’m sure there are theological faux pas, but it’s so simple it helps).
In the Creation Story, the Spirit of God hovered over the primordial sea (in Hebrew, the “chaos,” the tovu and vohu). When God created Adam, God breathed the ruach, the “breath” or “wind” of God to bring life to humanity. Moses encountered God first through the burning bush…but the bush was not consumed. NOTE: Please do not try this with bushes outside your house…You are not God…The bush WILL burn, and your house WILL be in danger! A cloud of smoke and fire led the Israelites in the Exodus. Job encountered God as a whirlwind. Yes, there are more examples, but I think you get the point.
This Holy Spirit – these Tongues of Fire – were not destructive, but they built what we now call the Church. The Holy Spirit is what guides the Church today. (Yes, I admit, the Church is broken, and many don’t listen to the Spirit, but it IS there if only we’d listen).
The Holy Spirit gives the Church power and gives individuals power.
David Wilkerson was a small town preacher in the early 1960’s in Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania. Phillipsburg is a nice little town, but that’s exactly what it is…a nice little town. When I travel to visit family, Phillipsburg is the last stop for the necessary potty break and snacks for a long time. When David was a pastor there, he felt God calling him to go to New York City. Now, Phillipsburg has grown since then, but in the 1960’s it would have been a MAJOR transition. David’s family asked him to keep praying, but even after doing so, this was, in his understanding, what God wanted him to do. So, he went. After several trips, David foundTeen Challenge Ministries (a Drug/Alcohol/Gang rehabilitation program that incorporates Christianity). To date, I can’t find “official statistics,” but all that I have found show that Teen Challenge is almost doubly more effective than regular rehabilitation programs.
Just like David Wilkerson, if we listen, the Holy Spirit calls us too…but are we willing to listen? Yes, we are human, and sometimes we will discern incorrectly. But if we stay in tune to God, even our mistakes can be made right. We also have to accept that the Holy Spirit may lead 2 people in 2 different directions. That is not bad. We can be unified but disagree. Creation is diverse…why shouldn’t people be diverse? I don’t know how God will work that out, but I know it will be fair!
The Holy Spirit is the least understood Person of God. But, the Holy Spirit is the one that is with us right now. The Spirit leads us to God even before we know it. Even if we look at tribes who have never heard the Gospel, we see that most believe in a Spirit. How God will Judge them, again, I don’t know, but I do know that God will be fair. The Holy Spirit keeps our faith strong, and the Spirit heals our brokenness. The Holy Spirit helps us reconcile with others and with God – We are “convicted” when we are wrong and “affirmed” when we are right. (NOTE: Being right is not an excuse to be judgmental or arrogant).
So what’s the “take away?” What should we learn? We need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leadings! RARELY will we be taken in the directions we expect! (Joke: How do you make God laugh? – Tell him your plans for tomorrow). We need to be open to the Spirit as we love others. Yes, this will take us out of our comfort zones. But God never told us to be comfortable. In fact, we are often most effective for God when we struggle or are in uncomfortable situations. Most importantly, we need to remember the Holy Spirit is our strength! It is the strength for us as individual Christians and the strength for the Church.
Explanation of the Trinity:
(Note: To my deeply theological followers, I realize this is not the best example, and I’m sure there are flaws to it, but when I was teaching the Trinity to middle school aged children, this example came to mind).
To understand the Triune God – the Trinity, think of Sweet Tea (big thing here in the South). Don’t get fancy…Just water, tea, and sugar. Each is a separate ingredient, but when put together it is one drink. Without one of the ingredients, you don’t have sweet tea. That is how we see the tea. If we could be the water, we’d see tea and sugar…if we were sugar, we’d see the water and tea…if we were the tea, we’d see the water and sugar. But, to the outside observer, it’s just 1 drink, Sweet Tea.
To put it in “God” terms: We don’t worship 3 Gods (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), they are individual Persons, but they are united into 1 God.