It is over a year since I last wrote a sermon blog. So much of good intentions! The purpose of this blog is to share some of my research and thoughts towards the sermon on the Sunday following the blog. So, today I share research and thoughts towards the sermon this next Sunday, which looks at who or what the Holy Spirit is through the lens of the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, in the New Testament of the Bible. Here is the scripture reading itself:
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
- In Acts, the languages are real, living languages, not some special “prayer language.” Visitors coming to Jerusalem heard God being praised in their own native languages.
- Glossolalia, or "speaking in tongues," as is practiced in many Pentecostal or Charismatic churches, is an ecstatic utterance, perhaps induced by the presence of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps as a result of an individual’s internal experience. It is not the same as what is depicted in this story from Acts.
- The Holy Spirit spoke through the gathered believers in all the various language in order to present a testimony about Jesus Christ and to begin the process of spreading the teachings of Jesus out into the world. The Book of Acts is the beginning of this history of the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
- In the Gospels, the Holy Spirit is presented as being a guide who will lead the followers of Jesus into all truth, who will speak through his followers in order to give witness to Jesus and to convey his teachings, and to be also an experiential presence of Jesus and God within the lives of his followers. There is nothing said here about the Holy Spirit being a special dispensation to a select or privileged few. It is available to all followers of Jesus, because it is the means by which all followers of Jesus grow into the “full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
- Guidance by the Holy Spirit is not the same as the personal conclusions we reach about an issue or situation. We often wrongly attribute our own personal opinions or even prejudices to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual discernment is a long, careful process that often involves deep challenges to our preconceptions and personal ideas.
- At the same time, the HS can and does work within us to create the conditions whereby we may discern something spiritual.
- The HS dos not contradict or change the teachings of Jesus (not the same as teachings about Jesus). Example, if a person preaches or proclaims that God hates or despises another person or group but Jesus either said nothing about that person or group, or in fact said and did things that indicate he would have welcomed them and accept them, then one cannot claim to be speaking according to the Holy Spirit.
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.