The Gift of the Holy Spirit
(Acts 2:1-21 / May 31, 2020, Pentecost Sunday)
Reading the Bible is, in many ways, like reading any book. The story unfolds in stages throughout the subsequent chapters. Of course, the Bible is a book (that is what the word “Bible” means—“book”), but unlike every other book that has been written, God is the author. Men wrote down the words on the pages. God gave them the words he wanted them to write.
Which is why the Bible is able to say something is going to happen hundreds of years before it happens, and then over the course of time, it happens. Now, a book of fiction can also predict and fulfill things as the story unfolds, but that’s just it—it’s fiction. The Bible is history. It is historically factual. We can date its events. History agrees with what it says. The stuff we dig up in the ground supports its claims.
One of the promises God made to his people in the Old Testament was that one day he would “pour out” (think of water being poured over you and thoroughly drenching you) his own Spirit on all believers. That was significant back then because the Holy Spirit did not come upon every believer the way he does today. He did not empower them with his gifts the way he does today. He came upon some. There are examples of prophets and kings prophesying and doing mighty acts under the power of the Spirit, but by no means did he come to all. God said through the prophet Joel, “In the last days” (again, there are stages to the Bible), “I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Joel 2:28), and Pentecost is the fulfillment of that promise.
So, Pentecost is the giving of the Holy Spirit to the New Testament church.
Now, don’t think of a building. There were no Christian church buildings like the ones we have today. But there were Christians. There were people (men and women) who believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, or as we say in the New Testament, the Christ. Luke refers to those people in verse one of chapter two. He writes, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”
The pronoun “they” can refer either to the eleven apostles plus Matthias (the newest apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot), or the 120 that Luke references in chapter one, verse 15. There Luke writes, “In those days, when the group there numbered about 120 people…” Most commentators think the Holy Spirit was given to all 120 rather than just the apostles. Verse 4 of our text says, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” So, however many people were there, they all received the Spirit.
But how would they know? The Holy Spirit is invisible unlike Jesus who became human. Well, that is why the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was done with signs. A sign points to something greater than itself. So, for example if you see a road sign that says, “Chicago” you know that the sign itself is not the main thing to pay attention to. You don’t just stop at the sign and say, “I’ve arrived.” It’s the city that the sign points to that is your main concern.
In the same way, the signs of wind, fire and the speaking of tongues are not the main focus of Pentecost, but rather they point to the reality that the Spirit was present. So, the Holy Spirit is the gift that God first gave to the believing Christians on that first Pentecost. And the Holy Spirit is the gift that God has promised to continue giving to believing Christians for all time. He didn’t promise that there would always be signs accompanying the giving of the Holy Spirit. He certainly never said that all Christians would be able to speak in different tongues or languages. Rather the signs were specific to the event, but… wherever the Spirit is, there are different gifts and much power. And that is still true today.
Now, there are just a couple of matters I want to get out of the way before I arrive at the main point. First, that the signs accompanying the giving of the Holy Spirit were supernatural. Verse 2 says, “Suddenly a sound like the rushing of a violent wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” So, there was a “sound” that was present, and it came from heaven. This is just an aside for those of you who like these types of things, but the word “Spirit” in Hebrew is the word for breath, or wind. So, it’s understandable why at the coming of the Holy Spirit there would be the sound of wind. God wanted the believers to know that he was now keeping his promise to them.
The second sign was what most people refer to as “tongues of fire”, but notice that the wording of the text says, “They saw divided tongues that were like fire resting on echo of them.” So, there was no chance of their hair starting on fire. Again, this was a supernatural occurrence. Why the fire? Because in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit often made himself visible in the form of fire.
So, the believers, and especially the apostles, would have associated these signs with the Holy Spirit. It’s not that these signs came to them out of the blue. Jesus had recently told them that he was going to send them the Holy Spirit. Go back in your Bible to chapter 1 of Acts and verses 4-5. There Luke writes, “Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, ‘Do not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for what the Father promised, which you heard from me. For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized [notice the image of water being poured out] with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” And that is why they were still in the city of Jerusalem ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven.
So, what’s the main application? Well, hold on because we are getting there. In order to understand the main application, we first need to understand why God chose the festival of Pentecost to give the Holy Spirit to his church? Why not do it any other day?
It’s not super important, but the word “Pentecost” means “fifty”. What is more important is that this festival was also known as the Harvest Festival. This was the time of year when the people would finish harvesting their crops, and there would be a nation-wide celebration thanking God for the harvest they had just brought in.
So, this was a joyful celebration. It would be like not having a paycheck for months and months, and then receiving a windfall of cash. All of Israel would come to the city of Jerusalem “fifty days” after the most recent nation-wide holiday which was the Passover. So, because I’m a big proponent of mental timelines, realize that Pentecost is fifty days after Jesus died because Jesus died on the Jewish Passover, which we call Good Friday.
Well, let's go back to the theme of the harvest. The Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity who is tasked with harvesting, or gathering, men, women, boys and girls into the Christian church, that is, the body of believers that exists throughout the world. Now that Jesus has come and won salvation for us, the only thing left to do before Jesus comes again is to gather in more disciples. That is the stage of history that we are now in: the harvest stage.
Which is why God gives the Spirit to all believers, not just to a select few. The mission of the Christian church (of our church) is to tell and persuade others that Jesus is the only Savior for their sin. He is the only way to heaven. He is the only answer to death in this world.
Well, imagine if only the “pastors” and “religious professionals” were filled with the Spirit. The harvest of believers would be pretty small. Jesus told the apostles, to start out in Jerusalem, but then to expand the harvest to include the wider provinces of Judea, Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). If it were only the 12 apostles who had the Spirit, the saving message of Jesus would never have reached the ends of the earth. How is it, then, that Christianity spread like wildfire throughout the world? The individual believers had the same Holy Spirit that the apostles had. It wasn’t a lesser Spirit. The Holy Spirit worked just as powerfully through these individual believers as he did through the apostles. And so, Christianity exponentially spread.
Is it still spreading?
Well, I suppose that depends on how well we, the Christians of the 21st century, take the message and share it with our children, acquaintances, and friends. The message is very simple. Verse 21 states it very clearly. Luke writes, “And this will happen: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Which is why you are saved. Your parents, or someone else in your life, taught you this truth. And because the Holy Spirit is powerful (just as powerful) in the mouth of Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa as he is in the mouth of pastors and preachers, you were brought to faith. You were baptized, which is the place and time in your life when the Holy Spirit was poured out on you. Look up Acts 2:38-39. Peter tells the entire crowd gathered there on that day, “The Holy Spirit has come. And the work of the Holy Spirit is to convince unbelievers that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior sent from God.” (You’ll have to read all of chapter 2 to get this out of his sermon). And then he says, “If want the Holy Spirit to come to you and your children as well, this is the way: Repent and be baptized.” It’s what he says. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The same Holy Spirit the apostles received.
Now, we have to end, but realize why today is a celebration. We don’t celebrate Pentecost as a national holiday, but that’s because ours is a secular society. That’s why we celebrate it in the church. Today is a big day, like Christmas and like Easter. If God had never given the Holy Spirit to us, we would be alone in this world without hope and without faith in Jesus. We would never be able to call God “Our Father”. We would never have the hope of the resurrection from the dead.
But we do have all of that, which means we are very privileged people. We are not better people. We are just deeply privileged to be able to call on the name of the Lord Jesus. Now, when someone realizes what a gift they’ve been given, and how that gift can help so many other people as well, they share it. They don’t just share it with people like them, but rather they give it away freely and to everyone.
May God bless your Pentecost celebration! Amen!