This blog post is adapted from a Pentecost sermon I wrote back in 2017!
On Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost – the time when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, as we read in Acts 2. If you’ve never heard this story before, or want a recap, grab your Bible and have a read through or watch our new animation here.
So, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples whilst they were gathered together – but who is this Holy Spirit? What did it mean to the disciples at the time? What does it mean for us today? We’re going to be looking at several different passages from the Bible, so grab your Bible and come follow along!
The Holy Spirit is a friend
The Holy Spirit is something that had been prophesied throughout the Old Testament.
“I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”Joel 2:28
Here, God gives us an insight into this Holy Spirit, “I will pour out MY spirit” – this Spirit is both from God, coming from the Father & the son, and in fact is God. He also points towards the power given through the Spirit, here looking specifically at the power to prophesy.
But the Spirit isn’t only mentioned in the Old Testament, Jesus himself also talks of the Holy Spirit who is to follow him.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”John 14:25-26
Jesus, here describes the Holy Spirit as an Advocate, but if we look at this same passage in the Amplified Bible, we are given slightly more detail as to what this could mean, in this translation the Holy Spirit is described as the Helper, Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor, Counsellor, Strengthener, Standby – and when we view these qualities together, what does this remind us of? To me this reminds me of a good friend.
I am very fortunate to have some wonderful friends, and many times they have helped me, comforted me and supported me.
The Holy Spirit is powerful
“they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”Acts 2:3
Throughout the Bible, fire can be seen as a symbol of the powerful presence of God. God appeared to Moses as a bush, that was set on fire but isn’t burning away. So, when hear this idea of fire coming down, we can see that this is God’s presence through his Holy Spirit.
And then the flames separated and rested on each individual. Here we see the change between God’s presence resting upon Israel and the fact that God’s presence is now with each individual believer, through the Holy Spirit.
Having God’s presence with us individually allows us to have a personal relationship with God through his Holy Spirit, our personal helper, comforter, strengthener; our friend.
So, what is the difference between a good friend and the Holy Spirit? Put simply, one is God, one is not. Our friends are not with us every moment of every day, they do not know what is ultimately best for us and they cannot give us the power to achieve the things that the Holy Spirit enables us to do.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”Acts 2:4
Here, the spirit has enabled them to talk in other tongues. There are two types of ‘tongues’ mentioned in the Bible as being enabled by the Spirit. One of these is a spiritual language, a language that enables the person to connect more intimately with God through this language. But the other tongues spoken about here are simply the ability to speak in another language that these people didn’t know. The Spirit allowed them to speak in a language they had never learnt.
Originally, Pentecost was actually a Jewish Harvest Festival when Jews from across the world would travel, on a pilgrimage, to Jerusalem – to bring gifts and offerings before the Lord. This festival celebrated the end of the Barley Harvest and the beginning of the Wheat Harvest. This meant that at this time, there were people from all over the world, staying in Jerusalem.
So, when we see in our reading that people from each of these nations could hear and understand what was being said, we can see the amazing power that the Holy Spirit has given to these people that they are able to talk to people from all over the world.
The Holy Spirit gives us power to witness
This story teaches us two important points about the Holy Spirit and how it affects us today. Firstly, the Holy Spirit gives us new power for witnessing. Jesus promised this just before he ascended to Heaven:
“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8
The Holy Spirit strengthens us to witness effectively all across the globe, and we can see this through the story of Pentecost. Those that had been filled with the Holy Spirit began declaring the wonders of God to all those around them, to people from around the world. Despite the language barrier that stood in their way, the Holy Spirit enabled people to witness, preaching the gospel. And later in Acts 2 we see the fruits of this witnessing:
“Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day”.Acts 2:47
Three thousand people came to Christ on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people heard the gospel and accepted its message.
Although this doesn’t mean that, even with the Holy Spirit, all who hear the gospel message will come to know Christ. At the end of our reading there were two responses from the crowd. Some wanted to know more, others mocked – claiming that these people had had too much wine. God’s work is staring them in the face and they still choose to reject it, mocking and laughing. Even when we have the Holy Spirit supporting us, there will always be people who do not believe. Jesus even warned of this earlier in his ministry on Earth.
“A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will persecute you also.”John 15:20
There will always be people who do not accept what we believe, but we must anticipate this, and not allow it to make us disillusioned.
The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers
The second point we can draw from the story of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit’s ability to break down human barriers. Firstly, the language barrier was overcome by those filled with the Holy Spirit. But even wider than that, having the Holy Spirit means that from this point believers no longer needed to gather in one place to worship, or all speak one language. Believers can now be in opposite ends of the world, speaking completely different languages and worshipping the same God through the Holy Spirit. All these people used to have to travel to a certain place to a temple to worship and to bring offerings, because this was where God’s presence was. This was where they could meet with him. But now, they can travel back to their own countries and can meet together – and now we don’t need to travel to this one place to have the presence and power of God with us, because we know he’s already with us.
So, this Holy Spirit, that can give us power to witness, and can break down barriers across the world: He is with us now. He is incredibly powerful, he is God, yet he is also our friend. The one who saved us is also the one who comforts us. The one who created the universe is also the one who supports us. The Holy Spirit is with us, strengthening us to serve God, and allowing us a personal relationship with him.
How have you experienced the Holy Spirit in your life?