Pentecost is the forgotten holy day. We celebrate Christmas for a month, Easter for a week, but have you ever seen a store have a Pentecost sale?
Even so, Pentecost is as important as Christmas or Easter. Christmas celebrates the coming of Jesus and Easter the completion of His mission. But Pentecost celebrates both the coming and the fulfillment of the work of the Holy Spirit--who is just as important as Jesus.
So why don’t we celebrate His coming?
I think it is because when Jesus came, He came in the form of a human baby. We relate to babies. When He died, it was physical—a cross. When He resurrected, there was an empty tomb. But the Holy Spirit comes in a form we never physically see. We only see the result of His coming. We tend to dismiss as unimportant things which are beyond seeing and hearing. When microbes were discovered, people could not believe that unseen bugs could cause disease. When electricity was discovered, people could not believe it could make light. Yet we all know the power of germs and electricity today.
We have the same trouble believing that God’s unseen Spirit can cause spiritual success or failure. We are more likely to believe that our own effort or lack of it makes Christianity work. We think if we only try harder we can succeed. Yet without the Spirit, our efforts to do God’s will are doomed to fail.
The church has been analyzed and scrutinized by worldly thinkers to understand why it succeeds or fails. It has been examined as a sociological movement, a business organization, a psychological phenomenon and a movement. Yet all such efforts neglect the power of the Holy Spirit, which God says is the key to our success.
The same is true for us personally. If we do not have the Holy Spirit, then the church is nothing but a set of empty rules and dogmas. It is a sham, a fake and a fraud. The only difference between the strength of the church and the strength of false religions is Pentecost. Without it, the church would and should cease to exist.
But what about the Cross? Surely, the cross of Christ is the central doctrine of the church. But without the Spirit, the Gospel is of no effect. The Spirit moves us to repentance, gives us power to preach, applies the truth of the Gospel to our lives and changes our hearts accordingly. Without the Spirit, the Gospel is like a light bulb sitting on a shelf in a store—all potential, no power. It is like a bomb without a detonator, an unfertilized egg, or a seed in a plastic bag. Without the Spirit, the Gospel cannot change a thing. It is dead, without chance of fulfillment.
For years the church has been trying to function without the power of the Spirit and has gotten nowhere. Suppose I buy a shiny new sports car. The salesman tells me the car will go from zero to sixty in thirty seconds. “That’s pretty fast,” I say. But six hours later I return it to the dealer. “You’ve sold me a lemon,” I say. “You said it had all that power, but I’ve been pushing it all day, and I’ve only managed to move it a couple of hundred feet.”
The salesman asks me. “Have you put gas in it?”
Without gas, the car will not go. Without the Spirit, the Gospel is useless.
The Christian life was not designed to be lived on our own power. Without Pentecost, the Christian life sputters. We win no one to Christ, do no great works, and make no difference in the world. Until Pentecost, the church cowered in the upper room. After Pentecost it made three thousand converts in a single day. We need the same power to make a difference.
What difference does Pentecost make? Pentecost brings us five things.
Pentecost brings influence. The Spirit Himself to the rest of the world only through those who have been touched by Him. A rushing wind was the first sign of Pentecost. We cannot see or feel wind-we only feel the effect of it or hear the sound of it. We cannot see the wind itself.
The world does not see the Spirit within us, only its effect. Just as we judge the wind by the trees, the world judges the power of our faith by its influence upon us. If we are truly changed by the Spirit of God, People will come looking for Him through us.
Pentecost brings fire. The second sign of Pentecost was fire. Fire cleanses and purifies. That is why we cook food. It purifies metals. The Spirit refines us into children of God.
It is impressive to see someone who has lived a pure life, but it is even more impressive is someone who has overcome an evil life. When a person successfully changes, we are awestruck by it. The Holy Spirit is the only power that can clean our lives, and make us fit for Him. No matter how bad our lives are, the Holy Spirit can change us into someone better.
Pentecost brings unity. The third sign of Pentecost ws the ability to speak in tongues. This is a reversal of the Old Testament miracle at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. At Babel God split the world by confusing their languages. At Pentecost, people were united by the understanding of tongues. The diversity of languages, customs and race no longer stood as an impediment to the Spirit. They literally became one people. When the Spirit comes, diversity gives way to unity.
There is an example of this in Charles Colson’s book Born Again. Charles Colson was one of Nixon’s men who went to jail for his part in the Watergate cover-up in the Seventies. He became a Christian in prison. While in jail he joined a prayer group with three other men—a liberal democrat congressman sent to prison for corruption, a member of the Black Panther Party, and a former Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan. How could such men worship together? It is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost brings boldness. At Pentecost Peter preached boldly on the street less than a quarter mile from the high priest’s house where he had denied Jesus fifty days earlier. He had been afraid of the high priest’s servant. Now he was afraid of nothing.
This boldness does not come from men. It comes from the Holy Spirit. Only He can give us the power to be so bold.
Pentecost brings wisdom. Not only did they speak, but they spoke wisely. When they were finished, the people were moved greatly. They turned to Peter, who had never been asked this question before, and said “What should we do?” Peter knew just how to answer them.
“Repent and be baptized, and you will receive the Spirit.”
Doubtless we should ask the same question. What should we do? If we are to do what God commands, we desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit.
All Christians have the Holy Spirit, but He is not active in all believers. Most Christians have only a fraction what the Holy Spirit wants to give us. Our sins, doubts, and misbeliefs keep us from experiencing most of what God has promised, and keep us wallowing in our own fears and worries. We are like elephants cowering at the sight of a mouse, millionaires afraid to spend money on a cup of coffee, or kids at Christmas who can’t believe there presents under the tree are for them. We are unaware of the power at our disposal. We have the potential power, but without the boldness to use it, we do not possess it practically. We have the Spirit, we are just not filled with the Spirit.
So how do we get filled? Jesus gave us directions in Acts 1:4-5
“He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”
They prayed for the Spirit. But what does that mean. Real prayer means three things—waiting, committing, and asking.
Jesus told them to wait for the Spirit. Don’t go out to convert the world on your own power.
It is easy to say we must get busy. But get busy doing what? If we want to make a difference, we must get busy waiting. We must seek the Spirit or our actions are useless. The disciples were men of action, and it must have frustrated them to be told to wait. But they waited and prayed. In time, God brought the power to transform the world.
While they waited they were learning commitment. They were not following their own ideas or desires, but bending their wills into subjection. They were praying--probably also fasting. They were not working, sleeping, fishing, selling, collecting taxes, or any other kind of thing. They were learning to submit. The Holy Spirit will do us no good if we don’t obey Him. We must learn obedience before we can be used by the Spirit. To the extent that we submit ourselves to the Spirit, the Spirit cannot use us.
While they were waiting and committing, they were also asking. We must ask for the Spirit to receive it. Do you want the Spirit—really want Him, in spite of what He may cost you? If you receive Him people may think you are strange, even a fanatic. People may turn against you. People may think as they thought of Peter, that you are “drunk with new wine.”
In order to be filled with the Spirit, we must not let what people think worry us. We must lay aside our fears, our inhibitions, our worries for the future, our despair, our laziness, our worldly concerns, and follow Him. If we are worried about what the person next to us will think of us, then we cannot be filled with the Spirit. If we are worried that God will be embarrassed by our failure, then the Spirit cannot use us. If we worry that we will not have the power to continue, the Spirit cannot use us. But if we obey in spite of our worries, then the Spirit can overcome our worries and they can be dead.
Worry is the greatest enemy to the Spirit in most of our lives—not sin, not misbelief, but an unwillingness to confront our worries.
If you want the Spirit, all you have to do is ask, wait, then step forward and claim it. If we do this, then Pentecost can become the greatest day of our lives—the time when the Holy Spirit transformed our lives forever.
Acts 2: 1-14