Did the Holy Spirit come at Pentecost? Yes and no.
There are passages that indicate that He came much earlier than Pentecost. For example, there’s John 20: 19-23, which happened the first day that Jesus had resurrected.
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 2When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
But the Holy Spirit was with them all along. Look at John 14: 15-17:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
The Holy Spirit was there—they just didn’t know Him. The Holy Spirit can be with us, but not in us also.
Suppose this church gets a new pastor. He shows up in the church one morning, but none of you know him. He’d be there, but you would still be looking at the old pastor. The new leader would be here, but you were not yet introduced to him.
The same is true of the Holy Spirit. He’s with the disciples all along, but the disciples did not know Him, because Jesus was still there, right in front of their eyes. It was only in His absence that the new leader, the Holy Spirit, became known.
The problem with the Holy Spirit then and now is the same. We aren’t sure how to recognize the Holy Spirit. It isn’t just a feeling in our heart. Lots of people get feelings in their hearts that are wrong. It’s not just the ideas in our head of what the Spirit is supposed to do. We can’t be sure if our ideas are right. We need to have clearly identified the Spirit in our lives. Even if we are looking for Him, we have to know what they are.
The church has often been swept away in enthusiasm by false spirits. For example, there was the Children’s Crusade of the Middle Ages. Other times, the Holy Spirit has been among us, and none of us recognized Him. So how do we tell?
Just like then, it isn’t a matter of Him descending. He’s here! But God has to unplug our senses for us to know Him. We get blind to His presence. At Pentecost God enabled Him to be known.
On the day of Pentecost, there were three symbols of His presence. Each represents one way in which we come to know Him today.
First, there was a sound. It was like a rushing wind, but there was no wind. What does a mighty wind sound like? People who live through tornadoes say the sound is like that of a freight train, so we can use that in our imagination to picture the sound at Pentecost.
This is a play on words. In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for “spirit” and the word for “wind” are the same. So in a sense, the Spirit was speaking its own name.
Jesus said about the Spirit that it was like the wind, in that we didn’t know where it comes from or where it is going, but that it blows from a place of its own choosing. We don’t have power over the wind, neither do we know how to fathom it. Sailors used the wind to go from place to place, but they could not predict it. They had to learn to bend to it, not it to them.
You don’t control the Spirit. Your best plans are often thwarted by the Spirit. All we can do is to believe that the direction the Spirit is leading is good, and not bad.
Then there was a sight--the “tongues of fire” Imagine the people in the room suddenly sprouting flames out of their heads, like a giant human candelabra. The Holy Spirit is often referred to as fire.
Fire both enlightens, purifies and empowers. Put it in a lamp and it shows you where to go. Put meat in fire and it kills all the bacteria, makes it fit to eat. Put fire under water and it makes steam, which can power a car, a windmill, or anything else. What a great description of what the Holy Spirit can do.
Finally, there was a sensation—the sensation of talking in other tongues. People who never knew Greek or Hebrew or Latin began to speak it. This miracle is the reversal of the Tower of Babel, from Genesis 11. In this story, all the people of the earth were gathered together in a single place and began to build a super-civilization without God. They did not spread out over the earth as they were commanded. So to get them moving, God confused their tongues, so they could not cooperate with each other. The people wandered out over the whole world, seeking their own places. God divided them because of their sin. At Pentecost, the Spirit worked the reverse. God made them understand all languages. Without favoring one language or people over the others, He unites the world in the Spirit.
Speaking isn’t just a means of communication, but a way of revealing what is inside of us. When we start talking, we start revealing what is really in our hearts. As any good counselor knows, if you talk long enough, you will say things you don’t expect. Our tongue reveals the condition of our heart. What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. (Matthew 15:18) When the Holy Spirit is in our heart, He reveals Himself through the mouth.
Notice the progression. The sounds of the wind revealed that the Spirit was in the room. The sight of the flames revealed that the Spirit was upon each of them. The speaking in tongues revealed that the Spirit was not only on them but in their very hearts. Through the ear, through the eye, and through the mouth the Spirit showed Himself to the disciples.
Where is the Spirit today? The wind is roaring all around us, but because we do not have ears to hear, we do not hear it.
Listen For God’s voice. Read His word. Listen for his voice. God speaks both through the Word and the Spirit. When read the Bible, don’t just skim it. Listen to it, what is it really saying to you? When you have a dream, don’t just take it as unimportant. Believe that God’s Spirit is roaring around you. Shut up and listen and you will hear it. And the first thing the Spirit will say is this, “I love you.”
Christ didn’t just die for others. He died for you, and everything that God allows to be that reminds us of Jesus is here to speak His Spirit to our hearts. Listen foe the Spirit.
Look for God’s flaming presence upon us. We see the things that happen in our lives, recognize the movement of the Spirit. The circumstances of our lives are not purely accidental. God is in the things that happen to us, calling us away from sin and worldly distractions and towards Christ and His mercy.
Nothing in our live is an accident, but in everything that happens there is an opportunity for hearing the Spirit. Do you have a cold? Maybe God calling you to rest or to learn how to work in adversity. Do you have disagreeable neighbors? Maybe God is teaching you patience to love people who are unlovely. Everyday things can reveal to us the flame of the Spirit.
Look for God’s Spirit within yourself. If you are a believer, you already have the Holy Spirit within you. Learn to let Him out.
When I was in high school, I wrote poetry. I think everyone in high school did. Mostly, it was pretty awful stuff—mostly about how bad the world was, and how nobody understood us. Most teenage poetry is pretty depressing. That’s because revealing our inner life is like pumping at a well. The first stuff that comes out is usually full of trash. But if the Spirit is in side of us, then it will come out, too.
God reveals Himself to us through our own speaking. The Spirit is in every believer and when we can believe the Spirit will speak through us, we will see Him speaking from within our hearts.
Speak and God will speak though you. Open up your mouth and His Spirit will be revealed.
Peter, being assured of the presence of the Holy Spirit through the three signs, continued to speak to the crowd with confidence and assurance. There is no record of Peter being eloquent before Pentecost, but when he let the Spirit loose in his talking, He continued to flow.
In my earliest days as a Christian, I served as a counselor in a Billy Graham Crusade. After the invitation, when all the counselors and counselees were down on the field, some of us were talking to a girl from our school. She had a lot of questions. As I spoke, I grew aware that the Holy Spirit was speaking through me, answering questions I didn’t know the answer to. I was a spectator, not a speaker. The Spirit was speaking through me. It was my first experience of something like Pentecost, when God first poured out of the mouths of the disciples.
Once we have come to realize who Jesus is and that He died for our sins, we come to experience the love of Christ. Along with that love comes the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not foreign to you. He has been with you all along. To be filled or baptized with the Spirit is simply to recognize and yield to the Spirit that has been with you, and is also in you. He convicted you of sin. He gave you the faith to believe. He preserved and protected you until this moment. Now He wants to lead you into all truth.
Surrender your life to the Spirit. You will be amazed at what God will do.