Acts 2:1-21 (NIV)
Today is the day that we celebrate Pentecost, one of the major holidays on the Christian calendar. Our word
“holiday” is formed from the words “holy” and “day.” So, when you hear “holiday” you should think “holy-day.”
This holy-day is right up there with Christmas, Easter, and the Ascension. We remember when the Holy Spirit
came to the disciples in dramatic fashion as we heard earlier. We often think of the Holy Spirit as still and quiet.
So many of our songs about the Holy Spirit are soft and gentle, but that scene we heard about was anything but.
It was more like a windstorm.
The Greek word for the Spirit, pneuma, means wind, breeze, blast. It can also mean spirit, but it implies the
behavior of a spirit. That it behaves as air or wind. The Hebrew word is ruach, which essentially means the
same thing. When you say it, it almost sounds like wind, ruach. In Genesis 1, the Spirit that is hovering over
the waters before creation is God’s Ruach.
What is the character of wind? It goes where it will. It fills the space of where it is. You can’t contain it.
You can have a container to capture air, but you can’t capture the wind. Sometimes it is still. The air still
surrounds you, but you can’t feel it. Sometimes it is a light breeze, soft and comforting. Most of the songs
about the Holy Spirit are talking about this aspect, like what we sang in our call to prayer, “Breathe on
Me, Breath of God.” But sometimes wind is like on the day of Pentecost, violent, like during a thunderstorm.
It might be refreshing, but it might also be a bit scary. One thing, it is never tame. When we live with the
Holy Spirit, this is what we live with all the time. It is the breath that gives us physical life. It is the
presence that helps us to live the new life with God. How does it do that?
Today’s primary Scripture comes from Jesus’ last night with the disciples before his arrest. The supper is over.
He has washed their feet, and he is talking to them about what is about to happen, that he will be betrayed,
and how he is going away. They are troubled and afraid. However, he is reassuring them because he will
send another Advocate, Helper, Comforter to be with them, what John calls the Paraclete, otherwise known
as the Holy Spirit or as it is put in this Scripture, the Spirit of Truth.
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (NIV)
15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the
Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you
also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
16:4b I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, 5 but now
I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather,
you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is
for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to
you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be
in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do
not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you
can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the
Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own;
he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will
glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.
15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from
me what he will make known to you.”
We heard about the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and in this passage, Jesus explains
that when he returns to the Father, he will send the Spirit to them and describes what the Spirit will do.
That can make it sound like the Spirit was absent from the world before this time, however, the Holy Spirit
has been active in the world since the beginning. It is referenced in the second verse of the Bible. It makes
appearances throughout the Hebrew Bible, but its relationship with people is different. It is with a specific
person and often only for a specific purpose and usually short in duration. Sampson had the Holy Spirit for
a time (Judges 13:25), as did King Saul (1 Sam 10:10). In a similar way in the New Testament, John the
Baptist received the Holy Spirit before he was born (Luke 1:15), and of course, with Mary and the conception
of Jesus (Luke 1:30-35).
However, these episodes were very different than what happened on that first Pentecost. The relationship
between the Spirit and humans became very different from what had happened before. It is more like what
was described by the prophets Jeremiah (31:33) and Ezekiel (11:19) when the Lord said, “I will give them
an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart
Since that first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in and with followers of Christ. But why? That is what
Jesus is explaining to the disciples, and to us, in this passage. The disciples are hearing that their best friend in
the whole world is going away, this person who has loved, taught, and protected them, and naturally, they are
upset and confused. What are they going to do? How can they survive? How can they continue the work that
Jesus has started? The people John was writing to in this gospel had similar questions. How can we do this?
How can we be the church without Jesus physically present with us? I have asked that question myself. Wouldn’t
it easier if the physically human Jesus was right here with us, with me? Perhaps you have asked that question,
But, Jesus tells the disciples (and us) that it is actually to their benefit that he depart, so that he can send them
the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, this one that walks alongside us. It is a way that Jesus can remain present
with them in a far more encompassing way than he could be as a human. As a human Jesus can only be
physically present with a limited number of people at any particular time. Through the Spirit, Jesus can
be with each one of us simultaneously in a way that he never could with his human limitations, especially
over 2000 years.
Jesus makes clear that the giving of the Spirit is part of the reason that he came in the first place. It allows
us to have connection with God in a way that was never possible before. The Spirit is not a consolation
upon the departure of Jesus from our physical world. It is an improvement and to our benefit. Why?
First of all, the Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus when the human form of Jesus is absent. Next week
is Trinity Sunday. When the Spirit is with us, Jesus is with us. Sometimes it can be confusing when we talk
about God with a variety of names or in God’s differing personae, but the bottom line is that when we say
that the Holy Spirit is with us, Jesus is with us. The benefit of the person of the Spirit is that the Spirit can
dwell with us, make a home with us. The promise of God to never leave us or forsake us can be true for us
in a way that was not available to humanity before (cf. Deut 31:6; Heb 13:5). When we believe in Jesus Christ,
we become the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is with us to help us and guide us, as we are willing. It is
transforming us and helping us to grow in our understanding and becoming the people that God has created
us to be.
Next, the Holy Spirit will continue Jesus’ work in the world. It will continue to testify to the truth of
Jesus and his rescue mission for the world. It was broken and needed saving along with everyone in it.
Jesus has done this through his death and resurrection. He has defeated death, so that we might have life.
This was done because of God’s love. This was shared through what the disciples saw. This continues to be
shared through the life and ministry of the church. When we share the love of God with a person or people
in our community and in other parts of the world, we are doing it through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is a transforming influence in us. It is not that we lose our ability to think and make choices, but the
choices we make and the way we see and think about things are more and more Christ-like. We are given the
strength and courage to speak and do despite the resistance that we might receive from the world.
We can see the change in the disciples as we go through the Acts. We know that all through the Gospels, the
disciples were always getting things wrong and misunderstanding. They see the miraculous healings. They
see the way he teaches even the Pharisees in the ways of the law, escaping every trap that the Pharisees try
to set for him. Yet, even on this night they don’t understand why Jesus is washing their feet. They don’t
understand why Jesus says that he is going away, despite Jesus telling them on multiple occasions that the
Messiah must be crucified and be lifted up. They abandon him on the night of his arrest, and they huddle
in the upper room in fear after his crucifixion. They don’t believe the women who tell them what they have
seen at the tomb. Peter and John may go to check it out, but they leave perplexed.
Once the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, immediately everything changes. They no longer hide in the upper
room. Peter is emboldened to speak to the crowd. Later, Peter and John speak before the Sanhedrin. They and
others are no longer afraid, despite some of them being killed. They have the courage to continue the work for
which they have been prepared, spreading the gospel and instructing the people about the teachings of Jesus.
This drastic change is through the Holy Spirit. It keeps going right around the world. We are the inheritors.
Pentecost was not some one-time event that happened to a few people. Pentecost was the first day, and it’s
continued to happen every day since right up to now.
One of the things Jesus said to the disciples in today’s passage is, “I have much more to say to you than you can
now bear. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12-13a). The Holy
Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is also a teacher. You see it in all the letters that the Apostles sent to the Early Church.
Two of the most striking are Paul and James who were not among the original disciples. Paul was a persecutor
of disciples, trying to stop the spread of the gospel, until he had his encounter with the Holy Spirit and was
transformed. James, the brother of Jesus, did not believe who Jesus was during his earthly ministry. He was
among the family who came to fetch Jesus home because they thought he was out of his mind. He was one of
those who mocked Jesus just before the Passover celebration saying that if he really was the Messiah that he
should go to Jerusalem and show his works to the world. Yet, after Jesus’ accession and James’ receipt of the
Holy Spirit, he became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Quite a turn around. These men and the other
disciples continued to teach and share the insight that the Holy Spirit inspired in them.
Another aspect of this is the Holy Spirit working in us and with us today. It helps us to interpret Scripture in
light of our changing lives and the changing world. It is part of how Scripture can be the living Word of God.
I will always remember the summer that I was going through a very rough time. I was in such mourning that
I felt that my life must be over, and I came across Isaiah 61, the part that Jesus reads in the synagogue in
Nazareth as he is beginning his ministry. I had read it many times before both in Isaiah and in Luke, “The
Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness
for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1). I had read and heard this passage so many times, but never when I had been
brokenhearted, never when I felt like a prisoner. When you think of binding up a wound, you compress the
area to stop the bleeding. It gives the area support and structure in order to heal. The process of binding the
wound can even be painful, temporarily. Once the bandage is properly in place, it is soothing, a relief. It is
protection from further bumps and bruises as you heal and continue to move about in the world.
In my emotionally injured state this Scripture passage helped to bind the wound of my hemorrhaging heart.
Heart may sound figurative, but I actually felt physical pain in my chest as a part of my grief. Through the
guidance of the Holy Spirit, I was directed to this passage that helped with my healing. It spoke to me about
the care that God has for us, and in this case for me in my utter distress. The funny thing is that since I came
through that season of pain, that Scripture doesn’t affect me as profoundly anymore. I still see it. I understand
what I learned about it. I can remember how it helped me, but it doesn’t speak to me in the same way it did
when I was in crisis.
The Spirit teaches us in that way. The Spirit also prompts us when we see a wrong that needs righting.
It prompts us to stop when we see someone in trouble. It’s a direct answer to that prayer that I mentioned
a couple of weeks ago, “Lord, let me see as you see, and love as you love.” When we see as God sees and love
as God loves, we have to do something. What that something might be for you may look and feel very different
that it would be for me or someone else. We all have our unique gifts and talents, as given to us by … The Holy
For all these reasons and many more, it was not only to the disciples’ advantage that Jesus go away and send
the Spirit. It is to our benefit, too. And yet, when we don’t feel the wind of God’s Ruach, God’s Spirit, it can be
challenging. How do we know that God is with us? We can’t see or touch the Holy Spirit. We cannot capture it.
Many of you know our former District Superintendent, Kim Fields. You may be familiar with one of his stories.
‘[A] small boy was flying his kite in a neighborhood park. It was a windy day, and the kite climbed higher and
higher. Finally the kite got so high that it could not be seen from the ground. A man passing by saw the little
boy holding onto the string and looking up at the sky. The man could not see the kite, and so he asked the
boy, “Why are you hanging onto that string?” To which the lad responded, “I am flying a kite.” “But,”
countered the man, “How do you know you have a kite up there when you cannot see it?” To which the
boy replied, “I know because I can feel it.”
‘Although we cannot see the Holy Spirit, we should be able to sense the Spirit’s work in our lives, supporting,
guiding and gradually transforming us into the image of Christ.’