Throughout the Bible, the Spirit of God filled people at specific times and places to anoint them for a special mission or purpose. For example, in the Hebrew Bible, Joshua was filled with the Spirit to lead the tribe of Israel into the promised land, and in the Gospels, John the Baptiser was filled with the Spirit as he heralded the arrival of Jesus Christ. As I have mentioned before, the Spirit of God is always outward looking and always looking to the interest of others, therefore the infilling of the Holy Spirit of God is not, primarily to benefit ourselves, but to bless and benefit others.
Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit, who had previously been available to only a selected few, was poured out on the first believers. You can read all about it in the second chapter of the Book of Acts in the Bible. The believers were gathered together in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit filled them and, as a sign of this, they spoke in different languages. It just so happened that Jewish people from all over the known world at the time were there to hear them speaking in their own language. Coincidence? No. The coming of the Holy Spirit in that place at that time was not a random act. Why? Because it happened during the Jewish Festival of Weeks.
The Festival of Weeks took place fifty days after the Festival of Passover and this is why it is also called Pentecost — from the Greek pentēkostē meaning 50th. As well as this festival being a time of celebrating the giving of the law to Moses, it was also the day the people celebrated the grain harvest after fifty days or several weeks of anticipation. As part of the celebrations, Jewish people from all over the region would make a pilgrimage to the temple, taking with them bread baked with the first fruits of the harvest.
As we can see, the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit happened at a time and place that was both symbolic and strategic. Symbolic because it was a festival about receiving something heavenly, and also because it was also about the first fruits of the harvest — a blessing that gives and sustains life. Strategic because the Jewish people from every nation were gathered in one place to hear about it.
So that is a nice little history lesson, but what difference does this make to our lives today? Well, perhaps a believer without the Spirit is like a car without an engine? And a believer who has received God’s Spirit but does not allow the Spirit to move in power is like a car with the engine in idle. Think about it for a second. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we have access to the very presence and power of God in our lives; the Holy Spirit of Jesus can make her home in us.
The Holy Spirit is our counsellor and our comforter. The Holy Spirit clothes us with power from on high, ministers grace to us, and gives us wisdom and understanding. The Holy Spirit guides us and leads us. However, there are several things to remember. Firstly, the Holy Spirit can not be controlled and is one with the Father and the Son. Secondly the Spirit will not override our stubborn wills, only going where she is invited and welcomed. Thirdly, the Spirit is given to us for the benefit of others. We will likely only see the outworking of the Spirit alive in us, through ministering to the needs of others, and vice versa. All we need to do is accept the cleansing provided by Jesus and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives.
This week I was blessed to hear of several examples of how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of those following Jesus — all in moving and powerful ways. While praying, a friend was prompted by a memory that enabled her to minister effectively to a family member. Another, during a time of prayer, had a powerful vision that confirmed the direction and ministry of our church family. Another friend, one I had not spoken to for over twenty years, was prompted to reach out to me with a solution to a problem I had been worrying (and praying) about in the dead of the night. As I prayed, her name popped into my head and then, miraculously, she messaged me. And yet another, dear friend of mine, shared with me a dream that spoke to the very core of my being and a situation I was dealing with. The dream reassured me of God’s love and had me on my knees in awe and wonder. Friends, God’s Holy Spirit is alive and working today in the lives of those that welcome her — and it is humbling and truly amazing.
Tomorrow, Sunday, at 4pm in Victoria Park, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Bring a chair, bring an open heart, and be ready to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit.