May 23, 2021 Pentecost Sunday
“The Spirit Sends us into the World”
Acts 2: 1-21, Psalm 104: 24-34; 35b, John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15
In last week’s message, as we delved together into the complicated and dense verses of John 17, we learned about Christ’s willingness for us to know His relationship with the Father; How Christ in-fact gives us a behind-the-scenes look into His private prayer and private conversation with God the Father for our benefit.
This conversation, this explanation of the inner-workings of the Trinity, and the nature of the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is continued today as Christ speaks about “the Holy Spirit,” “The Advocate” and what his part is in God’s plan of salvation for humanity.
But what is the Holy Spirit?
Who is this mysterious third member of the Trinity and why do we celebrate Him on the day of Pentecost?
Friends, the answer to “what is the Holy Spirit” lies not in knowing what but in knowing who.
As Jesus begins today He says:
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.
“The Advocate… whom I will send to you from the Father”
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit is a spirit, a mysterious and ever-surprising person of the Trinity, but as for “Who” the Spirit is, that is clear:
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God the Father AND God the Son
Oftentimes, when we think about the Holy Spirit, we think of the wind, and the flame, and the dove (the images we have given to the Holy Spirit) yet these symbols are not “who” the Spirit is, Rather, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of God the Father AND God the Son.
This is important because when it comes to knowing the Spirit, recognizing the beckoning of the Spirit, recognizing the calling of the Spirit in our lives, and celebrating the work of the Spirit at Pentecost the whole thing is not as incomprehensible as we may think.
If you do find the work of the Spirit incomprehensible or confusing or downright uncomfortable, you are not alone! The way that Christians talk about the Spirit, we seem to be talking about a flame, a bird, a gust of wind, a genie, and a secret voice from heaven all at once!
And yet, for as amazing as the Holy Spirit is, for as surprising and as powerful, we should remember it is the Spirit of Father and Son. The Holy Spirit is not alien to God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Spirit is not unlike them at all, rather it (He) is them.
This is the first thing Jesus wants us to know in His words this morning: “What Spirit? Whose Spirit?” The spirit of God the Father and God the Son.
As Jesus continues, he says something that foreshadows what is to come:
I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. (v. 4)
What hour is He talking about?
Well, it is not an hour but rather two hours:
First, the hour He was to be crucified, the hour He looked up to His Father from the cross and said “it is accomplished”
Second, the hour described in Acts this morning when Jesus gave the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit
If we think about these two hours, these two events, what binds them together?
What binds together (a) the crucifixion of Jesus, the moment when He died upon the cross to atone for the sins of all of humanity, and (b) the introduction of the Holy Spirit as it came upon the disciples to give them tongues of fire?
What binds these two hours, these two events together?
They are moments of obvious action by God, they are important moments, and they are moments that the disciples will not understand at first.
Moments that they will not understand at first.
If you are new to following Christ and don’t feel like you fully understand faith or Scripture, or indeed, if you have been following Christ for a long time but still don’t feel like you get it, Christian faith can sometimes feel like a test.
A test where everyone else seemingly knows what you don’t know, understands what you don’t understand, a test that you’re not doing very well at.
But look here: when it comes to the two most important moments in the disciples lives (those people who learned directly from Jesus, who followed Jesus’ teaching in-person) they did not understand.
They did not understand why Jesus had to die, why He had to be crucified, nor did they understand this business about the Advocate, the one coming after Jesus.
Why did even they not understand? Let’s read on:
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
Jesus, as He is speaking to the disciples about the approaching hours, the hours of His death, and the hour of their receiving the Holy Spirit, He tells the disciples that they simply cannot bear everything He is saying.
‘I didn’t tell you earlier that I was to be crucified because you wouldn’t have been able to hear it’
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away (that is, die, become resurrected, and ascend to heaven), for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Essentially, Jesus says to His disciples, His closest friends: ‘Look, I know you cannot bear to hear these things… the things that must take place… but still I tell you the truth… the truth that it is to your advantage that I go away…”
How can it be to anyone’s advantage that Jesus goes away?
Last week, I talked about how we are benefited by knowing Jesus’ relationship with God the Father.
Today, Jesus Himself talks about how it is to the disciples’ advantage that He goes away and is replaced by the Advocate (The Holy Spirit).
This idea (of the Holy Spirit of our Advantage in having this Spirit over Christ) seems incomprehensible, it seems impossible and yet Christ is proven right.
In the moment before Pentecost, in the moment before the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and gave them each power to speak (and eventually) to heal and to cast out demons, things were pretty bleak, pretty confusing.
These 11 disciples, they had each been through a great deal: they had given up their former lives to follow Jesus, they had given up jobs and families and identities, they had gone through the pain of losing their master of seeing him taken away to be crucified, then on the third day they had experienced the exact opposite – the elation of having him back in the flesh, only to lose Him again on the day of ascension.
What had their lives become?
Nothing was familiar anymore. Nothing was solid. Everything was strange, and new, and exhausting.
If we recognize the disciples in this moment, we ought to.
We ourselves, and all who have had to endure the Covid-19 Pandemic find ourselves in a situation like that of the disciples:
Dealing with a lack of familiarity, going without the solid foundations and in-person relationships we rely upon, a time when everything is strange, and new, and exhausting.
One of the lessons of Pentecost, of Pentecost Sunday, of the arrival of the Holy Spirit amongst the disciples, is that when everything seems to be at its low point;
When we feel lost, and hopeless, and tired, it is at that point that God intervenes to do His best work.
When the Advocate came upon the disciples that day, when they were each given a tongue of fire, when they were each able to speak in the myriad of languages spoken by the people around them, to tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ, something happened to those 11 people.
Something beyond the obvious, and something beyond even the symbolic.
What happened that day is that the 11; formerly the disciples, had been transformed into apostles.
They were each transformed, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, from disciples of Jesus (students of Jesus) to apostles (teachers of the Way of Christ).
That is the advantage of the Advocate.
That is what the Spirit does that the Father and the Son move away in order to let Him do.
Jesus Christ is God with us, no question, Jesus Christ when He walked the earth, He was the full manifestation of God in human flesh, a miracle from birth.
But the Spirit, the Spirit of Father and Son, this Spirit is freer, this Spirit is not limited by an earthly body, not able to be arrested, not able to be crucified, the Spirit is always “on the move” re-making the world into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Friends, if we have faith that God is still active in the world, if we have faith that God’s Spirit, Christ’s Spirit, Christ’s Advocate is still present among us, what more will God do here and now with us?
What more will God do?
How will God use us?
How will God bear good fruit within our hearts? How will God interrupt our lives, interrupt our time of isolation in order to bring about His plans?
Only God knows, but it is and it will be amazing.
There are many things, hundreds of things, thousands of things we could say about the work of the Spirit this morning.
The blessings He is bestowing.
The fruit He is growing in our hearts.
The inspiration He is planting.
The revelation He is revealing.
It would take… well it would take all of our lives to describe because right now and in every moment the Spirit of God is at work somewhere around us.
God’s Spirit is always at work building the Kingdom of God in our very midst.
But let us limit ourselves to a few key things, the ones specifically mentioned by Jesus this morning.
Moving back to our John text, when Jesus was with His disciples, when He was foretelling the coming of the Advocate, He told them what this Holy Spirit would do:
8 […] when he comes (our Lord said), he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
Friends, this is one of those moments, that comes often in John’s Gospel, when Christ’s words are so full, so mysterious, so prophetic that it would take at least another sermon (and actually many more) to appreciate them fully, but allow me at least to prime these words this morning.
Christ tells us: When the Spirit comes, when My Spirit and my Father’s Spirit comes, He will teach the world about sin, righteousness, and judgement.
The Spirit convicts our hearts of sin, and this same Spirit reveals the righteousness of Christ, and reveals the judgement to come for the evil of this world.
As someone who was not convinced of Christ, of the Trinity, or of the Spirit for many years, I will assume that many of you still have your doubts (as I myself did).
You may be saying to yourself “well, that’s a nice story about God and about the Holy Spirit and about the disciples, but what does it have to do with me and my life?”
And perhaps some of you may even be saying to yourselves “Yes, God and His Spirit are all well and good but I’m not one of you; I’m not a good person; God isn’t interested in me.”
If that sounds like you, then let me say to you the Good News “My friend you are more wrong than you ever dreamed possible!”
The point of the Pentecost story, the point of Jesus’ teachings about the Advocate is not to separate who is in and who is out, it’s not to separate the true believers from the lost causes. No!
It is to give credit and control and power to the one who it all properly belongs to: that is, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Those disciples listening to Jesus foretell the action of the Holy Spirit were not perfect, they had many doubts, many fears, one of them would even deny His master three times yet!
Likewise, the disciples, those 11, when they were gathered in the house at Pentecost, after Christ had risen and ascended to heaven, they were not any more righteous than when they started.
As they looked out the doors at the festival goers, at the people who they could not understand or be understood by, they realized just how hopeless and imperfect and isolated they were.
That is, until God gave them the power of the Holy Spirit
Human beings are human beings, each as beautiful and as flawed as the next, except when God gets involved through the work of His Spirit; then amazing things become possible.
Amazing things like suddenly speaking a new language; amazing things like being convicted of sin; amazing things like moving one’s heart to seek Christ’s righteousness; amazing things like knowing God’s judgement of evil and corruption.
This is where you come in, you who are “imperfect,” you who are sure “God isn’t interested in you,” you who have reason to believe you’re not acceptable to God for some reason or another, let me ask you this:
Do you ever have the feeling something within you isn’t right?
That you aren’t living as faithfully or as rightly as you could? That you aren’t living the life God wants you to live?
Do you get the feeling that those who call themselves “righteous” aren’t all that righteous, and those who cast judgement on others are themselves the ones who God judges to be wrong?
If so, you may have just proven that the Spirit is within you.
The Spirit who came at Pentecost, the Spirit who convinces us of sin and righteousness and judgement, this same Spirit is moving in the world, calling those destined by God to believe, calling those who know that this world is a far cry from God’s Kingdom to take up their cross and help usher it in
Friends, this is the work of the Spirit.
The Spirit of God the Father… the Spirit of Christ the Son.
The Spirit who works within the hearts of those humble enough to receive Him, all so that the world may come to greater knowledge of that which has already been accomplished for them by the Risen Christ.
Friends, like the disciples, we have all been through a roller-coaster experience, from the deep sorrow of Good Friday, to the Joy of Easter Sunday, to the bewilderment of Pentecost (and I’m sure we can all name such days in our Covid journeys as well).
However, even though the world and life are not predictable, are not stable, are not familiar, it is in these times God sends the Advocate to do His best work.
I pray that you each will receive this Spirit with joy today: to know Him, to accept Him, to recognize His working in your life, so that you too may go out into the world, in the power of this Spirit, to tell this Good News to a world dying to hear it.