Coop's Column - Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate, with full-throated thanksgiving and joy, Jesus' sending of his Holy Spirit. And, Pentecost Monday and the entire succession of days during Pentecost season, are a time of summons and challenge. Pentecost season is a time for the church to remind believers of their daily, lifelong call to bear witness to their Lord and to engage in his mission.


Pentecost Sunday: a day to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, a day to remember that to simply call God our Father is to have not said enough about him. Nor has one said enough about God if we simply call him Jesus. To be sure, both Father and Son are central to Christian believing and living. But central to no less a degree is the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

Healthy, mature Christians gladly confess that the Spirit, too, belongs to the Trinity, and that he is co-equal to and co-eternal with both the Father and the Son. Such believers never hesitate to declare that the Spirit played a vital role in founding the church’s entire existence and mission. They know, too, that apart from the Spirit’s work not a single sinner would turn in repentance, nor ever grow an inch toward Christian maturity.

So let’s be clear: The Spirit is indispensable within the Holy Trinity’s life and activity.

Tending to dismiss the Spirit

But let’s be honest to admit, too, that some—perhaps even many—Christians tend to dismiss the Spirit. They may well acknowledge him formally, but in actuality they fail to give the Spirit full credit for his strategic role in God’s grand activity of creating, saving, and restoring. Thus they thank him too little. They fight shy of pleading fervently for his help and guidance. Their praise and adoration of him is stingy and scarce.

The result of such disregard?  Pentecost ranks low on the list of celebrated Christian holidays. Christmas, yes. Good Friday and Easter, yes. But Pentecost?

Despite this sad neglect, for generations and centuries, the Christian church in its creeds has kept insisting that the God Christians confess is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The church declares, too, that the spiritual vitality of both the Christian community and of saints within it, depends directly upon the Spirit. Thus, to downplay the Spirit’s importance is to starve the community of life-producing nourishment. Without the Spirit’s fresh breath and energy, saints become lethargic and dull. They become short of breath as they walk their journey of faith.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does he do? To state matters as centrally and simply as possible, the Holy Spirit is both the presence and the power of the risen Jesus Christ. Jesus’ Spirit dwells in and is at work in the church and in all who believe.

The Spirit is Jesus’ presence. Through his Spirit Jesus continued to be among his original followers after he had departed earth. His task on earth complete and his return to his Father soon at hand, Jesus promised them: “I will not leave you as orphans.” (John 14.18). He carried through on that pledge by sending them his Spirit. The result: Though Jesus Christ was no longer with them physically, he continued to be as much and as clearly among them as when he ate and drank with them, walked and talked with them. 

The Spirit as power

The Spirit is Jesus’ power. Prior to his departure Jesus promised his disciples: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” (cf. Acts 1.8)  As the book of Acts bears witness, Jesus’ followers did receive a massive burst of resurrection power from their Lord. It was an energy so vast, so inexplicable, so extraordinary that common, ordinary people—Andrew, Peter, and James, to name a few—spoke words and performed deeds with lightning and thunder impact.  Human lives were turned right-side up, and the Christian community expanded exponentially.

To this very day Jesus keeps his promise to be present with his people.  The miraculous result: None of his followers today need to go back two millennia of years in time, nor to travel hundreds of miles across borders, for a rendezvous with the risen Lord on Judea’s streets or Galilee’s shores. Via his Spirit, Jesus is as present with saints in their here and now as he was with his earliest disciples in their there and then.

To this very day, too, Jesus keeps delivering resurrection power to his people. Through his Spirit he continues his mighty work of transforming ordinary persons into extraordinary saints. The scope of his entire work on their behalf is of course too vast and varied to record here completely.

The Spirit today and Pentecost

Here’s a small sample of what the Spirit does to deliver Jesus’ resurrection energy to saints today: He gives them new birth (John 3.3-5); he nurtures and nourishes their faith (Acts 16.14); he makes them certain of their faith and hope (Romans 8.1-17); he showers them with gifts to serve (Ephesians 4.1-16); he sets them apart for holy, resurrected living (I Cor. 6.11); he welds them forever to the risen Lord and to one another (I Corinthians 12.12-31); he encourages them amid their weaknesses (Romans 8.26-27); he defends them against evil (Ephesians 3.16); he governs and guides their lives (Matt. 28.18-20)

Pentecost Sunday: It’s a day to pull out all the organ’s stops, and to celebrate with full-throated thanksgiving and joy, Jesus’ sending of his Holy Spirit.

And, Pentecost Monday and the entire succession of days during Pentecost season: They’re a time of summons and challenge. Pentecost season is a time for the church to remind believers of their daily, lifelong call to bear witness to their Lord and to engage in his mission.

William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury, once declared: "Nobody can be indwelt by the Spirit of God and keep that Spirit to himself. Where the Spirit is, he flows forth. And where there is no flowing forth, he is not there."  In comment upon Temple’s words John Stott added: “That's striking isn't it? You cannot keep the Holy Spirit yourself. If he fills the Christian, the believer, he overflows. We drink sips of water, as it were, when we receive the Spirit, and the sips are transmuted into rivers that flow out into the world of drought and need.”

Prayer

For your gift of God the Spirit, power to make our lives anew,
Pledge of life and hope of glory, Savior, we would worship you.
Crowning gift of resurrection sent from your ascended throne,
Fullness of the very Godhead, come to make your life our own.

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