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Day of Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:14–17 & John 14:8–17

As you know, today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, which we probably tend to think of as being a Christian celebration, but It was actually a festival celebrated by the people of Israel long before Christianity ever came into being. 

Pentecost is actually a Greek word, meaning the fiftieth day after Passover. And on that day, the people of Israel would bring the first fruits of the wheat harvest, as a grain offering to God.

Pentecost was one of three pilgrim feasts of the Jewish religious year, when devout Jews would go to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. And it is these people we read about in this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles which says, “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” (Acts 2:5)

Although Jewish by birth, these Jews were living in regions of the Roman Empire outside of Jerusalem, and they obviously spoke the native language of the region where they lived. And this is why they are surprised, when in Jerusalem, they hear the disciples, who are all natives of the region of Galilee, suddenly speaking the different native languages of the regions these Jews themselves are from.

The reason why the disciples were able to speak in these different languages, was because they had received the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit had given each of them, the ability to speak a different language. We heard this in verse 4 of our reading, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:4) But there were some among the crowd, who just thought the disciples were drunk. 

I imagine that upon receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples had undergone an ecstatic experience, behaving in an unusual manner, which might have given people in the crowd the impression they were drunk. 

If you have ever seen a service of worship in a Pentecostal church, then you might have even witnessed something like this yourself. People taking part in such a service, often claim to have received the Holy Spirit, and they will fall to the ground, and roll around, before getting to their feet and shouting out incoherently, in what is said to be speaking in tongues.

It is at this point in today’s reading, that the Apostle Peter stood up to address the crowd. He denied  that the disciples were drunk, and he told the crowd that what they were witnessing was what had been foretold by the prophet Joel. He quoted from Joel 2:28–32, part of which reads, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.”

Now the prophet Joel was writing to the covenantal people of Israel, and he pointed out that God intended for his Holy Spirit to be poured out, not just on selected individuals for a particular task, but on all believers, young and old, male and female alike, regardless of their status. He wrote, “It will be a time of renewed spiritual activity: of prophesying, of dreams, and of visions.” 

Peter claimed that this time foretold by Joel had now arrived, and that what the crowd was witnessing, was the beginning of that pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the new covenantal people of God, who were no longer just the people of Israel, but all people who believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Son of God. 

The Apostle Paul also argued that all who believed in Jesus as Messiah, Jew and Gentile alike, were the new covenantal people of God. And in the Letter to the Romans, Paul explains how the Spirit has now replaced the law as the way to salvation and eternal life. Under the ‘old’ covenant, the people of Israel believed they had to do the works of the law in order to receive salvation. But now Paul was telling them that salvation was not achieved by anything that they themselves did, rather it was a gift of God’s grace. It was the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was given to them if they believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

Now we know that those early Christians who did believe in Jesus continued to experience suffering. And so in our short passage from Romans this morning, in the context of that suffering, Paul expresses the hope that is brought about by the Spirit. Those who are “led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. 

The idea of the people of Israel as God’s children was a well known tradition in the Old Testament. And as God’s people it was believed they would inherit the promises God had made to their ancestor Abraham. Paul uses this imagery to describe what the situation now is for people who believe in Jesus. “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

All people, Jew or Gentile, who believe in Jesus are joint heirs with Jesus of God’s promise–the promise of salvation and eternal life. But as joint heirs, they must also suffer with him. They can’t just expect to have the good without the bad. But they can endure the bad, safe in the knowledge that just as Jesus was glorified at his resurrection, they too will be glorified at their own resurrection.

In the broader passage of chapter 8 of Romans, which today’s reading is a subset of, Paul uses the terms Spirit of God and Spirit of Christ interchangeably. Paul clearly understands that God, Jesus and the Spirit are one in the same–what we know as the Holy Trinity. In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus attempts to explain this relationship to Phillip, when Phillip says to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus tells Phillip that he and the Father are one in the same. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus tells Phillip. He then says to Phillip, if you don’t believe the words I’m speaking to you, then at least believe in the miracles that you’ve seen me perform. Surely they are proof that the he and God the Father are one.

Phillip, and the other disciples, have all been witnesses to these miracles that Jesus has performed. Jesus is telling Phillip that only God could perform such miracles. And Jesus also tells Phillip that if they believe in him, then they will also be able to do the works that he has done and, because Jesus will ask God the Father to send the Spirit who will remain with them and be in the one who believes in him.

As Christians, we believe that when we are baptised we too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God. His Spirit remains with us and lives in us. We are led by the Spirit of God. What do you think that might mean for us? 

Let’s hear what the Apostle Paul had to say about it in chapter 6 of Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:3–5, 11 NRSV) 

If we give ourselves to Jesus, we are no longer under the power or control of sin. Instead we are alive and free as God intended us to be, living in His image, the image that was revealed to us by Jesus Christ.

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