Sermon for the Day of Pentecost
Readings: Acts 2:1–21; Romans 8:22–27 & John 15:26–27; 16:4b–15
When Jesus was talking with his disciples for the last time, he told them that he would send them the Paraclete, which means helper or advocate, who would teach them everything, and remind them of all that he said to them while he was with them. The Paraclete is of course the Holy Spirit, and as we heard in our reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit first came to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost.
So as Christians, we naturally associate the Day of Pentecost with the Apostles receiving the Holy Spirit, but the Day of Pentecost actually has its origins in Jewish tradition. The word ‘pentecost’ is derived from the Greek word Πεντηκοστή, meaning “fiftieth”, because the Jews celebrated the Feast of Weeks, which is also known as the “the firstfruits of the wheat harvest”, on the fiftieth day after Passover. The Apostles received the Holy Spirit on the fiftieth day after Jesus was raised from the dead on what we now know as Easter Day.
As recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus told the disciples that both they and the Holy Spirit would testify on his behalf. This means the disciples would, through their own ministry to the world, prove to be true the things which Jesus had proclaimed during his public ministry, and the Holy Spirit would reveal the true understanding of those things to the disciples.
When they heard that Jesus was to leave them, which of course was a reference to his impending death, the disciples seemed to be less concerned with where he was going and, rather selfishly, more worried about wanting to know why he was leaving them. Their concern was therefore more for themselves than it was for Jesus.
But Jesus reassured them, telling them that it was in their best interest that he leave, because once he did he would send the Holy Spirit to them, and the Holy Spirit would “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement”. What might that have meant? To prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement?
Well, in relation to sin, it basically meant that when people didn’t believe that Jesus was the revelation of God in the world, then the natural tendency for them to do the wrong thing was still what controlled their actions, because there wasn’t any opposing conviction to counter it. In terms of righteousness, the opponents of Jesus claimed they were righteous because they were descendants of Abraham and disciples of Moses, but they failed to believe that Jesus had come from God, who was the God of both Abraham and Moses, and was returning to God. And finally concerning judgement, the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus resulted in the glorification of God, and proved to be a victory for God over the opponents of Jesus, who thought that his death would be the end of him and his teaching.
Jesus also told his disciples that when the Holy Spirit came to them, the Spirit would guide them in the truth. This meant that once the disciples had received the Spirit they would come to a full understanding of all the things Jesus had told them while he was with them. It also meant that the Spirit, residing in them, would give them the knowledge and wisdom they would need, to contend with the situations they would be faced with in their own ministry while they proclaimed the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul, writing in the Letter to the Romans, told the members of the church in Rome that the Holy Spirit would help them in their weakness. In writing about the Spirit, Paul said that all Christians have the “firstfruits of the Spirit. In the Old Testament, the firstfruits referred to the first and best part of a crop that was to be offered to God as a sacrifice. Similarly, God had given believers the Holy Spirit as a deposit or down payment on the other blessings that He promised them as His heirs, while they waited in patience for those blessings to be realised in the fullness of time.
While they waited in hope, their patience might be tested, and it was at times such as those that the Holy Spirit would provide them with the strength they needed to persevere because, unbeknown to them, it was the Holy Spirit that brought before God the prayer that perfectly matched God’s will for them.
The same is still true for us today. We received the Holy Spirit at our own baptism, and it is the Holy Spirit residing in us who provides us with the strength that we need to persevere when times get difficult for us. It is also the Holy Spirit that reveals to us God’s purpose and calling for each of us, and who intercedes directly with God on our behalf when we are unsure of how we are meant to do so.