Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8–17, 25-27
A Sunday School teacher taught her class to recite the Apostles Creed by giving each child one phrase to learn. When the day came for the class to give their recitation, they began beautifully.
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” said the first child.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord,” said the next.
And so it went perfectly until they came to the child who said, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
At that point there was silence. The next line was to be, “I believe in the Holy Spirit . . .” but there was only silence. Finally, a little girl spoke up and said, “Uh, the little boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today.”
Don’t you love it! And yes, we do believe in the Holy Spirit, and thank God we are not absent today. Let me welcome you to the third great festival of the church. This is the day that we celebrate Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church. And because the Holy Spirit came to those first disciples, we rightly call today the birthday of the church.
The Holy Spirit made a difference – a big difference – in the hearts and lives of those first disciples. 120 in all. And in that one moment – in just one moment – they are different men and women. They become bold proclaimers of Jesus Christ – crucified and risen from the dead. The Holy Spirit is the One who made the difference.
And let me tell you – the Holy Spirit is still present – is still working – is just as active in our lives as He was in the lives of those first century believers. When we talk about seeing God at work in our lives – call them God moments – God winks – whatever – when you see God – feel God – experience God somewhere in your day – that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in your life.
Now – those first disciples of Jesus were all Jewish and they celebrated the holy days of the Jewish people. One of those holy days was called Pentecost. Pentecost was a feast day that celebrated the giving of God’s Law to His people through Moses on Mount Sinai. For Christians Pentecost became the celebration of the gift of God’s Spirit to His people.
So God arranged for the Holy Spirit to come down on these early Christian believers on the very day that thousands of Jews from all over the world were in Jerusalem for this celebration. When they heard the sound of the wind blowing and the disciples speaking, the crowd was totally bewildered, because each one heard his or her own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” They were witnessing a miraculous event. No wonder thousands of them responded to the Gospel message and were baptized.
I told you earlier that Pentecost is the third great festival of the Christian church. Christmas we all know. That’s the celebration of the birth of Christ. And Easter we all know. That’s the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Those two festivals focus on Jesus. Pentecost focuses on the coming of the Holy Spirit.
So I want to talk with you today about what we need to know about the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to accomplish what God calls us to accomplish. Folks –we have a job to do. It’s called the Great Commission. Jesus gave it to disciples before he ascended into heaven. Their job is now our job, to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. And then what else did Jesus say? He said, “And remember, I am with you always.”
How is Jesus present to us? Through the person, and the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish. So how does the Holy Spirit work?
I like the way Corrie ten Boom described the work of the Holy Spirit. Corrie was a Dutch Christian whose family sheltered Jews from Hitler’s forces during World War II. Corrie and her family ended up in one of Hitler’s death camps but Corrie managed to survive. She tells her story in her book “The Hiding Place.”
In the following years, she became a much sought after speaker. Here is what Corrie said to one of her audiences. “I have a glove here in my hand. The glove cannot do anything by itself, but when my hand is in it, it can do many things. True, it is not the glove, but my hand in the glove that acts. We are gloves. It is the Holy Spirit in us who is the hand, who does the job. We have to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled.” For any of us to be used by God, we need to make room for the Holy Spirit.
One of the images used to represent the Holy Spirit is fire. That’s because on the day of Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared above the heads of the disciples.
There is a book by a man named David Loth, called “Lorenzo the Magnificent.” In it Loth tells the story of Lorenzo de Medici (1449-1492) as a pageant director. Lorenzo was one of the key movers behind the Italian Renaissance — and one of the greatest patrons of the arts who ever lived. Now, whether the story I am about to tell you is true or not, I don’t know. But this story is told in relationship to Pentecost.
Loth tells how Lorenzo loved to provide the citizens of Florence with artistic and magnificent religious pageants with striking realism and effectiveness. On one occasion, he staged a pageant of Pentecost.
The descent of the tongues of fire upon the apostles, however, was just a bit too realistic. Actual fire was used, the flimsy trimmings and stage hangings were set ablaze, and not only the stage but the whole church burned down.
All I can say is, “Holy smoke!” But you know – that’s not the kind of fire we’re looking for. The fire of the Holy Spirit is a different kind of fire.
Let me explain. There is a story that comes from frontier days about three women who were members of a Bible study. One day they were reading in their lesson for the day that the Spirit was a refining fire. They didn’t understand what that meant, “a refining fire”.
One of them volunteered to go to a nearby silversmith and see what that meant.
The silversmith explained the process of refining silver this way. He said you want to be sure you put the silver in the hottest part of the fire. That is so all the impurities in the silver will be burned away. He also said that you had to watch it at all times to make sure it was not in there too long. If it were there too long, it would be ruined. The woman was fascinated by his explanation. She asked, “How do you know when it is done?”
His answer was, “That’s easy: you know it’s done when you see your reflection in it.”
God desires to see His reflection in our lives. Scripture tells us that we were created in God’s image. But we know – that we are also sinners. So God sent His Son to save us from our sin. After Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, God sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit to be at work in us, so that we might believe – so that we would know that we are loved and forgiven – so that we might experience God in our lives. When that happens, God is able to see His reflection in our lives.
As 2nd Corinthians 3:18 tells us, “As the Spirit of the Lord works in us, we become more and more like Him.”
So when we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” what we’re asking for is for the Holy Spirit to be a refining fire. To burn away every burden, every distraction, every selfish ambition – any thought or attitude or belief – that keeps us separated from God – until all that remains are those things that are really needed.
We have a name for what remains, by the way. They’re called the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In short those things that help us make sense of life and help us understand God’s purpose for our life.
So the Holy Spirit is a refiner’s fire that burns out the hypocrisy, the mediocrity, the apathy, the self‑righteousness that infects us all. Myself included.
This is what we mean – this is what we’re asking for – when we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
Through the Holy Spirit, God is at work in us giving us the power we need to do what God is calling us to do and to be – people in whom God, and others, can see God’s own reflection.
That’s who the Holy Spirit is. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. And that’s why we pray, “Come Holy Spirit.” Amen