Today is Pentecost. It’s the day we celebrate the very first time the disciples of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit. The gospel writer Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, didn’t include this story in his record of the early church, just to give us an historical account. He included it because this can be our story. If we are disciples of Jesus, we too can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Our lives will never be the same again.
In many ways, this is my story. When I was filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time it changed my life. I always get really excited about Pentecost. One of my passions is to pray for other people to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
In our bible reading this morning, the story is very dramatic. The first disciples were staying in Jerusalem after Jesus had returned to his Father in heaven. Jesus had told them to wait there. He had told them that in a few days they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit. The disciples didn’t really know what he was talking about, but they stayed in Jerusalem anyway, praying and waiting. Then one day, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the Spirit of God came upon them in power. There was a sound like a mighty wind. There were what seemed like tongues of fire. Each disciple was filled with the Spirit of God. Their lives would never be the same again.
What does it mean for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
This morning I would like to explore how we too can be filled with the Holy Spirit like those first disciples. I’m going to explore it three parts:
- Presence The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in us
- Person The Holy Spirit is God’s person in us
- Power The Holy Spirit is God’s power in us
- God’s Presence We explored last week when we looked at Jesus High Priestly prayer in John 17, that the desire of God’s heart is to have a close and personal relationship of love with each one of us. God loves you. He wants to be very close to you.
This has been God’s desire from the very beginning. We see it right at the beginning of the bible with God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve. That was God’s original plan for human beings. A walk with him that was close and personal and loving.
But we know too that right at the beginning there was a break in that close relationship. Adam and Eve chose independence over dependence on God. They chose to do things their way. Like the old Frank Sinatra song, ‘I did it my way.’ This caused a breach in the relationship between God and human beings that has effected all succeeding generations.
The whole of the rest of the bible is the story of God reaching out to men and women in order to restore that close relationship.
That is why we see the tabernacle and then the temple in the Old Testament. These were the beginnings of God once again to choosing to dwell-to be present-with his people.
Ultimately God would send Jesus. God Emmanuel. God with us. The incarnation meant once again God could be with his people-with his disciples. But because God in Jesus took on the nature of a human being, he could only be with a limited group of people. He couldn’t be with the hundreds, then thousands, then millions of people who would become his disciples. That’s why Jesus says in our gospel reading, John 16.7, ‘I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate(the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him (the Holy Spirit) to you.
Jesus was saying that it was actually to the disciples’ advantage that he was going to ascend to heaven. He would then send the Holy Spirit to the disciples. The Holy Spirit would live in them and be God’s presence with them.
The extraordinary thing is, that as disciples of Jesus, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit God’s Spirit actually comes to live in our bodies. It is the most incredible thing.
- God’s Person The Holy Spirit is a person. Our God is one God in three persons: the Father, His son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We celebrate this next Sunday on Trinity Sunday.
For a long time the church focused on the persons of the Father and the Son. Possibly the older translations of the bible that spoke of the Holy Spirit as the Holy Ghost haven’t helped. Some people still speak of the Holy Spirit as ‘it’. The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’, the Holy Spirit is a person.
We see the Holy Spirit right at the beginning of the bible in Genesis 1.2 where he was involved in creation, bringing order out of chaos.
In the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant, not all of God’s people received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came on particular people at particular times for particular tasks.
- People like Gideon in the book of Judges who was filled with the Holy Spirit to enable him to lead God’ s people.
- Sampson who was filled with God’s Spirit to give him strength
- Isaiah who was filled with God’s Spirit so that he could prophesy God’s word.
Prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Joel then began to prophesy of a new covenant that would not be like the old covenant. Under this new covenant God would pour out his Spirit in a new way. He would pour out his Spirit on all of God’s people.
This new covenant was brought in by Jesus through his death and resurrection. We celebrate it each time we celebrate communion. Under the New Covenant, God promises to pour out his Holy Spirit on all of his people and this is what happened to the disciples at Pentecost.
If you are a disciple of Jesus-you are living under the New Covenant-you too can be filled with the Holy Spirit like the first disciples. You will be filled with the power of God.
- God’s Power The Holy Spirit works in power in many different ways in our lives. One of the most powerful things that he does is to witness into our hearts that we are God’s children-beloved sons, beloved daughters (Romans 8. 14-17)
So many of us, however together we may look on the outside, are deeply insecure because we don’t know in our heart of hearts that we are truly loved. The Holy Spirit brings us this assurance:
- You are my beloved son
- You are my beloved daughter
Later in the bible we see that the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts and works in our lives to transform our characters to be more and more like Jesus.
But this morning I would like to focus on the power and work of the Holy Spirit we see at that first Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit comes on the first disciples like the rushing of wind and like tongues of fire. Sometimes when people are filled with the Spirit you see them tremble like leaves in a wind. Sometimes too you feel the presence of heat in your body. Often this happens when the Holy Spirit is bringing healing. Sometimes you can feel heat in your hands if God is giving you a gift for healing.
There are no rules about this. No set pattern. God will touch your life in the way that he wants to.
I prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit when I first became a Christian. Some people when they pray that prayer have an immediate powerful experience of the presence of God. When I prayed, nothing dramatic happened immediately, but over the days and then weeks and months to come, I was so powerfully filled with the Spirit that it is really difficult to describe. It was as if the bible was on fire when I read it. Even though I was meant to be studying, all I wanted to do was keep on reading and reading my bible. When I prayed the presence of God was so powerful that I wasn’t sure what to do. I had a wonderful reassurance of God’s deep love for me.
In our bible passage we see the disciples speaking in tongues or other languages. Some people can really worry about this. There really is no need to. Speaking in tongues is simply a gift of praising and a praying in a language that the Holy Spirit gives. It’s a very useful gift. Sometimes when we pray, we can run out of words. Say you are praying for someone you love and you want to keep praying, but don’t know what else to say. When we have the gift of praying in tongues we can carry on praising and praying and know we are praying what is on God’s heart.
- The desire of God’s heart is for you to know his presence.
- The desire of God’s heart is for you to know the person of the Holy Spirit living in you.
- The desire of God’s heart is for you to know the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life.
There is a sense in which everybody who is a follower of Jesus has the Holy Spirit. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we become a Christian. But sometimes this can be a bit like a tiny pilot light in an old-fashioned gas boiler. There is a flame, but it is very small. God’s desire is to fill you. To turn the burners full on. Ephesians 5.18 speaks of the need to keep on being filled with the Spirit.
To be filled with the Spirit is not difficult. All we have to do is ask. Jesus says in Luke 11. ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
You can go home and pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. That is a really good prayer. It’s a prayer God loves to hear and to answer.
But I would also like to give you the opportunity to be prayed for. There is something about us praying for one another that pleases the Father. There is going to be an opportunity to come up to the altar rail and to receive prayer to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
I would encourage you to respond.