Pentecost People - The Story of the Spirit

Acts 1:1-11, John 14:23-29  /  Pentecost People 1  /  The story of the Holy Spirit

Today we start a new sermon series. Pentecost is coming, and for the next 5 Sundays we’re going to be thinking together about what it means to be Pentecost People - people, both individually and as a community, in whom the Holy Spirit lives and acts.

So today I am going to tell the story of the Holy Spirit in the bible, and next week we’ll think about what it means to be a spirit filled church, and then Faye will talk about what it means to be spirit filled people, and we’ll have a chance to take a risk and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, and then Simon will talk about how we listen for the Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, and finally I’ll talk about what the bible calls ‘the spiritual powers’ and how the Holy Spirit helps our struggle against the powers of evil. 

Two things to say about the series as a whole.

First, it’s hard to talk about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t an object that can be defined and described - as we’ll see, the bible only ever talks about the Spirit using metaphorical language like fire, wind or breath, and only ever by describing the action of the spirit. God the Father we can describe, and Jesus was a real person, but the Spirit is impossible to capture with words; like trying to hold water in your hands, as soon as we think we’ve got it, it has moved on. 

So as we talk about the Spirit over these next weeks, we want to tell stories and share our experiences of the Spirit, rather than trying to talk about the spirit as an object. This series won’t focus so much on ‘learning about’ the Spirit as on ‘meeting with’ the Spirit. 

And second, following on from that, we want to invite you to take a risk. The Holy Spirit is the divine power of relationship, transformation, change and healing. The Holy Spirit is alive and active - and longs to join us, to fill us, to partner with us. So there will be opportunities to invite the Spirit into your life in a new way, and I encourage you to take a risk - say yes even if it feels scary, be open even if you’re apprehensive, invite the Spirit, even if it’s outside your comfort zone. Take a risk and let the Spirit get to work.

So, with that in mind, I want to tell you a story. It’s the story of the Holy Spirit, as told by the bible. And it begins in the beginning - or rather it begins before the beginning, before there was a beginning when God the Father looked over the nothingness that was, and the Holy Spirit ‘brooded’ over the deep. The Holy Spirit of God, His action, his power, his creativity, his bringing something into being where there was nothing, swept over the nothing and when the Father said ‘let there be light’, light happened. The Spirit was there. The spirit saw ‘nothing’ become ‘something,’ saw ‘empty’ become ‘stuff’, witnessed light and sight and sound and movement coming into being. The spirit knew the moment that time began and there was a past, a present and a future. The Spirit was there. The Spirit was at work. 

The Spirit of creation and of transformation, the Spirit who brings order out of chaos, who pulled protons, neutrons and electrons together into atoms, and lined the atoms up into exquisite orderly patterns, creating elements from which all ‘this’ could become real. 

This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

And the word for the Spirit in the Old Testament is Ruach, it means wind or breath, it means active power, creativity, it means things happening. It’s more verb than noun - it’s activity, not a ‘thing’ to be described.

And throughout the Old Testament, as God calls creation into being, and puts his breath into the life form we call ‘homo sapiens’ so they become self aware and ‘human’, and as these humans learn about their capacity for good and evil, and choose evil instead of good, and as God calls a new nation into being to be His people, his witnesses on earth, the ones who will model a God-centred way of life; as this all unfolds, the Holy Spirit is around and active, working in particular people, for particular purposes at particular times, to fulfil God’s goals and to see his plans come to pass. 

So the Holy Spirit fills Joshua, Moses’ sidekick, so he can lead Israel while Moses is away.

And the Holy Spirit is given to the prophet Samuel, so that he can prophesy about God. And to the great prophets Ezekiel, Micah and Zechariah so they can speak the words of God to the people.

And some of the greatest characters of the Old Testament receive the Holy Spirit for a particular task - Samson, to be a mighty warrior for the Lord; David when he is anointed King; Daniel so he can interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams.

And others too, less well known, receive the Spirit of the Lord for a particular task; Othniel received a spirit of wisdom so he could judge Israel, Bezaleel was given the spirit and grew in wisdom and knowledge and ‘in all manner of workmanship’ so he could make beautiful things for the Temple. 

Particular people, given the Spirit for particular tasks.

And then something shifts. There have been whispers in the wind for centuries. Whispers about God doing something new, whispers of a person who would point people back to God, who would embody the calling given to Israel, who would (maybe, possibly, could it be?) reveal God’s mercy to all people everywhere. And as the New Testament opens, those whispers are growing louder and louder. 

And as they grow, the Holy Spirit seems to be more active, in more people, more of the time. And so Mary, a young woman living in Nazareth, is told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and she will become pregnant with a child who will be called the Son of God. And that’s exactly what happens. And Joseph, Mary’s fiance, is given the same message. And everyone involved in this story is filled with the Holy Spirit; Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, Zechariah, her husband, Simeon, who meets the young family in the temple. And then John the Baptist gets to work and his message? I baptise you with water, but Jesus will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. 

And to baptise is to immerse, to plunge, to go deep down under water. Where before the Holy Spirit was given out to particular people, for particular tasks, now there is a deluge, and inundation, a baptism of the Spirit is on it’s way.

And the Spirit, above all, is in Jesus. He is soaked in the Spirit, dripping with the Spirit. So he begins his ministry in the power of the Spirit, he is supported by the Spirit when tempted in the wilderness, he rejoices in the Holy Spirit. Jesus is entirely, completely and totally full of the Spirit in everything he does at every moment.

And when he talks, he says that this experience, this way of life, will soon be offered to everyone. ‘I have said these things to you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything.’

And then he dies, and the promise dies with him. Everything is over. No more healing, no more creativity, no more transformation. No more Holy Spirit.

Until Resurrection Day comes and the Universe shifts, and creation is re-booted for a new start. And on Ascension Day, Jesus leaves his disciples and is raised up to heaven. He cannot stay - one man cannot be everywhere, all the time, for everyone; his job was to reveal God in all his fullness, to battle the powers of sin, death and evil and to win, and then to hand over to the Holy Spirit. 

And then BOOOM. The Spirit goes nuts. On Pentecost, the Spirit falls upon the disciples and everything changes, and over the next weeks thousands more find this strange, joyful, transformative power turning them and their lives inside out, so that Jesus is alive in them, and they can do his work. A Pentecost people come into being. 

No longer a few people here and there, given the spirit for a particular task at a particular time. Now the Spirit is available to everyone, everywhere - to men and women, to young and old, to Jews and Gentiles, to slaves and free - to everyone, everywhere. All they have to do is ask. The age of the Spirit has begun.

And it hasn’t ended yet. We live in the age of the Spirit - we are God’s Pentecost people. We are the ones in whom the Spirit longs to dwell, so that we can do Jesus’ kingdom work, healing the sick, setting the captives free and bringing good news to the poor and glory to God.

We are God’s Pentecost People and the Spirit is here. 

Are you ready?

Hugh Nelson