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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Prophecy, Promise, Presence


When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their 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? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your young men will see visions,

your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

I will show wonders in the heavens above

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

And everyone who calls

on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Acts 2:1-21

In seminary, you take a couple of courses in writing sermons. And the first thing you have to do is outline the scriptures on which you’re going to preach. You should have 3 or 4 main points, and of course it’s nice if they all start with the same letter. That makes it easier for people to remember.

Well, this one seminary student was having a hard time with his first outline and the professor was beginning to get a little impatient. He finally said, “Come on, you must have something by now!” “Well,” said the student, “I only have 2 points, and they don’t start with the same letter.” “What scripture lesson are you working on?” asked the professor. “It’s about a man who was sick of the palsy,” the student replied. “So, what are your two points?” “The first on is: ‘A man had the palsy.’” “Oh boy, that’s really great! What’s your second point?” “He was sick of it!”

Well, I’m a little better than that. I want to talk to you for a few minutes about Pentecost, and I have 3 points (and they all start with the same letter, too!) When we think of Pentecost, we think of the Holy Spirit, and in that connection, I want to look at the prophecy, the promise, and the presence.

First, the prophecy. Pentecost is a happy holiday for the Jews. A festive day. They call it Shabuoth which means “weeks.” It’s called the Feast of Pentecost because it falls 50 days after Passover and the word “Pentecost” means “50 days”.

In Bible times, the first fruits of the fields and orchards from the Spring harvest were brought to the temple as an offering to the Lord. It’s celebrated today in synagogues and Jewish homes as a thanksgiving festival. Because the story of Ruth is set in the time of the barley harvest, the Book of Ruth is read in the synagogues. During the time of temple worship, the children of Israel brought a sheaf of the first fruits of the Spring harvest and offered it to the Lord. That’s probably why confirmation ceremonies for Jewish young people are held on Shabuoth or Pentecost.

Traditionally, the holiday has also become a commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. And so, the eve of Pentecost is often observed by the reading of the scriptures. And just before the reading of the 10 Commandments, a verse from an 11th century poem is sung. Listen, it’s beautiful!

“Love of God”

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

Were every blade of grass a quill,

Were the whole world of parchment made,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.

Yes, Pentecost is a happy holiday because it celebrates the love and provisions of God.

But I titled this first point “prophesy,” and so I want to look at the prophet Joel, whom Peter quoted in our Epistle lesson, saying that Joel’s prophecy of the outpouring of God’s Spirit had now been fulfilled. Here’s how his book begins:

The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

Hear this, you elders;

listen, all who live in the land.

Has anything like this ever happened in your days

or in the days of your ancestors?

Tell it to your children,

and let your children tell it to their children,

and their children to the next generation.

What the locust swarm has left

the great locusts have eaten;

what the great locusts have left

the young locusts have eaten;

what the young locusts have left

other locusts have eaten.

But Joel’s prophesy included good news too, like when he wrote, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”

In Old Testament times, although all believers in the true God were saved, the Holy Spirit came upon special people for special ministries at special times. But Joel prophesied that in the last days God’s Spirit would be poured out on all believers regardless of outward status or privilege, with no distinction of sex or age, of rank or race; for both sons and daughters, young men and old men, menservants and maidservants are to receive this divine gift. Out of every age, sex, race, and rand, it includes all who repent and believe.

So, now we have the Feast of Pentecost, given through Moses by God; and 600 to 800 years later we hear Joel’s prophecy of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by God. And now another 600 to 800 years later, we hear the promise of the Holy Spirit by Jesus.

In the Book of Acts, Luke tells us that Jesus, while staying with the Apostles, “Charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which,” He said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” And “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the Earth.”

Jesus had finished His work here on Earth: He had lived the life that we can’t life; He had died the death that we deserve; He had paid the debt that we owe; He had risen from the dead to prove that His claims and promises are true. And He had told His disciples, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor (that is, the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

And send Him He did! He kept His promise! For when the day of Pentecost had come, and about 120 disciples of Jesus were together, a sound like a mighty wind filled the house, tongues like fire fell on them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in foreign languages. 120 people, telling of the mighty works of God, in at least 15 different languages! “You shall receive power,” Jesus had said; “You shall be my witnesses.” The Feast of Pentecost, the prophecy of Joel, the promise of Jesus – all came together in the presence of the Holy Spirit!

And so, the Christian life is life in the Spirit. It would be impossible to be a Christian, let alone live and grow as a Christian, without the Spirit of God. All we have and are as Christians we owe to Him.

For the Christian, life begins with a new birth, either at baptism or with conversion. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God… That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

So, all who are the children of God have the Spirit of God – and all who have the Spirit of God are children of God. And the Holy Spirit works to assure us of this fact. Paul wrote to the Romans, “When we cry, ‘Abba! (or daddy!) Father!’ It is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Once He has come to us and taken up residence within us, the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification begins. His ministry is both to reveal Christ to us and to form Christ in us, so that we grow steadily in our knowledge of Christ and in our likeness to Christ.

It's by the power of the Holy Spirit within us that our natural evil desires are restrained, and the good fruit of Christian character is produced. And He’s not a kind of private possession either, ministering only to individual Christians; He also unites us to the Body of Christ, the Church, so that Christian fellowship is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and Christian worship is worship in the Holy Spirit.

He's the One, too, who reaches out to others through us, prompting us to witness to Christ, and equipping us with gifts for service. In addition, He’s called the “guarantee of our inheritance” because His presence within us is our assurance of salvation. And on the last day, He will be active in raising our mortal bodies. That quick rundown of some of His major activities in our lives should be enough to show that from the very beginning to the very end of our Christian life, we are dependent on the work of the Holy spirit – dependent on His presence with us.

I mentioned that it’s the power of the Spirit within us that produces the good fruit of Christian character. The expression, “Fruit of the Spirit” comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the fruit is listed.

Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, gentleness, self-control.” This fruit should make our mouth water and be something we hunger for. It describes the person we should all want to be, for it pictures our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves.

The Holy Spirit puts God’s love in our hearts, God’s joy in our souls, and God’s peace in our minds. Love, joy, and peace should characterize a Christian. Everything we do should be based on love, done with joy, and accomplished in peace.

And then there’s our relationship with others: “patience, kindness, goodness.”

  • Patience that takes rudeness and unkindness from others – but doesn’t retaliate, doesn’t get even;

  • Kindness that goes beyond not wishing anyone harm to actually working and wishing everyone well;

  • And goodness which turns the wish into the deed and serves people in real, constructive ways.

I think you can see “patience, kindness, and goodness” as three ascending steps in our attitude toward others.

And thirdly, there’s our relationship with ourselves: “faithfulness, humility, self-control.”

  • Faithfulness which invites others to rely on us; the dependability of those who keep their promises and finish their tasks;

  • Humility, the absence of pride and the realization that all we are and all we have are gifts from God;

  • And self-control which makes us masters of our tongue, our thoughts, our appetites, and our passions.

This is the portrait of the ideal, balanced, Christlike, Spirit-filled Christian. And ideal, as I said, that we should all hunger for. And the idea is not to pick and choose between them. They’re not fruits, like a banana and an apple and an orange, but rather fruit, singular, like a bunch of grapes – or maybe even more of an aggregate fruit like a raspberry. To cultivate some without the others produces a lop-sided Christian.

The Holy Spirit gives different Christians different gifts, but He works to produce the same fruit in all of us. He’s not content if we display love for others while we have no control of ourselves, or if we have inner joy and peace without kindness to others.

And so, today we celebrate Pentecost, with the prophecy, the promise, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. We celebrate because we’ve been begotten of God; we are His children and heirs; we have died and risen with Christ; our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit; and the Spirit living in us is our guarantee and the first fruits of our eternal inheritance in Heaven.

Let us remember our gifts of God’s grace and our Christian privileges and strive to live a life that is worthy and appropriate. It’s because of what we already are in Christ (God’s children) and because of what we shall be when He appears (like Him) that we are motivated to be what we should be (pure, as Christ is pure).

And let us always thank God for His gifts of His Son and His Spirit.


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