From the particular to the universal

May 5th, 2017

Acts 2:1-21

The concept of the Holy Spirit is always fascinating. There are many attempts to define it and describe it, but alas, all fall short. To use an ancient Latin phrase, the Holy Spirit is a mysterium tremendum. My interest here is to focus on the work of the Holy Spirit on that Day of Pentecost.

First, the presence of the Holy Spirit became evident in an overwhelming way. The report of the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts says that “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (2:2).

A number of times strong gusts of wind have hit me while I was walking, hit my home during a storm, or hit my car while I was driving on the highway. Air turbulence easily knocks around a big airplane. One can only marvel at the power of wind in those instances. Thus, in its initial appearance, the Holy Spirit manifested its tremendous power in the movement of the wind.

Second, the presence of the Holy Spirit touched everyone present in the upper room during that Pentecost Day. People of faith from all backgrounds, various languages, and different nationalities experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a personal, powerful, life-transforming moment.

During my lifetime, I have experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during a worship service or a spiritual rally. Although there is much emotion, the best parts of those experiences are the love, peace, joy, and unity felt among the participants. The group of people can be big or small, but the presence and power of the Holy Spirit are evident. In those precious moments people are greatly blessed with a profound sense of forgiveness, of new hope, new life, healing, and reconciliation, resulting in blessing after blessing.

For me, the most exciting and interesting work of the Holy Spirit is its third action on Pentecost Day. By enabling the people present to speak different languages so that non-Aramaic-speaking people can understand the message, the Holy Spirit breaks all kinds of barriers, indeed frees the gospel from a particular first-century Galilean rabbi to a universal message of hope and salvation for all people.

In various psalms (67; 72; 117) we find a vision of God as the God of all nations, of all peoples, of all the earth and its inhabitants. We find the same theme repeated in the Prophets, especially Isaiah (2:2-4) and Jeremiah (3:17; 4:2-4). We see that the Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly reached out to the marginalized, the poor, the sick, the social rejects, women, foreigners, military, nonmilitary, known sinners, the religious, and the wealthy. Jesus’ closing words before his ascension are that his followers are to go to all the nations of the world to baptize and preach in his name. The Holy Spirit gives Jesus’ followers the power to carry out the commandment Jesus gave them to baptize and preach in his name to all people.

At a church conference, I noticed a young man who listened attentively to the lectures. I wondered who he was. I took the opportunity to speak to him. He told me he was from Nepal, the tiny country on whose border with Tibet sits Mount Everest. He once was a Hindu and believed in many gods. While he was attending college, a student gave him a tract about Jesus. He was so intrigued reading about Jesus that he got a Bible to read more about Jesus. Soon, he encountered the living Christ and became a Christian. He joined a Christian fellowship.

For the first time in his life, he felt forgiven and redeemed. He left a life of confusion and uncertainty for a life of assurance, hope, faith, and love. He began living a new life, a life based on the living Christ. It was a dangerous time for him. At that time, Nepal did not allow Christians to worship openly. His family, all Hindus, ostracized him. Yet his faith in Jesus Christ grew stronger. Several years later, the government changed and Christians could worship openly. Then his family became Christian. Now, as headmaster of a small Christian college, he joyfully serves the Lord Jesus Christ.

How could it be that a young man from Nepal read a tract about Jesus, became a convert to the Christian faith, and now directs a Christian training school? It happened because of the movement and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired someone to write that tract, someone else to give away the tract, and that Nepalese man to read it and be touched by its message about the Lord Jesus Christ.

We all can have our Pentecost. We can experience the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in worship, in the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, during prayer time, during Bible study, during missionary outreach, during service work, in whatever activity helps us have an open heart and mind to the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is also present in times of personal suffering and even death. God sends us the Holy Spirit in such moments to comfort us but also to give us the courage, faith, and power to deal with our suffering and grief and then move on. The Holy Spirit helps us experience God’s presence and gives us the power to be faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is God’s way of staying in touch daily with his people as they share the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.

Thus the whole world can rejoice in the hope that God’s love in the Lord Jesus Christ is also for them. The Holy Spirit labors mightily toward that end. Let us pray that as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have open hearts and open minds to the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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