Sunday, May 27, 2012


Today, in our church calendar, we remember  Pentecost- the day when the Holy Spirit came. He is the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4 ; Jn 14:16,26)  and  of the  Son (Jn 16:7) to the church.  Jesus says : “ It is to your advantage that I  go away , for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” 

A few introductory remarks:  
The Holy Spirit is called  ruach” in the  Hebrew OT, and “pneuma hagios” in the Greek Septuagint and  NT. This  literally  translates as  breath  (e.g.  Genesis  2:7 ) or “ holy wind” Jesus, in Jn 3:1-8 likens the Spirit to the wind.  With this in mind we must not be tempted to think of  the Holy Spirit as  an impersonal force   or influence. Many  in history  have been tempted  to think of the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’ (a thing / influence), rather than  a “He” - a Person(ality). The Lord Jesus spoke about Him  and when He comes  in John 14 & 16 [1]  in terms of a real person, who  stands apart  from God the Father and God the Son,  yet sharing the very attributes of   God.  For this reason  the church in history has often referred to  Him as   the third member( or person)  of the  Godhead or  the Trinity . 
Like the Lord Jesus Christ  (the promised Messiah), the Holy Spirit  does not  simply  appear  in the NT. They are  both  known and spoken of  in the OT. It is true however  that  they are both  revealed in a fuller measure  in the NT.  In fact,   the  doctrine of the Trinity  has  become only obvious  in the light of Christ’s  and the Spirit’s coming.  Because   of this  we can also  know the  Father  better.  The Lord Jesus Christ  has come to ‘exegete’ and show  us  the Father (Jn 1:18 ; 14:9)  and the  Holy Spirit  (John 14- 16).

The Holy Spirit  as the wind or breath, the Life Giver,  is  the eternal  Holy Spirit (Hebr 9:14). This is one of God’s attributes.  The Holy Spirit has also  been  there at the beginning  of  creation…. “and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2).  He  orders and completes  and executes what has been planned in the mind of God the Father. In the NT the Holy Spirit  applies  the redemption wrought by Christ  to our fallen  natures . He helps us  see the horrible nature of our sin (through conviction)   and at the same time He helps us  to understand  the glorious work  of Christ   on the cross  (through comforting).  So we see that  the  Father  has planned our  redemption ; Jesus the Son  is our redemption ,  and the  Holy Spirit  applies  that redemption  by helping helps dead sinners to see , believe and receive  that redemption .  

There is yet  another work that the Holy Spirit is engaged in.  Both in the OT and the NT  He  empowers people.  However, there is a crucial difference in His work  in the NT.  In the OT  the Holy Spirit  came upon people,  empowering  them for various tasks for which they needed help. [2]   In  the NT, the Holy Spirit  would   be  perpetually with[3] and in  the life of every  true believer (see Jn 14:16 & 17 !). Ever since  Pentecost, the Holy Spirit  resides  permanently  among, in and with God’s people.  In this He continually empowers  believers  in the work of  witnessing to Christ’s  work on the cross (Acts 1:8), and He helps   them  to  produce fruit in  keeping with repentance (Gal. 5:22,23). He  also helps  them  in prayer and intercedes for  them. (Rom  8:26-27)

All this by way of a broad introduction  to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, whom  we are now  privileged to have  in us and with us. His presence  makes the living church a unique     institution upon the face of the earth. No other  body  of people  is so favoured and indwelt by  God as the true church  is. No other organization has as much real power and authority  and the presence of God as the true church has.  I say “true church”, because not every  church is a true church.  Many so called churches no longer walk  in fellowship with the  Spirit. Many have grieved the Holy Spirit.  They have been abandoned  by Him, as  He had  abandoned the   temple of Israel in the  days of Ezekiel  (Ezekiel 10).  Let us frequently  learn to examine ourselves  and pray like David : “Cast me (us)  not  from your presence , and take not your Holy Spirit from me (us) .”

Frequently Asked Questions
And  now we  shall  look at some peculiar   questions  relating to  the coming of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. It is worth our while to take some time to answer  these,  since the church in the 20th century has suffered  severely  from  a lack  of  mature reflection upon the  nature of Pentecost  - the coming of the Holy Spirit . We will deal  with four questions frequently  asked concerning   Pentecost :  [4]
1.      Were the  disciples of Christ genuine believers before Pentecost?  What difference did Pentecost make?
2.    How is the day of Pentecost  (Acts 2)  related to  subsequent outpourings of the Spirit in  Samaria (Acts 8:4-25) , in Caesarea  (Acts 10:1ff) , and  Ephesus (Acts 19: 1-7) ? A related  question  to this  is: do these passages about  the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost  point  us to a second experience of the Holy Spirit?
3.      What is the  relationship between  Pentecost and  the baptism of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:13?
4.      Is Pentecost  a repeatable event ? Should we expect  tongues and fire  to descend  on  modern congregations ?

Since these  questions  cannot be  dealt with in the course of the time that we have available this morning, I will  only answer the first question  and deal with the next three questions in our evening service.

1.      Were the  disciples of Christ genuine believers before Pentecost ?  What difference did Pentecost make ?

The question is sometimes asked whether   the disciples of  Jesus  were true  believers  before Pentecost.  If the Holy Spirit is needed  to help us to see our sin and our  need for Christ, then it is sometimes argued   that they may have become true  believers only  at  Pentecost, for that is when  the Spirit was given!  To say that is to portray one’s ignorance concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT. The Holy Spirit  of the OT is the same Spirit  of the NT. He  is mentioned  88 times in the OT, although the actual  term   “Holy Spirit” is only mentioned 3 times in the OT  (e.g. Ps 51:11) . Other  terms used  are  e.g.  the Spirit of God  (Gen 1:2).  23 OT books refer to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit  certainly was known  before Pentecost. He is frequently mentioned in the gospels which all refer to events before Pentecost [5]. Jesus  taught about the Holy Spirit  in John Chapters  14 and 16.   The Holy Spirit was certainly known and active in the OT  and in the days of Christ on earth.  

There can be no doubt that the disciples  (minus  Judas the traitor)   were genuine believers  before Pentecost. In  John 13  Jesus  makes it explicitly clear that all  of the disciples were cleansed (Jn. 13:10) and united to Christ (Jn. 15:1-11)  - all  except  Judas  (cf.  Jn. 13:10,11,18,21 ; Jn.  17:12). How then were  OT  believers  justified, since  neither Christ, the Messiah (who  provides atonement)  nor the Holy Spirit  (who convicts us of our sin  and opens our eyes to receive Christ) had yet been given?

The answer  is deeply profound , but  not difficult: All God’s  people  were ultimately chosen (predestined)  in eternity past  (see Eph 1:3-14 ; Romans 9 ;  1 Thess 1:4,5). All God’s chosen  people  were seen as being in Christ , before  the work  of the cross  actually  happened  in  the course of time.  How  was Abraham, for instance,  redeemed  from  his sin  and accounted righteous before God, even though He had not yet heard  of or seen  Christ? The answer is that  it was the Holy Spirit in   him that stirred  his  faith, and made him believe  in God’s future provision of grace.  He looked forward, in faith. to the fulfillment of God’s promises ?  And how  are you redeemed? In the same way . The Holy Spirit stirs up faith in you and you look backward to the cross of Christ and by faith in Him you are saved . The cross  is found at the center  of history. The OT believer looks forward to the cross,  by faith,  to the fulfillment of God’s promises   and the  NT  believer looks backwards to the cross, by faith , helped by the Holy Spirit ( who shows you the Scriptures) , and so  you are   redeemed , justified  and  adopted   into God’s family!  Christ’s death is the ground for  every believer’s justification- whether they  live before the cross or after the cross . From the perspective of the Pre – Pentecost  disciples  of   Jesus, they were saved because Jesus was going to lay down His life for them (minus Judas)
But  what  was  the difference between  their pre Pentecost and  post Pentecost experience? Was there any advantage  gained for them by  their Pentecostal experience?  Is there  an improvement of  the  knowledge of God  from the OT to the NT ? Absolutely !   
B.B. Warfield  writes in his book  : “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity” :
The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before. The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view. Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but only perfected, extended and enlarged.

At Pentecost  a phenomenal  leap took place.  The disciples  gained a confidence, knowledge, power and a  equipping   for the  task of making  the ancient plan of God, the gospel,   (embodied in His Son, the Lord Jesus) effectively   known to the entire  world. Because of Pentecost they  and we were enabled  to  effectively carry out the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) to the nations.   You and I have not only become  recipients  of that gospel, but we  been also empowered to  share that Gospel  today.  Thank God for Pentecost !

[1] See  especially John  16:12-15
[2]  E.g.  Bezalel & Oholiab (Ex 31:1ff);  Judges  3:10 ( Ehud) ; 6:34 ( Gideon);  14:6,19; 15:14  ( Samson); 1 Samuel 10:10; 11:6  (Saul) ;  Ezekiel 2:2; 3:12,14 etc ( Ezekiel)
[3] One of his names  is the ‘ paraclete’  lit. one who comes alongside , hence ‘ with
[4]  Taken from Sinclair Ferguson : The Holy Spirit : Ch 4-  Pentecost Today?  P. 79
[5]   Luke speaks about the Holy Spirit in  the gospel  a number  of  times, particularly in the life of John the Baptist and Jesus.  Jesus teaches His disciples also to  expect the Holy Spirit to help them prior to Pentecost  (see for example  Lk 11:13; 12:12  ; and again in John 14 & 16)

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