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The Holy Spirit, #4: Pentecost: The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

"The Holy Spirit, #4: Pentecost: The Baptism of the Holy Spirit" by Pastor Lash

Because the theme of this article is founded upon the conclusions of past articles, we must first review the ground we have covered so far:

The Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity whose role it is to open our eyes to the things of God. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God." (1Cor. 2:12)

When the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit being in us, or coming upon us, it doesn’t mean that the very being of the third person of the Trinity is located in our hearts, it means that the Holy Spirit is bringing the grace of God to bear in our lives, that He is showing His power by transforming us into the image of Christ, that He is giving us an awareness of how near God is to us, not in terms of location but in terms of relationship.

And the more the Spirit transforms a man into the image of Christ, the more that man is filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s what being filled with the Holy Spirit means.

The OT frequently speaks of a day when God would pour out His Spirit upon His people in great measure.

Though the OT often speaks of the Spirit coming upon God’s people to equip them or empower them for specific tasks, the Holy Spirit was also at work back then in the same way He is today, but only to a lesser extent. In other words, the differences between the Holy Spirit’s work in the OT and the NT is not a matter of essence but of degree. What we have now in the NT, coming at Pentecost, is a new measure of the Holy Spirit.

This does not involve a greater measure of Holy Spirit activity in every individual in the NT compared to the OT, but a greater measure overall, a greater measure poured out upon the world.

In this article we pick up where we left off in our last article, which was a discussion of the Holy Spirit in the OT.

The Build-up to Pentecost

We saw a number of OT promises that God would pour the Holy Spirit out on His people on some day in the future. Then all of a sudden in the NT these promises are being pointed at Jesus. He is the One who’s going to give the Holy Spirit. Only it’s now being spoken of not as pouring out of the Holy Spirit but as baptizing with the Holy Spirit. (But, of course, baptizing and pouring out are basically the same thing, aren’t they?)

Seven times in the NT this phrase ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is used:

Four times it is used by John the Baptist in reference to Jesus:

-- Mark 1:7-8 And he was preaching, and saying, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

-- He says the same thing in

Matt. 3:11and in Luke 3:16.

-- John 1:32-34 John bore witness saying, "I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

This statement of John about Jesus baptizing in the Holy Spirit is cited twice in the book of Acts, once by Jesus Himself in 1:5 before His ascension and once by Peter in 11:16. That’s six. And then Paul uses it once in 1Cor.12:13. That makes seven.

So, during John’s public ministry, he picks up on this promise of God to send the Holy Spirit and reinforces it and focuses it on Jesus as the One who will do it.

But Jesus doesn’t leave it there.

The anticipation of this great Holy Spirit event continues to build as He repeatedly points ahead to it in His own words to the disciples, especially on the last night before His death, at his Last Supper with the Twelve:

"I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever." (John 14:16)

"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name... (John 14:26)

"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father..." (John 15:26)

"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment." (John 16:7,8)

"But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes..." (John 16:13)

The same expectation continues to receive attention after the resurrection:

"Behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)

"Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, 'Which,' He said, 'you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now...But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’" (Acts 1:4,5,8)

Pentecost

Ten days later the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost.

And finally this promise that God would send His Spirit, which had been introduced by Isaiah (3 times), repeated several times by Ezekiel and then by Joel and Zechariah, which had been taken up by John and repeated by Jesus Himself, was finally fulfilled as Jesus, having ascended to the right hand of God in glory, poured out His Spirit upon the 120 believers who were in Jerusalem. And as soon as it happens a crowd gathers to see what is happening and Peter gets up to address the crowd and says, "This is what was spoken of through the prophets."

Now Pentecost did not come into being on the day the Holy Spirit was poured out. Pentecost was an OT festival in early summer also known as ‘the feast of weeks’ or ‘the festival of first fruits’ when the Jews celebrated the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19:1). As the old Israel is organized and founded on the day of Pentecost, so now the new Israel receives from God what makes it distinct - the Spirit of God from heaven.

Now three phenomenon occur at this initial out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that are worthy of note. Like at Mount Sinai, there were fire, wind and voices (see Hebrews 12:18-19). Let’s think about each one briefly:

Sound of wind

There doesn't seem to have been a wind, only a sound of a wind. Why? The Spirit was the wind (the Greek word pneuma means spirit, wind and breath). The point was that they were given the ability to sense the coming of something that would otherwise have been imperceptible. Of course, the Holy Spirit is no longer perceptible by our ears, just as He is no longer perceptible by our eyes as He was when He came upon Jesus in the form of a dove. In fact, later in Acts when the HS comes in Samaria and Caesarea and Ephesus, the sound of the wind and the tongues of fire do not accompany.

Tongues of fire

The coming of the Spirit was not merely hearable but seeable – in the form of what looked like tongues of fire coming down upon each believer. (Note that the text says not "of fire" but "as of fire.") This probably had something to do with what John meant when he said that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit and with fire.

Speaking in tongues

It seems that there must be a connection between the tongues of v.3 and the tongues of v.4 (the Greek word is the same). It seems that the tongues of fire represent God's tongue coming upon them, thus enabling them to speak in tongues/languages they didn’t know, by the power of the Spirit. What is this all about? I believe that we see here the first steps of God speaking to the Gentiles. Tongues is prophecy spoken in the languages of the nations. All of a sudden God is no longer speaking the language of the Jews but the languages of the world. One of the main themes of the NT is God turning away from the Jews in favor of the Gentiles. It is not a mere coincidence that the OT is written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, and the NT is written in Greek, the language of the world. And the speaking in tongues at Pentecost is not only a blessing to those of foreign tongue, but it is also a sign to the unbelieving Jews that God was turning away from them. All through the OT God had warned His people that unknown tongues would be the sign of their rejection. And thus Paul, explaining tongues in 1Cor.14:21-22 says, "In the Law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,’ says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers..."

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament After Pentecost

But this outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost proved to be more that just a one-time incident. It is as if there is a ripple effect that goes out from Pentecost – it didn’t stop in Jerusalem. It didn’t stop in Acts 2. In Acts 8 the Spirit comes upon the Samaritans. In Acts 10 He comes upon the Gentiles in Cornelius’s house. And in Acts 19 it happens to the disciples of John in Ephesus.

The presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit becomes a central element of the whole NT. The Holy Spirit is in us crying out "Abba Father." The Holy Spirit is a deposit, assuring us of the rest of God’s blessing which awaits us in heaven. We are to walk by the Spirit not by the flesh. We are to bear the fruit of the Spirit. We each have a gift of the Spirit. We are to fight with the weapons of the Spirit. Christ in us though the Holy Spirit is the mystery, the secret weapon of the Christian life. We are repeatedly urged to be filled with the Spirit. Once the Spirit has come at Pentecost, everything in the Christian life is related to the Spirit.

The Significance of the Coming of the Holy Spirit For Us

This is not just for the believers who were alive at the time of Pentecost; it is for us. The Holy Spirit is not just something that happened in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is someone who has been given to us. And whether we realize it or not, we relate to God only through the Holy Spirit.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a big deal. Is it a big deal to us? It came with all the marks of great significance. Does it have great significance for us? Do we attribute great significance to it?

Some of the signs of the original Pentecost were just the scaffolding that was originally designed to be dismantled after it had served its blasting-off purpose. Certainly the sound of the wind was, and also the tongues of fire. Many believe that the speaking in tongues fulfilled the same kind of temporary purpose. But most of what happened at Pentecost was unquestionably designed to be permanent: the boldness, the new life, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the love and fellowship and unity among believers, the freedom, the sense of awe, the sense of God’s presence, all these were meant to stay, and are meant still to be a part of our experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

Now I can understand if some of this makes some of us uncomfortable. But we must not be afraid of the Holy Spirit! This isn't something to be afraid of, but to glory in! We must remember that there are two dangers here as everywhere. Certainly there is a danger of fanaticism and emotionalism and experientialism, of being reckless about the things of the Spirit. But there is also a danger of being closed to the Holy Spirit. There is a danger of being so afraid of the extremes, that you throw the baby out with the bath water. There is a danger of being satisfied with something much less than what God has for us! One of Satan’s ploys is to keep us from the Holy Spirit. By doing this He keeps us away from our joy, from our help, from our power, from our sense of God’s presence. We can't let the extremes of some ruin our enjoyment of God's blessings. God did a wonderful thing for us here. Let us joyfully pursue it to its fullness.

Both sides in the charismatic issue, you see, have a tendency to interpret the Bible according to their experience. Some have an experience and interpret Scripture in light of it. But others interpret Scripture in the light of their non-experience. In other words, they only pay attention to those parts of the Bible’s teaching that they feel they have experienced, and nervously leave the rest alone. But neither of these is what God wants. God wants us to come to the Scriptures and say, "What is this saying?" And then interpret our experience, or lack of experience in light of it.

For instance, when we come to the passage in John 7:37-39 where Jesus says of the life of a person who is filled with the Spirit, "Out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water," what do we make of that? Is that our experience? And if not, then what do we think of it? Do we say, "If I’m understanding the Scripture correctly, my life is not what it should be. Lord, make me what I should be. Make me a man who shows the power and fulness of Jesus by his very life."? Or do we do the opposite? Do we actually grow suspicious of anyone who talks like this or lives like this? Do we reduce the teaching of the Bible to the level of what we know and experience? Do we realize that both of these dangers are deadly and must be avoided? It is easy for us to be so afraid of disorder, so concerned about discipline and decorum and control that we veer way off the path to avoid that danger and ending up falling into the trap of quenching the Spirit.

But what we have and what we know and what we experience cannot be the standard. The standard must be Scripture! If we start with ourselves, with what we’ve experienced and what we understand and what we are comfortable with, then inevitably we’ll go wrong. Some folks have a bent toward the spectacular, toward that which is thrilling. They must learn to bridle their instincts and submit them to the word of God. Others have a bent toward what seems safe and predictable. They also must learn to bridle their instincts and submit them to the word of God. God is bigger than our craving for a thrill! And God is bigger than our love of tidiness and orderliness!

Let me say a word about recklessness. We must never be reckless about what God tells us in His word. We must be very careful and methodical and scrupulous about discovering what He tells us in the Bible. But there is a certain appropriate recklessness that goes along with this. I believe that God wants us to be reckless in our abandoning ourselves to His will. God doesn’t want us to use our sense of carefulness when it comes to submitting to Him. He wants reckless abandonment. He wants us to trust Him completely to take care of us, not to hold ourselves back from Him as if we must protect ourselves from His will.

Could it be that some of us like living the way we’re living? Why? Because it’s easier. It’s safer. It’s not so scary. Could it be that we don’t want to have our comfortable but meager spiritual existence disturbed by the Holy Spirit’s power? Well, my friends, if that is our attitude, we have reason to fear. Do you think that you are going to get to heaven by choosing the path that is wide and pleasant? The last I checked that’s not the one that gets to heaven.

My friends, God has done a lot in our lives. He has captured us out of the dominion of darkness, He has begun to align our lives according to His word, He has given us the strength to endure hardships and to seek what is right. But still, it seems to me that the Bible is talking about an existence that is far beyond what most of us live. I know that my life is a far cry from the life of Christ. I’m so caught up in myself instead of being caught up in Christ. I’m self-centered even though Christ was other-centered.

How can we ever become what we know we should be? Only through the Holy Spirit. How can we have the hope we need to walk in the victory of Christ? Only through the Holy Spirit. How can we find the joy we need to love vibrant Christian lives? Only though the Holy Spirit. How can we find the peace to face troubles and disappointments without fear? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit. Where can we get the courage and the boldness to stand up for Jesus in a world that so desperately needs Him? By the Holy Spirit. Where can we get a sense of God’s nearness and activity in my life that I need to feel like I have a dynamic relationship with the living Christ? By the Holy Spirit. Where can we get the love to pour out into the needy lives that are all around us? From the Holy Spirit? Where can we get assurance of our salvation so that we can walk in confidence before the Lord? We can get it from the One who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

God has unleashed a great Power for the purpose of transforming our lives into the image of His Son. Stephen, in Acts 7:51, characterized the Jews as those who always resisted the Holy Spirit. We must not follow in their footsteps or we will share their destiny. We may not be where we need to be now, but if we want to think of ourselves as Christians we’ve got to want it, we’ve got to be willing to seek it.

May the Lord give us the kind of lives that the people of the world are perplexed and ask, "What does this mean?" May our love and joy in the Holy Spirit be that noticeable and remarkable! Some will call us fools, of course. Some will ridicule us just like they ridiculed the 120 at Pentecost. They will see our good and call it evil. But it will be an honor to us, for so they treated our Lord Jesus. It will be a sign of how we are becoming like Him.