The Day the Spirit Showed Up

Heritage Presbyterian Church

May 31, 2020
Day of Pentecost
Scripture readings – Numbers 11: 24-30 and Acts 2: 1-21

Before we get started, I just want to say that every single preacher I have ever known wishes for the Holy Spirit to be an inspirational part of each sermon that is delivered.  On the Day of Pentecost, that wish is even more pronounced!

Now to the topic at hand: the Holy Spirit appearing to the 12 Apostles on the Day of Pentecost.

In most Presbyterian churches, the Day of Pentecost is just about the only day in which the Holy Spirit can be easily and repeatedly mentioned without making everyone uncomfortable.  When this is done apart from this special date, most Presbyterians uncomfortably picture people in churches shouting, laying on hands to heal one another, and everyone’s favorite Spiritual gift: speaking in tongues.

Now I don’t control the Holy Spirit, and we all know that the Spirit blows where the Spirit blows, but I’m not sure any of those experiences will be a part of today’s message.

Still, the normal components of any church worship service must involve the Holy Spirit as a normal part of what is celebrated.  Otherwise, we might as well be reading from one of Shakespeare’s plays, or a famous speech, or an old phone book.

But it seems to me that “normal” never served the Lord that well anyway.

Let’s go back to the beginning.  God the Father was all there was, and with his command and breath, creation was formed.  Throughout the Old Testament stories and ages, we hear about God, the Creator, as well as the other names for God, such as: The Lord, Jehovah, Elohim, and Yahweh.  There was no mention of Jesus the Son until the New Testament.  There was certainly no mention of the Holy Spirit.  Everybody knows that the New Testament was all about Jesus, specifically the four Gospels. 

But what about the 39 times that the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ is mentioned in the Old Testament?  If those references were not about Jesus Christ, then what was the Bible talking about when it said that after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures”?  Those Scriptures were the ones that revealed the Messiah – Jesus Christ – to the readers who put it together.  

And if the Advocate that Jesus promised – the Holy Spirit – showed up first on the Day of Pentecost, then what happened all those times when the Old Testament mentioned Spirit?

  • Genesis 1:1-2 said, “…and the Spirit of God flowed across the face of the deep.”
  • 2nd Kings 2, verse 9 tells us that as Elijah was about to be taken into Heaven, his disciple, Elisha asked Elijah for a “double portion of his Spirit.”
  • The Prophet Joel wrote that the Lord said, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions?” (2:28)
  • And what happened to those 70 elders who received a Spirit of some kind on the day described in the reading from the Book of Numbers we heard today?

If your narrow understanding of the Holy Spirit is that it only began on the Day of Pentecost, you might be missing some things. 

But whenever the Spirit showed up, whatever the Spirit caused believers to say and do, it is unusual in the way that it works.    It is often very hard to understand…other than to just accept it and praise God.

Officially, the Christian church places the Day of Pentecost account in a short list of the classic stories in the Bible.  Others are very familiar even to some non-believers:

  • Creation accounts
  • Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
  • Moses and the parting of the Red Sea
  • The birth narratives of Jesus, one with wise men and King Herod, and the other with angels and shepherds
  • The four passion accounts
  • The Resurrection accounts
  • And the Day of Pentecost when the 12 Apostles ran into the streets of Jerusalem and witnessed to the crowd in different languages those Apostles didn’t actually speak!  Some of that troublesome “speaking in tongues” stuff…

If this story fits in with the ones we all know and love so well, why is it celebrated only on this day?  Can you imagine if the season of Lent leading up to Easter or the season of Advent leading up to Christmas – only lasted one day?  

Imagine further how odd it would be if Easter or Christmas made us uncomfortable like Pentecost does!

Instead, let’s see what kinds of things the Spirit causes:

  • In the Creation account that we mentioned earlier, the Bible tells us that “the Spirit breathed life into dust and created a human being.”
  • When John the Baptist was baptizing and preaching (and probably yelling) at the crowds on the banks of the Jordan River, he promised that, “one was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16) 
  • In the Pentecost account, the Spirit breathed life into 12 lowly, cowardly, ignorant Apostles and created new human beings (especially Peter!).
  • When all those Apostles began to talk in other languages, it was a reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel; instead of no one understanding anyone, foreigners of every language heard praises to God in their own tongue!  (And there was no denying it, despite the uncomfortable sneer of those who were probably afraid of something so obviously NOT normal: “They are drunk on new wine!”)
  • When the Spirit appeared to those 70 elders with Moses in the Book of Exodus, did you remember that two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, were not even in the right place with the other 70 elders.  In fact, when they began to prophecy, Joshua tried to stop them perhaps because it was not “normal.”

As I said earlier, the Spirit blows where it will…and how it wills.  But it seems to start small and then grow exponentially until its appearance cannot be denied, its work cannot be ignored.    This should never make us uncomfortable or uneasy or even afraid; instead, it should make us eager and very, very excited.  Because if the Spirit historically behaves in unusual, non-normal, small ways, then it can use any and all of us to accomplish great things…even if they seem to start small.

Our challenge today, dear friends and faithful Presbyterians, is to seek out ways to continue serving the Lord.  That is always our daily challenge as believers of Jesus Christ.  But as we do, we should not just wonder about the influence of the Holy Spirit; we should also ask God to send that same Spirit to each of us as we undertake our work on behalf of Him that loves us the most.  Our challenge is to accept the Holy Spirit, be open to its influence, its guidance, and especially its uncomfortable quirkiness.  

Because if we can do that, then the day the Spirit shows up in our lives will be a wonderful, strange, amazing day indeed.

Amen! Amen!  Hallelujah!  Amen!