Previously I wrote about what the Holy Spirit was up to from the Creation all the way through the life of Jesus Christ. Before our Lord lifted off from terra firma and ascended to the right hand of the Heavenly Father He promised to send the Holy Ghost who’d provide us with everything we could possibly need in the way of faith, sustenance and inspiration so we could spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:9-11 records exactly what went down: “After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight. As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.’” In other words, the angelic duo were letting them have it for being dumbstruck into inertia by what they’d just witnessed, urging them to get moving and go prepare themselves for what their Master had told them was about to occur. The special event the angels had in mind was the coming of none other than the Holy Spirit to set up shop in their hearts and minds! In Acts 2:1-4 we read of the spectacularly grand entrance the Spirit made: “Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.” I suspect the whole extravaganza was so exhilarating and overwhelming they had no idea what they were broadcasting any more than if one of us grabbed a live electric wire and tried to explain what we were feeling. I’d probably be babbling gibberish in Cantonese.
The disciples shouldn’t have been surprised, though. In John 16:7 we’re informed Jesus told them, “…I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate [Holy Spirit] will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.” Having experienced the actualization of this predicted happening Peter, in reference to the glorified Christ, said to the gawkers, “So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear.” (Acts 2:33) In December 1968 the Apollo 8 space mission became the first to fly all the way to the moon. For the spacecraft to achieve lunar orbit there had to pass an unavoidable span of time when communication would be nil as they traversed the dark side of the cold orb. Everyone at the command center in Houston had to patiently wait to find out if the crew had succeeded or if all was lost. At the predicted time the astronauts phoned home with a relieving message, assuring ground control everything was going as planned. In the same way the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit proved to the disciples that their Lord now sat upon the heavenly throne alongside His Father. He’d completed His mission to save mankind from their ugly sins without a hitch and His gracious act of atonement for our sake was finished. The stupendous entrance of the Holy Spirit fulfilled their Master’s vow never to leave them. It also testified to the fact that God’s righteousness had been vindicated. The age of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said could not begin until His job of redeeming every one of us was done, had now commenced in earnest.
One cannot overstate the importance of this awesome event. The Holy Spirit’s appearance on the day of Pentecost marked a crucial turning point in the history of God’s unfolding plan for the human race. There are five essential happenings that led up to the Christian movement becoming a reality: the Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost. (There’s a sixth component that still lies ahead: the Second Coming of Jesus. It’ll be the greatest day ever.) The Incarnation marked God’s stepping into the physical world as a living, breathing human much like you and I to save us. The Atonement occurred so God could remain just and yet justify guilty men and women. The Resurrection proved that mankind’s trio of intimidating enemies – death, Satan and hell – had been vanquished. The Ascension demonstrated that God accepted the sacrifice offered by His Son and that all the demands perfection necessitates had been met. Pentecost showed that the Spirit of God had come to achieve His Holy purpose in the world, in His church and in the souls of each individual believer.
Here’s a bit more background for us to absorb. There were three annual feasts on the Jewish calendar. They were the Feasts of Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost. The first may be the most well-known because it commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. It originated with the killing of an unblemished lamb to insure the angel of death would spare them. Our Savior’s shedding of His innocent blood on the cross forever rendered that ritual moot. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” The Feast of Tabernacles [or tents]” came at the end of the harvest and reminded them of God’s mercy bestowed upon His people, a mercy that culminated in Jesus’ birth. Pentecost was known as the “Feast of Weeks” due to it being observed the day following the passage of seven Sabbaths. Because it fell on the fiftieth day it gained its more recognizable name from the Greek word for the corresponding number. It celebrated the beginning of the harvest season. In the New Testament it’s associated with the onset of the present era of the Holy Spirit. Christ is still our Master but, not walking among us anymore, He directs His followers by means of the Holy Spirit who links the Savior’s ascension with His imminent return to earth. That makes the Holy Spirit our truest and strongest connection to our Lord Jesus Christ. Need I say more?
So what has He done for us lately? I hope you caught the facetiousness in that query because I know the Holy Spirit works tirelessly on our behalf. Jesus said in John 16:8 that “…He will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” That means no matter what the world deems acceptable as regards human behavior there’s but one standard that counts – God’s. 1 Corinthians 1:20 asks, “Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish?” As Christians we see mankind’s brazen foolishness paraded before our eyes daily. The bottom line, as Romans 3:23 plainly states, is that without exception “…We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yet billions of people remain unaware of how serious their sins are and how they’ll affect the future of their eternal soul so it falls upon the Holy Spirit to convict them of where their iniquities will eventually take them. He guides all sincere seekers to the way, the truth and the life that is Jesus and He uses followers of Christ to assist Him in His efforts to save those lost sheep. Paul preached that on the Damascus road the Lord told him “…to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins…” (Acts 26:18) While the Bible says the devil was soundly defeated by Jesus’ death and resurrection he seems to be the last one to acknowledge it because he certainly doesn’t act like he’s been KO’d. Violence, injustice and cruelty are as prevalent in our world today as they were before Noah built the ark. Therefore another of the Holy Spirit’s tasks is to keep Satan in check and keep the light that is Christ’s shining example of righteous living from being snuffed out. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him [Satan] back will do so until he is taken out of the way.” If you think the world’s a mess as it is try to imagine what a hellhole it’d be if not for the Holy Spirit’s interventions! However, Christians can’t just sit back and expect Him to do all the heavy lifting. Jesus said to us in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.” We’re far from being powerless and we can make a huge impact on civilization if we do as our Savior said and let the Holy Spirit work through us.
In this discussion of what the Holy Spirit is up to it’d be grossly neglectful not to recognize what He’s doing in Christ’s Church. And I use that noun to include the entire body of believers regardless of denomination. It’s interesting that the word “Church” is derived from the Greek word meaning “called together ones.” Although the Church is a New Testament concept there were hints of its coming into being in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 28:16 we read, “…the Lord says; ‘Look, I am laying a stone in Zion, an approved stone, set in place as a precious cornerstone for the foundation.’” 1 Peter 2:4-5 reveals that Christ was the forecasted cornerstone of His Church and that His followers are the figurative building blocks or, as the author put it, ‘living stones.” The gist is that the Church is more than a religious organization. It’s a vibrant, dynamic organism with Jesus as its literal head. So what part does the Holy Spirit play in all of this? A very big part, indeed.
Take note of three things. First, the Scriptures teach that the Church was brought into being by Him. 1 Corinthians 12:13-14 states, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.” Secondly, God abides in the Church via the Holy Ghost. Ephesians 2:22 says, “…you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Technically the Holy Spirit doesn’t make His bed anywhere in particular but it behooves us to conduct our worship services with the collective mindset that we’re gathered together in His temple. Yet we mustn’t overlook the truth that every Christian is the portable abode of the Spirit. When Romans 8:10 proclaims, “…If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness” and Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” the inference is if the Spirit’s in us, then Christ’s in us. Our Savior influences our hearts by faith but the Holy Spirit, the second person of the Trinity, actually exists inside us because He was sent to do so by the Son who now hangs out with the Father. As a Church we’re effective only to the extent we rely on the Holy Spirit’s presence to lead us forward. Thirdly, He bestows gifts upon specific people in the Church “…to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12) More on that down the line but suffice it to say the Holy Spirit grants a unique spiritual acumen to every Christian the moment he/she surrenders to Jesus. The sooner each of us makes the most of whatever that God-given talent is, the quicker we can make a difference in the society swirling crazily around us.
We’ve examined how the Holy Spirit works in the world at large and inside the Church but the most important aspect of his activity concerns how He works in us as individuals. First, He enlightens our intellect. Referring to “things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined,” 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 says, “God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” Many effete snobs outside the faith opine in error that Christianity discourages any and all creative or progressive thinking. John R. W. Stott is quoted as saying, “Nobody wants a cold, joyless, intellectual Christianity. But does this mean we should avoid ‘intellectualism’ at all costs? Heaven forbid that knowledge without zeal should replace zeal without knowledge! God’s purpose is both, zeal directed by knowledge and knowledge fired with zeal.” The Holy Spirit can’t evaporate the fog bank Satan has conjured up between our minds and God unless He illuminates the air-clearing truth found in the Holy Word He Himself inspired. Secondly, while He broadens our mental capacity for spiritual wisdom He also enters our hearts. 1 Corinthians 6:19 asks, “…Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” If Christians as a whole were to conduct their lives in accordance with that stunning fact we’d no doubt be a lot more careful about what we eat, drink, look at or read. When we put God in charge we can’t help but transform into better, more obedient followers of our Lord and, in doing so, become more game-changing evangelizers of His saving grace. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “… I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.” What I gather from that statement is that his biggest fear was of being a disappointment to God. We should all strive to share his apprehension.
There are other ways the Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers. I offer some examples. He comforts us. Acts 9:31 tells us early Christians throughout Judea and Galilee lived “…in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit…” He leads us. Jesus taught his disciples in John 16:13, “…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” He sanctifies us. Paul wrote in Romans 15:16, “I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” He tells us what to say to lift one another up. “And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.” (1 Corinthians 2:13) He appoints missionaries. Acts 13:2 informs, “…the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” He steadies us when we stumble and helps us communicate with our loving, understanding Father. Romans 8:26 reads, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.” And He attempts to steer us away from wasting our time on hopeless endeavors and spiritually deaf ears. “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia.” (Acts 16:6) Evidently those folks weren’t ready to savvy the Gospel.
In a very broad sense, the Holy Spirit’s work among human beings is defined by the terms “upon,” “with” and “in.” In the OT it’s intimated He came upon certain people and remained for a season. (Judges 14:19) In the NT we’re told He resided with the disciples in the person of Christ. (John 14:17) And, from Acts chapter two going forward, He’s said to dwell in the Christians that make up the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 6:19) All this data can be summed up in one concise sentence: The same God who made the far-flung universe and keeps it running like a top is also right here on little bitty planet earth, living inside of every man, woman and child who has accepted Him as their Father. I ask you, how cool is that?