2020-5-31 The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          May 31, 2020

“The Gift of the Holy Spirit”
Acts 2:1-4

            We arrive today at the day of Pentecost in the Christian year.  On this day, this underrated Christian holiday, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit as the new-birthright granted to everyone who believes in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior.  We also note, on that day, the formation of God’s New Covenant society, the Church.[1]  In today’s text, we see the momentous event of that Pentecost Sunday just after Jesus’ ascension—and from today’s text we grow to appreciate ever more the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Let us once again give our attention to the Word of God read and proclaimed in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

God established Pentecost (or Feast of Weeks, or Feast of Ingathering) for His Old Testament saints.  It occurred seven weeks after Passover and held dual significance in the Old Testament period.  Pentecost had historical significance, for it commemorated the giving of Law to Moses upon Mt. Sinai.  It also had agricultural significance, for on the day the children of Israel offered the first-fruits of their ingathered harvest in thanks to God.[2]  On the first day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Jesus’ bodily resurrection from Joseph of Arimathea’s borrowed tomb, Jesus’ disciples, in obedience to Him, awaited the Father’s promise of power from on high.[3]  Just as the Lord forever transformed Passover at what we now call the Last Supper, so also the Lord transformed Pentecost—not to mention Christian disciples generally—in what happened that day.

Jesus’ disciples, gathered in one place on that first Pentecost since Jesus ascension, heard a sound—and that sound announced the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The sound, a mighty, rushing wind, filled the entire house—not just the room—where they sat.  Moreover, in addition to a sound, there was a sight.  There appeared in the company’s sight divided tongues as of fire, which came to rest on each disciple gathered there.  When these tongues of fire rested on each disciple, each disciple began to speak.  They spoke in languages other than languages they knew—languages previously unstudied by them.  Yet these languages, unknown to the speakers, were known to the hearers. 

            God’s purpose on that first Christian Pentecost is two-fold.  First, the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven to Christ’s disciples in order to fulfill Jesus’ promise to His disciples: both in that age and in every succeeding age.  Second, the Holy Spirit came, with great power as third Person of the Godhead, to empower Jesus’ disciples: in this case, to declare the wondrous works of God in the mother tongues of those in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  This work of the Spirit is quite a work indeed.  We’ll appreciate it even more when we see the result of the Holy Spirit’s descent.

            The hearers on that Pentecost morning, for the most part, marveled to hear the wondrous works of God in their respective heart languages (2:5-12).  Some, however, mocked, believing the disciples merely to be full of new wine (5:13).  Peter, the same Peter, yet not the same Peter, who thrice denied his Lord on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, rises to preach a sermon (2:14-36).  Peter’s Spirit-empowered sermon declared, first, that the strange sights and sounds they behold are the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and, second, that God raised His Son, Jesus, Whom they persecuted to the death, from the grave.  As a result of this sermon, many consciences were pricked and then assuaged by repentance from sin and faith placed in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Thus, three thousand souls were converted and ingrafted into Christ’s Church (2:37-41).  Here, then, ends today’s narrative—but truly the narrative never ends, for the ministry of Spirit continues in every age until Jesus’ comes to consummate history and God’s eternal plan, and afterward we continue ever with the Lord in the new heavens and the new earth.

            The Holy Spirit continues His ministry this very day—this very hour.  We cannot attempt an exhaustive list of His ministries here today, but a representative sample will gladden our souls and empower our service unto the Lord.  First, note the Spirit’s ministries in the salvation process.  There are eleven steps in the Reformed and Presbyterian ordo salutis.[4]  A quick peek at four of those steps reveals the Spirit’s work in the whole of our salvation.  In effectual calling, through the outward ministry of preaching, the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that the things declare are true and are to be received.  In regeneration, the Spirit makes us, who are otherwise dead in sins and trespasses, alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7).  In saving faith, the Spirit gives us the very faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) whereby we confess our faith in Christ to the Father and cry out to Him for rescue.  In sanctification, the Spirit works to enable us to die more and more unto sin and live more and more unto righteousness.[5]  As you see, the Holy Spirit is instrumental in our salvation.  Now let’s look at some of His other ministries.

            Second, note the ministry of the Spirit as He makes us more like Christ.  This, part of our sanctification, comes as the Spirit of the living God produces His lovely fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith (or faithfulness), gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  The Holy Spirit, in producing this nine-fold fruit in our lives, enables us to hate sin and to forsake sin—and He enables us to love righteousness and to pursue it.  God would have us grow increasingly into the likeness of His Son, and we would have this for ourselves as the Spirit holds increasing sway within us.

            Third, note the ministry of the Holy Spirit as He empowers us for Christian ministry.  There are four lists of spiritual gifts, comprising in total about twenty distinct gifts, in the New Testament, in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Ephesians 4:11-13, and 1 Peter 4:8-11.  These exist to glorify Christ, to bless His Church, and to bless His world—and are not to be used merely for selfish ends.  Each of us has at least one of these gifts, and most of us have several of them—though no one has them all.  The power behind these gifts, of course, is the Holy Spirit, Who is and Who brings power from on high to glorify Christ and to bless us.  We need power, and we need gifts, to serve our Lord well in this world.  Happily, we have both in the gift of the Holy Spirit to our souls this day.

            Therefore, welcome the power, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit today.  Welcome Him in your life—to make you more like Jesus and to empower your service unto Him.  Welcome Him in His Church.  May He blessed His covenant people in Christ wherever they gather, whether here at Cornerstone EPC, around the world, and everywhere in between.  Welcome Him in His world, for, as Abraham Kupyer (1837-1920), Dutch theologian and statesman, noted, “…and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence, over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”[6]  Let us rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit to His Church, and to His elect therein, and let us welcome His ministry to us and through us—for the blessing of many, and for the glory of His Name.

                                                                                                                                    AMEN.

[1] Here I am indebted in part to John Calvin, who called the Church the society of Christ.  See his Institutes of the Christian Religion, book IV.

 

[2] For these two significances of Pentecost, see William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles: Revised Edition.  The Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), 21.

 

[3] The Greek word translated Pentecost and the Greek word translated fifty are closely related.  See Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).

[4] The Reformed and Presbyterian understanding of the order of salvation, or ordo salutis, is predestination, election, effectual calling, regeneration, saving faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.  See Bruce Demarest, “The ‘Order of Salvation,'” in John S. Feinberg, ed., The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2006), 36–44 (accessed at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordo_salutis, May 28, 2020).

 

[5] From Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer 35.

[6] Abraham Kuyper, translated by George Kamps, “Sphere Sovereignty,” 26, (accessed at http://www.reformationalpublishingproject.com/pdf_books/Scanned_Books_PDF/SphereSovereignty_English.pdf, May 29, 2020).  “Sphere Sovereignty” was Dr. Kuyper’s public address delivered at the inauguration of the Free University of Amsterdam on October 20, 1880.  Dr. R. C. Sproul (1939-2017), Reformed theologian, earned his doctorate (1969) from Free University of Amsterdam.