This Sunday marks the high point in the Church’s post-Paschal celebrations. After proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ for the past several weeks, the Church has called our attention to several post-Resurrection appearances to underscore the reality of the risen Lord for the life of the Church.
Today marks the highpoint of those celebrations. Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the twelve disciples in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost. Why is this so important? Historically, Pentecost was the Jewish feast which celebrated the first fruits of the harvest. Every Jewish home celebrated God’s good gifts to them by giving the Lord a portion of their grain harvest, in anticipation of the full crop to come. It is simply a thank-you gift.
On this day the Church celebrates God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Much of the service is devoted to two things: the Trinity and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. There is so much to say on a day like today, but there is one truth that especially stands out that I would like to emphasize. It comes from a phrase we find repeated several times in the special hymns for today, which reads, “Verily, the fire of the Comforter has come and lit the world.”
Verily, the fire of the Comforter has come and lit the world. Let’s look at this a little closer. The comforter is the Holy Spirit, described by Jesus in John 14 when he said, “I will pray to the Father and he will give you another Helper, or Comforter, that he may abide with you forever: the Spirit of truth.”
That’s what the Holy Spirit does for us. He is sent by the Father, through the Son, and abides in us through his Holy Spirit. That’s where the Church gets its emphasis on the Trinity today. But the other lesson focuses on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
Why did Jesus focus on the power of the Spirit’s presence in the life of the disciples? Simply because they needed it. Up to now they were shaky and timid people, for the most part. They were following Jesus, but the Jesus they followed died and rose from the dead, and now they did not know what to do except to wait for the Spirit, as Jesus told them to do.
And then, it happened. We are told in Acts 2:
When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place, and suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat on each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with tongues, as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.
And then, shortly after that:
Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea, let this be known to you. This is what was spoken by the Prophet Joel.”
Power, power, power. That’s one of the most important truths we learn from Pentecost. Christ gave his Holy Spirit to his followers to take his place on earth, and to empower them for Christian service. That’s what Peter was doing when he preached. Why is the power of the Holy Spirit so important to have?
The power of the Holy Spirit is important because he enables us to fulfill Christ’s demands. It is as simple as that. We simply cannot fulfill the Lord’s commands apart from the inner strength to obey them.
Every once in a while I meet people who tell me, “I have tried and tried to live the Christian life, but just cannot do it. I have this hang-up, and I just cannot get over it. I have tried hard, and, well, I just cannot do it. I cannot live, and I cannot obey, Jesus’ teachings, even though I have tried with all my heart.”
Have you ever felt like that? Have you tried living the Christian life and felt like giving up because you do not have the power to live it? If so, I have good news for you today. You are absolutely right. You have just discovered one of the most important truths you could ever learn about the Christian life. That truth is the truth that will set you free from all self-help and all the self-reliance that has made you so discouraged.
And what is that truth? It is the truth that only the Holy Spirit can give you the power to live as Jesus wants you to live. You cannot live by the power of your own sweat. On the contrary, the inner power for living the Christian life is summed up on this Day of Pentecost, and it is given in the words of Jesus, who declared, “Without me you can do nothing.”
And that is the good news of the Gospel.