You can’t tell the story of Jesus
without the Holy Spirit
This is the point that Luke wants to make clear.
The story of Jesus is
the story of the Holy Spirit resting on the Son.[i]
The Spirit comes upon Mary and in her womb conceives a Son.
The Spirit comes upon Jesus like a dove while he is praying at his baptism.
The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness and out again.
The Spirit fills Jesus for his ministry – ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.’
The Spirit, as cloud, covers Jesus at his transfiguration on Mount Tabor.
The Spirit is the agent through which Jesus’ whole life is offered to God.
The Spirit is the one through whom Jesus is raised.
One early church father called Gregory says this:
Christ is born; the Spirit is the forerunner.
He is baptised; the Spirit bears witness.
He is tempted; the Spirit leads him up.
He works miracles; the Spirit accompanies them.
He ascends; the Spirit takes his place.[ii]
The Holy Spirit and Jesus come together.
From conception to ascension
the Holy Spirit rests on the body of Jesus.
The truth of Pentecost,
the miracle of Pentecost,
is the Spirit continues to rest on the body of Jesus,
that is the church.
The church is the body of Christ
and says the story of Pentecost,
we are filled with the Holy Spirit like Jesus.
We read that ‘tongues of fire … came to rest on each of them.’
If you can’t tell the story of Jesus
without the Holy Spirit,
you can’t also tell the story of the church,
without the Holy Spirit.
What this means is Pentecost,
The birthday of the church,
does not leave Jesus behind,
for the Spirit is the go-between,
the bridge, the mediator,
the means of our participation
between Christ and the church.
The life of the church
is taken up into the life of Christ.
His life is now our life,
His story our story,
through the same Spirit resting on him and us.
The outpouring of the Spirit
upon the church
is to find our lives forever intertwined
with the risen life of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit comes rushing into lives,
setting us aflame,
with the newness that Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension
We might ask what is different about the work of the Spirit here
to the work of the Spirit that empowered the prophets,
judges and kings in the Old Testament story of Israel.
It is the certainly the same Spirit.
The Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation
is the same Spirit that hovers over Jesus at baptism
and hovers over the church at Pentecost.
The difference about the work of the Spirit is
found in the words of the prophet Joel that Peter to the crowd.
I want to highlight three in particular.
First, is the reference to ‘in the last days.’
This is the last days of the old world,
a new world is breaking in.
A new world made through cross and resurrection
and the sign of that new world is the gift of the Holy Spirit
as God promised through the prophet Joel.
The gospel always announces the end of the world
and the beginning of the new world.
And if the new world begun in Jesus,
Its population begins now to grow
as the Spirit descends
with wind and fire.
As the church we live between the worlds,
We are an outpost of the new world,
We are a colony of Christ,
on whom the Spirit comes to rest.
The second words are the reference to ‘all people’ or literally ‘all flesh.’
Where the Spirit worked in the past it was on particular individuals,
but Joel prophesied and Peter says today it is fulfilled,
that the Spirit is poured out on all people,
Pentecost is the day the Spirit goes all democratic.
All people, even those who previously voiceless
will be enabled to speak up and speak out God’s name.[iii]
No one will get left out.
The evidence of the Spirit in the church is its diversity.
Where else would you find old and young,
women and men,
black and white, poor and rich,
And its not just that there is diversity,
there is also communion, community and communicating.
The Spirit makes us a body.
Our differences are not eradicated,
but we are made one people
In the words of one of my theological teachers, Colin Gunton:
‘the Spirit liberates us by bringing us into community:
by enabling us to be with and for the brother and sisters
whom we do not ourselves choose.’ [iv]
In God’s new creation,
where the Spirit rests
is not determined by race, age, gender, class,
but by the grace of God.
To embrace Pentecost,
to receive the Spirit,
is to learn what the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
calls the dignity of difference[v]
or what Stanley Hauerwas calls ‘God’s new language.’[vi]
Back to the story:
when the Spirit falls upon the believers,
they begin to speak in other tongues,
and it is this that draws a crowd.
Those who had come to Jerusalem from across the world
for the Jewish feast of Pentecost,
suddenly hear the believers (mostly from Galilee)
speaking in the dialects of their homelands.
Some suggest that this incident is the reversal of Babel.
The story of Babel in Genesis 11,
sees God scatter the Babel people, with their one language,
and their attempt to be God-like
and so confuse them,
leading not to humility but to division, to separateness.
Rather than a reversal of Babel,
Pentecost is a parody,[vii]
for the Spirit does not make everyone speak one language,
but where following Babel there was confusion,
here at Pentecost there is understanding.
God’s new language of the Spirit
is the gift of being able to listen, hear, understand,
The church, where the Spirit rests,
resists all attempts to make us all the same,
instead the church is called to learn
the language of patience, peace and forgiveness
in other words the language of Jesus.
The third words are the reference to calling on the ‘name of the Lord’ for
For Joel the name of the Lord,
was the name of God, Yahweh.
For Peter and the believers,
the name of the Lord is not only God,
but also Jesus.
The meaning of ‘Lord’ is expanded
to include Jesus.
Peter calls the crowd
‘to repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ’ (Act 2.38)
And in a latter sermon,
Filled with the Holy Spirit, he says
‘salvation is found in no one else’ (Acts 4.12).
In 1 Corinthians Paul says that no one can say
‘Jesus is Lord’ with except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12.3).
The pouring out of the Spirit is salvific.
Those on whom the Spirit rests
recognise the Lordship of Jesus.
And to recognise the Lordship of Jesus
is witness to this truth,
to be a ‘living narrative of the gospel.’[viii]
Peter’s sermon proclaims Christ.
The gift of the Spirit is the gift of becoming a witness,
in other words, involved in mission.[ix]
The difference the Spirit makes is that
the Spirit comes to
the church into active witness.
The gift of the Spirit is not an end in itself,
for the Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit
and turns the church into a missionary people.
The work of the Spirit
is always the means of enabling
the world to believe in Jesus as Lord.
The work of the Spirit
is to fire the church with passion and power,
courage and compassion
and then blow it into the path of the world,
and its winners and losers,
helpless and hopeless, lost and alone,
hurt and ignored, broken and poor.
[i] I’m drawing here on Eugene Rogers Jr., After the Spirit.
[ii] Greogry of Nazianzus, Fifth Theological Oration cited in Rogers, After the Spirit, p.56.
[iii] Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, The Holy Spirit, p.37.
[iv] Colin Gunton, Theology Through the Theologians, p.201.
[v] Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference.
[vi] Stanley Hauerwas, Christian Existence Today, p.53.
[vii] Joel Green, “In Our Own Languages” : Pentecost, Babel, and the Shaping of Christian Community in Acts 2.1-13’ in The Word Leaps the Gap, p.213.
[viii] John Colwell, The Rhythm of Doctrine, p.98.
[ix] David Bosch, Transforming Mission, p.114.