The Motivation of Pentecost
by Matt Lucas
Gospel ministry in the church is an impossible task. The church is comprised exclusively of sinners. We are broken, weak, and corrupt. As we minister to one another, we discover wounded souls filled with pain, bitterness, pride, and jealousy. Pastors see fragile marriages, disunity among leaders, and factions that divide congregations. Turning outward from the church to the world, ministry doesn’t get any easier. Most Christians would acknowledge that the church’s influence in American culture has greatly diminished over the years. These days it is easy for Christians to feel hopeless against the mounting tide of secularism and the growing foothold of paganism. At best, the culture looks at us as foolish and irrelevant. At worst, there is growing resentment and open hostility toward Christianity.
Research tells us that the culture views the church as out-of-touch, out-of-date, hypocritical, judgmental, and devoid of God. While we never look to the culture to tell us what the church should be like, there may be some truth in their assessment. We often need to repent of our pride and hypocrisy; after all we are saved by a crucified Savior, not by our good works. But it is that last critique of the church that gets to me – devoid of God. What a scary thought! A church filled with weak and sinful people is not only useless without God, but also hopeless. Moses knew that to be true (see Exodus 33). Without the presence of Christ the church is without hope in the world.
Imagine how the small band of 120 believers felt just after Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:6-11). Jesus was no longer physically present and they were so few in number. How could this weak and feeble church grow and expand the kingdom? How was the church to fulfill the Great Commission? The answer would come through the empowerment of the Spirit, whom Jesus would pour out upon this little group of disciples and subsequent believers in Christ. As the city of Jerusalem swelled with pilgrims coming to Pentecost, the hidden purposes of God would soon be revealed.
Before his arrest, Jesus gave his farewell address to his disciples in the upper room (John 13-16). Jesus sought to encourage his disciples with these words – “It is for your good that I am going away. If I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The Helper of whom Jesus spoke is none other than the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). The sending of the Spirit had been foretold through the prophets of the Old Testament. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah (the Messiah) was described as being anointed with the Spirit (see Isaiah 11, 42, 61). Jesus was not only conceived by the power of the Spirit and consecrated to a holy life by the Spirit, but received a fresh endowment of the Spirit for ministry at his baptism (Matthew 3:16). He is the man of the Spirit, who after his death, resurrection, and ascension “became a life giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Through the Messiah’s ministry the Spirit would be poured out on dry thirsty land (Isaiah 44:3). In other words, having ascended to the Father in the power of the Spirit, the glorified Jesus is able to send the Spirit to his people (John 15:26). Jesus alone is able to baptize with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11).
Going back to Acts 2, Luke describes a strange scene – a sound like a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire rested on the disciples, and they were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. The day of Pentecost was a sensory overload. People from every nation under heaven were in Jerusalem for the feast. They gathered together before the apostles when they heard the sound of rushing wind. Luke tells us, “They were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (v. 6). Naturally they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Peter stood up to give answer to the crowd. His sermon centered upon two facts: 1) Jesus, whom they crucified, had been raised from the dead and is exalted at the right hand of God, 2) Jesus, having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, poured out the Spirit resulting in the phenomenon that they saw and heard. Therefore, we can speak of Pentecost as Christ’s coronation event. Having been exalted and crowned King, he gives the gift and graces of the Spirit to his church (see Ephesians 4:7-8).
Pentecost was therefore a unique once-for-all event in redemptive history – like the birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ – which has an ongoing impact on the church. Although Pentecost was an unrepeatable event, every believer in every age receives the same Spirit from Christ. Abraham Kuyper gave an illustration that helps us understand how this once-for-all event of Pentecost continues to impact the church today. Imagine a mayor dedicating a new water system that will be opened for the residents of the city. Following the ceremony water begins to flow to the all the houses and businesses that are already established. But as each new house is built and connected to the water system, it receives the same benefits that previous houses did on the day the water system was opened. As Christians in 2015, we don’t experience the same phenomenon as the events of Pentecost, but we too are baptized with the same Spirit and all the benefits of Christ flow to us by faith.
The great day of the Spirit has begun! Pentecost signaled that the atoning work of Christ was finished and the gathering of the nations into the visible church has begun. The outpouring of the Spirit was the beginning point of the worldwide church that was now equipped with power for witness to fulfill the Great Commission. The Spirit came with power, signified by the sound of rushing wind, visible tongues of fire, and the proclamation of the gospel in various languages. When that happened, Peter looked to the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 to explain the phenomenon produced by the Spirit. We read:
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
There are a variety of questions that arise from this passage, but what is clear is that the Spirit is now poured out with power on all flesh. All distinctions of gender, age, or social rank disappear in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Jesus will draw people of all types to himself. He had foretold this when he instructed the disciples – “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The Joel prophecy ends with the promise that all “who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21).
Jesus had promised that the Helper, the Spirit, would bear witness about him (John 15:26) so that people would repent and believe in Christ. The Spirit did not come to bring glory to himself, but to exalt Christ in the hearts of people (John 16:14). Peter’s entire sermon focused upon Christ, and the people were cut to the heart. They asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response was simple, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Luke tells us that due to the witness of the Spirit “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
But witness is not only the work of the Spirit. Jesus said to his disciples “you also will bear witness” (John 15:27). Pentecost was a fulfillment of Jesus’s promise that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The Lord has called us to go into the world to bear witness to his grace in our lives. There is a battle to fight – a battle for the hearts and souls of sinners. It is a battle against unbelief, but it is not waged with the weapons of the world. Instead, we labor in the power of the Spirit, proclaiming by word and deed the message of salvation in Christ, with sacrificial love for all – friends and enemies alike. But we do not go alone. The Spirit works powerfully through our words and deeds.
Ministry of the Spirit
Years ago, while working on the campus of the University of South Carolina for Reformed University Fellow, I came in contact with a student named Joe from a troubled background. He told me that he had been arrested for breaking and entering. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to community service – he was tasked with being a counselor for Camp Joy at Bonclarken. As a non-Christian who was hardened against the Lord, all he wanted was to finish his community service and move on with his life. But then a camper made an unexpectedly impact on his life. Each day, as Joe went about his work of caring for his camper, the camper would smile and say, ‘Jesus loves you Joe.’ By the end of the week Joe and the camper had established a bond. On the last day, while drawing on the pavement with sidewalk chalk, Joe’s camper looked up and said, ‘Joe, you know Jesus loves you!’ That day a hardened heart was melted and a sinner came to faith in Christ. The Spirit’s ministry is powerful to work through every believer.
Sure the church is weak and fragile. Yes the church faces impossible odds. But that is just the way Jesus planned it. The people of God are to rely upon the ministry of the Spirit, so that Christ receives the glory. What hope to do we have in ministry? How can we fulfill the Great Commission? How can we press on to make disciples? Christ has given the church all the equipment she needs. He has given the Spirit of power to make our ministry effective. Let us go forward by faith in the Spirit’s ministry to offer Christ to a broken, dying, rebellious, and hurting world.
Rev. Matthew Lucas is the pastor of Reformation ARP Church in Hendersonville, NC.