By Thomas Cosmades
The Incarnation is the most distinctive event in history. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). In this momentous occurrence divine and human natures appeared in oneness in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son. Another resplendent manifestation of the divine-human dynamic is the baptism of Christ’s believers with the Holy Spirit. Incarnation and Sanctification stand out as parallel expressions of conformation between man and God, whose relationship was shattered in the Garden of Eden at the fall. There God pronounced the Protevangelium which was to span the irreparable chasm. The divine incidents enfolded by the Crucifixion constitute the core of the Christian faith: Incarnation, Crucifixion, Sanctification.
It will serve Christians well to celebrate the three historic occasions regularly and wholeheartedly. Only by this will they enjoy the profound biblical-theological implications of their Triune God. The eternal Word assumed human flesh, the Lamb of God suffered and died in the flesh, the resurrected, ascended Christ sent his Holy Spirit to sanctify his believers, setting them apart from sinfulness to holiness. The occasion of Pentecost brings joy to the followers of Christ as the triumphant culmination of God’s unique act in fallen human life and in history. The God of the Christians, whose main characteristic is holiness, sent his blessed Holy Spirit in order to make his believers holy and effective. The God-infused life begins at Calvary and its dynamism at Pentecost. “He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive…” (John 7:38, 39a).
In Leviticus God emphasizes seven times to his people the command to be holy as he is holy (cf. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 21:8; 22:32). The Apostle Peter recapitulates this vital command in one verse: “Since it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’” (I Peter 1:16). It should be remembered that the concept of holiness in the Old Testament is primarily ceremonial, whereas this same concept in the New Testament is an inner fulfillment supplied by the Holy Spirit. The attainment of holiness in the life of any man or woman who has passed through Golgotha is realized at Pentecost. In spite of this, multitudes of Christians live in pre-Pentecost times. God sent his Holy Spirit in order to set apart Christ’s believers from sin and provide them with sustained vitality. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit descended in order to propel the inexhaustible actualities of the ascended Christ.
I. Pentecost is God’s seal on Christ’s redemption.
On Pentecost Sunday at the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood with the other disciples and boldly declared, “…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:16). When Eldad and Medad prophesied before the congregation, Joshua was irritated. He hastened to ask Moses to forbid them. Moses’ reply, like Joel’s, was prophetic: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29). Joel’s prophesying gave Peter the backdrop about what was happening on the day of Pentecost. This event was indirectly implied by other prophets, as well. God’s eternal design of redemption has the support of an abundance of prophetic proclamations. It was executed before the eyes of a multitude of witnesses and was verified by Christ’s resurrection and post-resurrection appearances. It was witnessed at the triumphant Ascension and at Pentecost by a vast number of believers in the Apostolic church.
The events on that Firstfruits celebration demonstrate to people in all generations that the foreordained act of redemption in all its stages is supernatural. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, his universal ministry is clearly shown in recorded sacred history. It unfolded with the coming of the Holy Spirit following the Lord’s baptism, Jesus’ praying at that hour and the Father’s voice heard from heaven (cf. Luke 3:21, 22). Throughout Christ’s earthly ministry the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot be missed. In the fulfillment of redemption the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit acted in unison as well as individually. Each had his effective part in it. Our redemption can neither be separated from the function of the Holy Spirit, nor be considered apart from his direct involvement. Those of us who are convinced of the tri-unity of our God cannot exclude the engagement of the Holy Spirit in our full salvation. Christ turned the disciples’ attention to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in convincing every person, indeed the whole world of the reality of sin, of righteousness and judgment (cf. John 16:8).
This foretelling was to culminate in complete realization on that significant day when multitudes witnessed the Holy Spirit’s descent. They exclaimed their amazement in unison: “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s response in verse thirty-eight makes very clear the function of the Holy Spirit in the sinner’s return to God.
In our severely troubled times, the need of the Pulpit universally is to lead sinners to repentance and restoration to God through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. Referring to the persecution of his followers, Christ said, “…for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:20; cf. Luke 12:12; John 14:26). It is lamentable that many a person called to minister the Word resembles a sailboat with no wind to give it impetus to cut through the waves. While the boat is dependent on favorable weather conditions, the proclaimer of God’s message can call upon the Holy Spirit at any given moment to carry him/her into unimaginable horizons. “For it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit” (John 3:34). When the sails of the person seeking to serve God are filled with the Holy Spirit and the Great Captain of the soul takes over the helm, his/her course is assured, the destination clear.
The sailboat on life’s rough voyage must always be filled with the Holy Spirit and driven by his unfaltering power. Academic degrees, prominent personality or fat pastoral salary in a hungry world – both physically and spiritually, will not propel anybody’s boat. When we consider that Jesus himself was full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit (cf. Luke 4:1) at the start of his earthly ministry, can the messenger of this Redeemer afford to carry on his service without the identical sustenance? In too many places the clear message of redemption with Holy Spirit unction is not a reality. Seeking to tell God’s plan of redemption, but at the same time making compromises in the realm of the Holy Spirit relegates the boat to languid sailing. All the while the boat may seem to be moving, but the sad reality is that it is not under the control of God’s wind. The sailboat is trying to make headway through ersatz measures, especially in our time. This cannot be done! The boat of the Spirit-filled person forging through turbulent waters can sail confidently without resorting to alternative provisions.
Sadly, in too many situations a particular boat has become dependent on human provisions or innovations. Just two examples ― throw money at problems; adjust the message to the liking of the sinner. Sometimes the sphere of the Holy Spirit is conciliated or accommodated. The Captain of our salvation cannot be pleased with makeshift proclamation. No ground can be compromised to make convenient adjustments in the message. The pleasure of the Holy Spirit is to do God’s work in God’s own way and not through shortcuts. Some people think that living in the twentieth or twenty-first century gives them the license to jettison the apostolic principle “…so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father…” (I Thessalonians 3:13a). The Holy Spirit alone is capable of laying before us the clarity and incumbency of His divine plan.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought the disciples face to face with a fresh sight of the risen Christ. They had seen Christ in the flesh for three years. They walked, sat and ate with him, but they were all in need of having a vital encounter with the Person who had become their master. Now they were ready to offer themselves unreservedly to Him, through whose resurrection life they had been redeemed and justified.
II. Pentecost is God’s sanction on the lives of the redeemed.
When Christ rose from the dead the disciples were still in trepidation (cf. John 20:19). Peter who had timorously denied his association with Christ was still wavering between belief and ambiguity. At one point he even tampered with the idea of returning to his old occupation, pulling the other disciples with him (cf. John 21:3). An air of uncertainty and vacillation prevailed among them. The going was rough, the road ahead unclear. They were all at the crossroads. What could their need be? Pentecost. How singularly and amazingly the sacred dove from heaven gave new direction and dimension to their bewildered lives!
For example, the Apostle Peter who was governed by timidity at the questioning of a powerless maiden (cf. Luke 22:56), took the compliant road of denial. But when the blessed Holy Spirit descended on him, he boldly opened his mouth, indicting thousands of religious formalists, “…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). At that moment the whole crowd was transported, as a holy hush fell upon them. They were cut to the heart, and cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37b). The fascinating consequence was the direct empowering of the Third Person of the adored Trinity. This supplied Peter with extraordinary sanction and courage. The once timid Peter captivated the minds of the crowd and pricked the hearts of all those religious celebrants who knew nothing but formalistic ritualism. The Holy Spirit brought conviction upon them about which the Lord Jesus Christ had spoken (cf. John 16:8).
Saul, following his phenomenal conversion experience was visited in Damascus by Ananias who laid his hands on him and with unreserved confidence said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17b). These are only two of the mighty apostolic band who could turn the world upside down because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Their brilliant apostolic tenure discloses two obvious facts: their conversion and sanctification. The two men would have been relegated to unrecorded history had they not had the double encounter, first with Christ and then with the Holy Spirit. In the history of evangelism all mighty evangelists yielded their lives unreservedly to Christ and to the control of the Holy Spirit. Looking at recent times, we can see the experiences of D. L. Moody, Hudson Taylor, and R. A. Torrey, to mention only three. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
There was a time when the theme of ‘the Spirit-filled life’ was widely discussed and preached. Eventually the vital encounter with the Holy Spirit was no longer awakening hearts. This crucial lack left hollow messages in many circles. It seems that this indispensable topic has been relegated to the Charismatic movement. The passivity toward the Holy Spirit has short-changed many earnest believers in churches of being taught about this God-honoring lifestyle. People are being deprived of the Holy Spirit-led pilgrimage. Some who should be instructing their flock regarding the Spirit-endowed life have their hands and minds in matters of lesser importance. At the close of his tenure, King David addressed the entire assembly, informing them that he had commissioned his son to build the temple. There is a striking Hebrew term here to define ‘consecration’: ‘filling of hands’. David had provided all the needed material for the building of God’s house. The king posed a solemn question to those who would be involved in the work: “Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?” (I Chronicles 29:5). He was asking them to fill their empty hands with what he had prepared in order to offer these to the Lord. Hands have to be empty so that they can be filled with the divine provision.
There is an old story that a little boy saw a coin in the bottom of a narrow-necked jar. He put his hand into the jar to retrieve it. But then he couldn’t pull his hand out. He panicked. All efforts to help him failed. His little hand remained inside, his fist firmly clenching the coin. Finally, his mother cried, “Open your hand!” which he did, and suddenly, the coin fell to the bottom of the jar and his hand was free. As long as a person holds onto anything which he/she considers important but in actuality has no lasting value, he/she will not be fully available to Christ for the infilling of God’s Spirit. Two essentials will help each person realize what is needed. We have to understand that the highest and most valued attribute of God is his holiness. Secondly, he wishes to endow this property on his followers ― faulty, finite, flickering mortals, though we be. Holiness comes to us as a supreme divine provision. This he supplies through his Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit cannot dwell in the same body with anything at variance to his authority.
III. Pentecost is God’s scope to herald Christ’s Good News.
The desire to spread the Good News is general, but by what means? We cannot rely on anyone but the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Teacher (John 14:26b; I John 2:27). He is the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26; 16:13a); he is the other Paraclete (John 14:16, 26). Among his many qualities, he is the Lord of the Harvest who sets apart and sends forth the heralders of the Good News (Acts 13:2, 4). The descent of the Holy Spirit opened the age of true globalization. From that day on there were no boundaries or frontiers preventing people from crossing forbidden lines. The apostolic missionaries were sent forth by direct appointment of the Holy Spirit. Naturally, they encountered fierce opposition and resistance everywhere. It is obvious that the Holy Spirit sends forth the disseminators of the Good News, and on the other hand, Satan’s spirit employs every means to resist their noble labors and persecute them even to death. Acts of the Apostles, while introducing the territory of conquest for Christ the Redeemer, also presents the picture of a fierce battle between the forces of redemption and those of condemnation. The prince of this world is determinedly employing every tactic to negate the message of the universal Redeemer.
While the message of Christ has met with enraged onslaught at every stage of its proclamation, the extreme animosity evidenced in our century cannot escape the alert observer’s attention. What is seen at present is not a mere rejection by Islamic forces, fanatic adherents of Hinduism and Buddhism, acolytes of the de-Christianized west, hi-tech achievers, devotees of cults and those who jettison moral-ethical norms, etc. It is basically a spiritual conflagration augmented with politics and violent confrontation. Seeds of wild weeds are constantly being sown everywhere producing a systematic opposition to the Good News throughout the world. In the ardent warfare of retrieving people of all ages from destruction, Satan is the constant aggressor and decisive attacker. We stand in need of the Holy Spirit’s sufficiency and authority to resist the onslaughts of the enemy. This century is characterized as the age of ‘clash of civilizations’. In this merciless battle the utmost insight and perception are needed. These can only be taught by the Holy Spirit. The comfort of the Holy Spirit will uplift the often down-hearted followers of Christ to ultimate triumph. We ought to be aware of the malevolence which surrounds us.
In the Apostolic church the ministry of those involved in establishing and strengthening the church is clearly stated. “…strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). These words of cheer can only be implemented by the paraclisis of the Holy Spirit. Naturally it is necessary to extend physical and material assistance to sufferers everywhere. However, the work of the Holy Spirit must always have the preeminence. This was the case in the persecuted early church. “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied” (Acts 9:31). The body of believers is an assembly of those who are in need of comfort and then responsible to comfort others. “…who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (II Corinthians 1:4).
The Lord Jesus Christ prior to his triumphant ascension instructed his disciples: “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:48, 49). Christ’s obvious admonition in this passage was, “…but stay in the city,” in other words, ‘wait’. We are in an age of fast foods, fast achievements, fast degrees, fast sexual activity and all sorts of other fast pursuances. Sadly, the church has not been able to keep herself immune from hastily achievable goals. The intention seems to be the seeking of fast achievements without keeping in step with the purpose of the Holy Spirit. The company of disciples was instructed to wait and pray for the outpouring of God’s Spirit. The ten-day wait from Ascent to Descent was a most beneficial time of tarrying. Then the quickening Spirit came upon these expectant followers of Christ like the rush of a mighty wind, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
The admonition of the risen and ascended Christ is upon us: Reject all dictates of the fast-moving age in which you are engulfed. Cast aside all rush and hurry, organize your life in accordance with my time schedule, says the Lord. Believe in the Holy Spirit and the mighty uplift he can administer in your complacent life. Then you will be blessed, enriched and rendered fully productive in your inner world, just as my faithful disciples were, in the upper room. They received the Holy Spirit, the consequence of which was the ingathering of thousands into my kingdom.
Thomas Cosmades, 2008