Holy Spirit in the Church (part 1)

Seven weeks after Jesus died and oddly enough reversed the process by leaving the tomb, an event almost as curious happened in the midst of the earliest church. This wasn’t long after Jesus left the disciples a second time, not into death but into life, returning to the Father for reasons no one really quite understood. The angels knew, and when Jesus rose into heaven they wondered why the disciples were mulling about, murmuring and confused.

“Why are you standing here staring at the sky,” the angel asked.

We are not told the response but I imagine more than a few at least wanted to say, if in fact they didn’t, that they were staring upwards because the Messiah who had come from a womb had just left into the sky. We’re not told this, but I would guess at least one or two, likely John, wanted to say, “We’re keeping our eyes on Jesus.”

But Jesus had been taken away from them, taken back into heaven. Even though he would come back the same way, he had gone, and left the disciples in a curious sort of position. They had a Messiah, but this messiah disappeared into heaven. He had risen again, but then after a little while he rose even further.

For several years they were his disciples, able to sit at his feet and ask stupid questions to which they were given wise and brilliant answers. Now that Jesus was gone they were a bit lost. Who was in charge now? What exactly was the message they were going to share? The story thus far had included some amazing events, but now it seemed the source of the message and the power had left them, without all the changes they felt sure were going to happen first. That they didn’t quite get it even to the end of Jesus’ time on earth is reflected in their last question, “Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?”

“Um, no,” Jesus said. “And I’m not going to tell you when that’s going to happen. But wait. Wait for the Spirit to come and you’ll receive power to tell all people about me, people who you know, and people who look and act entirely different than you.”

Seven weeks after Jesus died and rose again the disciples had shown their willingness to listen and spent their time praying, praying continually as a matter of fact.

“Suddenly,” as the story goes, “there was a sound from heaven like roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.”

The Holy Spirit arrived. Now this wasn’t necessarily a surprise, because Jesus had repeatedly told them in his last days that this is what they were waiting for. Indeed, this was why he had left. If he hadn’t left, the Spirit wouldn’t have come. This is an unusual statement to be sure, and one we would likely argue with if in fact Jesus hadn’t been quite explicit about saying this was in fact the case.

“But now I am going away to the one who sent me,” Jesus said in John 16, “and none of you has asked me where I am going. Instead you are very sad. But it is actually best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Counselor won’t come. If I do go away, he will come because I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.”

When Pentecost came, and when the Spirit poured out like a dam had been broken and the stored up water gushed onto all the low-lying villages, suddenly not only were there tongues of fire, and various languages, and sounds of windstorms. There was power. Power to do exactly what Jesus said. The Spirit incited the disciples to begin the process of convincing. They were no longer sad when the Spirit came.

Even when Stephen was being stoned, he was no longer sad. When James was beheaded, he was not sad. When Paul faced shipwrecks, and beatings, and alienation, and frustration, weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, he was no longer sad, but indeed content in all circumstances. When he was weak, then he was strong. All because the Holy Spirit had empowered him not only to do, but to become.

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