15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
Today is Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and granted them the gifts they needed to spread the gospel to the ends of the Earth. It is also the day the Church was born, when the Spirit was given to it and it’s great mission to bring salvation to all peoples began.
The story of Pentecost is told in Acts 2.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Something of note here is that “they were all with one accord in one place”. It’s easy to miss that detail when tongues of fire and a mighty rushing wind follows it. Why was it so important for the apostles to be gathered in one place so the Holy Spirit could come to them? Why did Jesus command them to remain in Jerusalem, couldn’t the Spirit have been sent to them wherever they happened to be? The apostles were required to be together because it was the beginning of Christs visible Church on Earth. It was a sign, that the Church isn’t just a collection of believers but a community that has clear boundaries. Those boundaries began in that small Jerusalem house where the apostles awaited the helper who Christ promised, and rapidly expanded from there, immediately adding 3,000 more people that very day.
The Holy Spirit, though often the person of the Holy Trinity who takes a back seat to the Father and the Son, is a main character in the book of Acts. The Spirit compels the apostles to speak on many occasions. When Peter addresses the Sanhedrin he is “filled with the Spirit”. The boldness with which Peter spoke the gospel astounded them and after a short period of deliberation they accepted the gospel and were filled with the Holy Spirit and “spoke the word of God with boldness”.
When Ananias and his wife lied to the Holy Spirit about how much they had given to the early Christian community they were struck dead. Ananias kept back some of the proceeds from the sale of his property, but he claimed he gave everything. For this act of deceit he was struck down.
When the apostles saw that their community was growing beyond their ability to manage they sought help from among their fellow disciples, telling them to seek out and select people who were “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”. One of these men was Stephen, the first Christian martyr who again is said to have spoken with the power of the Spirit that gave his words such conviction that even the skeptics had trouble resisting his message,
On and on it goes with more and more people receiving the Holy Spirit and its gifts and going out into the world and spreading those gifts among more people who themselves receive the Spirit and continue the chain onwards. Note that being “filled with the Spirit” is almost synonymous with boldness or bravery. Though the supernatural gifts of the spirit are impressive, the most common way for the spirit to manifest itself in the New Testament is a boldness in proclaiming the truth of God. The same boldness with which the Old Testament prophets conveyed their message, who could be said to be the first people who received the Holy Spirit.
In essence the primary way you know someone is filled with the Spirit is by the conviction they show with their words. The Holy Spirit doesn’t dither, the Holy Spirit grants the courage to know the truth and to speak the truth without fear because speaking the truth is right. Consider then the story of Peter staying with the gentiles:
34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. 36 The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— 37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
The Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard the world because they believed the word. The conviction of Peter spread to those he spoke to and they believed with such conviction that it was the work of the Holy Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit in the world is to draw people towards the truth of the gospel and towards God. To grant those who live in Christ the conviction to speak the words of the gospel boldly and without apology, no matter the consequences. It is this boldness and courage that sways the hearts of others and opens them up to the workings of the spirit. As Acts says the Jews were “astonished” by how eagerly the gentiles had accepted the gospel Peter had given them, and it was this eagerness to follow Christ that showed them the working of the Holy Spirit.
Lets use this Pentecost as a reminder to open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit fully and to allow it to help us speak boldly of Christ and of truth. The boldness that was given to Peter, the man who once denied Christ three times to avoid persecution, after having received the Holy Spirit standing up before a large crowd to preach to them about Christ without reservation. The Holy Spirit who moved Sauls heart almost overnight through his vision of Christ and allowed him to go from someone who despised and persecuted Christians to Christs greatest messenger among the gentiles. The Holy Spirit is still with us today and still works within the world, continually drawing people to God and His Church. All we need to do is trust in Him and speak boldly.