Pentecost: Receiving the Holy Spirit

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. (ACT 2:6)

We are all familiar with the events of Easter morning, how Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, and the others discovered to their joy and astonishment that Jesus was alive, that He had raised Himself from the dead. In the days and weeks that followed, the Lord appeared to the disciples often to comfort them, to reassure them, and to tell them what they must do with what they had learned from Him.

Each of the Gospels gives us a slightly different view of these post resurrection appearances.

In the gospel of Luke we read how the Lord joined with two disciples who were walking to Emmaus, how He walked with them and “opened the scriptures” to them (LUK 24:32). It is also in Luke where we hear how He then appeared to the disciples, invited them to inspect the wounds in His hands and feet, and then ate a broiled fish and a honeycomb with them. After eating, he “opened their understanding that they might understand the scriptures” (Ibid. v. 45), and then walked with them to Bethany where as He blessed them, “He was parted from them and carried up into heaven” (Ibid. v. 51).

The gospel of John records different events: how on the evening of the day of the Lord’s resurrection, He appeared to the disciples “when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled” (JOH 20:19). It is John who records the details of the scene between the Lord and Thomas, the disciple who doubted. John also tells us that the Lord gave them “many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book” (Ibid. v. 30). Finally, we read that the disciples had given up their discipleship and gone back to fishing. By the sea of Tiberias the Lord appeared again to five of the disciples who had been fishing all night without catching any thing. At His command, they threw their nets over the other side of the boat, and the net was so full they could not pull it in. He invited them ashore for breakfast and gave them bread and broiled fish. John tells us that this was the third and last time that they saw the Lord.

We can see from these few references in the gospels what must have happened in the weeks after the betrayal. First there was the shock of the crucifixion, followed by the joy and astonishment of Easter morning. Through repeated meetings and demonstrations of His well-being, the disciples eventually became convinced of the Lord’s resurrection, they could believe that He was still alive.

But they did not know what to do next. For three years they had been expecting to become the governors of the new Jewish kingdom established by the Messiah. Now that they knew that His kingdom was not of this world, they could not any longer see their part in it. Leaderless, without a sense of purpose or direction, they drifted back to the former occupations.

But the Lord kept appearing to them in groups, opening the scripture, explaining, encouraging them to open their minds to a whole new plane of thought.

He told them that they had a mission in life now: to minister unto the nations, to preach the gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to teach all men to be obedient to God’s law, and to heal the sick.

And slowly the message began to sink in. The disciples, no doubt with all these things on their minds, came together in Jerusalem some fifty days after the Passover to celebrate the “Feast of weeks” or “Pentecost.”

The feast of Pentecost was the second of the three annual festivals which all Jewish males were required to attend. The others are the Passover and the feast of Tabernacles. It was called Pentecost because “pente” has to do with the number fifty, and this feast was celebrated fifty days after Passover, and it was also known as the “feast of weeks” because it was kept a “week of weeks” or seven weeks after Passover. Its original purpose was to serve as a festival of thanksgiving at the conclusion of the wheat harvest.

It is interesting that this timing also coincides with Moses coming down off Mount Sinai to deliver the Ten Commandments fifty days after the first Passover in Egypt. Because of this linkage, the feast of Pentecost also became a festival commemorating the giving of the Law, celebrated by gathering together to study the scriptures. It was regarded as the culmination and focus of the Passover season, thus forming a one with Passover itself and tying this feast to the celebration of the day when Jehovah Himself freed the children of Israel from their Egyptian slavery.

This then explains why the disciples, who were all brought up in Jewish tradition, were drawn to Jerusalem in spite of the possible risk to their own lives and had gathered at Pentecost to study the Word.

Briefly, what happened to them next was this.

There was the sound of a mighty wind, and a vision of tongues of fire resting on each disciple.

They each began to speak, moved by the Holy Spirit.

Luke writes in the book of Acts that there were many devout men from all over the world who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, and when they heard the sound of the wind, they were drawn to it to see what was happening. And when they the found the source of the sound, they found the disciples preaching as they were moved by the Holy Spirit – and everyone who was there, no matter where in the world he was from, heard them preaching in his own birth language, which astounded and confused them.

There is a phenomenon known as “speaking in tongues” in some modern Christian churches, which they associate with the miracle at the feast of Pentecost, and take as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit with them.

The phenomenon typically takes the form of a person being overcome by religious fervor and speaking in words unknown to any human ear. This is taken to be a sign of great holiness, and is called “speaking in tongues,” although there is a major difference between this and the miracle that gives it its name.

At the original miracle of Pentecost, everyone had perfect understanding of everything the disciples said. The modern phenomenon is considered very holy because no one can understand anything that is said, for they are said to be moved by the Holy Spirit.

If the modern phenomenon is not “speaking in tongues,” then what is it?

What it most closely resembles is a form of Old Testament prophecy. For example, once when king Saul threw himself down and rolled in the mud like someone who had gone insane, it became a proverb that Saul was one of the prophets (1SA 10:11). The reason for this was that in those days many people were overcome with a spirit of prophecy, and they would act in bizarre ways, much as those who are overcome with an emotional response act today. These people were known as prophets in those days, and respected.

However, it is quite clear that there was a distinction between those who prophesied by rolling in the mud and those like Moses, Elijah and Daniel who had visions of God, and that distinction was clearly kept in the Word. While the people considered those who acted strangely to be among the prophets, the Word never refers to them as such.

It appears that our enthusiastic friends are not “speaking in tongues” at all, but instead they are experiencing an ancient form of prophecy. The difference is no more than the difference between complete confusion and perfect understanding.

The Heavenly Doctrines use the example of what happened to the disciples at the feast of Pentecost to make the comparison between ordinary religious zeal and the Divine operating in men, for the two are very similar and there are many who have been deceived, thinking that enthusiasm and forceful speech are the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are told that the way to distinguish between zeal and the Divine operation of the Holy spirit is to see if there is the love of truth from the Word within it. The disciples had this. (See TCR 146)

The other important feature about the miracle of Pentecost is that when the disciples preached, everyone who was present heard and understood perfectly what was said in their own birth language.

The only way this could have happened was if this was a Divine miracle, where everyone present was brought into the sphere of heaven, so that they could use their spiritual ears and hear speech such as is used by the angels themselves in the heavens. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that:

Among the wonderful things in the other life is the fact that the speech of spirits with a man is in his native tongue, which they speak as readily and skillfully as if they had been born in the same land, and had been brought up with the same language; and this whether they are from Europe, from Asia, or from any other part of the globe. …The reason is that the language with which spirits are familiar is not a language of words, but is a language of ideas of thought; and this language is the universal of all languages (AC 1637).

In the entire heaven all have one language, and . . . they all understand one another. Language there is not learned but is implanted by nature with every one, for it flows from their very affection and thought (HH 236).

There was perfect understanding among everyone present because the disciples were not preaching in the language of the world, but they were inspired by the Holy Spirit and were preaching the truth from the Lord in the spiritual language of ideas.

It was like the speech of angels, a direct communication of ideas. We could say that the spiritual ears of everyone present were opened.

We can see a microcosm of our own lives in the experiences of the disciples.

As the disciples followed the Lord for three years, we follow our parents and teachers for many years during our childhood and youth, depending on them to keep us safe and protect us from our own ignorance.

This first state is the state of our historical faith.

What follows is a state of trial and temptation. Jesus was suddenly no longer there to lead the disciples, which is like what happens when we become adults and face life for the first time by our selves.

Usually, due to inexperience, young adults make some unfortunate decisions at first. Their troubles weigh them down and they feel lost and alone. During this time the Lord visited the disciples three times. Young adults will find that their state will rise and fall with contacts they have with those whose judgment and experience they trust and admire.

But what made the change into the final, adult state for the disciples? What finally brought them out of their wandering and self-pity and turned them into dynamic leaders that founded the Christian church in the face of the might of Rome?

The simple fact that they each returned to Jerusalem to study the Word in celebration of the feast of Pentecost. They realized that the Word of God was the true source of wisdom and guidance, and when they put their trust in it alone, they received the Holy Spirit.

When each of us finally accepts the Word as the true source of wisdom and turns away from self-intelligence we will finally be in a state of faith that is truly our own, the kind of faith that will sustain us in the temptations and difficulties of life, the kind of faith that built the Christian church, the kind of faith that turns the human mind into a church, an angelic mind that can live to eternity in heaven.

This is what it means to receive the Holy Spirit: to feel the confidence within yourself to go forth and live your life according to your conscience formed from the Word because the Lord is always present with you, and to feel the power and joy of life that comes from the Lord alone as you go forth.

I foresaw the LORD always before my face,

For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken;

Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;

Moreover my flesh will also rest in hope,

Because You will not leave my soul in Hell,

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

You have made known to me the ways of life;

You will make me full of joy in Your presence.

(Psalm 16:8-11)

AMEN.

Lessons: Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:1-13, TCR 146

1st Lesson: (Joel 2:28-32)

“And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. {29} And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. {30} “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. {31} The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. {32} And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls. Amen.

2nd Lesson: (Acts 2:1-13)

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. {5} And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. {6} And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. {7} Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? {8} “And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? {9} “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, {10} “Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, {11} “Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” {12} So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” {13} Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” Amen.

3rd Lesson: True Christian Religion 146

The operations of the Lord … flow in from the Lord both with the clergy and the laity, and are received by those who are in the Lord, and in whom the Lord is. But enlightenment and instruction are communicated especially to the clergy, because these belong to their office, and inauguration into the ministry carries these along with it. Moreover, when preaching from zeal they believe themselves to be inspired, like the Lord’s disciples upon whom He breathed, saying:-

Receive ye the Holy Spirit (John xx. 22 see also Mark xiii. 11).

Some affirm even that they have felt the influx. But they should be very careful not to persuade themselves that the zealby which many are carried away while preaching is the Divine operation in their hearts; for a like and even warmer zeal prevails with enthusiasts, as also with those who are in the utmost falsities of doctrine; and even with those who despise the Word and worship nature instead of God, and fling faith and charity, as it were, into a bag on the back; but when preaching or teaching they hang it before them like a sort of ruminatory stomach, from which they draw out and disgorge such things as they know will serve as food for their hearers. For zeal, in itself considered, is a glow of the natural man. If it has within it a love of truth it is like the sacred fire that descended upon the apostles, as described in the Acts:-

There appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (ii. 3, 4).

But if within that zeal or glow a love of falsity is concealed, it is like a fire imprisoned in wood, which bursts forth and consumes the house. You who deny the holiness of the Word and the Divinity of the Lord, take, I pray, the bag from your back and open it, as you freely do in your privacy, and you will see. Amen.