During the Pentecost season we call to remembrance the amazing event that is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 2, verses 1-33). Those first believers did not fully understand what had happened, nor do we. Pentecost, like the resurrection of Jesus, is an occurrence that goes beyond the boundaries of human wisdom, for there was nothing natural about it. Like the resurrection, nothing like that had ever happened before. It was a supernatural happening, and for all those who believe in the superiority of human reason and reject the supernatural, it may sound foolish. Like the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen, it makes no sense to them. Why? Because their minds are closed, their hearts are hardened, and they have no ability to comprehend the incomprehensible. Perhaps the Apostle Paul says it best in his Corinthian correspondence: “No one comprehends what is truly God’s (i.e. truth that is of God and from God, spiritual truth) except the Spirit of God (i.e. the Spirit who reveals truth). Now we have received not the spirit of the world (i.e. the secular world that exalts human wisdom and rejects spiritual truth; all who conform to the spirit of that age, or any age, that orders life by this prevailing dogma), but the Spirit that is from God (i.e. the Holy Spirit, who is the “Spirit of truth”), so that we may understand the truths bestowed on us by God (i.e. revealed to us by God). And we speak of those things in words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual (i.e. those who are able to understand spiritual truth, for spiritual things must be spiritually understood).” (I Corinthians 2:11-13)
Furthermore, those skeptics and critics who are unwilling to accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as reliable and accurate historical records, while also refusing to believe in the mighty acts of God in history (i.e. the existence of a God who actually intervenes in history), are like those first-century Greeks of whom Paul was speaking when he also penned these words in his first letter to believers in Corinth: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” (I Corinthians 1:21-25)
There is no one among us who can fully explain the Pentecost Event, any more than anyone can explain the Trinity, including the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. I remember a former President of Louisville Seminary, where I received my initial theological education, telling a group of graduates at one of our alumni reunions about a student who approached him between classes with this request: “Dr. Winn, I am confused about the Trinity. I have an hour before my next class. Could you please explain the Trinity?” He told us how he had spent that hour with the student, giving his best interpretation, and then asked him, “Well, are you still confused?” He replied, “Yes, but on a much deeper level.” Whenever we are reading the Bible, we will at times find ourselves wading in spiritual waters that are not so deep, but there will be other times when we know we are in over our heads (the prologue to John’s gospel is a good example, as well as the “Upper Room Discourse” in chapters 13 through 17, where so much is said that is simply above us, thoughts that are “higher than our thoughts” – read Isaiah 55:8-9). In those times we will do well to remember how even the great Apostle Paul, one of the greatest of all theologians in the history of Christ’s Church, declared without any apology or embarrassment, “We know only in part….for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then (i.e. “when the perfect comes”)…we will see face to face….then I will know fully, even as I have been known” (I Corinthians 13:9-12).
Whenever I read in the Acts of the Apostles that on the Day of Pentecost three thousand people were brought to faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit who had been poured out upon that gathering, I never cease to be absolutely amazed; and I hope the time will never come when I am not astounded by such an incredible number of people being baptized and added to the Church in just one day, in response to one sermon. It is even more amazing when we remember who that bold preacher was, the same cowardly disciple who had denied Jesus, not just once but three times, even saying he did not even know Him! What a powerful message it was, a convincing and convicting indictment, when Peter accused the Israelites, His own people, of killing Jesus, a man revealed to them as the Son of God by “….deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him…but God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held by its power” (Acts 2:22-24 and 40-41). Although we should always be utterly amazed when we read Luke’s account of all that happened on that day, we should not be surprised, for it was the fulfillment of all that Jesus had said was going to happen, just before His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven – the fulfillment of “the promise of the Father” (John 14:16-17, 25-26, 15:26-27, 16:7-14; Acts 1:6-9).
So, during this Pentecost Season, as we not only remember the incredible things that happened on that day so long ago, but also recall the creation of the most remarkable fellowship ever formed and the phenomenal growth of the Early Church, let us pause to think also of what we it would be like today if the Holy Spirit had never come, if there had been no Pentecost.
No “sound from heaven like a mighty wind,”
no “tongues as of fire,”
no Christians “filled with the Holy Spirit,”
no “amazed and bewildered” crowd (Acts 2:1-6),
no great ingathering of souls into the Body of Christ,
no incredible growth of Christ’s Church,
no missionary movement,
no passion to take the Gospel beyond the boundaries of Israel,
no evangelistic effort to reach the Gentile world,
WE WOULD NOT BE CHRISTIANS TODAY.
The Gospel would never have reached Europe, and would never have reached these shores. So, let us give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who made it all possible; for without the gift of the Holy Spirit, none of these things would have happened. Without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives today, we would not believe in a God for whom there are no impossibilities at all. Furthermore, we would not be able to see through the bifocals of faith beyond the boundaries of space and time, beyond the limitations that life “in the flesh” imposes, to that larger, richer, fuller, everlasting life that will be ours in the kingdom of heaven, forever and ever. It is our life “in the Spirit” that has opened eyes to see “by faith” what those with only 20-20 vision cannot see.
People often speak of “blind faith,” but faith in the true and living God is not blind; it is not the closing of the eyes to what some call “reality.” No, it is the opening of eyes to “ultimate reality.” Faith, as defined in Scripture, does not see less; it sees more, much more! “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (i.e. not seen with our physical eyes) – faith does not need evidence; faith is the evidence (Hebrews 11:1)!