We tend to think, it seems to me, that the Holy Spirit makes a sudden appearance on the scene on the day of Pentecost—something, or possibly, someone new and different; part of God, but unseen, even unheard of until now in Acts, chapter 2.

If that is so, if the Holy Spirit only takes the proverbial stage on Pentecost, where has he (& I intentionally use the personal pronoun because the Spirit is God—a part of the Trinity—Father, Son & Holy Spirit)… anyway, where has he been all this time?

Right in our midst, it turns out. Go back to Genesis and the story of creation. In Hebrew, the word “Ruach” means wind, breath, spirit, interchangeably. And we read—the Ruach blew over the waters—whose Ruach?  God’s of course!  And a little farther along: God forms the man from the dust of the earth and blows his Ruach into him to make him a  living being…God’s breath and Spirit enliven this new creation called man.

There are other such instances in the Old Testament, but let’s jump to the New.  Luke’s Gospel tells us the ‘power’ or the ‘Spirit’ of the Most High will overshadow Mary… the Spirit responsible for the birth of Jesus is also responsible for the birth of the Church.

In John’s Gospel, the resurrected Jesus “breathes” (if it were Hebrew, it would most surely be “Ruach”) …Jesus breathes God’s Spirit on the disciples to give them peace and power.

The gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 fulfills the prophecy of John the Baptist in Luke's Gospel, "He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire."

The Spirit that fills the disciples on Pentecost is the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism.  Jesus began his ministry Spirit-filled, and so does the Church.  Luke began his Gospel with the story of Jesus' birth.  He begins the book of Acts with the story of the Church's birth.  First came the Messiah; now comes the Holy Spirit. But again, the Holy Spirit has been at work all this time, from the first moment of creation.  But now, the Spirit is about to create something new—the Church of Jesus Christ.

Author Frederick Beuchner, as he usually does, has a colorful explanation of “Spirit”:

“The word ‘spirit’ has come to mean something pale and shapeless like an unmade bed.  School spirit, the Christmas spirit, the spirit of ’76 {and others} point to something that is supposed to get you on your feet and cheering  but which you somehow can’t rise to. … Like its counterparts in Greek and Hebrew, the Latin word ‘spiritus’ originally meant breath…and breath is what you have when you are alive….Thus spirit=breath=life, the liveness and power of your life.  When the life in a {person} is unusually strong…he can breathe it out into other lives, become literally in-spiring.

Spirit is highly contagious…you can catch it from {someone} as easily as the measles or a yawn…Groups have a spirit and can be good or bad, healing or destructive…{and} can be transmitted across great distances of time and space…

God also has a spirit---is Spirit, says the Apostle John. Thus God is the power of the power of life itself, has breathed and continues to breathe himself into his creation. In-spires it. The …Holy Spirit...is highly contagious. When Peter and his friends were caught up in it at Jerusalem on Pentecost, everybody thought they were drunk even though the sun wasn’t yet over the yardarm.

"Now when the day of Pentecost had come"… Pentecost is also known as the Feast of Harvest.  This harvest of souls takes place, appropriately enough, at a harvest festival.

Pentecost is also known as the Feast of Weeks.  Leviticus 23 requires Jews to observe the Feast of Weeks fifty days after the offering of the barley sheaf at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is the Feast of Weeks, because the countdown was seven sabbaths--seven weeks--a week of weeks.

For us, as Christians, the day of Pentecost (from the Greek, meaning 50) comes on the Sunday after the seventh Sunday of the season of Easter—a week of weeks.

This Jewish festival, as the first Pentecost was, is an ideal time for such an event. It was believed that many thousands of people from all over the known world would come to Jerusalem for this festival.

To see the scope of the nations involved, look at a modern map of the area. Start with Rome, and move east to Turkey and Iran--then move west and south through Iraq and Saudi Arabia--then move west through Egypt and Libya—and then move north across the Mediterranean to Rome.  You will find that you have traced a rough circle with Judea and Jerusalem at the center.

As we will see later in chapter 2, three thousand members of this crowd will be baptized at the conclusion of Peter's sermon.  We can be sure that they carried the word of their Pentecost experience--and their testimony to Jesus--to all of the places listed above--and more.

Because of this, the day of Pentecost is cited as the birthday of the Church.  Certainly, there were believers in Jesus before this. But only after what occurs in Jerusalem on that day does the word about Jesus really begin to spread far and wide.  It took the power of the Holy Spirit to give ‘life’ to the Church.

In a day when Roman rule imposed its rule on all those people, this list of nations points to a day in the future when Christ will reign in the hearts of men and women throughout the world. The fire continues to spread.  Churches in the United States and other western nations in past years have sent missionaries to Asia and Africa.  Now Koreans and Africans are sending missionaries to the United States.  Old denominations wane, but new denominations rise to take their place.  New converts revitalize old denominations.  Christians sometimes face great obstacles, but persevere in the faith that "whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved".

At a time when many wonder where the future of the Church lies, we can see it may well be different from what we have primarily known, but the Holy Spirit is still active and enlivening people to   have faith.  Even though the Church is growing most rapidly in other parts of the world, that doesn’t mean we are to throw up our hands and say there’s not much we can do here in this place and time.

The same Spirit who enlivened that frightened band of disciples in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago can inspire us today. They were accused of being drunk—if anything they were overcome with the power of the Spirit and God worked incredibly powerfully through each of them.

Herb Miller is a researcher who studies how churches grow.  His research reinforces the idea that each of us has something special to contribute--that it's critically important for all of us to be involved in the work of the church.

~ Miller discovered that churches grow, in large measure, because members invite friends to come to church with them. ~ He found that people are far more likely to visit a church if invited by a friend or neighbor than if invited by the preacher.  ~ He found that 70 and 90 percent of the people who join any church come through the influence of a friend or relative.

John Henry Newman once wrote: “God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission --I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.”

On the first Pentecost, one hundred twenty disciples gathered together in Jerusalem, and God gave each of them a tongue of fire--filled each one of them with the Holy Spirit.  Empowered by the Spirit, those few people lit a fire under the world--lit a fire for Christ.  Those few people changed the world.

We are the keepers of that same flame today.  Pray for guidance as to how you can help. Remember, the Holy Spirit is very contagious—once you are caught by him, you will soon find others caught up in it as well. So, stand up--get involved--do what you can--answer your call—and expect to see the power of God’s contagious and exciting Holy Spirit working through you.


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