The Gift of the Spirit

The disciples had been waiting — and now it happened! The Father’s gift, promised by the resurrected Savior is given, and the church is baptized with the Holy Spirit. See Acts 2:1–13.

The Spirit was active in the Old Testament. The Spirit worked in the lives of believers. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve there has been only one way of salvation — by trusting in the Messiah. Old Testament saints looked forward to his coming. We look back on his finished work. In both the Old and New Testaments, however, the only way that someone who was dead in sin could come to faith in the Messiah, was if the Spirit worked in his life. David was conscious of the Spirit’s presence in his life, Psalm 51. Adam became a living creature only when God breathed into him the breath of life. The Spirit/wind of God gave life to those in the valley of dry bones to whom Ezekiel preached. Never assume that he was absent from Old Testament believers.

The Spirit displayed his powerful presence. It’s not just in the lives of individual believers that the Spirit worked in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God hovered over the unformed creation in Genesis 1. The wind recalls the appearance of God on Sinai and the Psalms that describe him as riding on the storm. The tongues of fire look back to the pillar of cloud and fire that showed the presence of God leading Israel through the wilderness. Just as that glory cloud once filled the tabernacle, now it hovers over all the followers of Jesus (likely the 120 described in the previous chapter). “These flames announced the glorious presence of God, just as the lightning on Sinai (Ex. 19:18) and the fire and cloud over the tent of meeting made the holy glory of God visible in the midst of Israel (Ex. 40:34–38). But when the risen Christ poured out the Spirit, each believer was marked by a miniature ‘pillar of fire,’ indicating that each was a temple in which God dwelt by his Spirit (see 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:22…1 Peter 4:14).” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, pages 58–59)

At Pentecost the Spirit of Christ reverses the curse of Babel. In Genesis 11, mankind had united in prideful disobedience to God, who came down to see what men were doing. His changing tongues created language barriers that scattered the people. But now Luke boxes the compass as he lists the countries from which people had come for the feast of Pentecost (50 days after the Passover). As these people hear the good news in their own languages, the curse begins to be undone, to work backwards. “The phenomenon on the day of Pentecost… is a striking signal that the promised Spirit from the Father (Acts 1:4) will unify those from every nation who, in the diversity of human languages, hear and confess the one gospel of the magnalia Dei (‘the mighty works of God,’ 2:11). This arresting phenomenon indicates the beginning of the Spirit’s reversing of the disunity and confusion associated with this linguistic diversity that originated as God’s curse on human sin and rebellion in Genesis 11. In this Pentecost reversal, it is also fair to see an anticipation, linguistically, that points to the ethnic universalism of the apostolic mandate in Acts 1:8 (‘from Jerusalem… to the end of the earth’).” (Richard B. Gaffin Jr., In the Fullness of Time, pages 164–165)

This gift of the Spirit is new. Pentecost introduces something new. Yes, the Spirit was present in the Old Testament. But Pentecost marks his coming in a new way. In John 7:37–39 the promise of believers being a source of living waters is, John says, something that would happen after the Spirit was given. The disciples had been commanded to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Spirit. To carry out the great commission without the Spirit would have been both unthinkable and impossible.

The Spirit is given specifically as the Spirit of the risen Christ. At Pentecost, the Spirit becomes present specifically as the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. He who had been equipped with the Spirit for his earthly work now deluges the church with that Spirit. In his gift of the Holy Spirit Christ is with his church. Christ and his Spirit work so closely together, that there is “functional identity” of the two. In the coming of the Comforter, Christ does not leave his church alone. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to the whole church of all time.

Live as those baptized by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is a unique, unrepeatable event. Sometimes the Spirit has been mistakenly described as a second blessing. At times Pentecost is seen as the first of a repeatable series of events, which we are to be pursuing. But that misses how closely tied Pentecost is with the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Those events are unrepeatable. So is the outpouring of the Spirit. That doesn’t make you distant from Pentecost. (Pentecostal is too rich a term to give up to only one segment of the church. In a proper sense, any true church is pentecostal, equipped by the Spirit.) When you were baptized into Christ and his church, you also came to share in the once-for-all baptism of the Spirit. “[W]hat takes place at Pentecost is at the heart of Christ’s once-for-all work, essential in the outcome of his earthly ministry seen as a whole. Take away Pentecost, and the once-for-all work is incomplete. What takes place at Pentecost is hardly a matter of some sort of second or second-order blessing. It is a primary blessing secured by Christ, a blessing of the first order.” (Richard B. Gaffin Jr., In the Fullness of Time, page 101)

The Spirit equips you to live as the body of Christ. Some like to focus on the gifts of the Spirit. But beware that you don’t neglect the Spirit himself. Grasp the importance of nurturing the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Look at the dynamics of the Spirit-equipped church at the end of Acts 2. Christ did not give you his Spirit to then snatch it back. He enables you to live to his glory.

Have you experienced the power of Pentecost? That’s another way of asking, do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you worship and serve the Triune God?