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The Festival of the Holy Spirit
I will pour out My Spirit on all people.
The Church of Christ worships the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and confesses these three to comprise one unified God. In so far as she as “Church of Christ” celebrates Pentecost, her joy neither can nor shall ever be anything but a declaration of an even more solemn feast day on which to give thanks, praise and honour to that most perfect, most glorious and triune divine Being, with an even deeper humility and higher degree of happiness.
Our Christmas celebration focuses on that Eternal Being, for it isonly “God revealed in the flesh” who is capable of animating us as we kneel at the manger. From that Eternal Being our Easter joy is announced, for only the “powerful proof of His being the Son of God” can fill our heart with living psalms. Similarly, from that eternal Being our Pentecost hymns arise, for only those who worship and understand the Holy Spirit as God Himself, can sense something of the unending comfort that came down to us from Heaven during that mighty event.
It is not a coincidence that the Body of Christ that entered the world with the confession of a triune God, expresses her ecstasy and her holy enthusiasm in a three-fold scheme of celebration. It should be clear to everyone that at Christmas it is the glory of the Father whose creative power delivers us that “holy child Jesus.” On Easter the Son Himself appears as the Ruler of life. On Pentecost we celebrate not the feast of either the Father or the Son, but of the Holy Spirit. Notice that the Mediator, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, who takes His life back on Easter and pours out His Holy Spirit on Pentecost, stands by us on all three occasions, but on each occasion from a clearly different perspective that we should notice automatically and that clearly constitutes a three-fold reflection of the triune God.
And so began that last of our high feasts, Pentecost. The Body of Christ searches her heart as to whether she has fathomed the depth of this Pentecost miracle at all and out of that depth might worship her God in His glory. Congregation of the Lord, our souls must persist in remembering above all that the Pentecost miracle consisted of a descent, a coming down to us, a pouring out upon us of God Himself, a pouring out over us of a stream of actual divine life; not merely of a power, a gift or a radiation of peace; but an outpouring over us of a stream of real divine life, a coming to us of God Himself.
Anyone who does not know all this or does not confess that the Holy Spirit is “of one and the same essence, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son,” according to the Belgic Confession, is not part of this. He cannot jubilate along, is not comforted and, wandering around with a discomforted soul, cannot be thankful either. It all depends and is focused only and completely on the eternal God.
Whatever prevents you from coming close to the Eternal Being, keeps you from His heart and from opening your soul’s eye, that prevents you from gazing into the unsearchable holiness and magnificence of that perfect Being with a fuller and richer intensity, oh, get rid of it voluntarily. Don’t allow it to stop and wear you down. It all depends on the knowledge of God and on that knowledge alone. Understand well. We are not talking head knowledge or knowledge residing in your memory or mind, but a knowledge embraced by your whole person, knowledge in the inner depth of your being that is part of your very breath.
Know that the form in which that Holy Being presents itself to your soul on Pentecost, offers Himself to you and with blessing bows over you, is that of the Comforter. He does not turn to those who think themselves rich and self-sufficient, but reaches out to those of broken heart, whose souls are in His hand and who know they are poor and lost in misery.
We have a Comforter not in the sense that Jesus is gone temporarily and the Holy Spirit has come to replace him for that time to comfort us during Jesus’ absence. Jesus never said anything like that. What He did say was that Jesus Himself was the first Comforter, but when He left us He promised another Comforter, whose function was not to still our mourning over Jesus’ leaving but, to the contrary, to do the same thing for which He had come to begin with, namely to comfort us in our suffering.
Thus Jesus does not minimize that other Comforter. Rather, He declares that one as the real Comforter, whose work He only temporarily and in a very restricted circle had looked after. Indeed, he added emphatically that this other Comforter—the NIV also calls Him “Counselor” and “Advocate”—will be with them forever (John 14:16).
Even stronger, He said, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (John 16:7). The Lord has said it clearly, namely that His work of redemption is a means, thefinal target of which is to bring the Comforter to ourhearts or, if you will, that the fruit of Jesus’ death comes with the descent of the Holy Spirit. How could it be otherwise? Understand, my reader, we are inclined, destined and created to “have” God. Without God, human life is empty, poor, deeply miserable and lost.
To “have God” does not mean to have a God in Heaven upon whom we call in times of fear and distress. Neither does it mean to “have a God” who walks ahead of you in your path of life and with whom you stroll about. It means to have God within you, in your heart and soul, a God who as your God animates and motivates you, who drives you internally and penetrates you with all of His power. To miss that is what renders you poor and disconsolate and makes you as one tossed about by storms. Missing out on that constitutes the deep chaos of sin. If there is anything that can rescue you, save you, comfort you, discomforted one, it cannot be anything other than refilling that deepest need, namely that God Himself come down into you and make your heart His dwelling place.
“Your heart a temple of God!” That, as a human being, is your creation decree. On the other hand, the accusation of the Eternal Love about the state of sinners is that, “Your heart is a desolate temple or, worse, a dwelling place of the evil one.” But the Church of the Lord, when she commemorates the miracle of the Almighty on Pentecost Day, jubilates, “God the Holy Spirit has again descended into that empty temple!” That is the reason the Holy Spirit is and bears the name “Divine Comforter!”
There’s a question we must not avoid: Did the Holy Spirit comfort the saints of the Old Testament as well? If He did, then what was so special about Pentecost? Of course, we could easily do away with the question by citing Jesus’ own saying, “If I don’t go away, the Holy Spirit cannot come.” Or put this way: “The Holy Spirit could not yet come, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” However, we sense keenly that without further explanation these words seem to many only an empty shell. So, we need to take this question seriously and find the answer.
To start off with, we may assume without doubt the truth of the confession all Christians share, namely, that the saints of the Old Testament shared the same sin problems we have and that, like us, they would not be made alive and, after death, be saved, except through the grace of Jesus Christ. But would these crucial similarities restrict God’s freedom in choosing the ways and means through which He then as well as now carries out His plans? And is it not even now in the days of the New Covenant completely clear that the Lord God treats infants who die, differently from us whom He calls later and has had time to work on?
That being the case, who would dare to deny that the Lord our God also used different ways and means of gathering the saints before Christ than it pleased Him to use for the comforting of His people after Christ? Don’t promise and fulfillment mean different things? Does it not make a difference whether you live under an Israel-specific dispensation or a world-embracing grace? And does not everything change whether you still live in the circle and ages characterized by miracles or were born in the days of gradual, quiet, spiritual development?
If all these situations have brought about differences, should doubt then arise in our hearts as to whether this same Almighty God, who had called this temporary household of Israel into being, would have had ways and means, in conformity with that earlier faith situation, to apply the inner comfort of the Holy Spirit to His chosen ones during the older covenant with Israel? Is not the inspiration of the prophets not a totally different, unique, wonderful and super glorious working of the Holy Spirit that wholly differs and deviates from the way of the Spirit in our souls?
Is it then so unthinkable that there were ways in which the working of the Holy Spirit also in those earlier ages would reach those faithful ones? Don’t we read about such workings in the stories of Balaam (Numbers 22) and Saul (I Samuel 10:11-12), though without salvific effect? Do we not observe the power of such workings in the stories of Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-5) and Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9) with reference to non-spiritual situations? Do we not find that in those same Old Covenant times it is often and continually declared in the clearest and most emphatic manner that something different, better and higher is coming? Examples are:
“I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring” (Isaiah 44:3).
“I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezekiel 37:14).
“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on My servants, both men and women. I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).
“I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication” (Zechariah 12:10).
The multiple use of the strong word “pour” in these texts indicates that such spiritual abundance was unusual in those earlier days and that a situation of spiritual scarcity was more common and thus in sharp contrast to the drencher of the Spirit that would come later.
The Holy Spirit Himself is very open in the Scriptures about this difference between then and now. He expresses it in strong terminology through the Apostle Paul, who spoke of that transition from the national Israel dispensation to the universal in these words: “The revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings...” (Romans 16:25-26).
If you look at this difference a bit closer, then you may ask whether it really is that difficult to distinguish. Let me try to make this distinction clear with a series of double examples. In the first, you stand at the entrance to a dark cellar below you and shine a torch light into the darkness. You send only a few light beams into the space and don’t see all that much. In the parallel example, you enter into the cellar yourself with your torch light and see the entire space around you clearly.
Another set of examples. In the first case, you feel a few soft drops of water fall on the thirsty ground. In the second, the ancient ice caps on the mountains melt away, the mountain stream increases in volume and the floods descend till the angry turbulent waters pour themselves over farm and meadow. Or the case of a canal that is in the process of being dug. The workers get thirsty and so you have bottles of drinking water brought in so they do not parch. Then there’s the final scenario when the canal has been dug and is ready to receive the water flow. As the dam is opened, a torrent of water cascades into the riverbed and soon fills the canal in all its length and breadth.
And now a serious question: Does not each set of examples perfectly illustrate the distinction between the working style of the Spirit in the Old and New Covenants? At first there was that sparse light from above, lighting only a few souls that were called by God into His service. Then comes Jesus with that glorious, refreshing and comforting light into the dark cellar of our misery in order to shine on us directly with a much fuller, majestic brilliance.
In the old days only a few drops fell down. It was only when the Sun of righteousness melted the snow on the mountain tops that the streams began to frolic and the full streams of salvation cascaded down to all nations. And was not the very purpose of the Old Covenant dispensation to dig out that channel and to prepare that canal through which all the fields and plains would bloom? The prepping was completed when the Son came into this world, the dam opened up, and the waters filled the channel. And there were the waters of the Spirit cascading down.
Just what exactly is this miracle of Pentecost? It was not an outpouring of the Spirit in the hearts of a few individuals. That had already happened in the previous dispensation. That continues to happen whenever a sinner is born again, even today. Neither was it merely a milder disturbance of the waters of the Spirit in contrast to later violent waves that took place in the history of this sacred stream of the Spirit. Over against ages of marshy spiritual quagmire, the Church knows of powerful spiritual revivals throughout the succeeding ages, also after Pentecost.
If you wish to understand the miracle of Pentecost, then do not search for it in the conversion of the Apostles nor in the spiritual revival of those gathered on that day. You should not rest until you recognize that the event on Pentecost Day had never happened before or can ever happen again, but that it is as unique and single a miracle as the birth of the Child in the manger and His resurrection from the grave.
This view of the Pentecost feast should not lead to pious lamentations or ingenious discoveries on the part of Pentecostals, but only to the revelation of the Word. That Word tells you that we are not dealing with a few individual believers; there is a Body of Christ, that is, a strong cohesive, internal, organic, divinely constructed work of art. That Church has become one with the Mediator, one single plant. A better way of saying it, she has become one Body with Him through which He moves, through whose veins His life blood flows; that He stirs, feeds and leads her as her Head.
To be sure, Christ also chooses, knows and loves individuals, including the least and the smallest amongst them. However, He chooses, knows and loves those individual souls only as living stones in the walls of that holy temple, only as living cells of that glorious Body, as members of and as indwelling in that Bride for whom He is waiting with tender longing in the halls of eternity.
Indeed, the Mediator did already possess a premature form of that Church, of that glorious organism, of the hidden structure of His holy Body, of that coming and rising temple of God! But Israel was not the real thing. God’s plans were much richer, much wider and much more glorious. This Church was to include all nations. The extent of that organism was intended to coincide with that of the world. The structures of His glorious Body were to be oriented towards the entire human race. The cedar trees with which that Temple of God was built (1 Kings 5:5-6) came from the mountain of nations! That, said the Apostle, was God’s plan, the council of His pleasure, His glorious intention. Throughout the preceding ages that plan was under construction and being worked on.
It was not until Jesus’ Ascension that all the necessary preparations were completed and thus reached the “fullness of time.” Now the doors of the temple of God could be opened for the Holy Spirit to descend. That finally was the time the stream of the Holy Spirit could pour Himself out into the channel that Jesus had prepared in His Church!
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