The Newness of the Spirit

Stained glass with dove
Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Dear Working Preacher,

Thank you for all you do to preach the Word of God in a spiritless, dispiriting world.

And welcome to Pentecost. May the Holy Spirit stir up new life you. No, that’s a little too tame. May the Holy Spirit rage in your heart like a fire, blow in your mind like hurricane gales, and speak through you with the tongues of angels and mortals.

The Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit that is—has always been around. God has always been Triune. From eternity, the Father begat the Son and the Spirit is the life that exists between them. The Spirit had hovered over creation as the Father spoke it into existence. When Israel mourned and lamented in exile, the Spirit breathed new life into them like a wind animating a valley of dry bones. When two pregnant kinswomen met, the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth and she prophesied, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

So at Pentecost it was not the Spirit itself that was new. Rather, it was the Spirit being poured out in a new way. The Spirit came as wind and as fire, giving the disciples the ability to speak in other languages in such a fashion that Jewish believers from all over the world—who had come to Jerusalem because Pentecost is a Jewish festival—heard them speaking in their own languages.

So Peter—a preacher who was quick to grasp what an opportunity this miracle provided him—started preaching.

Peter preached a nice three-point sermon.

First point. Peter talked about was the Holy Spirit. He said that the long-hoped-for day when the prophet Joel’s prophecy about the Spirit being poured out on all flesh was finally here:

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18, quoting Joel 2:28-29 LXX)

Second point. Peter talked about Jesus Christ. Peter identified Jesus—“this man … you crucified and killed … God raised him up, having freed him from death” (Acts 2:23-24). Again Peter quotes the Old Testament and concludes: “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (2:36).

Third point. I’ll let Peter speak for himself: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:38-39).

That’s not a bad three-point sermon: The Holy Spirit has been poured out for all; Jesus the crucified and risen one is Christ; repent, believe, be baptized, be forgiven, receive the Holy Spirit.

I take the “newness” of the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost as making both salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit available to all human flesh. To everyone everywhere. To people “of every nation.” To both men and women. To both old and young. To both slave and free. [A note about slavery: remember that much or most of the Roman world was enslaved; and remember also that there is still a lot of slavery in the world today—the evil of slavery is not gone, Lord have mercy.]

Have you—like me—grown so familiar with this mind-blowing message that you no longer find it mind blowing? Have you grown so accustomed to this good news that it always doesn’t seem good and certainly doesn’t seem urgent?

Wrap your mind around this message: The very Spirit-life that exists between the Father and the Son is now available to you and to everyone! And this Spirit is easy to get. Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and it is yours.

Then what? What sort of things happen when the Spirit-life that exists between the Father and the Son gets poured out on God’s sons and daughters? To answer that, it is helpful to turn to some other pages of the New Testament.

At the highest level, the pouring out of the Spirit brings forgiveness, new life, and “frees us from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

When the Spirit-life of the Triune God is poured out on you, it gives gifts, such as: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation. And there are the “greater gifts” of the Spirit: faith, hope, and love.

When the Spirit-life of the Triune God is poured out on you, its fruit starts to grow in your heart: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

These lists are familiar, but there are other passages that hint at other gifts and fruit that the Spirit stirs up. In Romans 8, Paul says that those who “live according to the Spirit” set their minds on “life and peace.” The Spirit makes us heirs and therefore gives us the capacity to cry “Abba! Father!” Paul goes on to say that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” In Psalm 104, we learn that the Spirit of God renews the face of the earth, breathing resurrection life into that which dies. And in John, Jesus promises that the Spirit will be our Advocate, the One who guides us and keeps us in truth.

All this—and more—available to all flesh … through your preaching, Working Preacher.

Gospel preaching, biblical preaching, is urgently. Because the Spirit of God, which does all these wonderful things in people’s lives, is urgently needed in a dispiriting world.

Thanks for what you do, Working Preacher.