God’s Love Applied

God’s Love Applied

Last week, on Ascension Sunday, we stopped to ask why Jesus Christ’s ascension is deemed to be so important that it is included in the summary of the Christian faith provided in the Apostles’ Creed. In essence the answer is that God’s plan of salvation cannot be completed apart from the involvement of the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. This is part of the reason why Jesus, prior to his crucifixion, told his disciples, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”[1] If Jesus Christ had never ascended to the Father, we would not have been given his Spirit. All of this is in accord with God’s wondrous plan of redemption—with his wondrous plan to deliver us from sin— with his wondrous plan to make atonement for all who had turned from him since the time of the Fall.

So though theologians have sometimes referred to the Holy Spirit as the forgotten member of the Trinity, in truth he is One in importance and activity with the other two Persons—with the heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, the Son—who comprise the One God exalted, loved, praised, and worshipped by Christians throughout the ages. As the Father demonstrates his love by creating us in his image; and the Son demonstrates his love by taking on human form and living, dying, and rising for us; the Holy Spirit expresses his love by applying Christ’s redemption by sealing us as a guarantee that we are his, indwelling us and thereby uniting us with Father and Son and thus becoming our Advocate, our Counselor, our Comforter, and our Guide. So having been prepared last week to look forward to the Spirit’s coming as Christ Jesus ascended to heaven, this morning we’re going to take a few moments to remember this forgotten member of the Trinity as we consider the Pentecost celebration at which the Holy Spirit was poured out upon all who were present.

Now though Christians have come to view Pentecost as the day upon which Christ’s Church was born, the roots of Pentecost extend back to Judaism. The word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth” and for Jewish believers it initially referred to the fiftieth day after the first harvest[2] during Passover. Hence it’s also known as the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks.[3] Since in Palestine the harvest lasted seven weeks, seven times seven brings us to 49 with the Pentecost festival taking place on the fiftieth day. This celebration of the harvest is the reason why, verse 5, “there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” These Jewish believers had returned to Jerusalem to celebrate this important harvest festival.

But for Christian believers, our passage this morning is the reason why the Jewish festival of Pentecost was baptized into a celebration commemorating the birth of Christ’s Church. For Pentecost not only occurs fifty days after the Jewish Passover during which God’s anger passed over all who obeyed him by marking the sides and doorframes of their houses with blood,[4] but beginning in Acts 2, Pentecost marks the fiftieth day after Jesus Christ rose from the dead. And now his blood shed for us is similarly the means by which God’s anger passes over all who turn away from their sins and turn to him to receive the forgiveness he so freely bestows. Last week we saw how immediately before Jesus ascended to heaven he said to his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”[5] Then the disciples obeyed him as they gathered to pray together not only with each other but also “with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus,[6] and with his brothers”[7]—all told around 120 were gathered[8] so that at the opening of chapter 2 in Acts we’re told, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”

And what happens next is nothing short of an astounding feast for the eyes and ears. For just as he had promised, ten days after Jesus Christ’s ascension he sends his Spirit to them. As the disciples were together praying, all of a sudden “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (v. 2). And then “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3) And the result of this powerful wind and fire was that, verse 4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

So the gift that the Father had promised (Acts 1:4) had now been delivered;

And the baptism about which John the Baptist had testified (Acts 1:5), had now come to pass for, just as he had promised, One who was more powerful than he—namely, Jesus—had now baptized them “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[9]

And this Advocate whom Jesus himself had promised had now been sent. As we noted also last week, not only did he promise the Holy Spirit before ascending to heaven, but even while he was still with his disciples before his crucifixion, Jesus had told them, “26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.”[10]

So during this harvest celebration, Jesus Christ—who himself is referred to as the firstfruit of God’s harvest[11] and a sacrifice and fragrant offering to God[12]— sent the gift that the Father had also promised, the Holy Spirit. And the lives of his disciples then—and the lives of his disciples ever since—would never be the same.

Again, God-fearing Jews from all surrounding nations had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. And the sound of the Holy Spirit’s coming was so loud that “When they heard this sound,” verses 6–8, “a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?’” So we have here an extraordinary occurrence in which the disciples who had gathered together to pray were enabled by the Holy Spirit—by the tongues of fire—to speak in the languages of the countries that were represented from throughout the Middle-East and Greece so that these God-fearing Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration could understand God’s Word. Then those who had gathered declared, verse 11b, “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” So this is a miracle not only of revelation, of God disclosing his wonders by means of the disciples, but also of communication, as those gathered were able to hear the Gospel in their native languages.

There were two responses to this extraordinary occurrence. The first, recorded in verse 12, was, understandably, amazement and perplexity as “they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’” The second response, perhaps not surprising either, was mockery as we read in verse 13 how “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” When faced with something we find difficult to understand or explain, we can respond with awe or seek to dismiss or set it aside.

But the apostle Peter was quick to set the record straight. Starting in verse 14 we read: “14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:’” So first, Peter dismisses the possibility that the disciples’ ability to speak was due to their being drunk since it was only 9:00 in the morning. And, if you think about it, drinking would have impaired their ability to speak, not enabled them to speak in languages they didn’t previously know.

But, more importantly, Peter understood that what had just taken place was in fulfillment of a prophecy made about five hundred years earlier by the prophet Joel. And this particular prophecy told about what would happen “In the last days.” “In the last days,” Peter notes in verse 17, “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” This is the story of the Book of Acts. This is the story of God establishing a new covenant in Christ’s blood, a new agreement, that is made not only with his people Israel, but with all nations. As we also noted last week, though the pouring out of God’s Spirit begins with his people Israel, it eventually extends to include even to the Gentiles. And it will eventually extend to include any who accept Jesus Christ as Lord, as God, as the one way to the Father in heaven.

Peter further tells how in the last days, God’s Spirit is not only poured out on all nations, but on both men and women as God says, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.”

And not only that, but in the last days, God’s Spirit is poured out on young and old as God says, “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

And not only that, but in the last days, God says by his prophet Joel that “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

We have here the foundation and fulfillment of what we learned when we worked through the book of I Corinthians earlier this year, namely that when Christ is believed and received by means of his Holy Spirit, that very Spirit proceeds to gives gifts to whomever he wills.[13] And here in Jerusalem, ten days after our Lord and Savior had ascended to heaven, he poured out his Spirit to all of his disciples beginning with the 120 women and men who had gathered together to pray and wait for his Spirit. And Christ isn’t greedy, no. For he sends his Spirit to all nations, not only Israel; and he sends his Spirit to women, not only men; and he sends his Spirit to those who are young, not only the old; and he sends his Spirit to servants, not only rulers. And as God seeks the good of all people, he sends us his Spirit that we might similarly work for the good of all.

And if the giving of his Spirit to all who believe in Christ testifies to the beginning of the last days, the end of the last days will be borne witness to by the creation itself. Starting in verse 19, by his prophet Joel God says, “19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood.” So we in the 21st century stand between the times. The last days have begun, but they’ve not yet been completed for none of these signs from God’s creation has yet come about.

But the wonderful news, the good news, is that between the time of God—of Christ—giving his Holy Spirit and these wonders that will one day take place in heaven and on earth, “before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord,” “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Brothers and sisters, do you realize we are now—we are already—living in the “last days”? As God’s Old Testament saints looked forward to the initial coming of Messiah, we who live after Messiah’s coming; we who live after Christ’s coming to earth in the person of Jesus, also look forward to his coming. We look forward to his final coming. And when Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, on the fortieth day after he rose from the dead, and—ten days after ascending—sent his Holy Spirit to those who are his, the prophecy he had given to Joel 500 years earlier began to come to fruition—the last days foretold by Joel had now begun.

And as the coming of Christ was in fulfillment of God’s prophesying, so too was the coming of the Holy Spirit; as the coming of Christ—his Incarnation, Crucifixion, and post-Resurrection appearances—was borne witness to by many, so too was it with the coming of the Holy Spirit; and as Christ’s coming was borne witness to by signs and wonders testifying to the truth that he was God’s chosen Messiah, so, too, was the coming of the Holy Spirit accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders.

And what is most exciting—what is most wondrous of all—is the reason why God has sent us his Holy Spirit: that we might know him and love him and that we might know his love for us. In a portion of his high priestly prayer recorded for us in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John,[14] Jesus prays to his Father in heaven:

20 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

In these few sentences our Savior and Lord has spoken so much. First, this seventeenth chapter in John follows immediately upon the heels of three chapters which contain the most extended teaching on Christ sending his Spirit to be found anywhere in Scripture. This isn’t a coincidence for the means by which this prayer to the heavenly Father will be fulfilled is the Holy Spirit. But, second, did you catch how this portion of Jesus’ prayer ended? The unity among his disciples for which he prays is so that others may know two things: First, he says, “Then the world will know that you have sent me.” Our salvation rides on this knowing. Our salvation rides upon our recognizing that Jesus is indeed God’s Christ, God’s Messiah. But second—and this ought to give us goose bumps—Jesus goes on to pray not only that the world will know the Father has sent him, but also that the Father “has loved [us] even as [he] has loved [Jesus]” himself. Dear ones, do we believe this? Do we believe that our Father in heaven loves us as much as he loves Jesus? Because he does, you know. The entire reason for our existence is that we might know God and that we might know his love for us. The purpose for his communication by means of his prophets in the Old Testament; and by Jesus Christ and his disciples in the New Testament; and by his Holy Spirit now is that we might know him and his love for us. The God who made us in his image and has redeemed us by his Son wants to be known by us.

And, again, the means by which he is made known is his Holy Spirit. While he was yet with his disciples, Jesus said the following about the Holy Spirit who was yet to come:[15]When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” Apart from the Holy Spirit, we can’t have a proper understanding or perspective on sin, righteousness, or judgment; because apart from the Holy Spirit, people don’t even believe in sin or righteousness or judgment—at least how these are defined in Scripture. Not too long ago a friend who isn’t a believer, asked me how the service had gone the previous Sunday and before I could answer, he joked—though I confess it felt as though he was mocking—that he bet I had preached on sin. And I get it. Christians have a long history of hitting others over the head about sin. But though we often think about sin as breaking God’s law—and breaking God’s law certainly is sin—did you catch how Jesus defined sin as it relates to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit? Jesus said about the Holy Spirit, “he will prove the world to be in the wrong… about sin, because people do not believe in me.” The greatest sin you or I or anyone could ever commit is that of not believing that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, God who came to earth in the flesh that we might know him. All other sins pale in comparison with denying that Jesus Christ is God.

Again, the primary reason for which God in Christ has sent his Holy Spirit is that we might know him. We, too, live in a time of Advent, of waiting, for the last days have begun but they won’t be completed until, as Joel testified, “the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” So in the meantime, as we await Christ Jesus’ final return, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And we who know the love of our heavenly Father are called by Christ to share this love with those who don’t yet know him. As he commanded in the Great Commission, we too, are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Jesus has] commanded [us].”[16] But notice that the last thing he says in this commission is, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” When Jesus Christ ascended to heaven and then sent his disciples his Holy Spirit ten days later, this very Spirit was the means by which he would keep his promise that he would be with them always, to the very end of the age. For the eternal God has bound us to himself with his eternal Holy Spirit that we might know that our Father in heaven loves us as much as he loves Jesus Christ, his Son. And now we’re called to testify to this eternal love applied to us by means of the Holy Spirit.

So, my sisters and brothers, let us respond with awe at the truth that we who have believed in Christ have been sealed by and have received his Holy Spirit.

Let us be encouraged by the truth that the reason he has given us his Spirit is that we might know him and love him and that we might know his love for us.

And as God seeks the good of all people, let us in unity, with the help and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, similarly work for the good of all and be bold in sharing with others the truth that Jesus Christ is God that others, too, might be adopted as children of the heavenly Father, and know the love he has for us.

Let us pray.



[1] John 16:7.

[2] The first offering would have been of the barley sheaf during the Passover feast. Additionally the connection with the harvest was reinforced by having the story of Ruth, with its scene of harvesting, read on Pentecost and King David, Ruth’s descendant, is said to have died on Pentecost. Later rabbinic tradition associated the day of Pentecost with the 50th day after Moses’ giving of the law. The website used as a resource for details concerning the Jewish understanding of Pentecost is: <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12012-pentecost>

[3] The Hebrew shavuout means “weeks.” Exodus 34:22: “Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.; Leviticus 23:15–16: 15 “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. 16 Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.; Deuteronomy 16:9–12:Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

[4] Exodus 12:7, 13: Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs…. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

[5] Acts 1:4.

[6] Not only is this the last mention of Mary in the New Testament but a fascinating point to consider is that her being present with the 120 means that she, too, was the recipient of the Holy Spirit, her Son’s Spirit, who was poured out upon his disciples on Pentecost.

[7] Acts 1:14.

[8] Acts 1:15.

[9] Luke 3:16.

[10] John 15:26.

[11] I Corinthians 15:20–23: 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

[12] Ephesians 5:1–2:Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

[13] I Corinthians 12:Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

[14] John 17:20–23.

[15] John 16:8–10.

[16] Matthew 28:19–20.

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