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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1257

May 15, 2016 Pentecost Acts 2:1-21

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“The Work of the Holy Spirit”


It’s Pentecost Sunday and on this day we celebrate the birth of the church as we know it today filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The reading from Acts 2 is one that marks the Spirit coming upon the disciples in such an extraordinary way that many heard the gospel in their own languages. The church began performing signs and wonders. People sold properties to provide for fellow believers. Everything that happened from the beginnings in the book of Acts was fueled by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. I want to spend our time in the scriptures today looking beyond this one story in Acts 2 and spend some time focused on the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible.

In your outline I have a vast number of scripture references and I don’t want any sermon to seem like just one scripture after another. But I do want you to have this resource for your future study. I am going to speak today on the main points of who the Holy Spirit is, what he does, and what that means for our lives. I will certainly make mention the main thoughts of the scripture listed, but will not be asking you to wear out your Bible pages in old time sword drills!


  • Who is the Holy Spirit?


When we read Act 2 and see the amazing actions of the Spirit, it draws us to questions about the Spirit. There is this incredibly mysterious quality about the Holy Spirit. Just the words “Holy” and “Spirit” raise that inscrutable quality. Holiness seems beyond us in the same way as the word spirit. And, if we use the old English in Holy Ghost, that brings even more speculation about who this Spirit is. Who is the Holy Spirit? That is an appropriate question. Not, what is the Holy Spirit, but who? The Spirit is not an impersonal force. The Spirit is not anything like the force we might enjoy in the Star Wars movies, something like dead Jedi whispering in one’s ear. The Holy Spirit is a person, we say He is the third person of the Trinity. He is equal to God the Father and God the Son. Christians tend to spend much more time on God the Son, Jesus, and time with God the Father, but we don’t spend as much time learning about God the Holy Spirit. And yet, the Spirit is all over the place in scripture.


Let’s look at a few scripture references to the Holy Spirit.


    • The Spirit is God for God is Spirit (John 4:24)


Who is the Holy Spirit? First, the Holy Spirit is God. God is Spirit. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” This statement is from Jesus in John 4. The Holy Spirit has the same nature, the same attributes, the same power, that is, the Spirit is God-Spirit just as Jesus is God-man. Even though we know God as Spirit, it does not make it any easier to relate to the Holy Spirit because a spirit is not a bodily form, not a person like we experience in our lives of personal interactions. And yet, we use the term Spirit to describe the third person of the Trinity.


    • Third Person of the Trinity (2 Corinthians 13:14)


The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The language we use here is important because what the reformed church has come to understand about the Trinity is that God is one, one substance in three persons. It is the best language we have been able to come up with in understanding this mystery of God. God is one, one substance in three persons. Not just a force or energy source, but a person. Jesus commanded us to baptize in this understanding, “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The reference I placed in the outline is Paul’s benediction to the church, “the grace of our Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. The expressed understanding is that all three persons are all of the one God. I will talk more about this use of person in just a moment.



    • Spirit Same as God in Acts 5:3-4


It is interesting to note that in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, lying to the Spirit is the same as God. I do want you to turn to this scripture, Acts 5:1… But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” You see it don’t you? Satan filled their hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit...You have not lied to man but to God. According to the author, Luke, God and the Holy Spirit are the same. The names are interchangeable. The persons of God are interchangeable in the telling of this story to lie to the Holy Spirit is a lie to God and we might add, is a lie to Jesus.



    • Spirit a Divine Person/Personal - “Him” (John 14:16-17)


And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”


The Holy Spirit is a divine person. One of my favorite words to think about with God and thus the Holy Spirit is personality. God has attributes of a personal nature. God gets angry. God shows delight. God loves and God hates. Paul speaks about our ability to grieve the Holy Spirit – and what he says is, don’t do it (Eph. 4:30)! God relates to us through his personality. We often find that the Holy Spirit is the least relatable of the Trinity. We can relate more easily to the notion of Father and Son. Those are more physically quantifiable. We know something about fathers and sons. But spirit is more illusive. Spirit is not physically visible, so we struggle with how to relate to the Holy Spirit. But let’s imagine the Spirit through the term personal or personality. The Holy Spirit has joy, grief, anger, faith, that is, He has the attributes we know within personalities. One of the purposes of our walk with God, our study of the scriptures, and of theology is to get to know the personality of God and thus, of the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke of some of the attributes of the Spirit’s when he said God would send a Helper. To help is to show a certain kind of character and personality.

When we talk about relating to other people we sometimes talk about how their personality is either compatible or conflicting. It is in personalities that we relate or we don’t. This is how we might better understand how we can relate to the Holy Spirit as a person of the Trinity and as a personality to which we can indeed relate. The Spirit helps us; the Spirit is generous; the Spirit is loving and comforting and relational. This might be the most important aspect about the Spirit in this message. While we cannot see the Spirit, we can still know the relational personality of the Spirit who dwells with in us and in the church.




  • What Does the Holy Spirit Do?


    • Because the Holy Spirit is God, He is involved in all God does!


Without the doctrine of the Trinity, it might be more difficult to understand that the Spirit is of one substance with the Father and Son. When we talk about God as creator, we are also talking about the Spirit’s ability to create. God loves, the Spirit loves. God delivers, the Spirit delivers. Now the Bible does make distinctions between the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is the Son who was sent to die for us. It is the Spirit who is sent to help us. The Son comes in human form, the Spirit has not. So, yes, there are things we might point out where the three persons of the Godhead do different things, but at the core of God’s personality, the One God acts with love, grace, mercy, justice, and so forth, as one God, Father, Son, and Spirit.



    • The Spirit Empowers (Acts 2:1-4)


These three attributes can certainly be attributed to the triune God, but the scripture points to the Spirit in these particular cases. First, the Spirit empowers the disciples to preach the gospel in a powerful way. When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.


    • The Spirit Speaks With Authority (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 1:13-17)


Second, the Spirit speaks with authority.


The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound (Is. 61:1)


 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

The authority of any prophet, preacher, teacher, or evangelist is given through the authority of the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah such authority comes through an anointing. When the angel visits Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, he tells him that John will be filled with the Spirit to prepare people for the coming of the Lord. This is telling us that the Spirit gives all of us the authority to speak the gospel and give our testimony of God's salvation. You and I have been authorized to speak God's word to the world.



    • The Spirit is God’s Presence (1 Corinthians 3:16)


Third, the Spirit is God’s presence with us today.


16Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.”


We might understand this passage in two ways. One is to see it as an individual dwelling of the Spirit in each one of us. Another is to see it as God's presence in the church. We might also consider both to be the whole truth. However we see this text, the truth is that God is with us today by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is with us by the Holy Spirit.



  • The Holy Spirit in Our Lives


    • Baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13)


How do we experience or know the Holy Spirit is active in our lives? One way we know that is through our baptism. We have been baptized into Christ through the Holy Spirit. 13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Our baptism symbolizes, among other things, the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. It is the truth we share among all who are baptized. It is one of the main points of faith that unifies the church.



    • Filling (Acts 4:31; Ephesians 5:18)


Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.


18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,


In each of our lives there is a need for filling. When we try to fill our lives on our own we often do so with things of the flesh, possessions, entertainment, or some other means. But the Bible helps us see that the only real satisfying life is when our lives are filled with God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and thus, filled with the things of God. Yes, sometimes God gives us material things as a blessing, but more often he gives us those things that money cannot buy, things of the Spirit. That filling gives us courage to speak or gives us the ability to resist the things of the world. That filling sets us free to give ourselves over completely to God's will and desires.


    • Fruit (Galatians 5:22-23)


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.


I see the fruit of the Spirit as the evidence of the Spirit with us. When we are filled with the Spirit, we will naturally produce the character of love, joy, peace, patience, and all the fruit seen in Galatians 5. Jesus told us as well that we would know false prophets by their fruit. We know this is true when we see people say things one way and yet they live by opposite standards or no standards at all.



    • Gifts (Romans 12:3-8)


3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.


We know the presence of the Holy Spirit through our baptism, by his filling of our lives, and by the fruit that we bear. The last point of how we might see the Spirit evident in our lives is by the receiving of gifts from the Spirit. Romans gives a list of some of those gifts. We also see other places like 1 Corinthians 12 where gifts are noted. None of these lists are exhaustive. God gives all kinds of gifts but one thing that is common among those gifts is that they are to be used to edify the church and bring glory to God. Gifts are given for the common good of the community of faith. Gifts enable all of us to contribute to the peace, unity, and purity of the church.


Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us from God, who is God, and who empowers us to be the church in the world. We celebrate the miraculous power displayed with the disciples in Acts 2 and we give thanks that that same power is given today, that we might be filled with the Spirit to live as God has commanded us. Let us celebrate today and give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the church. Amen.


*Sermon notes and scripture references based off Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John M. Frame, chapter 12.