Friday, 7 June 2019

Oh for a mini-Pentecost!

Jesus said, “For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit”. Acts 1:5

I wonder what the disciples of Jesus thought when they first heard him speak these words? Baptised with the Holy Spirit? - what on earth did that mean!

I’m sure they will have cast their minds back some three years to when John the Baptist was in full flow. According to Luke (the same person who wrote these words here in Acts) John had told his disciples: “I baptise you with water. But someone more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).

Striking words, then - spoken first by John the Baptist, and now taken up by Jesus. But what do they actually mean?

Christians have often tied themselves up in knots trying to understand exactly what baptism with (or in, or by) the Holy Spirit is all about. But much of the confusion is completely unnecessary, because an obvious clue is given by Jesus with the words “in a few days”. He makes it clear that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that is about to happen.

So what can he possibly be talking about but the experience of Pentecost? This is vividly described in the very next chapter of Acts, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the infant church as it met together in the upper room. Just look again at the early verses of Acts 2 - that was the “baptism with the Holy Spirit”.

Where does this lead us? Should we say then that “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is purely and simply a one-off past event, never to be repeated?

The answer is No. If you read your way through Acts you find that while there was indeed only one Day of Pentecost, there were other experiences of a similar kind...

In Acts 8:4-25, for example, something rather similar seems to have happened in Samaria. Likewise in Acts 10, especially verses 44-48, to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his friends. And in the puzzling little account in Acts 19:1-7, a similar thing again to some people who seem never to have shifted their allegiance from John the Baptist to Jesus.

Certainly these could never be described as exact repetitions of Pentecost: but the expression “baptism of the Holy Spirit” fits all the same. And if you read church history you find that similar events have happened from time to time all over the world.

But what does this mean for us?

It means that, yes, what took place on that dramatic Day of Pentecost stands alone as the initial event of baptism with the Holy Spirit - but that doesn’t mean that similar things can’t still happen today. And if they can still happen today, why shouldn’t they happen to your church or mine? There is no reason in principle why our churches shouldn’t experience just such an outpouring of the Spirit - what I sometimes call a “mini-Pentecost”.

Why do we need to think about this? Because next Sunday is Whit Sunday, Pentecost Sunday. It’s on this day that the world-wide church celebrates those awesome, strange, frightening, puzzling, momentous, exciting, exhilarating (I’m choosing my words with care here!) events that are described in Acts 2. After Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Whit Sunday is surely the most important day in the Christian calendar.

If you wanted a single word that sums it all up, it would have to be power. This baptism with the Holy Spirit is the coming of divine, supernatural power upon the people of God - as Simon Peter explained in Acts 2:14-21, quoting the words of the prophet Joel.

And what does the church today need more than power? We are, so often, weak and feeble. The world passes us by with scarcely a nod. If not despised, and in some cases persecuted, we are simply ignored by most people.

We need power. And power comes from the Holy Spirit - where else? What better day is there, then, than Whit Sunday to pray for a mini-Pentecost. Will you do that?

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for that wonderful day all those years ago when you baptised your church with the Holy Spirit. Please do the same for us today. Amen!

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