GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
For the Epistle. Acts 2. 1-11.
WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
The Gospel. St. John 14. 15-31.
JESUS said unto his disciples, If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe. Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.
Whit Sunday – notes of sermon preached at St Johns on Whit Sunday 2006
Whit Sunday or Pentecost should be a great blessing to the Church of God. Our Collect prayer is very helpful and indeed asks God for such a blessing. As others before us were sent Gospel light and were taught, so we pray for right judgement and to evermore rejoice in His holy Comfort. It is not merely to have knowledge, neither to just be happy & comfortable, but rather to have all these blessings together and in order. Contrary to the teaching found in many churches, the knowledgeable man is not to be unspiritual and neither is the spiritual man to be mindless.
Because false teaching on the Holy Spirit is so widespread, it is necessary when preaching on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, to rebuke these false and dangerous teachings. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit has come into disrepute and consequently the name of God is blasphemed both by those within and those outside the churches. The root cause is unbelief. Unbelief is often manifest in the churches as unfaithfulness. We may divide this unbelief into three categories: 1. outright liberalism which is virtually atheism, 2. Roman Catholic ritualism including its Eastern Orthodox & Anglican varieties, and 3. the super-spiritual or Pentecostal/charismatic excesses. While there may be true Christians within these groups, principally among the Pentecostals, we must not downplay the dangers of their errors.
These three forms of unbelief or unfaithfulness are closely related and work together against the truth. Firstly there is the plain unbelief of liberals who deny the miraculous unless it is magic. Secondly there are the proud boasts of the Roman Catholic Church whose Popes trespass by claiming to be the Vicar of Christ, ie in the place of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who is the only Vicar of Christ. So Romanism is a type of liberalism as it also denies the authority of the Bible. Thirdly there are all sorts of excesses that have come into many churches under the names ‘Pentecostal’ and ‘Charismatic’. They claim that the Reformed churches deny Pentecost and the Charisma “graciousness, grace, free gift” of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Ironically anything spoken against these unbiblical movements is shot down as ‘grieving the Spirit’, or even more firmly, as being the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Such misuse of the Bible is commonplace. However the Bible in 1 Thessalonians5:19 and 21 makes it clear that “Quench not the Spirit” does not exclude testing things. Verse 21 says, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” So there is nothing blasphemous about that.
Ironically, the false miracles of the charismatics take them away from the Gospel and bring them back to Rome with all its superstitious delusions such as the apparition appearances of Mary in places where shrines are built for so-called pilgrimages. One example of this Holy Spirit ecumenism is the Toronto Blessing’s ‘holy laughter’ and animal noises that led to the Church of England originated Alpha Course with its so-called Holy Spirit weekend with so-called tongues speaking which went on to be happily accepted by the Roman Catholic Church for their so-called evangelism too! Falsely attributed to the Holy Spirit, such ridiculous things have been accepted by many as genuine signs of true Christianity. The reality is that many involved show no sign of having saving faith. Indeed, it is these things, not their critics, who grieve and blaspheme the Holy Spirit and their ecumenical compromise manifests itself not with the fruit of the Spirit but with the Works of the flesh. See Galatians 5 later to compare these.
But what do we do? What saith the Lord? We should follow 1 John 4:1 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God.” How do we do it? By being careful and comparing what we hear to the Bible! Ask yourself if the thing you hear adds to your holiness or to your knowledge of Christ, or whether it is just a trick.
So how do we work out what is right? It is vital that we see things in their right places.
While all the Bible is true we must read it in its historical context and the broad context is the revelation of God to man over the period from the Creation up to the writing of the last books of the Bible towards the end of the 1st Century AD. In a sense the Bible tells a story. Of course it is history but it is the history of God’s acting and speaking to and through man culminating in the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ to make an atonement for the sins of His people. So there is progress in revelation as the light shines brighter and brighter from before the incarnation of Christ when the Covenant promises of God gazed up to the approaching saviour, to His coming into the world and then to His ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. From that point all is in place for the furtherance of the Gospel until the day when all the elect are found and the Lord returns.
So how do we understand the great power of Pentecost that enabled the disciples and got the church really going in terms of what we are to experience today?
First, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit was not totally absent before the time of Christ and before Pentecost. The prophets were filled with the Spirit. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. Jesus of course had the Spirit with him and he breathed the Spirit onto the disciples before he was crucified. Yet they were given a greater and fuller measure of the Spirit at Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is God and so not limited to one period of time but the Day of Pentecost was nevertheless a unique occasion. Like other events of the Bible such a day as Pentecost cannot be repeated every day!
Pentecost was the greatest revival of true religion of all time. Things were at a very low point as those who followed Jesus had deserted him. Yet, as if a Revival could be ordinary, Pentecost was no ordinary Revival.
Note that it happened only 10 days after the Ascension. The Lord did not leave his disciples for long. This should encourage us too!
Tongues of fire actually appeared above people’s heads and many people from different countries heard the same speech in different languages! It is the hearing that is emphasised 3 times in our passage in Acts 2. This is what seems to be just as miraculous as the speaking. Note it is to Jews from all over the world who all had different native languages. Now these things are unique. We do not have such multi language interpretation today and we certainly do not have literal tongues of fire appearing. What a miraculous sign this was to the Jews that the Word of God would now be not just in Hebrew but in every language! This was only one step away from the Gospel blessing being literally to ‘every nation’ as both OT prophecy and Jesus had promised. Like Peter’s vision of being given all the previously unclean animals to eat, and in which he was told that all things had been made clean, when he was sent to the gentile centurion Cornelius, Pentecost was a sign. Indeed like many of the events of Bible history, Pentecost was a part of the unfolding revelation of God and His plan of salvation. So just as we do not reenact the crossing of the Red Sea or the Crucifixion, so Pentecost is not itself a day to be repeated.
The period after Pentecost can be divided up into the immediate Apostolic period and the Post-Apostolic period. The Apostolic period lasted until the end of the 1st Century when the Apostle John died and the Post-Apostolic period lasts from then until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
During the Apostolic period great miracles occurred to authenticate the preaching. Some people think these things should be going on today to give preachers the ability to convince people that what they are saying is true.
Without wanting to repeat our earlier criticism of false teachings, the Pentecostal view of the Holy Spirit is that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came in such a way as to enable the miracles of Jesus Christ to continue on earth among the people of God as signs and wonders. Therefore the Pentecostal is always looking for ‘healings’ and special “words from the Lord” and if he cannot have them he will resort to an imitation of tongues speaking to the confusion of all. It is as if without such miraculous signs, it is not sufficient to have the Word of life and the benefit of sins forgiven. In this way a believer will soon become downcast and grieve the Spirit and put other gods before God. He will become unthankful. But Christ’s work was complete and He continues His ministry in heaven. Another proof of this is that the Bible does not have miraculous events the whole way through but only to accompany crucial stages of revelation. Now these revelations are all finished until the return of Christ. The initial signs and wonders through the Apostles were all that were required to prove they had the true interpretation of the Gospel. After that the church was to continue to preach and the Holy Spirit is sure to work to bring all the elect to repentance and faith. While we are named as Christians after Jesus, and we follow Him, and indeed are joined to Him, we will not be like Him until we see Him.
Another false belief of the Pentecostals is that signs and wonders are necessary to further the work of the Gospel and see people saved. Do people get converted just because they see miracles before their eyes? Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 11. He rebuked cities who had seen great signs but not repented. To put it most simply, repentance is not guaranteed by seeing signs! People may be impressed by signs but they might not have any conviction of sin and so they will not be converted! So the idea that signs and wonders lead to conversions is a false idea. Jesus spoke about ‘lying wonders’ too which would deceive people! Like Simon the Sorcerer, wanted to buy and sell the power of the Holy Spirit, there are men like him today leading others astray.
The Apostles relied on preaching alone even though it seemed foolish. The Apostle Paul left a man called Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20) because presumably he could not heal him. Also, Paul himself had his own thorn in the flesh which not even his own prayers could remove.
So what then is the role of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost? Really it is the same role as in all ages! The Gospel of John in chapters 14 through to 17 is clear that it is to convince of sin, judgement and righteousness. It is true that He gives gifts too but not to be signs of Apostles by doing great wonders, but to obey God with great comfort.
So when we understand the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit in a reasonable historical context what are we to do?
Our Collect prayer for the day is based on a good theological understanding and so gives us a good basis to pray for the Holy Spirit’s work in our life of faith enabling us to have sure hope and so to love God and our neighbours.
The Collect says “GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.”
While today’s evangelicals tend to either over or under emphasise the role of the Blessed Holy Spirit, this collect prayer asks that we might be granted “right judgement”. This itself is an overarching principle of the Holy Spirit. The second thing we notice is that it is all “through the merits of Christ Jesus” and particularly of Him as “our Saviour”. He is our only means of access to the Father and our only means of access to the Holy Spirit who is “the Spirit of Jesus” as well as “the Spirit of God”. He is the “Spirit of holiness” and so it is fitting that He is part of the blessed Trinity as our collect concludes so rightly. Ironically some think we are being unspiritual when we say that a correct theological understanding of the person of the Holy Spirit is fundamental to a holy or a spiritual life! Ironically and tragically such an attitude indicates that such folk are most likely bypassing the truth and following a spirit who is not the Holy Spirit at all.
Right judgement was promised to the disciples in the preservation of the Word of God. John 14:26
Right judgment however must not be alone but must go together with the second petition of the collect, to be granted “evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort”. This comfort was promised to the disciples also by the Lord in John 14 to 17. Indeed, amazingly, this promise comes before the one of 14:26 for right judgment.
Finally, if this sermon has sounded largely negative about others, let us examine ourselves:
Do we have the Holy Spirit?
Just because we do not have the power to raise the dead or speak in tongues does not mean we do not have the Holy Spirit.
Just because we do not have 3 thousand converts after each sermon does not mean we do not have the Holy Spirit.
What are the signs?
We have experienced a new birth. John 3. The work of conviction and the fear of judgement relieved by the righteousness of Christ.
We have some fruit. Galatians 5.
Finally are we ready to stand for the truth in this area of doctrine as well as others? It is not easy when enthusiastic people are pushing hard for their false ways. Perhaps we need to find some repentance and pray that the Lord will indeed in the words of our Collect, “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort”.