1. Important Christian Festivals
If you were to ask me which were the most important festivals in the life of the church, I would firstly suggest Good Friday/Easter with the death and resurrection of Jesus—without which the Christian faith wouldn’t exist. (And in the early church the death and resurrection were celebrated as one event). And the second would be the Ascension of Jesus, coupled with Pentecost (the birth of the church, through the giving of the Holy Spirit), without which none of us would be sitting here today. (Which again were celebrated in the early church as the one event).
Yes, I’m well aware that some might argue that Christmas should be included as a major festival, because without the birth of Jesus none of these events would have been possible. But in the early church, neither Christmas (the birth of Jesus), nor Epiphany (the presentation of Jesus to the world) were celebrated. Indeed, they were only introduced in the fourth century A.D. as a means to discourage people from involving themselves in pagan festivals.
So getting back to fundamentals . . . God’s solution to the problem of sin (Good Friday and Easter), and the empowering of God’s people enabling them to take God’s message to the world (Ascension and Pentecost), would have to be the two most important events in Christian history.
And that means that the celebration of Good Friday and Easter—with the death and resurrection of Jesus—and the celebration of the Ascension with Pentecost, should be the two most important festivals in the Christian calendar too.
2. The Problem with Pentecost
Now, I say should, because unfortunately, Pentecost, with the giving of the Holy Spirit—and with the gifts that the Holy Spirit brings—makes some Christians feel very uncomfortable indeed.
Now that may be because of the excesses of the Pentecostal movement with some, for example, insisting that everyone should be able to speak in tongues. (And that’s been a problem since early times and was particularly a problem noted by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian Church.) However the reality is that we need the Holy Spirit—each and every one of us. And we need him for the reasons that the Apostle Paul outlined in his letter to the church at Rome.
B. THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Romans 8:14-17)
Because in the few verses that we read from his letters to Romans, today, Paul spells out the importance of the Holy Spirit in every believer’s life.
1. The Guarantee of Salvation (14)
And Paul’s first point is that anyone who truly believes has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. And by implication, anyone who doesn’t believe hasn’t.
For Paul, it was that simple. Those that believe—and consequently, have the Holy Spirit living in them—are free to live in a special (and restored) relationship with God. Whereas those who don’t believe—and consequently, don’t have the Holy Spirit—remain slaves to the world and slaves to sin.
For a Christian, then, the Holy Spirit is not an optional extra. Rather, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer which makes that person acceptable to God. Indeed, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the one and only thing that guarantees a person’s salvation.
So when God looks down at mankind . . . yes, he may be tempted to wipe us off, to give up on us for all our past failings—and because we continue to make mistake after mistake in not putting him first in our lives. (And that’s what we’re told he will do with everyone who doesn’t believe.) But that’s not what happens when he looks down at a Christian. Because what God sees, when he looks at a believer is, yes, all the mistakes and failings—that doesn’t change. But with a believer, God sees beyond that to the Holy Spirit living within them. And when he sees the presence of the Holy Spirit, God knows that all those faults and failings have already been dealt with, because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.
2. Sons (and Daughters) of God (15-16)
And as a consequence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a believer’s life, Paul’s second point is that the Holy Spirit changes the whole dynamics of a person’s relationship with God.
Now, for most people, God (if he exists at all) may be the creator. And he maybe someone who they hope will answer their calls for help, as and when required. (A relationship based very much on the need to maintain a distance between themselves and their creator.)
But when the Holy Spirit dwells in a believer, it means that a much more intimate relationship with God is possible. Indeed, not only does our adoption by God, as his children, become possible. But the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of it.
For Paul, then, what the presence of the Holy Spirit allows God to do, is to let him treat a believer as though they were his own flesh and blood. And that whatever is his they can share in too.
Now this isn’t a case of God just picking one or two people for special treatment. For the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that everyone who has the Spirit within them is part of God’s adopted family and has the same rights of intimacy with God as any other believer. And that is a big change from Old Testament times, when only one of the tribes of Israel, the Levites, were set apart to act as intermediaries between the people and God.
Indeed, what made Pentecost so special, was that when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus’s followers, not only did it dispense with the need for intermediaries—for the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life allowed and guaranteed direct access to God—but it allowed access to God in a very special and intimate way.
As a consequence, even Paul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, was able to describe his new relationship with God in terms of “Abba! Father!”
Now, the term “Abba” would not have been used by the Israelites in Old Testament times when addressing God—it was too intimate. But it was a term that Jesus used, and has the modern equivalent of something like “daddy.” And that’s indicative of the kind of intimate relationship that the dwelling of the Holy Spirit brings.
3. Joint Heirs with Christ (17)
And Paul’s third point is, that in addition to the Holy Spirit making every believer a part of God’s family, his presence also makes them God’s heirs, but with all the responsibilities that go with it.
Now the idea of adoption in today’s terms is not always seen in a positive light. But in biblical times, adoption was very precious indeed. Indeed, in the first century AD, an adopted son was someone who had been deliberately chosen to perpetuate a man’s name and inherit his estate. He was not considered inferior in status to a natural born son at all. On the contrary, an adopted son might well have enjoyed his new father’s affections more fully than any natural son may have done.
What this means then, is that if we are children of God, we are also heirs of the Father and joint heirs with Christ.
Consequently, just as Jesus suffered to made it possible for men to enter the kingdom, by denying a life directed to worldly things, and by giving up his life for others on the cross. So the expectation is that a Christian should give up the ways of the world too, for a life style where God—and others—are at the centre.
The end result, however, is that those who believe—those who have the Spirit dwelling within them—may have to face many hardships in keeping the faith. But, in the end, they will be vindicated, and glory with Christ will be their reward. And all because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
As you can probably see, then, Pentecost—the day that God sent his Holy Spirit upon his people, the day God’s church began—is a vitally important part of our Christian heritage. Is it any wonder, then, that in the early church the festival of the Ascension with Pentecost was considered the second most important festival of them all? The first being the combined festival of Good Friday with Easter.
Which is odd, when you consider some people’s attitude to both Pentecost and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And I say that for two reasons:
1. Rejection of the Holy Spirit
The first is that when people hear the story of Pentecost—when people are confronted with the concept of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—my experience is that many people want to run or hide. They want to wipe their hands of the Holy Spirit, and want nothing to do with him. Because it’s all a bit scary.
But as you can probably see, that’s a big problem. Because without the Holy Spirit, where is our adoption as children? Without the Holy Spirit, where is our inheritance? And without the Holy Spirit, where is our guarantee of eternal life?
So rather than be scared, we should embrace the Holy Spirit. We should accept that we need what the Spirit is all about: the guarantee, the adoption, and the inheritance. And we should consider that if we need those three basic things, then maybe we need whatever else he has to give as well.
We shouldn’t be scared of the Holy Spirit. And he shouldn’t be the cause whereby we put a barrier around ourselves, where we limit the things that Holy Spirit can do with us. On the contrary, we should be open to the Spirit’s prompting and leading, and to everything he suggests. After all, it is in our own best interests.
2. Two Classes of Christians
And the second reason I say that some people’s attitude to Pentecost and the Holy Spirit is odd, is because of the way that some have tried to rearrange the facts to suit their particular beliefs.
Now, a good example of this is the teaching, which pops up every now and again, that there are two types of Christians: those who have the Spirit within them, and those who don’t. It’s a teaching that began in New Testament times—and it dogged the first century church at Corinth—and has continued until today.
But it’s a teaching based on the belief that if speaking in tongues is the lowest of the gifts then every believer should be able to do it. The ability to speak in tongues, then, being evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and, by implication, an inability to speak in tongues, implies the Spirit’s absence.
However, it’s an odd teaching. Because it takes quite a leap to come to that sort of conclusion. Indeed, it flies in the face of what the bible teaches. It flies in the face of Jesus’s teaching to Nicodemus (John 3:5), of the need to be born of water and the Spirit. It flies in the face of Paul’s teaching to the church at Corinth, where Paul specifically stated that not everyone would exercise the same gifts, and he wished that all believers could speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). And it flies in the face of the Old Testament prophecies—that all believers would be filled with the Holy Spirit—which were fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.
Indeed, the bible is very black and white. You’re either a Christian or you’re not. And whether you are or not depends upon whether you have the Holy Spirit living in you.
Pentecost, then, is a very special day in the life of the church. And the gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers is a fundamental belief of the Christian faith.
When a person becomes a believer, then, they receive the Holy Spirit as part and parcel of their conversion. And it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that is their guarantee of eternal life. It is the means by which they are adopted by God, to be one of his children. And it is the means by which they become an heir, or joint heir, of the Father and Jesus Christ himself.
When we consider the major Christian festivals, then, the Ascension of Jesus with Pentecost is a very important festival. In the early church, it was the second most important festival, after Good Friday with Easter. And it should be the second most important Christian festival even today.
It is not a festival that should be tucked away because some get scared about the role of the Holy Spirit. And it shouldn’t be passed over because of the reinterpretation and abuse that has dogged the church from the first century church in Corinth to the church of today.
Pentecost, and the giving of the Holy Spirit, was a major event in God’s plan for salvation. It is something that we should all celebrate. But it is something that we should embrace with all our heart too.
Posted: 26th March 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis