The life of the Spirit comes at Pentecost
The message from this Sunday’s readings:
Pentecost marks a huge event in salvation history, God’s plan for the world. The birth of Jesus, marked at Christmas, is rightly a prominent celebration. So is the death and resurrection of Jesus celebrated at Easter. The impartation of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to believers in Christ, not just a select few but all who open their hearts to Jesus and seek His power to live for His kingdom, must rank right up there in its capacity to bring God’s good change. The church of the Holy Spirit — there’s one, despite varied packaging — changes lives and social behaviour, nations and policies while other factions, including denominations, still show the human tendency to argue and divide.
Ezekiel saw this in visions he received and wrote about. He saw man’s unresponsive ‘heart of stone’ being replaced with a sensitive ‘heart of flesh’ that would want to follow God’s will without the crude mechanism of rules and religious regulations. Then he saw the scattered bones of the dispersed nation of Israel, its hope long dead, restored and enlivened by God’s Spirit. Jesus, recorded by John, taught intensively in His last days on earth about the coming of the Holy Spirit which, He said, He would send from the Father after He had gone from the earth. Then at Pentecost we read in Acts how the Holy Spirit came, visibly, and with an impartation that was very evident to the gathered disciples first, and then as the crowd responded, more generally. The church had just received its power to carry out its God’s given mission. Much later, Paul reflects to readers in Rome on the difference the Holy Spirit makes in believers’ lives: the kingdom of God, God’s rule and order in the world, is not yet fully produced, like a long and painful childbirth, but the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life gives us a powerful helper, One who knows exactly what to pray when we are struggling.
The readings this week show the Holy Spirit like God’s breath breathing life into dry bones, and then being promised as Jesus’ parting gift and imparted on the fiftieth day after Passover.
The lesson? Don’t try to live by your own strength — it doesn’t work that way. Live by God’s power imparted to you and you will see, bit by bit, His kingdom come.
Follow this through in the church calendar readings for Sunday, May 20, Pentecost Sunday, given here in Bible order. Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on this word for the week and let the Holy Spirit speak to you through the Word.
Ezekiel 37:1–14 — The Holy Spirit breathes new life into dry bones
[Psalm 104:24–34, 35b — The Holy Spirit renews whatever He touches]
John 15:26–27; 16:4b-15 — The Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ parting gift
Acts 2:1–21 — The Holy Spirit comes with a visible, transforming impartation
Romans 8:22–27 — The Holy Spirit gives believers confidence to pray God’s will
Ezekiel 37:1–14 » The Holy Spirit breathes new life into dry bones
Ezekiel has a vision of God putting His Spirit into His people to live again for Him
1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.
This vision follows on from God’s promise of a new heart and new spirit through the impartation of the Holy Spirit. The prophet also heard the Lord speak of repopulating the cities, with ruins rebuilt and numbers increased. But the exiles were scattered, with their hope evaporated.
For further study, see Ezekiel 36:26–27, 33, 35, 37–38
2–3 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
“Can these bones live” — Can these random, scattered bones become living people again? The people’s hopes were not just dead but dried up and dismembered.
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4–5 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.
“Breath enter you” — difficult to capture in English is the wordplay where the one word ruach conveys three meanings, translated spirit, breath and wind.
6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”
7–8 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
“There was no breath” — connected bones and tendons and muscle create a body; without respiration, it is still a corpse.
9–10 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet — a vast army.
“Prophesy” — speak out in faith for God. Ezekiel is instructed to speak into the slain God’s breath or Spirit, “from the four winds” or from every direction, a complete and powerful renewal.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’
“Our bones are dried up” — Israel’s hope had gone. There was no way back to being God’s own people, in their perspective. In our language, they were not up for it.
12–14 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ ”
“I will put My Spirit in you and you will live” — apart from God’s presence, God’s Spirit, there is no hope for God’s people. There cannot be a political and geographical restoration without the spiritual dimension, in Ezekiel’s time or future times.
Ezekiel saw death on a large scale as one who experienced the deportation following the fall of Jerusalem and in his mind’s eye, saw the nation as scattered bones.
We experience setbacks in life, and in church or Christian life. We are not immune from forces that cause death, in various dimensions. Projects, relationships and policies can all fail. We start by asking “Why?” and then move on to what has been learned. Ezekiel’s vision points to our unwillingness to work in the spiritual dimension. God can bring Israel alive again, even standing as a mighty army. Without His Spirit, there is no life, no hope.
Whenever there has been a crisis and the wind of the Spirit has been lost, the focus must be on catching that wind again. With the Holy Spirit, there is no life, just dead orthodoxy.
What “dry bones” need the breath of the Spirit to enliven them? Should we be joining God in speaking life into these bones?
John 15:26–27; 16:4b-15 » The Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ parting gift
The promised Holy Spirit will show sin and self-righteousness and the devil’s lies for what they are
15:26–27 “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. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.
The Holy Spirit is as much a ‘personal Person’ as the Father or the Son. He is sent out by the Father, but we are told that He is the Spirit of Christ, 1 Peter 1:11, and the voice and revelation of Christ, vv. 14–15 below.
16:4–6 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to Him who sent me. None of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.
“When their time comes” — Jesus attracted persecution as a church steeple draws lightning, but He warns that on His departure, the attacks will come to the disciples more directly, requiring their Holy Spirit-empowered testimony.
7–11 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. 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; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
“Prove… to be in the wrong” — or “convict”, more formal versions. The Holy Spirit’s prompting to turn to Jesus is a turning away from the world and its values, especially its self-righteousness and lack of sin awareness. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus and contrasts His call with the sin of independence; He shows the difference between the world’s righteousness and the kingdom of heaven’s kind of righteousness; and shows the judgmental voice of the accuser to be lies of one already condemned.
12–15 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.”
“The Spirit of Truth… will guide you” — see John 14:26. The thrust of the gospel comes by revelation as well as information. Jesus relied on this, John 5:19–20 and in the same way that Jesus could do what He saw His Father doing, the Holy Spirit will only speaks what He hears.
Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit from the Father comes right at the end of the Old Testament period. We live in the New Testament or more accurately, New Covenant knowing our release from sin secure for us by Jesus on the Cross and new life in Jesus who is resurrected, alive and active in our lives by His Holy Spirit.
Going back to this promise, as it was set out to the disciples before the Holy Spirit was given, helps us to understand more about the life of the Spirit in our lives, now that the Holy Spirit has been given. Turning to Jesus and recognising Him as our Saviour, but also asking Him to come into our lives as Lord, is asking His Holy Spirit into our lives. One of the many facets of this new life in Jesus, which this passage teaches, is having the Spirit of Truth, or reality, residing in us.
As believers, belonging to the Lord’s assembly, or church (there is only one!) we are enabled to a greater or lesser degree to perceive spiritually beyond what we can see or intellectually understand. This is the working of the Spirit of Truth who brings revelation of the spiritual reality behind what we see — truth and reality are twin meaning of the same word. As we read and study the Bible, or as we look at a situation, we receive information, which we can evaluate. But before we form an opinion, we must allow the Spirit of Truth to give us spiritual revelation of what that information looks like to Him. He will guide us into all the truth (or all the reality) — if we let Him.
What do you find is most helpful to you, in giving the Holy Spirit room to add His dimension to what you are seeing or hearing?
Acts 2:1–21 » The Holy Spirit comes with a visible, transforming impartation
With a roar like a huge gust and what seemed like a divided flame, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and given a new praise language
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
“Pentecost” — the fiftieth day after Passover and harvest festival for the wheat harvest, was a time for remembering and renewing the covenants with Noah and with Moses and commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai.
2–4 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
“A sound” — it was a big sound, filling a space for 120.
“All of them” — probably the 120, not just the 12. The Joel prophecy was for men and women, Joel 2:28–32 and quoted below v.18
“Tongues” — the word also means languages. Contemporary experience is that the spiritual gift of an unlearned praise and prayer language often accompanies being filled with the Holy Spirit.
5–12 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, 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? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
“Each one heard” — where the gift of tongues is used today, sometimes a person of different ethnicity and culture will hear words of praise, often meaningful to them, in their language. Jerusalem was a city population of seven nations and three languages, swelled by “God-fearing Jews from every nation” visiting for the festival.
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14–16 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. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17–18 “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
“My Spirit on all people” — In the OT the Holy Spirit came on individuals to empower them in God’s service as righteous kings, prophets, craftsmen etc. This promise, fulfilled at Pentecost, was for a Spirit-filled people, male and female, young and older, all of whom would know a Holy Spirit-inspired confidence in God’s guidance and expressing God’s ways.
“They will prophesy” — broader than foretelling, forth-telling: speaking out for God.
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 before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
“Wonders… and signs… before the coming…” — signs of the future consummation of the kingdom.
“Everyone who calls…saved” — not future timing, but inaugurated by Jesus for anyone who will show intent by responding in faith and turning to Him, Matt. 7:21.
The disciples, like any of us, were of themselves and independent lot. Peter was a courageous leader who was sometimes a bit too quick to ‘make it happen’. Others were jockeying for position and status. Thomas seemed to withdraw while he struggled with his own unanswered questions. These were the men we read about but in the upper room, there were many women disciples, too who had their own perspective.
On the day of the festival, they were all together in one place — under one roof, but a careful reading of the ends of the Gospels and the beginning of Acts tells a story of a coming together in one heart and mind as they prayed day by day. Prayer doesn’t change God but it does change us, and then God can change something in the word through us being aligned with Him.
The coming of the Holy Spirit has sometimes been seen as the birth of the Church of Jesus. In reality, the church — the gathering of believers — had already formed, but it couldn’t pick up its mission or go anywhere. That takes the Holy Spirit’s leading and empowering. Where we frequently go wrong is to try to do what we can by ourselves. Where we are fruitful is when we intentionally take time to be changed, become aligned, get into agreement with other believers — and then allow God to magnify the little we have.
Why can it be helpful for us to have a prayer and praise language that we can use without thinking about it first?
Romans 8:22–27 » The Holy Spirit gives believers confidence to pray God’s will
He helps us to know what to pray for in hope and faith, for what is not yet seen
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
“Groaning” — creation is personified as a woman in labour. Something is being produced that involves both suffering and hope.
23–25 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
“First-fruits” — a down payment on the fulfilment of God’s blessings. We know of, and can live in the security of, being adopted with the full rights of sonship, 1 John 3:1, but this is an experience to come, together with renewed bodies.
“Hope” — not so much a ‘will it, won’t it?’ but more of a confident expectation that what is not seen, or not received, will certainly be in the Lord’s timing.
26–27 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
“Spirit Himself intercedes…” — The Holy Spirit is a person, one of the three Persons of the Trinity, whose relationship is so close that they are One God. So the Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pray for a person or situation in a way that matches God’s will. His leading of us may be in words, in expression through an unlearned prayer language, or in ways that are largely silent.
This short passage is taken from a letter written to a Holy Spirit-led and Holy Spirit-filled group of believers. The New Testament letters all make this assumption. Without this understanding, the letter can read as little more than chiding by the apostles to do more that is right, and less that is wrong. We have probably heard that kind of message in church, and left wondering how we do it.
The rules and regulations and religious strictures that applied to Jesus and the disciples applied to every Jew before the Cross and the Resurrection. But then, everything changed. The life of the Spirit was a new experience of being motivated and enabled and empowered to live for God, in a new identity. This is quite different from trying to keep within the requirements of the law, or within the legalism of any ordered religion. The Holy Spirit — Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of God — resident in us, by our invitation, shapes our will in a more holy direction.
This changes how we pray as well. If we pray what we want, or what is in line with our opinions, we may not be agreeing with the will of God. If, however, we allow the Holy Spirit to direct how we pray, either with our words, or with His prayer language, or without words, He checks our heart motives and strengthens our desire for God’s will, interceding for us and drawing us into that intercession. If prayer does not appear to be answered, it is for us to check whether it is of the first kind, that needs to progress to the help of the Holy Spirit in the second kind.
Think of a prayer situation where you have been interceding, in other words, praying for someone or something else. How does God want you to pray so you are agreeing with Him? How do you find that out?
Originally published at The Living Word.