SUNDAY 31st MAY 2020 – PENTECOST SUNDAY
THEME: The Breath of God
TEXT: John 20:22 And wilt that He breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
“Receive the Holy Spirit”. How significant are these words of the Lord and Saviour! In looking at them we will see that in giving the Spirit Jesus confers enourmous blessings upon the church He loves. The Jewish idea of the Spirit of God was expressed with the Hebrew word “Ruah” which literally means “breath”. So here in John’s gospel Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them that He was giving them the Holy Spirit, the breath of God – the Spirit of God blown through the world to give it life. The Holy Spirit – the breath of God – is a powerful and unpredictable force.
What are the blessings that comes from the Holy Spirit?
I New Birth
The first benefit or blessing that comes because of the Spirit is rebirth or regeneration. You know what regeneration is. It is a radical change – in which God brings on individual from spiritual death and sin to a new condition of holiness and life. To undergo rebirth is to be “born” of the Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Did you notice that before Jesus says this He “breathes” on His disciples? What Jesus has done is breathe His own Holy Spirit into the disciples. In telling us about breath and Spirit, the Gospel writer wants us to hear echoes of various Old Testament passages:
(Gen 2:7) the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
(Job 33:4) The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
(Ps 33:6) By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
Do you hear the message that John wants to bring? He is saying that just as God’s breath made the first creation, so likewise the breath of Jesus makes the new creation. Just as in the first creation God breathed into man and gave him life, so now in the moment of the new creation Jesus breathes his own Spirit into the disciples and gives them eternal life. In the impressive vision of the valley of bones, Ezekiel, addressed by God as “Son of man,” was told to prophesy to the dry bones:
(Ez 37:5) This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.
Now, another Son of Man speaks as the risen Lord and causes the breath of eternal life to enter those who believe. He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In giving the Holy Spirit, then, the Lord Jesus makes it possible for you and I to be born again, to become brand new creations.
The second benefit of the Holy Spirit is peace. Jesus appears to the disciples and says “Peace be with you”. Then He breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit”. We are to see here the fulfilment of the words spoken earlier by Jesus in the Upper Room (John 14:26-27). “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have send said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” The sending of Christ’s Spirit brings peace, means peace and is peace.
What is this peace that comes by way of the Spirit? To understand this peace we have to remember what Jesus said before. Jesus said, “I will leave you” (John 14:18). Jesus said, “I am going away” (John 14:28). Jesus said, “In a little while you will see me no more” (John 16:16). Jesus said, “Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief” (John 16:6). The disciples are heart-broken at the thought that Jesus is leaving. Imagine your feelings when someone close and dear to you leaves. More than one parent has been teary-eyed when a child enters grade school or leaves home for college. It is sad and tearful when someone dear leaves. In the Upper Room Jesus makes a promise about peace to tearful, heart-broken disciples. He says, (John 14:27) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
“Receive the Holy Spirit.” “Peace be with you!” In giving the Spirit we are to see Jesus fulfilling His promise to bring or give peace to those who are tearful, afraid, and heart-broken.
What, then, is this peace brought by the Spirit? It is a peace that calms those who are fearful. I think here of the appearances of the “Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament. Time after time His appearance brings fear and trembling. Gideon sees the angel and fears for his life (Judges 6:22). Daniel sees the angel (Daniel 10) and is speechless. The angel responds by saying, “Peace! Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid. Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” The peace of the Spirit calms fear, gives courage, and settles the soul. Several years ago a submarine was being tested and had to remain submerged for many hours. When it returned to the harbor, the captain was asked, “How did the terrible storm last night affect you?” The officer looked at him in surprise and exclaimed, “Storm? We didn’t even know there was one!” The sub had been so far beneath the surface that it had reached the area known to sailors as “the cushion of the sea”. Although the ocean may be whipped into huge waves by high winds, the waters below are never stirred.
The third benefit of the Spirit is joy. Just before Jesus says “Receive the Holy Spirit”, John tells us the disciples are “overjoyed”. Of course they are filled with joy. Jesus died was buried. And now wonder of wonders, miracles of miracles – He is alive and standing among them.
This too is the fulfillment of a promise Jesus makes in the Upper Room. Jesus compares the situation of the disciples to that of a woman who suffers intense pain but is rewarded with joy at the birth of her child. He says, (Jn 16:22) So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
New life, says Jesus, brings joy. Like the parents of a new baby rejoice. In the same way, believers born-again by the Spirit, filled with new life, should also rejoice. We have to rejoice that ours is new life, new birth. We have to rejoice that ours is forgiveness of sin, salvation, redemption, cleansing. We have to rejoice that ours is life everlasting.
The fourth benefit or blessing that comes because of the Spirit is mission, purpose, goal. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This reminds me of the words of Jesus recorded by Luke: (Acts 1:8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The pouring out of the Spirit empowers and compels the disciples to be witnesses. The Spirit is a witnessing Spirit and those with the Spirit cannot help but proclaim the good news of the Gospel – that those who believe in Jesus have their sin forgiven (John 19:23). “Receive the Holy Spirit.” “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Out of love, the Father sent Jesus to save the world. Out of love, Jesus sends us to continue His mission, to save the world in His name. And what a need, what a tremendous need there is today. “Receive this Holy Spirit.” If you have, then you will have a burden for missions, evangelism, outreach. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” If you have, then you will be a witness to Christ.
Forgiveness is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when we think about Pentecost. Mention Pentecost and most of us probably recall the story from Acts. We see the disciples gathered in the upper room. We hear a sound like the rush of violent wind filling the house. We imagine divided tongues, as of fire, appearing and resting on each disciple. We picture drunken chaos in which people are speaking, hearing, and understanding strange new languages. I suspect many, perhaps most, of us wish for such an experience of God. We want something tangible, a sign, a sound, a vision, that reveals God’s presence, that guides our life, and reassures us. For St. John Pentecost is more about what is happening within us than what is happening around us. The sign of Pentecost for St. John is forgiveness that opens locked doors, recreates life, and sends us out to be like Jesus. While forgiveness is not the whole story of Pentecost it is an important and often ignored piece of Pentecost. One of the most difficult things we ever do is forgive another. We know we should forgive. It is the right thing to do. It is the Christian thing to do. It’s what Jesus would do. But it’s always easier to see another through the lens of their behavior and its effect on us than it is to see them as God sees them. Even more difficult than forgiving another is to forgive ourselves, to set our self free to return to the likeness of God
How many of us hold secrets in our hearts, the lies, the actions, the betrayals that hide in our darkness. It is a darkness that fragments our lives, separating us from God, others and ourselves. The darkness is our mistrust of divine love, the denial of our original beauty, the refusal to see our life and world as God sees them. That is the real sin. The darkness has left the disciples hiding in their house. The doors locked for fear of being found out. I suspect that they are hiding from themselves as much as from the religious authorities. Have you ever done that, hide from yourself? We deny what’s really going on. We make up cover stories. We pretend everything is all right. We leave no room for the Spirit of Truth to blow through our lives, to inspire and recreate us. In the end we choose to retain our own sins and live in the darkness, to live in a state of “unforgivenness.” That is our choosing not God’s choosing. The fear of being found out keeps us locked in the darkness of our house. The only thing that can overcome that darkness and open the doors to new life is the Spirit of Truth: an Advocate who will stand on our side and not leave us orphaned; one who will teach us everything and remind us of all Jesus said (John 14:26); one who will guide us into all truth (16:13), truth about God and truth about ourselves. We need pentecosting. That is exactly what Jesus does. Jesus comes and stands in the midst of our locked houses. He gets in our face and breathes. His holy breath sends forth the fire, the wind, and the tongues of Pentecost. The fire of Pentecost illumines our hearts and pushes back the darkness. The wind of Pentecost unlocks and opens the doors to new life. The tongues of Pentecost proclaim the great deeds of God and call us to live in a state of forgiveness; to remember and reclaim our original beauty, to turn our gaze back to God, to reshape and form ourselves in his likeness. Christ’s Pentecostal breath resuscitates our lives. Again and again he inspires and fills us with the Holy Spirit. Pentecost recalls the day of creation when God gathered dust from the ground and breathed God’s own life into us (Gen 2:7). Pentecost is an act of re-creation, freeing us to leave the darkness, to step out of our house into a new world and a new life. Nothing is retained against us so let us not retain against ourselves or another. We have been pentecosted, God and humanity sharing one breath, one life.
Breathe on me
Breathe on me, Breath of God;
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure.
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breath on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God;
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
Edwin Hatch, 1835-89