“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is peace. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is love. There is comfort in life’s darkest hour, there is light and life. There help and power in the Spirit, in the Spirit of the Lord.”
I have a little booklet in my library that talks about the “Six Pentecosts” in the New Testament. The language is imprecise, but the point is well taken. There are several episodes of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit recorded in the New Testament, six of them according to the count of the author of that little booklet that I have [“Six Pentecosts” – Dr. Josephine Massyngberde Ford, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture, the University of Notre Dame – Dove Publications, 1976]
Dr. Ford counts the presence and work of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation as one of the New Testament’s “Pentecosts” (Luke 1:26-38), as well as the Resurrection appearance of the Risen Christ to His disciples in the Upper Room on the first Easter evening when He breathed on them, told them to “receive the Holy Spirit,” and gave them the ministry of reconciliation (John 20:19-23). These are both important New Testament Holy Spirit texts, but I’m not sure I would put either of them under the “Pentecost” banner. I have a hard time thinking or talking about any account of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament before Acts 2 as a “Pentecost” event or experience.
In the economy of redemption, Acts 2 is something of a pivot. The Holy Spirit is present and active one way before Acts chapter 2, and then present and active in a different way after Acts chapter 2. This means that the stories of the Spirit’s presence and action in Luke 1 and John 20 belong to the arrangements of the first Covenant while the stories of the Spirit’s presence and activity after Acts chapter 2 belong to the arrangements of the New Covenant (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:3; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Joel 2:28; John 1:33; 7:37-39; I John 2:26-27; Luke 24:49; Galatians 3:2-5). Reading the Bible with the particular promises and provisions of the Covenants in mind is crucial to correctly understanding a text according to my interpretive tradition. It’s a big part of what our founders called “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 – KJV).
Four of the “Six Pentecosts” described in that little booklet that I have “fit” under this “New Covenant” banner – what Dr. Ford called the “Jerusalem Pentecost” (Acts 2), the “Samaritan (Acts 8:14-17) and Gentile (Acts 10:44-48) Pentecost” (combined as one event in her assessment, but in my mind, two distinct events), the “Pauline Pentecost” (Acts 9, 22, 26, and Galatians 1:11-2:10), and the “Ephesian Pentecost” (Acts 19:1-7).
I would remove the account of Paul being filled with the Holy Spirit as a part of his conversion/commissioning story from this list of New Testament “Pentecosts” because it is a personal account of the normal Christian experience as set forth in Acts 2:37-39 (what my spiritual tradition has often called “the plan of salvation”). There is a sense in which Acts 9 describes the “personal Pentecost” that’s available to and needed by us all, but it functions differently in the argument that Luke was making in the book of Acts (Acts 1:8) than do the rest of the “Pentecost” stories that he tells, and so, while I do not ignore it as an important example of how the Holy Spirit becomes normatively present and active in the life of a Christian believer, I do not think of it as a distinct New Testament “Pentecost” event, but rather as a story of how the Holy Spirit ordinarily operates according to the provisions of the New Covenant.
This leaves 3 “Pentecosts” (or 4 by my count) – “The” Pentecost in Jerusalem 50 days after Easter (Acts 2), the extension of salvation to the Samaritans and the “Pentecost” sign of their inclusion within the purposes, promises and provisions of God (Acts 8:14-17), the extension of salvation to the Gentiles and the “Pentecost” sign of their inclusion within the purposes, promises and provisions of God (Acts 10:44-48), and finally the completion of the experience of salvation in Christ for the disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus signaled by the “Pentecost” sign after their water baptisms and the laying on of hands (Acts 19:1-7).
I think that a pretty good case could be made that the story told in Acts chapter 8 about the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (verses 26-40) was intended by Luke as an account of the extension of salvation in Christ to a marginalized population (sexual minorities). But without an explicit reference to the “Pentecost” sign of their inclusion like the other stories in the book of Acts have (despite it being an explicitly Spirit-driven narrative – 8:29 and 8:39), it falls out of this conversation (although I will take it up in my next “Soundings”).
So, what we have is the Day of Pentecost in a Jewish setting (at the Jerusalem Temple during one of the Pilgrimage Feasts) as a distinct event in the history of salvation narrated in Acts chapter 2, followed by a series of accounts of its deliberate duplication as the Gospel crossed cultural/ethnic/spiritual boundaries – to the Samaritans (Acts 8), to the Gentiles (Acts 10), and to the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19). The thesis statement for the book of Acts is chapter 1, verse 8 – “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” Do you see it? Beginning in Jerusalem and in all Judea (Acts 2), to Samaria (Acts 8), to the ends of the earth (Acts 10).
In the book of Acts, when it was time for the church to push past its comfortable and familiar boundaries, the Holy Spirit orchestrated a duplicate Acts 2 “Pentecost” experience for the excluded “undesirables” so that the beloved “chosen” could see and unmistakably understand that God’s saving purposes included “them” too. Wherever there was “Pentecost” evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity just beyond its already existing borders, the church was compelled to cross over in order to be faithful to the mission of God, and Amos Yong says that it still works this way.
Dean of School of Theology and School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary, Dr. Yong reasons from the Biblical truths of the Holy Spirit’s omnipresence in creation and providence (Psalm 139:7-10) and agency in a work of redemption that excludes no one (John 3:16; I Timothy 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9), that wherever we see evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action in the world today, that this is where God in Christ is at work and expects us to join in.
Raised in a rather narrow sectarian Pentecostal tradition comprised of people who thought that they were the only “true” Christians, Dr. Yong says that it was during his graduate theological studies that he began to realize that were genuine Christians beyond the boundaries of his own church family.
“My studies at a Wesleyan Holiness seminary raised the intra-Christian ecumenical question for me with great force, challenging me to confront the very sectarian and exclusive form of Christian self-understanding which characterized the Chinese American Pentecostal churches of my upbringing. Further graduate studies expanded the ecumenical question: If it was possible that those whom I considered before as outside the pale of Christianity (e.g., Catholics, Orthodox, even Lutherans) did indeed have a saving relationship with God, what about others also categorized as pagan, heathen, or non-Christian?”
There are three big affirmations that we make as Christians (just look at the church’s historic creeds) –
God made everybody, everywhere. His image is in us all. Christ died for everyone, everywhere. He offered Himself as a sacrifice of love for all. The Spirit is at work in everyone, everywhere, drawing us all.
All equally true, Dr. Yong suggests that we begin with that third affirmation about the Spirit, and see where it leads. He suggests that when we start by paying attention to where we see evidence of the Spirit’s presence and activity, just like the church in the book of Acts, we will find ourselves with people in places beyond the borders that currently define us. Pondering Dr. Yong’s work, Roger Olsen, the very fine Professor of Theology at Baylor’s Truett Seminary, asks, “What criteria should we use for discerning the Spirit’s work?” Because the Holy Spirit spotlights the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 14:25-26; 16:12-15), the surest sign of the Spirit’s work will always be where we see Jesus Christ exalted.
In his book of sermons on the Holy Spirit, David Hubbard asked, “Do you have a favorite portrait of Jesus? A picture that captures for you the remarkable characteristics of the One whom we call Lord and Savior?” After touring the gallery in his heart of some of his favorite paintings of Jesus Christ, Dr. Hubbard said that his favorite portrait of Him was the one “painted by Paul in Galatians” – “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” “It takes no great insight,” he explained, “to see that Paul; was summing up the personal qualities of Jesus Christ (here), who Himself sat for this portrait.” And so, wherever we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control being cultivated the Holy Spirit is spotlighting how Jesus Christ is present there and what Jesus Christ is doing there, and that’s always an invitation for us to show up and join in that work. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, that’s where we need to be too. DBS+