“Don’t Be Afraid of the Holy Spirit”
THE DAY OF PENTECOST, MAY 24, 2015
Don’t Be Afraid of the Holy Ghost
Text: Acts 2:1–21
It is a tradition to tell ghost stories around a campfire, or in a cabin, I guess. Back on my vicarage, I was a cabin counselor person and when we had the 2-4th graders, they asked me to tell them a ghost story before they went to sleep one night. I don’t know any ghost stories, that genre has never done much for me. So instead, I told them some plots from The Twilight Zone, specifically “To Serve Man” and “A Little Peace and Quiet.” After that, they never asked for another story.
Even as we celebrate Pentecost today, and even though we believe in the triune God, some Christians—maybe some of us—are afraid of the Holy Ghost, also known as the Holy Spirit. We’re afraid perhaps because we’re uncertain of who the Holy Ghost is and what He does. But Pentecost, this day on which we celebrate Jesus Christ sending the Holy Ghost, reminds us that We Don’t Need to Fear the Holy Ghost. The three thousand believers on the first Pentecost didn’t fear what they were witnessing, and neither should we.
I think we sometimes fear the Holy Ghost because we don’t know that much about Him. As Lutherans we traditionally give more air time to the Father and the Son, and not too much to the Holy Ghost. We know a great deal about the Father and the Son, but we’re almost ignorant of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, the Spirit is called the “unknown member of the Trinity.”
Many Christians today are a little bit like that small band of isolated believers whom Paul found in Ephesus and asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2). Even today, many Christians simply do not understand the role of the Holy Spirit in their faith and life.
The very name “Ghost” or “Spirit” suggests something eerie and spooky. Adding to our fear are the ways certain people act and speak when they claim to be under the influence of the Spirit. We can all see on TV such services where people are screaming, waving their hands, or passing out. We fear that the Holy Spirit might cause us to act differently.
I mean, let’s face it, the usual time of discussing ghosts is Halloween, where people will dress up as ghosts and scare the candy out of everyone they meet. Most people when they think of ghosts, they think a ghost is an evil thing that hurts people and is to be avoided. Unfortunately, some Christians carry that same fear over to the Holy Spirit. They think of Him more as some kind of Holy—maybe, but still—Ghost. They fear what He might do to them or how He might force them to do something weird.
Out of such false fear, we at times may wish to ignore the Spirit or downplay His significance in our lives. Ignoring the Spirit would be wrong, because the Church needs the Holy Spirit as much today as it did on that first Pentecost. Each of us needs His power and work in our lives.
Here’s the thing: If we look at who the Holy Spirit really is and what He does for us, we’ll no longer fear Him. The way the Holy Spirit worked on that first Pentecost is the same way He’s working today. On that first Pentecost, “[t]hey were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:4–6).
The disciples, when they were filled with the Spirit, were not babbling incoherently. They were speaking sensibly in recognizable languages. The Holy Spirit did not cause them to lose control or to jump around. They weren’t screaming or crying. Rather, He filled them with courage, conviction, and joy, empowering these formerly fearful men to stand up and tell the crowds about Jesus—to announce that Jesus, whom they had killed, was risen and forgave them unto eternal life. Three thousand heard, believed, and were baptized.
The Holy Spirit does the same thing for us today. The Spirit simply tells people about Jesus. He talks to us about Jesus. And then He uses us to tell others through us. Simple!
Put another way, the Holy Spirit is that part of God that delivers to us the blessings God wants us to have. The Holy Spirit is that part of God that puts here, in us, faith, forgiveness and eternal life. As Luther said, “I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me with the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” And that is a good thing, not something to be afraid of.
For our guests and visitors, and anybody else who doesn’t know or remember, before I went to seminary I used to be a radio DJ. When I worked at KNFM-FM, 92.3 on your FM dial, from the heart of the Permian Basin, I used to play a song by Ronnie Milsap, “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life.” This week when I thought about that, I thought about what a difference the Holy Spirit makes in the life of a Christian. It’s the Holy Spirit who brings us to faith in Jesus and an understanding of all that He’s done for us. Jesus has died for our sins, risen from the grave, and now lives eternally. He loves us, forgives us our sins, and has prepared an eternal home for us in heaven. But were it not for the work of the Spirit, we would not know this, we would not believe this, be saved, or see heaven.
If we ignore the Spirit by staying away from God’s Word and Sacraments, there’s a serious ripple effect. We not only weaken our own faith, but we also weaken our churches. The Holy Spirit should be in our hearts, homes, and churches. Luke, in later verses of chapter 2, describes the work of the Spirit in the church.
First, the Spirit-filled church is dedicated to the study of God’s Word. Luke wrote, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (2:42). These early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’, or biblical, teaching—the Word about Jesus’ saving work. This was a learning and studying church. People of God today should likewise be in the Word. Each Christian needs to study the Word alone and in the company of other Christians.
The second mark of the Spirit-filled church mentioned in Acts 2 is fellowship. Our word “fellowship” translates the Greek word koinōnia, based on the word for common. What we share in common is our faith in the one true and triune God. We have the same God as our Father, the same Jesus as our Savior, and the same Spirit as our Teacher and Comforter. Our common faith brings us together in mutual concern and care for one another.
The third mark of the Spirit’s presence is worship. The early believers were devoted “to the breaking of bread [that is, the Lord’s Supper] and the prayers” (2:42). The spirit-filled church is a worshiping, praying church. I picture that in worship, the people smiled, sang loud, listened and didn’t doze off, and participated actively and willingly. They were happy to be there to hear the Word and receive the Sacraments.
A final mark of the Spirit’s presence in that Acts 2 early church was evangelism, or outreach. Acts 2:47: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Since God desires all people to be saved, we are commanded to go into all the world with the Gospel message. The Spirit gives us the power and the Words to tell others and invite others here.
Therefore, you and I don’t have to be afraid of the Holy Ghost. He is not going to treat us like one of those hypnosis guys we may have seen in an assembly at school, or at Vegas, where he gets people to cluck like a chicken. or some such thing. Rather, He will lead us to the teaching of our Savior Jesus Christ, His cross and resurrection. He will lead us to loving fellowship and hanging out together, to authentic worship, and to compassionate outreach. We pray for the Spirit to come to us now and make us into that kind of a Christian and that kind of a church.