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The Dangerous God of Pentecost

I learned some Latvian words on Sunday.

The reason? A church where my wife and I visited is hosting members of their sister congregation in Latvia. The guest preacher delivered a potent sermon on Pentecost, reminding us that the Holy Spirit can come with a convicting whisper or the force of a storm.

That may be a big reason why Pentecost gets shoved to the back of the shelf during the Christian year. We’re uncomfortable with a God who can speak and act in the present. Perhaps that’s why we talk about the Father and Son in church, but not so much the Holy Spirit. Eons ago, the Father created the world, split the Red Sea, and spoke through the prophets. Jesus healed the sick, taught the crowds, and died on the cross for our sins. Because the church often locks the first two Persons of the Trinity in a bygone era, we can safely esteem them from afar as we would ancient saints. A God of the past poses no threat to our status quo.

Ah, but the Holy Spirit! This is the God-of-the-here-and-now who cannot be so easily stored in the dusty attic of remembrance. Recall that on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit rattled the upper room with a gale-force wind and flickered above the believer’s heads like tongues of flame – not exactly your normal church service! Then, after Peter delivered a cut-to-the-heart sermon, the crowd felt convicted of their sins and wanted to know what they should do. Peter boldly answered,

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

In Jesus, Continued, J.D. Greear writes, “We see how the Spirit worked in the early church, how He guided and empowered believers, and rather than be excited by such activity, we’re frightened. We find it more comfortable to keep God at arm’s length, to focus on our behavior rather than our hearts, to focus on Him doctrinally rather than experientially, because we’re afraid He will call us to step out of our comfort zone.”

Could this be why Pentecost isn’t as popular as other Christian observances? Christmas is sentimental, Easter is resplendent – but Pentecost is dangerous. As the Latvian pastor preached, the miracle of Pentecost is not just that the believers spoke in unknown tongues, but that the bystanders heard the Word of God in their own languages. Hearing God deep down in your soul can be an unsettling experience. It means you have to respond – and even ignoring the divine voice is a response.

The only way to find peace is to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit. Once you do that, you might wonder what you were afraid of in the first place.

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