This coming Sunday I plan to be in the choir singing the following words: “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what our hearts long for: to be overcome with your presence, Lord.”*
Who would not want the Holy Spirit to come into their church? “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 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[a] as the Spirit enabled them [Acts 2: 1-4].
That would be awesome wouldn’t it?
Let me propose something more awesome.
The Holy Spirit manifesting itself in places outside of the church, with people who are not members of a church, people who are not believers.
Let’s dig into Acts 2 a bit and think about what happened. Jesus said that He must leave the Disciples so the Holy Spirit could come. John 16: 7 recounts Jesus saying “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” The next day after celebration of the Passover meal, Jesus died on the cross. We know He was resurrected and when He was, he commanded his Disciples to remain in Jerusalem to wait for the gift of the Spirit: “Tarry ye in the city . . . until ye be endued with the power from on high” [Luke 24: 49]. There were forty days from Christ’s death until His ascension when He appeared ten times in His resurrected body. After forty days, He ascended into heaven. Ten days after His ascension we have Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on one hundred and twenty believers.
Why do I take the time to detail all of this? Because this first Holy Spirit appearance was to people who were already followers of Jesus Christ.
Normally we don’t focus on the much larger crowd that Peter was preaching to a little later. These people were not followers, they were unbelievers. As we read in Acts 2: 14 to 41, they don’t experience the same rushing of the mighty wind, the tongues of flame or the speech in foreign languages. But look closely in verse 33 where it says “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Later in verse 39 Peter says “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Peter made his appeal to them: “Save yourselves from the punishment coming on this wicked people!” Three thousand unbelievers stepped forward, had their sins forgiven and received the gift of the Holy Spirit simultaneously.
I was recently studying for a Sunday school lesson on Cornelius when I realized I had always missed the point of Acts 10. The Bible is like that. Sometimes you read the words and a greater meaning is just not clear. In Acts 10, Peter was on a roof in the city of Joppa and he fell into a trance. He saw a sheet descending and heard God say “What God has made clean, do not call impure.” This happened three times. Peter was perplexed and I guess I was too. I thought this passage referred to dietary restrictions. As I prepared my Sunday school lesson on Acts 10, it became apparent that this vision referred to the acceptance of people who come to Christ because they are seeking Him. They may not be believers but they feel a need for something in their lives. Shortly after this trance, Peter encountered a Roman centurion named Cornelius who was a God-fearing man and Peter realized that this Roman could believe in God as well as any Jew. “Peter began to speak to a crowd of people: ‘Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” [Acts 10: 34-35]. Before he finished his comments, the Holy Spirit came on all those who heard his message. The Jewish observers were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles. “For they heard them speaking in other tongues and declaring the greatness of God” [Verse 46].
Of course, my hope for my church is that it can expand. Like Peter speaking to the crowd, maybe something our church members can say to unbelievers can touch them and make them want more. But Christians need to realize that the Holy Spirit is not just for them, but for anyone who needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our goal is not to fill the pews in our church, it should be to grow God’s kingdom among unbelievers.
“Holy Spirit, you are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.”
Whenever, wherever, whoever…
*From the music “Holy Spirit” by Torwalt and Torwalt