Many of us have heard believers pray to this effect on occasion: ‘Oh, Lord, pour out your Spirit upon us! Send a mighty wave of your Spirit and power into our midst!’ I’ve heard similar petitions many times. I do not doubt the individual’s intentions or the genuineness of the prayer. In fact, I deem it an appropriate prayer – worthy of repetition.
Yet, I ask myself…
What sign will indicate the Holy Spirit’s activity?
My mind travels immediately to Acts 2, passages in John’s gospel, and a conversation I had with an individual some years ago regarding the interpretation of these scriptures.
The Holy Spirit in Acts and John’s Gospel
Acts 2 recounts the events surrounding the Day of Pentecost shortly after Jesus’ ascension. One hundred and twenty believers, in obedience to his exhortation, remained in Jerusalem to receive “the gift my Father promised.” As they tarried together in a single room, they suddenly heard a sound like the blowing of a mighty wind that filled the entire house. All of them were immediately filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
However, this inspiring event was not an isolated incident, removed from former discussion, and thereby extracted from meaningful context. Earlier in the Acts record, Jesus, in prophetic fashion, told his disciples that in the near future they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you,” with the result that they would “be my witnesses.”
A brief analysis of the text indicates the primary purpose of the Spirit’s future outpouring – to enable them to be effective witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ. But, there is more.
Chapters 14-16 in John’s gospel account contain many important aspects of Jesus’ teaching. An obvious and recurring theme is the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Three passages in particular bear special significance.
First, “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 said to you.”
Second, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”
Third, “But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”
These texts tell us much about the Holy Spirit, particularly his work in the church and world. In plain language and with logical consistency, Jesus stated that the Spirit would remind the disciples of his words and teachings.
Furthermore, the “Spirit of truth” would himself guide people into the truth. How? By bringing glory to Jesus by taking from what is his and making it known to others. The Spirit’s primary function, therefore, is not to draw attention to himself, but always to Jesus Christ!
Twice in John’s gospel, Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth.” Earlier in John, in a moment of self-declaration, Jesus stated that he himself was the “Truth” (John 14:6). The primary task of the “Spirit of truth” is to teach us the “truth.” That is, the “Spirit of truth” will testify concerning the Truth – the person of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. His function will be to bring glory to Jesus Christ by making him known to all. By analogy, the Spirit will shine the spotlight on Jesus.
The Holy Spirit and Witness
We see the clear and undeniable link between the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and his ultimate function in the world. Actually, the Spirit’s role and our role are one and the same – to witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Jesus stated that the Spirit would “testify” about him, and that we “also must testify” concerning him. The ministry of the Spirit becomes our ministry. Luke declares the ultimate result when the Spirit comes upon us: “You will be my witnesses.” The Father gave the Spirit through the Son for the explicit purpose of enabling Jesus’ disciples to carry on the Spirit’s ministry in tangible ways. Anything that would test this would be inadequate.
Based on this premise, the sign which indicates the authenticity and genuineness of every contemporary Spirit outpouring becomes increasingly evident.
Notice what occurred immediately following the Spirit’s outpouring in Acts 2. Peter, now filled with the Spirit of truth, stood up among the onlookers, briefly explained the meaning of the preceding event, and immediately turned his attention to his primary concern – his witness about Jesus Christ – the Truth.
Interestingly, only a small portion of Acts 2 is reserved for the baptism account, while the greater part records Peter’s sermon concerning Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. From that moment, Peter’s life and ministry revolved around the person and work of Christ. His sermons, as well as the signs that followed, were the result of the Holy Spirit testifying to Jesus’ Messianic identity and redemptive mission.
Throughout the Acts account, Jesus takes center stage. While the book has been more accurately dubbed The Acts of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit’s emphasis throughout is to bring glory to Jesus Christ, the redeemer and reconciler of all things.
What is the sign indicating the Spirit’s work?
It is simple:
Every authentic move of the Holy Spirit will always have as its primary focus the person of Jesus Christ!
The Spirit will always shine the spotlight upon Jesus and his work upon the cross. As the Spirit of truth communicates the truth of Jesus Christ, who himself is the truth, his activity will be made known to us precisely because Jesus has taken center stage.
Shine, Jesus, Shine!