As John R. W. Stott spells out in Between Two Worlds, every year reminds us again of how God revealed himself as creator and Father, as Son of God made flesh, and in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We live in this Trinitarian structure. It takes an entire year to begin to recognize a picture of who God really is (and then we must start over again because we can not grasp it all). Pentecost is the time of year that calls our attention to the Spirit.
To assure that we are never alone, we have a constant companion in the Spirit. Even when not visible to the eye, audible to the ear, or tangible to the touch, the Spirit is still evident to the heart. That is why Gordon Fee describes the Spirit as an “experienced reality.” I am reminded of Thomas Oden’s comment that the Spirit is “God’s own personal meeting with persons living in history.”
Pentecost is a reminder that God keeps his promises. This is a natural season to remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is also a good time to be reminded of ethical, social, and missionary responsibilities. To emphasize those things which remind us that life in the Spirit is a huge part of our ongoing adventure. Before Pentecost, we wait. Waiting may not be what one expects during a journey, yet here it is. Following Pentecost, when the waiting is over and the promise is fulfilled, an adventure begins. We might find it a good time to read the book of Acts. And we can not help but notice that when the book of Acts is over, the adventure does not end.
Acts is a narrative of movement. From one city to another, the Gospel moves forward. Sometimes Paul is led to stay in a particular place for a while, other times he exits quickly. At times he has companions. Other times, he does not. He may be found working or preaching. Some places he visits as part of a planned itinerary, other places he is taken to forcefully.
No matter where the Gospel is taken, the Lord is the same. Preaching in Europe or Asia, to Jews or Gentiles. The Lord is the same whether his people be gathered for worship, placed in prison, or strolling through the marketplace. People never become the focus of the story. The Lord is the one in control. It is his presence that enables the church to overcome the practical difficulties of this journey. The Spirit works alongside us, witnessing on behalf of Jesus. He lives with us as well as in us. As D. A. Carson states,
“the Holy Spirit comes to us not just in our best moments, nor exclusively in times of crushing need, but always and forever.”
Acts reminds us that the journey may include arrests, trials, imprisonment, near assassination, shipwreck or snakebite. These are not new strategies to oppose the Gospel. The journey has always been filled with opposition. Pharaoh tried to drown the baby Moses. Herod the Great tried to destroy the infant Jesus. The Sanhedrin tried to stifle the witness of the apostles. Not one of these plots were successful in stopping God’s plan.
In Acts, we get the impression that nothing will stop the forward movement of the Gospel. The Spirit that descended at Pentecost gave the young church its tongue to tell what God is doing “with all boldness and without hindrance!” The reader of Acts witnesses the beginnings of the journey that Pentecost has set in motion.
We live in the continuation of Acts. Acts closes in open-ended fashion, with the door still open for work and witness rather than closed by death, because the Spirit is still active. Acts is not history. It is introduction. An introduction to a story that continues in people like us.