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During the month of November, we’re taking a look at 21 essential activities of the Holy Spirit, who represents God’s presence in and through every follower of Jesus.
In one fell swoop, President Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the United States.
After authorizing the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, it only seemed right to launch an expedition of discovery into what was then, from a European perspective, unexplored territory.
Meriwether Lewis and William F. Clark, along with 40 companions, traveled from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back in 862 days. They paddled fast rivers and traversed a rugged stretch of the Rocky Mountains, never knowing what wild animals or hostile tribes might be waiting around the next bend.
The expedition’s chief mission – to find a direct water route from the Oregon coast to the Mississippi River – was a failure, for the simple reason that such a route doesn’t exist. But in every other regard, what the explorers accomplished was astonishing. Their 1804-1806 adventure helped open the door to the American West.
Did Lewis and Clark leave anything behind? Is there any physical evidence that the expedition actually happened?
The answer is Yes. There is a single artifact in southern Montana near the banks of the Yellowstone River. Clark happened upon a large sandstone feature covered with human graffiti – messages and signatures from generations of Indian visitors. The expedition leader decided to add his own name, along with the date.
You can still see “W Clark, July 25, 1806” carved onto the side of Pompey’s Pillar, which is today a national monument. It is the only enduring physical evidence that a group of American explorers crisscrossed the continent 217 years ago.
If we look back into history even farther – almost 2,000 years now – is there any enduring evidence that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again in the backwater Roman province of Judea?
As far as we know, Jesus wrote no books. He left behind no family or spiritual dynasty, despite the fact Dan Brown made a great deal of money by suggesting that in The Da Vinci Code. He left no home or belongings to be safeguarded behind a glass display case in a museum. His followers were so uninterested in his grave – primarily because they thought it was empty – that the early Church actually lost track of where it had been.
Did Jesus leave anything behind that’s still with us today?
The answer is Yes. Jesus left the Holy Spirit. And he left you and me and everyone else who represents his cause.
The story of how that happened is told at the beginning of the book of Acts, the only history narrative that appears in the New Testament. Jesus tells his original band of disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).
The disciples are excited. Can you blame them? Look at verse six: “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel’?”
What exactly are they asking? They’re saying, “Lord, is this when we get to relive the glory days of David and Solomon? Is this when everybody takes the express elevator directly to heaven?” If they were writing the Bible’s storyline, everything would end right here. This moment would be called Jesus Ends. Jesus ends pain and death. Jesus ends the domination of the Romans. Jesus ends the long and winding road of human history.
What a surprise they get instead. This is not Jesus Ends, but Jesus Sends.
Somebody’s going to heaven all right. But it’s not the disciples. It’s Jesus. His followers will stay behind. They’re being sent on a global job assignment. Jesus does in fact have a comment concerning the timetable for the end of the world: “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
A couple of years ago a Christian TV network ran this ad: “Jesus is coming soon – perhaps tomorrow! Send ten dollars for a video that will explain the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.” And then, hilariously, they added this line: “Please allow six weeks for delivery.”
Is there a sense of urgency in Jesus’ words to his friends? Yes. Look at verse eight: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Immediately after making this statement, Jesus ascends into the sky and disappears from their sight. This is not evidence that heaven is located somewhere just above the stratosphere. Jesus vanishes into a cloud as a visual confirmation for the disciples that he is now physically absent from the earth. He’s still alive, but will no longer walk alongside them in the flesh.
But hadn’t he promised that he would always be with them? Yes. And now he keeps that promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Look at chapter two, verse one: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” Pentecost means “fiftieth day.” Every year in Israel, exactly fifty days after the celebration of Passover, every adult Jew who could possibly make the trip would come to Jerusalem. Pentecost was a spiritual and agricultural festival for the entire nation, and the streets would be packed with Jews who had come from all parts of the ancient world.
So what’s already happened during this particular fifty-day period from Passover to Pentecost? On day one, Jesus dies on the cross. On day three, Jesus rises from the dead. On day forty-three – after reminding his followers that he is putting his entire ministry into their hands – Jesus ascends into heaven.
Now, one week later, Jesus’ followers are sitting together…waiting. They’re like flashlights with no batteries. They’ve been given a global job assignment to be the light of the world, but they have no power. All that changes in verse two:
“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 as the Spirit enabled them.”
Do you remember the story of the Tower of Babel back in the book of Genesis? God separates people by compelling them to speak different languages. Now the Holy Spirit does just the opposite. The Spirit empowers the disciples to speak different languages, so everyone can hear the Good News for themselves and come together.
The Spirit gives us the power to do what we could never do by ourselves.
And what exactly is that? Back in Acts 1:8, Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
We are called to be witnesses for the defense. Think of a courtroom. The task of a witness is to make a statement regarding the identity, character, and actions of the defendant.
And who are we talking about? The defendant in the court of public opinion is Jesus of Nazareth. Is he or is he not who he claims to be? Is he or is he not someone who is able to keep his promises? Here’s the question that will always be before us: Are we willing to stand in the dock and speak to others on behalf of Jesus?
It may seem incredible, but what Jesus left behind as evidence that he is really alive just happens to be you and me.
But take heart: He left behind the Holy Spirit, too.
And God’s own Spirit is ready and willing to give us all the power we will need.
To listen to today’s reflection as a podcast, click here