Before leaving his disciples, Jesus had encouraged them to ‘wait’ in Jerusalem (Acts 1.4), but this was no empty space. We can imagine them meditating on what they remembered of Jesus, in the light of their Scriptures (Luke 24.44-49). The inevitable uncertainty of those days was resolved by what they experienced at Pentecost.
Originally a harvest festival, Pentecost came to celebrate God’s covenant with Israel and the giving of the Law. There are echoes of this in Luke’s references to ‘wind’ and ‘fire’ (cf. Exodus 19.16-20). The contemporary Jewish writer Philo (c.25BC–AD50) believed that the children of Israel heard God speaking intelligibly in the fire at Sinai. But Luke sees these traditions with fresh eyes. His language suggests that the disciples had a shared visionary experience, for which their prayer since Jesus’ departure had been preparing them (Acts 1.14). There are enough signatures of God in this scene to indicate a heavenly rather than earthly source for what Luke pictures.
Outside on the street, Jewish pilgrims hear and understand what the disciples are saying (so this is not the tongues of 1 Corinthians 12–14). What does this mean (v.12)? Cynics in the crowd see only drunkenness. Others are less sure what to make of it. Luke’s opening (literally, ‘When the day of Pentecost had been fulfilled’) suggests that this is the fulfilment of John the Baptist’s words and Jesus’ promise to the disciples (Luke 3.16; Acts 1.5,8). Peter’s speech goes back further, to the prophet Joel. Eight hundred years previously, Joel had announced an outpouring of God’s Spirit to restore Israel’s fortunes
(Joel 2.28ff.). Luke alters Joel’s words slightly: ‘afterwards’ in Joel 2.28 becomes ‘in the last days’ (v.17). Israel’s hopes for a bright, new future have arrived on a Jerusalem street at Pentecost, just weeks after the dark days of Passover. And, most surprising of all, Peter’s speech goes on to connect the two.
The accounts of the coming of the Spirit in John 20 and Acts 2 are sufficiently different to ward off attempts to harmonise them. But what they have in common – the Spirit as the gift of the crucified and exalted Jesus – is surely enough to inspire confidence that they speak of the same Spirit as the fulfilment of hope for a new creation.
New Testament: Romans 8.14-17
Just as Paul makes the closest possible association between ‘God our Father’ and the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ at the start of this letter (and elsewhere), so he links prayer to God as ‘Abba, Father’ with the leading of the Spirit. This is evidence of solidarity with Christ in his sufferings, and a sharing in the inheritance that will culminate in the redemption of all creation, under the rule of Christ (Romans 8.18-25; Philippians 2.9-11). Paul’s prayer has what we might now call a ‘trinitarian’ shape, because he cannot imagine praying outside the nexus of Father, Son and Spirit. Spirit-led prayer is evidence of the world it hopes for.
Gospel John 14.8-17,(25-27)
Philip last appeared in the Gospel in 12.20-26, when he acted as a spokesperson for some Greek-speaking Jews who ‘want to see Jesus’. Now it is Philip who wants to see: ‘Show us the Father’ is his response to Jesus’ enigmatic words, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’ (14.6).
Jesus speaks of seeing the Father in him, echoing earlier statements in the Gospel (5.18; 10.30). This seeing is less about eyesight than insight, the very stuff of relationship. Philip is called to trust that what he hears and sees in Jesus is nothing less than the expression of the Father who dwells in him. As ‘another Advocate’, ‘with you and…in you’ (v.17), the Spirit speaks and acts with God’s authority through the community whose faith is expressed in prayer and love, and in works even greater than those of Jesus, in number if not by nature. This suggests that to see the common life of Jesus’ friends, animated as it is by the breath of resurrection (20.22), is to see the Father–Son relationship extended into ordinary human life. Their vocation is not simply to follow, but (however imperfectly) to reveal.
The links between the readings
The coming of the Holy Spirit fulfils God’s ancient promise to renew all creation. In Romans 8 and John 14, this starts with the Spirit drawing us into Jesus’ relationship with God as Father. In Acts 2 and John 14, the Spirit renews relationships among people and with the wider world.