The Spirit Brings Hope
Yesterday, the church all over the world celebrated Pentecost Sunday. It is the day on which the Spirit falls upon the disciples (described in Acts 2), and the great missionary activity of the church is born. It is a moment of great joy, as well as a little bit of confusion as the disciples and other believers are trying to figure out what is happening. In fact, this leads the disciples on a journey to understand what God’s will is for the wide world, for all of creation. Over the next 10-12 chapters of the book of Acts, the question becomes apparent, and the answer even more so… Who is God trying to save? And the answer, everyone.
The passage that you see above comes from the Gospel of John. Jesus is having a discussion with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is interested in Jesus and the message he is preaching, but he is also confused and worried that if he aligns himself with Jesus too early, he will lose his position and influence among the teachers of the Law. So, he comes to Jesus at nighttime–incognito.
Jesus and Nicodemus have a fascinating conversation about what it means to be born again. Nicodemus takes the whole conversation entirely too literally, and Jesus explains, well, he explains basically what happens at Pentecost.
In Hebrew and in Greek, the words for wind and spirit are the same words:
And so, when Jesus says that the wind or God’s Spirit blows wherever it pleases in verse 8, there is a play on words happening here (just as in Genesis 1 when it says that God hovered over the waters–it is almost like saying God was rushing over the waters like the wind.) It is a beautiful image of God and God’s Spirit–like the wind.
But, in fact, it is more than just beautiful, for it teaches us something of great importance about the nature of God and what God is up to in the wider world.
Because on Pentecost Sunday, something amazing and a little bit confusing happens. God’s Spirit descends upon the disciples, and they begin to proclaim about Jesus to all who are present there. And Acts tells us there are a lot of people present there. There are Jewish men and women from all over the ancient world present. Read verses 9-12 of Acts 2, and you will see what I mean. It is like a roll call of all the nations. There are people there who come from everywhere. And this is significant in the story of Acts because while they are in Jerusalem in Acts 2, it won’t take long for this story about Jesus to begin moving beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem. Jesus said as much in Acts 1:8. This story is on the move. God’s Spirit is on the move. It is like the wind, blowing here and there over the face of the earth.
And the piece about this that is truly inspiring is that, for God, this is not random. It’s not that God is capricious, and fickle, just blowing around, here and there. Instead, it is that God’s love and God’s gift of salvation is so all-encompassing that the disciples haven’t quite caught up yet to what God is going to do in Acts a couple of chapters later.
Which brings me to our topic of Hope that we have been exploring and will continue to explore as a faith community in the coming months. Because this, I think, is central to the message of hope that the person of Jesus (his life, death, and resurrection) bring to all people. God’s Spirit is out in front of us, bringing hope to all people because that is who God is trying to save. That is who God loves. That is who God is interested in: everyone. And this gives me hope because this is not a story that is dependent on me. It is dependent on God’s Spirit to lead. And it gives me joy to follow. To follow even through the mess that my own life can make. To follow even into the chaos that other’s lives can be. To follow even into the places that I wouldn’t go on my own, but which I know that God’s Spirit is leading.
This story is a message of hope. Hope because God is not fickle or capricious. But God is leading, God’s Spirit is out in front of us, and God will not abandon or leave behind anyone. For God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. Will we have eyes to see? Will we follow God’s lead?