May 23, 2024

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

Sinclair Ferguson
The Promise of the Holy Spirit

At Pentecost, the same Holy Spirit who had empowered the life and ministry of Jesus was now poured out upon the church. Today, Sinclair Ferguson explains how this great gift fulfilled one of Christ’s promises to His disciples.


On Things Unseen this week, we’ve been thinking about the meaning of the day of Pentecost, or to be quite honest, we’ve been thinking about some very small parts of that meeting. It’s a surprise, I think, for example, to notice that in Peter’s sermon, apart from the words he quotes from Joel 2, he mentions the Holy Spirit only once because his sermon is not so much about what the Spirit is doing, but about the fact that what the Spirit is doing tells us something about the Lord Jesus. That, of course, is consistent with Jesus’ words in the upper room when He says, John 16:14, “When the Spirit comes, he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

But there’s another promise Jesus gave the Apostles in the upper room that’s very relevant here. Remember how He said in John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive.” Jesus was telling them that He was leaving them and He was going back to the Father. They were crestfallen. The prospect of Him sending another Helper to be with them forever didn’t really thrill them because what they wanted was Jesus Himself to be with them forever.

Well, we know that, but I wonder if you’ve ever reflected on Jesus’ words here: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper.” I suspect we don’t think about them as much as we should in connection with the day of Pentecost, but clearly Simon Peter did because they lie behind something he says in his Pentecost sermon that I suspect we don’t think enough about either. Here’s what he says, “This Jesus, God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses,” talking about the resurrection, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God,” he goes on, “and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:32–33).

I wonder if you see what this means. Peter is saying, “What you can see and hear—the coming of the Holy Spirit—is actually evidence, proof positive, of something that you can’t see and can’t hear. It’s evidence of a transaction that’s taken place invisibly and inaudibly in heaven.”

Try and imagine the scene: Jesus has ascended. He’s finished His work. He’s returned to the presence of His Father, and He’s saying something. What’s He saying? He’s saying this: “Father, I promised them I would ask You for something.” And the Father says, “My Son, because of what You have done, You can ask Me for anything.” The Lord Jesus says: “Father, You sent the Holy Spirit to be with Me throughout My life and ministry. He empowered Me. He sustained Me. I was resurrected by His power. I’m asking You if He may now be sent to be with My disciples because that was Our plan, wasn’t it? Didn’t You say”—perhaps we can imagine Him referring to the second psalm—‘Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance?’ Father, if the nations are to be My inheritance, your Spirit needs to be poured out on all flesh. Abba, Father, let’s send the Spirit.”

And this is what happened on the day of Pentecost. The very same Spirit who had superintended the life of Jesus—His conception, His growth in the womb, His birth, His nurturing, His baptism, His temptations, His whole public ministry, His atoning work, His triumph over sin and death—that’s the very same Spirit He’s now asking the Father may be sent to us.

And that’s the marvel of the day of Pentecost. Yes, there were external signs because it was a major event, but the really important thing was the internal reality. Jesus was not sending a different Holy Spirit from the One who had superintended His life, nor was He sending three thousand different Holy Spirits to those who professed His name. No, what He had asked the Father for was that the same Holy Spirit He had known—His Holy Spirit—would be sent to the church. And that’s the wonder of Pentecost, that the same Holy Spirit that Jesus knew, we come to know.

There’s a little-known hymn that has this line in it that I think’s worth thinking about. The line is this: “Think what Spirit dwells within thee.” I suspect we don’t think about that nearly often enough.