On the 50th day that Jesus was alive as the risen Christ, the disciples were all gathered in one place. There was a great noise, and they saw tongues of fire coming to rest on them. Then “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4). From this point on, the church witnesses boldly to Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord and Messiah. And praise God, the Holy Spirit has never left the church in the nearly 2,000 years since that first Pentecost.
It’s a fantastic story. Since the church wouldn’t be the church without the Holy Spirit, It’s perhaps the most important moment in the history of the church. But is Pentecost only historical? Or is there a very meaningful way in which we might talk about personal pentecosts?
Certainly there are aspects of the story that continue to be confined to that particular day of church history. For example, I’m not aware of Christians since then who have seen visible tongues of fire. (Believe it or not, I am aware of the testimony of witnesses that I trust of times when God has enabled individuals to speak in a human language that they had never studied!). Nevertheless, the heart of the story– being filled with the Holy Spirit– is something that continues to happen to Christians everywhere.
Many Methodists will recognize the story of John Wesley, the most prominent founder of the Methodist movement. After a failed year of mission in the Georgia colony in America, Wesley returned to England disgraced and at a seeming spiritual low. (In fact the Spirit was simply revealing to him that there was much, much more to the Christian faith than he had experienced). His pentecost was coming. He writes in his journal for May 24, 1738:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
This is undoubtedly a turning point in Wesley’s ministry, much as Pentecost was a turning point in the apostle Peter’s life. Amazingly, his brother Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer, had a similar experience on the day of Pentecost, May 21, 1738, just three days earlier! His story is much more dramatic than John’s, but its telling will have to wait for another day! Most importantly, Charles had a powerful experience of the Spirit of God. At the end of the day, Charles wrote in his journal, “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.” By the time John comes around a few days later to share his good news, Charles already had a hymn written for the occasion! We don’t know for sure, but many believe this hymn to be “And Can It Be That I Should Gain.”
Stories like John and Charles continue to happen. The Spirit continues to fill Jesus’ disciples, empowering them for powerful ministry and mission in the world. Our challenge is to continue to seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, daily seeking more of God’s love and power in our lives.