Pentecost (1) — What is the ‘power’ promised us by the Lord?
- the power promised us by the Lord is a person
There is no doubt that God made a promise to us — to his Christian children — to send us ‘power’. This is true, even though, for the good reasons of prudence and control, the element of ‘power’ is not emphasized in the Church, so much so that any talk about God’s gift to us of ‘power’ — spiritual power — seems imprudent and sounds scandalous. Yet it is true that God gave us the gift of ‘power’, and that he gave us this gift for the advantage of the faith and the needs of the Christian people. While we too cherish prudence and condescension and while we too adjure discretion, it is yet crucial to talk about this power because this power is central to our Christian faith. It is crucial to talk about this power, because this power is a person, a divine person, with whom we ought to relate and commune; this power is not an irrational force or magical ability or even physical potency. The power of God given to us is a person. What then is this ‘power’ God the Father gave to his children?
The ‘promise of the Father’, is the promise of power. The promise of the Lord Jesus to send the paraclete to his followers, was a promise of power. This ‘power’ is the Holy Spirit. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) It was the choice of the all-knowing Father and the Lord Jesus to give us this ‘power’, their ‘power’, their Spirit, for the purposes of ‘empowerment’ necessary to accomplish their own designs for us. The power that God promised us is a person. The power of God is the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is the third person of the Godhead.
- the power promised us by the Lord, as seen in the gospels
Of this ‘power’, this person, Jesus said to the apostles: “Behold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49) We see then that this power is the divine ‘clothing’ for apostleship and discipleship: the power of the Holy Spirit is the ‘clothing’ for the work of evangelization. We see then that this power promised us by the Lord Jesus, is a necessity; because, whereas, as Jesus taught, we do not need a haversack or spare tunic or sandal or sack of coins for missionary ministry, we do need this power, this person, for covering and for provision.
It can therefore be said, that the reception of this person and power is the most important investiture of the minister of the Gospel and of the people of the Gospel. ‘Until you are clothed with power from on high’ covertly instructs us that the power which the Lord promised us is the spiritual vestment of the apostle and of the Christian people. The power of the Holy Spirit is the vesture of the soul; it is like the armour of the Christian, so crucial, that the apostles had to wait to get it, before going into the world and into the work of Christ.
Therefore, here, we refer to the ‘power’ that is received when the Holy Spirit comes: as Jesus explained it in Acts 1:8 and as it happened in Acts 2:1–41 in the upper room. By ‘power’ we refer to what Jesus called ‘power from on high’, (Lk 24:49) with which the Father clothed the apostles before they began their apostolic work. This power is the Holy Spirit, ‘the Spirit of the Son of God’ (Gal 4:6), ‘the Spirit if Jesus’ (Acts 16:7). The ‘power’ promised us by the Lord, is that ‘Spirit’ and that ‘power’ with which God anointed Jesus of Nazareth, so that he went about doing good (Acts 10:38). This power looks like this: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23; 9:35)
The Lord Jesus also gave us a practical description of the power which he promised to send to us. He did so when, from prison, John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask him: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we look for someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Mt 11:1–5) In other words, the work of salvation and the power of the Gospel, manifests in what can be seen and heard, in what is palpable and perceptible.
By ‘power’ is meant the Spirit of the Lord, which anointed Jesus so that he could fulfil his messianic mandate: to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Lk 4:18–19; Is 61:1) By this power is meant that ‘outpouring’ upon the sons and daughters of God promised through the prophet Joel: “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28) By power is meant that “Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (Jn 7:39) This ‘power’ is the free outpouring of God’s grace, which manifests not only in prodigious or miraculous events, but above all, in Christlike exercise of virtue and the supernatural charisms of the Spirit.
- the power promised us by the Lord is baptism with the Holy Spirit
The power which God promised his children is the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Jesus said so: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift the Father promised, which you have heard me discuss. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4–5) This ‘baptism’ with the Holy Spirit is baptism unto power. It is the fulfilment of the ‘clothing with power from on high’ which Jesus promised in Luke 24:49. This baptism is a ‘clothing’ with the Spirit of power, and so also, with spiritual power. It is Jesus clothing his people and his apostles with power from on high. This baptism, for the apostles and the brethren of the Lord, was first fulfilled in the upper room, on the day of Pentecost. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is God giving us a share in his Spirit and in his power. It is a privileged participation in the same Spirit with which God anointed Jesus, as we see in Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32–34; Acts 10:38; Isaiah 11:12; etc.
Gracious and generous, God always gives us a share in his Spirit and in his power. God did the same for the blessed mother of Jesus, with the same Spirit. “How can this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Lk 1:35) Baptism with the Holy Spirit can be likened to the ‘overshadowing’ with the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High. It is the same Spirit, the same person and the same power, that is always at work. The same power, the same person, the same Spirit, that was at work in Jesus and in his mother Mary, is the same person that baptises us with his Spirit and his power.
After the Lord Jesus and his mother Mary, the apostles and the first Christians, were also imbued by the same person, with the same power, through the same baptism with the same Spirit. On that epochal day, which has now become known as the ‘day of Pentecost’, God poured out his Spirit on the apostles and other disciples of Jesus, gathered in the upper room. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4) Thereafter, this Spirit they received became noticeably active in their evangelical activities. “After they had prayed, their meeting place was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31) “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people of Israel!” (Acts 4:8) The Spirit they received communicated ‘power’ to them and this power was active and perceptible in their apostolic ministry.
Through the apostles, God communicated the same Spirit, the same power, the same gifts to the believers. At first, even the apostles were surprised that even the gentiles received the Holy Spirit. Here is the edifying story of what happened: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard his message. All the circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues, exalting God. Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water to baptize these people? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have!” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.” *Acts 10:44–48)
In his report to the apostles in Jerusalem, Peter narrated this astonishing experience of how God poured out his Spirit, even upon the gentiles: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as he had fallen upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, as he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So, if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder the work of God?” (Acts 11:15–17) This grace happened in the household of the Roman Centurion of the Italian Regiment, Cornelius, in Caesarea.
The gratuitousness and graciousness by which God granted this baptism with the Spirit to everyone who believed, is quite well noted in the Scriptures. Just as Peter did in Caesarea, Paul found some believers in Ephesus, on inquiry, he found out that they have not received the Holy Spirit. “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.” (Acts 19:5–7) We find the same testimony in the apostolic visit made by Peter and John to Samaria, to meet a community of Christians evangelized by Philip. “On their arrival, they prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:15–17)
This Holy Spirit, is the power promised us by God. This Holy Spirit is the unction received in the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
In the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus — the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Jn 1:33; Mk 1:8) and with fire (Lk 3:16) — clothes with his power, his apostles and followers. In Acts 1:5, again Jesus spoke about this baptism with the Holy Spirit which is unlike the baptism of John: “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This baptism with the Holy Spirit, is a continual baptism of renewal, in the Spirit and by the Spirit. It is the fulfilment of Jesus promise of ‘clothing with power from on high’ even for the same apostles who were with him all through his ministry. It is for us an encounter of reinvigoration of the Spirit, the graces and the gifts already received by the soul, at the infusion of the Holy Spirit, at our sacramental baptism.
- the power promised us by the Lord is the divine ‘helper’
The power we speak of, which God promised us, is the ‘helper’ sent to ‘help’ us and to ‘teach’ us, by the Father, in the name of the Christ. (Jn 14:26; Rm 8:26). This power comes by faith and by it we overcome the world. It is the power to be truly born of God. (1 Jn 5:4) It is the power of the children of God. “To those who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12) This power is the ‘Spirit of sonship’ which frees us from slavery, so that we can call God, Abba, Father. (Romans 8:15) For the disciples, this power is the ‘Spirit of Jesus’ (cf. Acts 16:7) which guided their apostolic mission. It is the breath of Jesus, which he severally breathed on his disciples. “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22) We see then, that this power, this person, is a gift which Jesus earnestly desired to give and which he gives, again and again.
- it is not imprudent to desire to possess and to operate in the power and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit
It is not imprudent to talk about this power — the power of the Holy Spirit –, because it is the power promised us by the Lord; it is not imprudent to talk about living and operating in the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit, because, as Jesus said, the Holy Spirit is that “gift the Father promised, which you have heard me discuss” (Acts 1:4); nor is it inordinate to desire it, because it is a necessity for an effective Christian life and ministry (cf Acts 1:4). This power is what Jesus was referring to when he said: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mk 16:17–18) It is not haughtiness to desire an experience of this power, which God has already given to us.
Just as it is not imprudent to desire to excel in academics or sports or music or politics or the arts or business or any career at all, it is not fanaticism or overenthusiasm or undue ambitiousness, to desire to excel in friendship with the Holy Spirit or operations in spiritual gifts or the workings of charisms or in the interior matters of the spiritual life. It is by earnest desire that we obtain. It is not out of place to desire to know the Spirit and the pleasantness of his presence and power. It is what the Church actually teaches us to do. Paul desired and prayed: “That I may know him — Christ Jesus, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, and be made conformable unto his death.” (Phil 3:10)
- the priceless treasury of spiritual gifts and charisms given to the Church through the Holy Spirit
The Church calls all her children to live the spiritual life; that is, life-in-the-Spirit. In other words, the Church adjures all her children to love the Holy Spirit, to desire him and to embrace him, which implies, accepting all his operations and actions in the soul. Therefore, it is now important to also remind ourselves, that there is nothing wrong in desiring, not only the Holy Spirit, but also the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever the Holy Spirit comes, he manifests his presence by his power, his gifts and his fruits. There is nothing wrong in desiring or in possessing and in operating in the heavenly gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In other to establish the Church — their Church — the Father and the Son did not give the apostles and their disciples a bank account full of money. Jesus did not give Peter — the prince of the apostles and the vicar of the Christ — the contact of any wealthy man or influential politician, who would help him mobilise resources for the institutionalisation of the Church. No! Jesus did not also leave any material investment or bonded inheritance or fixed deposit, for them. No! Jesus did not give them anything of a physical nature. Everything he gave them was of a spiritual or immaterial nature He did not even write a book or manual of operation for them. Rather he gave them a Spirit. Yes, he gave them a person, but it is a spiritual person, a divine person, an invisible person, an indwelling person.
Get an email whenever Michael Richmond Duru publishes.
Get an email whenever Michael Richmond Duru publishes. By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don't…
All the treasures that the Church needed was the Holy Spirit. All that the apostles needed was the Holy Spirit. All the tools that the missionaries needed for mission and evangelization were and are in the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit, available and accessible to them, the apostles and disciples of the Lord and their successors, had all that were necessary for their life and work. The Holy Spirit was all they got!
This Holy Spirit is so important! On behalf of the Father and the Son, he is the boss! Therefore, the attitude, often noted in the institutionalised Church and among many Christians, of not talking much about him or not giving him emphasis or being unduly cautious or suspicious of things pertaining or attributed to the Holy Spirit, should not be allowed to become an obstacle to the action of the Holy Spirit, in our Church and in our time. Whenever or wherever the Christian people relegate the Holy Spirit or choose to stifle or perhaps, to suppress or suspend his active operations, both in the Church or in the faithful, they become, not poor in the Spirit, but indeed, spiritually impoverished; and often too, they become riddled with crises and contentions.
This Holy Spirit is the living divine treasure and treasury, which God gave his Church. It is from him that all other treasures flow. Part of such treasure flowing from the treasury of the Holy Spirit, are the spiritual charisms and the mystical gifts, which have been operative and manifest, in the Church, since the baptism of the Lord at the Jordan. It is important, not only to talk about the Holy Spirit, but also to desire his many gifts.
It is not imprudent or impious to desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be filled with his mystical gifts or to become the instrument of his charismatic workmanship in the Church and among the faithful. The Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians, said: Earnestly pursue love and eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” (1Cor 14:1) Surely, St. Paul was not talking about an inordinate desire, fuelled by ego or vainglory or pride or profit or popularity, but of that noble desire of the sanctified soul or the zealous faithful, who wishes to be found in God and to belong to him. Gladly, the proudman cannot find God, since ‘God resists the proud and gives his grace to the humble’. (Jms 4.6) The worry or caution over the prideful or inordinate desire for spiritual gifts, does not seem a good reason to silence the Spirit or be silent on him and his treasury of spiritual goods.
Similarly, it is not always a sign of pride to talk about the power of God. It is not always a sign of loftiness to talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is not always a sign of conceit to talk about possessing spiritual gifts. It is not always a sign of arrogance to talk about the demonstration of the saving power of the Gospel. It is not always a sign of haughtiness or imprudence to desire the charism conferred by the divine Spirit. It is good enough that one has a sincere desire and the right motives or intent, and above all, that the Holy Spirit is truly in control. It is good enough that the Holy Spirit is at the centre of one’s life and that God is the sole object of love. To attain this, pastors of souls, catechists and evangelizers — clergy or lay — ought to instruct, direct and shepherd their flock — as the spiritual directors of the Saints, have all done in the history of the Church.
As the Saints of Holy Mother Church have shown to us, there can be genuine desire for the Spirit and the workings of the Spirit. There can be genuine desire for spiritual gifts. There can be genuine operation in the charisms of the Spirit. There can be genuine manifestation of the power of God, even by unlearned and unlicensed people.
God gave the spiritual and mystical gifts of the Holy Spirit, a place and a role, in the Church. We see this truth lived out in the lives of the of the Saints. St. Paul dedicated chapters 12, 13 and 14 of his first letter to the Corinthians to explaining the role and the place of the spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. Unlike St. Paul who taught the Corinthians saying “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1Cor 12:1), many, in the Church today, have been left uninformed or misinformed, regarding the spiritual gifts. In other places, these spiritual gifts and charisms and fruits of the Spirit, are never spoken about or are simply relegated. But, the spiritual and mystical gifts, we see in the Scriptures and in the lives of the Saints, are part of the treasures of the Church. It is needful then to talk about them; and it is right to rightfully desire these higher gifts.
By means of the spiritual gifts, God gives the faithful soul a share in the exercise of divine ‘power’, a foretaste of heavenly life, as well as a mission in the community of the faithful. Every genuine spiritual gift is a manifestation of the finger of God, working through different members of the Christian community, according to the needs of each and according to the volition of the Spirit. St. Paul, explained it in the following way:
“There are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. There are different ways of working, but the same God works all things in all people. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in various tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, who apportions them to each one as He determines.” (1Cor 12:4–11)
Explaining further, and pointing particularly to hierarchy and charism in the body of Christ, he says: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it. And in the Church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, and those with gifts of healing, helping, administration, and various tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” (1Cor 12:27–31) The Church ought to flourish through the synchronous and the simultaneous operations of these and many other spiritual and mystical gifts with which the Holy Spirit adorns the Church.
Michael Richmond Duru
3rd June 2022