Once every year the Christian minister is confronted with the task of preaching a sermon on Pentecost. Barring happy exceptions, most ministers see themselves not so much confronted with a wonderful challenge as condemned to an inevitable annual chore. Given the reigning conception of Pentecost in the Christian church, the reason is not hard to find. One has to say something about those tongues of fire, that rushing mighty wind, and particularly all those languages spoken at the same time. These mysterious occurrences, so far removed from our own experience and observation, are indeed difficult to do anything with either theologically or homiletically if they are regarded as in themselves significant phenomena.

Pentecost is much like the Cross. One can regard the Crucifixion as an event of a few hours’ duration, in which case one soon comes to the end of the discursive rope. It can also be regarded as the epitome of the Christian message, the height and breadth and depth of which angels desire to know. That is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It is in this manner that Pentecost should be viewed. It is not an “event” that was over when Peter began to preach, but rather the beginning of a great divine work that continues in our day and will continue to the of time. The beginning has no meaning without the continuation, and the continuation could not be without the beginning.

Pentecost was the beginning in redemptive history of that specific function or activity of the Holy Spirit of which he had already given so powerful a manifestation in the realm of the natural, namely the giving of life. The Spirit gives life. He is the life-giving Spirit ...

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