In his mid-night discussion with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Jesus Christ had insisted that the life of God is only possible if one is born again through water and the Spirit. He subsequently explained that this Spirit is the Advocate or Paraclete, who will bear witness in the believer to his life and his message of salvation. The Spirit, the Lord says, is the Comforter, with whom the disciples will find comfort and consolation as he goes away from them, and as they suffer inevitable rejection and persecution. The Holy Spirit is also known as the Spirit of Truth, the one who will vindicate Jesus, who will show the world how wrong it was, and who will lead the disciples to the fullness of truth (John 16:12-13). Thus, the Holy Spirit will unfold the mystery of Jesus to his disciples. When the Spirit comes, the followers will be more enlightened, and Jesus will be further glorified. The Spirit will not bring about a new revelation, since Jesus is already the definitive revelation of God. But the Spirit will bring a constantly renewed and deeper understanding of the original revelation that is achieved in Christ's death and resurrection. The Spirit will interpret to each generation the contemporary significance of what Jesus has said and what he has done.
Before Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, he gathered his disciples together at the Mount of Olives and assured them of the power from on high which will soon come upon them to enable them carry on the mission he was handing over to them. He said to them, "John Baptised with water but, not many days from now, you are going to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. He also said: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses, not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:5&8)."
The Spirit was poured forth on Pentecost day, from the heart of Christ; released through his death and resurrection to all believers through Baptism, and given as the "first fruits" of Christ's redemptive work, as a pledge of the inestimable blessings that await the faithful in the Kingdom. The Holy Spirit, given to the first disciples at Pentecost, and received by all Christians at baptism, is the foundation of Christian hope. It whets the appetite of Christians for ultimate fulfilment. The Holy Spirit (as breath of God) blows through the world, recreating, renewing, and sustaining the earth. The Holy Spirit (as the fire of God) enlightens humanity, overcoming the darkness of the world. The Holy Spirit (as the water from the rich fountain of God) purifies, energises, and gives new life to the believer.
The event of Pentecost symbolises a new genesis, a new creation, a new world. Pentecost represents the overcoming of the divisions brought upon humanity by sin which in Old Testament thinking climaxed in the erection of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Pentecost indicates that God has taken humanity in his hands once again, remoulding it as it were with new clay. The gift of tongues on Pentecost day signifies the reversal of the tragedy of Babel when the tower was destroyed and human beings were scattered all over the face of the earth and communication between them became difficult. Pentecost emphasises the universality of the new Spirit-filled community inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is called the advocate, the big lawyer who advances the cause of Jesus, and who enables the disciples to witness to Christ's message of salvation before an unbelieving world. The advocate is one who would stand by his client in times of difficulty and trial, defending, guiding and instructing them. Advocates are needed only when there is trouble. The early disciples surely had some trouble, and the Holy Spirit came to the rescue. Before the event of Pentecost day, they were too hurt, too wounded, too frightened and too confused to act as witnesses of Christ. That is why they locked themselves in the upper room and would not dare come out to profess Jesus. The Pentecost event however broke through their shut doors and their sealed windows. With paschal resurgence the Spirit of God broke through their vulnerability, their suffering, their danger.
The promised Advocate came upon them powerfully and transformed their lives. They were graced with new life, granted new strength, endowed with new courage and armed with new zeal. They were equipped to confront the world of darkness, and carry on the mission of Jesus without fear. They got out of their hiding place and took on the Jews as well as the Pagans. They preached the message of the cross which is a scandal to the Jews and is foolishness to the Gentiles. They publicly proclaimed the crucified Jesus, as Lord and God. The sermons of the Apostle Peter and of Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles are sufficient testimony to the transformation brought about by the infusion of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day.
Even today the Lord needs Spirit-filled Christians to witness to his love, his truth, his forgiveness, and his message of salvation before an unbelieving world. The Christian community is the Pentecost community of today. We are the witnesses of Christ before the world of darkness. The world looks to us to make our case for Jesus by the quality of our lives, and by our courage to go against the tide of secularism, materialism, hedonism and ethnicism. The world looks to us to witness to Christ's civilisation of love, against the currents of hatred, wickedness and vengeance.
The Holy Spirit manifests itself by signs and wonders. These refer not only to the miracles of healing and speaking in tongues, but also to the grace of courageously holding on to the truth in the world of falsehood and pursuing peace in a world of widespread violence and war. The signs and wonders engendered by the Spirit of God refer not only to the power of casting out "mammy water" demons, but also to the grace of choosing chastity, purity and modesty in a world that has made sensual pleasure into an idol. True, the Holy Spirit fills the Christian not only with the power to pray for long hours and go for days without food or water, but also with the unique Christian disposition of humility, self-sacrifice and self-abnegation in a world of inordinate pride, primordial greed, and crass individualism.
Our sick and troubled world therefore needs Spirit-filled witnesses of Christ who will infuse the breath of Christ into dying persons, dying families and dying communities. Our distressed country needs Spirit-filled disciples who will witness powerfully to the holiness, the love, the forgiveness, the generosity of heart and the peace of Christ. Nigeria needs Christians who are sufficiently charged with the fire of the Holy Spirit, to champion the national crusade against social injustice in all its dimensions. We need Christians who have been sufficiently purified with the sacred waters of the Spirit to lead the campaign against corruption in all its manifestations in our land. We need Christians who have been sufficiently enlightened by the light of the Holy Spirit, to lead the battle against ethnic bigotry and religious fundamentalism and fanaticism which today are poised to tear our nation apart.
In Galatians 5:19-23, St Paul observes that all who belong to Christ have crucified the self with its self-indulgent passions and desires. The fruits of self-indulgence include: sexual vice, impurity and sensuality, the worship of false gods and sorcery; antagonisms and rivalry, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and all such things. The fruits of the Spirit on the other hand are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Human beings in their inordinate crave for autonomy often think that they can achieve happiness, peace, fulfilment and salvation by their own efforts. These efforts however often end up in futility. The event of Pentecost demonstrates that peace, fulfilment and salvation are possible only through the bestowal of the Spirit of Christ. Our own troubled land needs the Spirit of God to bestow upon us the grace of mutual forgiveness for past hurts and wounds, otherwise we shall not get out of the endless cycle of violence and destruction. Warring communities in the south, and religious groups in the north need the Spirit of God to bestow upon them the grace of love and mutual tolerance, otherwise peace shall remain for us a tall dream.
The Spirit of God is the only power that can transcend all the divisions that human history has created between peoples and nations. It is the spirit that can remove the blindness, pull down the walls, and overcome the biases and prejudices that kept people apart. It is the Spirit of God that can inspire forgiveness of past wounds and hurts, and bring people together once again to live as brothers and sisters - children of one God and father of all.