Monday, 5 June 2017

Pentecost






Pentecost was a Jewish festival that had two facets to it. First, it was the second of three harvest festivals. It was the completion of the grain harvest. It is also sometimes called the Feast of Weeks because it took place seven weeks or 50 days after the Passover (Pentekostos means ‘fiftieth’). It eventual began to have a second facet and was observed as the anniversary of the giving of the Law and the establishment of the covenant at Mount Sinai, which was believed to have happened 50 days after the Exodus from Egypt.

People would gather at the temple to celebrate and make offerings. Jerusalem would have been filled with people from all over since the temple was the only place you were allowed to make sacrifices. It would have also been a time to renew the covenant (maybe in a similar way to how we renew our baptismal vows). So no doubt the story was told about how the first covenant was made between God and the Hebrew people on Mt Sinai. No doubt they read the stories from the Bible, but stories also arose as people attempted to visualize and explain what exactly happened at Mt. Sinai. An ancient Jewish historian to the Romans retold the story saying, “and while all the rest of the air was clear, there came strong winds, that raised up large showers of rain, which became a mighty tempest. There was also such lightning, as was terrible to those that saw it; and thunder, with its thunderbolts, were sent down, and declared God to be there present…” (Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 3.80).

The Jewish philosopher Philo described the word of God coming forth, [God] “at that time wrought a most conspicuous and evidently holy miracle, commanding an invisible sound to be created in the air, more marvelous than all the instruments that ever existed, attuned to perfect harmonies; … it was a rational soul filled with clearness and distinctness, which fashioned the air and stretched it out and changed it into a kind of flaming fire, and so sounded forth so loud and articulate a voice like a breath passing through a trumpet, so that those who were at a great distance appeared to hear equally with those who were nearest to it.”… “And a voice sounded forth from out of the midst of the fire which had flowed from heaven, a most marvelous and awful voice, the flame being endowed with articulate speech” (Philo, on the Decalogue, 33, 46).

An ancient Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Weissman described the event. He says the people not only heard the Lord’s voice but saw the sound waves that came from God’s mouth. He said they visualized the word of God as a fiery substance. Each commandment left the Lord’s mouth and travelled around the entire camp and asked each individual, “Do you accept upon yourself this commandment and all pertaining to it?” And each answered “yes”. Finally the fiery substance engraved itself on the tablets of the law.

These are the stories that are being told at this time. Many stories from the Bible are being read and many are telling stories from tradition and sometimes trying to visualize what it would have been like to be there at the giving of the commandments. These are the stories rolling around the minds and hearts of the disciples and the people of Jerusalem.

Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem after he ascended into heaven because they would be clothed with power. We read in Acts that, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” This is as dramatic an event as that first giving of the covenant. The visible words of God spoken from heaven- wind and fire- and something like a flame rested on each person. And Moses’ desire comes closer to being fulfilled that “all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29). The prophet Joel records God’s promise that that day would come saying, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28).

A new covenant was being made, and the disciples were being commissioned to declare it to the people. People had gathered from all over the known world and so, in a kind of reversal of the Tower of Babel event we read, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” Language was not a barrier to declaring what God was doing- he had created a new covenant. Jesus Christ had been crucified and has been raised again from the dead. He was now the means by which the people could obtain forgiveness of sin and the new life promised by God.

In the Old Covenant, the word came written in stone telling the people to not worship an idol. Moses came down the mountain with the stone tablets and found the people worshipping a golden calf. As a consequence of that sin about 3000 people died. The prophet Jeremiah said, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). In the New Covenant, God writes this law of the Spirit on the hearts of the people. About 3000 people were baptized and added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41). In the Old Covenant, they were made aware or the law, but weren’t given the power to follow it. With the gift of the Holy Spirit they are now able to follow the heart of the law.

The experience of the disciples on Pentecost is in line with what God has been doing through the ages. While it is new- It is a New Covenant- It is a new era for God’s people. It is not completely alien to God and God’s people. The Gospel of Luke is geographically focused on movement towards Jerusalem. The work of Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection was to save people from the power of Sin. After the resurrection Jesus taught the disciples and then Ascended into heaven to be our High Priest there, continuing to work and intercede for us. The Holy Spirit was sent to grant us a unity with God and the power to live out the way of God in the world.

The preacher John Stott said, “As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead”. We can go through all the right actions, we can say all the right words, but without the Spirit we have missed it. The Spirit was sent to help us grow into Christ-likeness. The Spirit helps us grow as we love and serve God and in that we find our ultimate freedom and joy.

The Holy Spirit draws you to God. He deals with any barriers that stand between you and God. If the Holy Spirit has filled you you will at times be deeply moved by the presence of God. You will be able to read God’s word more clearly and with deep understanding- the words will impress themselves on your heart deeply.

The presence of the Holy Spirit will also break down barriers between people. You might feel a pressure inside yourself to forgive someone who has wronged you, or to say “sorry” when you have wronged someone else. The Holy Spirit wants to destroy divisions and draw us into unity. When we look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 we see that most of them are about our relationship with another person- “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.

We often think of the Holy Spirit in terms of miraculous powers. We might think of healing miracles, or we might think of some of the other amazing stories our Charismatic friends tell us. The Holy Spirit will use these miraculous means if it means drawing people closer to God and closer to each other. Usually what is needed is not a miracle. Rather, what is often needed is the grace to be patient, and kind, when we would really rather not be. If that is what will help us grow in love then that is what the Holy Spirit will empower us to do.

This also means the Holy Spirit is active outside these church walls. The Holy Spirit is active in our neighborhoods and where we work. The Holy Spirit wants to draw everyone into deeper relationship with God and with other people. So wherever barriers are being broken between people, and people are being brought closer together in love, you will find the Holy Spirit there. When you find division and bitterness you will likely see the absence of the Holy Spirit, or a resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit.

And just as the Spirit was not given to the disciples merely for their own personal sense of satisfaction. So the Spirit’s presence with us is not just for our own comfort, thought that is a part of it. The Spirit is with us to make us into the Body of Christ- active in the world. The Spirit loves to bring people together. You can fight it. The Spirit won't override your free will, but the Spirit's desire is to create a community full of peace, love, healing, and understanding. The Spirit wants to create a community where people learn to be like Jesus.

And so the disciples are brought into greater unity by sharing this one Spirit. Those who are listening to them miraculously speaking different languages are unified in understanding what is being said. The act of the Spirit working through the disciples transcends nationalities and languages. It didn't matter what people they belonged to, or what language they spoke. .... They heard and were drawn into the community.

This is work the Spirit is still interested in. In your life the Spirit wants to destroy any barrier that stands between you and God. The Spirit wants to destroy the barrier that stands between you and your fellow Christian- whether that be a Christian in your church, or other denominations. We are brothers and sisters because we share in the one Spirit. The Spirit also wants to remove the barrier that stands between us and those who do not know Christ. The Spirit wants to draw them and make them fellow brothers and sisters to us, and the Spirit wants to use us to do that. The Spirit wants to use us to help remove the barrier that stands between people and God. That same Spirit that was in Peter and the disciples on Pentecost is in you. We are called to be a community that tears down barriers that divide people.

At Pentecost the world became less divided, it went from being a world divided by nationalities, languages, wealth, age, and gender, to a world divided only by a person's will to be included or excluded in the family of God. And God’s will is for us to be one, healed, and at peace. That is the desire and work of the Spirit- To work in the world, even through us, to bring wholeness where there is division. AMEN




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