December 14, 2017

iMonk 101: Pentecost- The Third Great Day.

This is a reprint of an essay I did last year on Pentecost. Since I’ll be hearing nothing about Pentecost in church tomorrow, but about Memorial Day instead, I want to be sure and mark it at home and here on the blog. For a great essay on Pentecost full of material for preaching, visit Journey With Jesus.

pentecost10.jpgAct 2:1-8 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. (2) And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (3) And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (5) Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. (6) And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (7) And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? (8) And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

We had our Pentecost worship gathering at soli deo this week, and I once again was amazed at what bad press the Feast of Pentecost usually gets among most evangelical Christians. How did such an important part of the Christian story become so lost and muddled?

For example, if you read the Gospels, you are bound to notice that no matter what happens, Jesus never tells his disciples, “OK…that’s all there is. Time to get to work.” There is always something more to come.

The disciples not only saw some incredible demonstrations of power, they experienced some of that power working through themselves on the two occasions when Jesus sent them out on missions “two by two.” I’m sure that after seeing the miracles of Jesus, the disciples would have said, “the Spirit of God is here. What are we waiting for?” Jesus said things about the presence of the Holy Spirit in his ministry that sounded like the age of the Spirit had arrived. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” What more could anyone ask for?

Of course, that was exactly the point. There WAS more to come. The Spirit that the disciples experienced in Jesus was coming to everyone in the people of God in fullness. In John 14 and 16, Jesus said that it would actually be better for him to go away so that the Spirit could come to all of his disciples in an intimate, advocating, comforting and consoling way. The Holy Spirit was coming upon the church in a way that had been predicted in the prophetic scriptures and previewed in the ministry of Jesus.

Even after the resurrection, the disciples are being prepared for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection does not do for the church what the coming of the Holy Spirit does for the church. Imagine setting around with Jesus for those 40 days after Easter, being told, “Wait. Not yet. The Spirit hasn’t yet come.” If we put the overlap of the book of Acts onto the end of the Gospels, then the disciples believe the Kingdom simply needs to be announced by Jesus, but he is saying, “Wait until the Holy Spirit comes. Then you will be my witnesses everywhere.”

In other words, the entire Bible is waiting for the day of Pentecost to arrive, for all the work of Jesus to be completed and the church to be born. What an incredible event! It is the church’s “Third Great Day.”

It seems odd that non-liturgical churches marking the birth of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus often lose Pentecost completely. The coming of the Spirit is a major event in the New Testament; a defining event in the history and identity of God’s people. For Christians, the first great act of the ascended, reigning Christ was to pour out the Holy Spirit on the church. The gathered disciples are really not the ekklesia of Jesus Christ- the New Covenant people of God- until the Holy Spirit comes. It is the birth of the church.

How unfortunate then that evangelicals either lost Pentecost or put the focus entirely on the wrong aspects. For example, I recall being in a large church where the pastor- with a seminary doctorate- was preaching that the point of Pentecost was….to draw a crowd. Yes, Pentecost was a way for God to create some fireworks and get a crowd together for the first big church event. It’s almost comedic to think of Pentecost being an attendance stunt. While Acts tells us that the crowd in the temple that heard the first Christian sermon was amazed at what they heard, how did the emphasis ever fall on Acts 2 as a lesson on justifying whatever we need to do to get a lot of people in the building?

Of course, the recent Azusa Street Revival Anniversary celebrations remind me that there are millions of Christians who see Pentecost primarily in terms of the arrival of power for the operation of the Gifts of the Spirit. The increasing influence of “Pentecostal” evangelicalism brings with it many positive contributions in worship, body life and evangelism, but the over-emphasis on spiritual gifts makes the letters to the Corinthians more pertinent than ever.

While the Holy Spirit is the author and giver of gifts, the place of spiritual gifts in the church seems to be one of the most distracting, misunderstood issues among Christians. I believe the New Testament compels us to be open to all the giftings and operations of the Spirit that God may send to his people as they witness, minister and serve. At the same time, the Holy Spirit does not give gifts as a way to divide the church into the “spiritual” and the “unspiritual.” Incredibly, some of those evangelicals who most loudly proclaim the heritage of Azusa Street seem determined to view the Holy Spirit in terms remarkably similar to the divisiveness and immaturity of the Corinthians.

The Holy Spirit did not come to divide the church, but to birth it, equip it and unite it. In I Corinthians 12, Paul says that the one thing all members of the body have in common is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is a clear reference to Pentecost, and the promise that the same “Pentecostal blessing” that came on the Apostles will come on all who believe. (Acts 2:38-39) Pentecost itself is repeated in Samaria, in the home of Cornelius and in the case of disciples of John the Baptist, not to teach a universal experience of tongues, but to show the apostles that the same Holy Spirit that came from Jesus to them was given to all peoples, just as the old covenant had promised.

The clear purpose of Pentecost was to bring into birth a new people of God, the beneficiaries of the ministry of the one mediator between God and man and all that he accomplishes in his life, death, resurrection, ascension and session. Pentecost is not a show or the dividing of the church into a spiritual competition between those with spiritual gifts and those not yet blessed. Pentecost is the creation of the people of God that scripture has always looked toward, from the covenant with Abraham until the consummation in the Kingdom.

The celebration of Pentecost should be among the church’s most important days because everything that it means to be the church- election, inheritance, salvation, empowering, community, mission, hope- all comes in the Holy Spirit that is poured out on Pentecost. Let’s reclaim the meaning and significance of this day, and make it a day that belongs to all Christians as our joyful, common birthday.

Comments

  1. RahabToo says:

    …joyful, common birthday.
    Happy Birthday to you, too.

  2. Thanks so much! The believers I meet with on Sundays have been grounded in Acts 2 and 4 for the last few months and have been looking at the effects of Pentecost in the creation and early life of the church. Wonderful article. Happy Birthday indeed!

  3. Yeah, and Memorial Day isn’t even a church holiday. We have another day for that, one even less recognized in so-called evangelical churches: All Saints Day. I’m all for Memorial Day celebrations–tomorrow. I participated in one last year and found it moving and meaningful. Today, I will preach about Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, but not with a title that a friend passed on to me several years ago: “Pentecost At Any Cost.”

  4. My pentecostal church actually made more to-do over Palm Sunday than Pentecost Sunday; but to be fair we have a lot of ex-Catholics among us who like waving palm branches and don’t know quite what to do for Pentecost. Speak in tongues? We do that every Sunday.

    I will agree though: We pentecostals do over-emphasize the supernatural gifts of the Spirit more so than the gift of the Spirit Himself. There are still far too many of us who seek speaking in tongues over the closer relationship with God, the empowerment for the sake of Kingdom ministry, and the other benefits that the gifts are supposed to support. We don’t want more of God so much as we want more warm fuzzy feelings — or to compare levels of fuzzy feelings.

    I often wonder why the Spirit even bothers giving His gifts to those people who abuse them so easily; I have to believe it’s for the sake of those few people who will actually receive some ministry through them, ’cause they’re not doing the abusers much good. Judas Iscariot, as you recall, was also sent out among the two by two.

  5. I have been a fan for several years of this web site. You see I am a cradle Southern Baptist on a journey as well. For the past 3 years I have been visiting all the main line church’s and learning and appreciating such things as the church calendar, liturgy,creeds, the lectionary, written prayers, as well as studying lots of doctrine and theology. I now realize that the reason for attending church is not to be entertained, but to worship.After over 50 years as a SB, I now feel cheated about the knowledge that has been withheld. Advent, Lent, Pentecost Sunday-all were foreign words to me and I can not go back. “The Third Great Day” post was a wonderful reminder of how far I have come. National holidays should never take up a whole service of worship anywhere!

  6. Michael,

    Where did you get the artwork you thumbnailed in this post? Is that from no1underground?

  7. I have no idea. I just google search images.

  8. How did the disciples feel when they saw the touges of fire ..?