October 23, 2017

iMonk Classic: Pentecost — The Third Great Day

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer

Originally posted May 26, 2007

Act 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. Jeff Lee says:

    Mike, you may be interested in the Orthodox take on Pentecost:

    http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/babylon-and-the-trees-of-pentecost-2/

  2. I have no problem with celebrating the “day of pentecost” – just as long as there is no ‘rushing mighty wind’ but only a sound 😉

  3. I feel kind of bad that I haven’t looked at Pentecost in so long.

    I often bemoan the fact that Easter is reduced to an excuse to evangelize. Perhaps pentecost is the better day.

  4. Mike,
    I agree with you that the church has very little understanding of what Pentecost is all about. A great deal of it stems from a long held disdain for all things Jewish beginning with many of the early church fathers and continuing with some more modern theologians.
    I was amused by the comment you mentioned from the pastor that talked about God wanting to draw a crowd. In fact, God commanded there to be a crowd for Pentecost every year (not just that one).
    Deuteronomy 16:16 – Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.

    Pentecost isn’t just a church feast or just a Jewish feast. It is a feast belonging to the Lord (Leviticus 23:2). I think that we can learn quite a bit from those who have celebrated it for a lot longer than we have. After all, Paul tells us that the Jews have only been blinded “in part” (Romans 11:25), and also that our vision isn’t crystal clear on this side of eternity either.

    I have found value is studying beyond just the customs that the church has developed in the observance of Pentecost. After studying some of the customs of the Jews that surround the feast of Pentecost, I have been intrigued to say the least. One of the things that the disciples were undoubtedly doing the night before the miracle in the Temple was reading the book of Ruth (which is still a common practice today) that speaks of the inclusion of a Gentile into the line of the Messiah and King David, and is a portend of the inclusion of many more Gentiles into the people of God. Maybe we could make our celebration of Pentecost so much richer by tapping into the roots of the feast itself.