This weekend we explored the importance of the historic church calendar in our lives as Christians. But what does that have to do with being Pentecostal? Spirit-filled? Charismatic? Aren't things like Lent and liturgy just dead religion? Not exactly...
What is Pentecost?
You have to begin by asking what was Pentecost already on the day that God sent his Spirit down in Acts 2?
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. - Acts 2v1
The day that the Spirit of GOD descended was already a special day. Why? Why did God choose to send the Spirit down on this day?
There were two ways the Jews celebrated Pentecost - The Feast of Firstfruits and Shavuot.
Feast of Firstfruits (Feast of Weeks)
The original meaning was that it was the “Feast of the Firstfruits” or "Feast of Weeks". This was one of the three pilgrimage feasts where the entire nation of Israel gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the goodness of God.
Israel was an agrarian society, so when the harvest would first begin to come in, the firstfruits were brought and eaten together as thanksgiving to the God of the harvest. Somewhat similar to Thanksgiving in our culture today. In fact, in almost all cultures there is some festival or holiday like this. A way of thanking God for the harvest that is coming in.
Interestingly the harvest would typically occur about 50 days after Passover (that is where you get the word Pentecost, Greek/Latin for 50)
Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Exodus tells that God helped the children of Israel escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the Egyptians before the Pharoah would release his Israelite slaves; the tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian first-born. The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the first-borns in these homes, hence the name of the holiday.
So 50 days after Passover is when they are all celebrating the harvest and they began to realize that it was about that period of time (50 days after Passover) that God came down on Mount Sinai and met with Moses face-to-face. God gave the law and created the people of God. Shavuot.
On the first Passover, the nation of Israel were freed from their enslavement to Pharoah; and on the first Pentecost they were given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God.
Fast Forward to Jesus Christ
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. - John 13v1
Notice the similarities! On this Passover, John tells us that Jesus Christ is crucified on the very day of the festival when the Passover lambs (lambs without blemish) were slaughtered. Jesus Christ is crucified for our sins to free us from our enslavement and liberate us from bondage.
And on the second Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes down and fills His people. Just like Moses on the first Pentecost, they encounter, once again, the manifest presence of God. This time He doesn’t just give them the written law.
I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. - Jeremiah 31v33
God doesn’t just give them the written law, He forms the Church. The New Humanity. God’s Kingdom People.
What are the implications of this?
What was God saying by sending His Spirit during the Feast of Firstfruits? What are firstfruits? It is the first taste or the foretaste of things to come. You get a small experience of what is going to happen later.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. - Romans 8v23
Everything is subject to death, disease and decay. Everything is falling apart. Advanced physics teaches us that the universe itself is running down. But someday there will be a glory that comes down from the throne of God. It will fall into us who believe and explode from there and the entire cosmos will be liberated from decomposition and decay!
How do we know this?
We have the Firstfruits of the Spirit! The Spirit of God fills us with the presence of the future. It is the first installment of the glory of heaven. It is a slice of ultimate reality. It is a taste of the life and the power and the joy of the New Heavens and New Earth.
Wind & Fire
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. - Acts 2v2-3
What was God saying by sending His Spirit at Shavuot? At the first Pentecost when God comes down to Moses at Mount Sinai he comes down in a windstorm and in fire, gives the law and constitutes the people of God. In Acts 2 God comes again in wind & fire. But this time in a much more profound way.
“We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" - Acts 2v11
Being filled with the Spirit is not just about getting goosebumps. Being filled with the Spirit is having God give you Truth about himself. It’s having an experience with Truth.
Being filled with the Spirit is that moment when all that you say you believe about God and His love for you (even the most dark and broken parts of you) and His love for humanity (even those who appear to be furthest away from His love) and suddenly the Truth of His glory and power and love and mercy comes flooding into your heart, into your soul, into your mind that it completely renovates you.
In those moments you are seeing the face of God! You are experiencing what it is to be in his presence and all of your fears and failures, all of your insecurities and your personality flaws, all of your selfish pride and ambition, and all of the sinful things that occupy your mind drift away and you are flooded with His love.
When you are filled with the Spirit you are overcome with the Truth of the universe.
Reversing the Curse of Babel
Finally, being filled with the Spirit does not only give you an experience of the presence of the future or the presence of God, being filled with the Spirit brings us together.
The Spirit of God heals the broken human community.
Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs. - Acts 2v9-11
Why would Luke make such a long list in the middle of such an incredible narrative?
The answer is he is listing the table of the nations. The last time you see a list like this is in Genesis 10. We’re told about the origins of all the nations of the earth. And then in Genesis 11 we’re told about the Tower of Babel.
In that story the people of the earth decide to be their own masters and to make a name for themselves in the universe and as a result God came down to confuse their tongues and chaos ensues. Which was a way of showing us that when you decide to justify yourself, to be your own master, your own lord and savior the result is always racial and cultural superiority, imperialism, and the destruction of human community. Because when you believe you are saved by your own goodness you can’t help but begin to tear others down. And you begin with people who look or act different than you.
But when you realize that you are saved by sheer grace and God’s goodness it demotes your national and racial identity. It doesn't remove it, but it demotes it and now the most important thing about you is the cross.
Here in Acts 2 God’s Spirit comes down and we see the very first worship service of the Church. The first worship service of the church was held in which language? All of them!
God’s Spirit comes down and reverses the curse of Babel.
The way you know that the Spirit of God has come down upon you is not that you just have a lot of wonderful feelings but that you change your whole attitude about your future, your identity, and towards your culture and you are propelled out into the world to proclaim the wonders of God!
We celebrate Pentecost and other past events of salvation history not merely to remember them, but to note how they infuse the present with meaning and power, and point us to our future hope.