It’s a God Thing
Pentecost -An Historical Perspective
It was fifty days after the Passover –in the Jewish faith this day is called Shavu’ot or the Festival of Weeks. Sometimes it is called Pentecost which comes from the Greek word that means “Fiftieth.” Pentecost was the second of three major yearly celebrations during which the Jewish people might make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or especially gather together.
In Leviticus 23: (15-16, 21) we can read about the beginning of this festival:
15 “From the day after the Sabbath—the day you bring the bundle of grain to be lifted up as a special offering—count off seven full weeks.
16 Keep counting until the day after the seventh Sabbath, fifty days later. Then present an offering of new grain to the LORD.
21 That same day will be proclaimed an official day for holy assembly, a day on which you do no ordinary work. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation wherever you live.
Shavu’ot, or the Festival of Weeks or Pentecost was a holiday. “Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple. Thanks was given for the grain and bread that was set before God and used in sacrifices and shared during the Passover. Also, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai came to be associated and celebrated on this day as well. According to one website, “The period from Passover to Shavu’ot is a time of great anticipation. Each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot are counted, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. The counting is to remind one of the important connection between Passover and Shavu’ot: Passover freed the Jewish people physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeemed them spiritually from a bondage to idolatry and immorality.”
The Disciples Journey to Pentecost
This was the season the disciples were again walking through. Thanking God for the first fruits of the field that were so much a part of their life and worship, and anticipating and celebrating God’s gift of the law. The disciples were together in one place on the day of Pentecost, but that year the preceding weeks had been most extraordinary for them.
Jesus had been crucified but then on that first Sunday after Passover, as the count of weeks began, the disciples discovered that Jesus tomb was empty.
The women who went to the tomb returned with an unbelievable story of being met by an angel who asked them why they were seeking the living among the dead. Peter and John ran to the tomb and saw that it was as they had been told.
As the weeks progressed the scriptures report that Jesus appeared to the disciples multiple times. He appeared to the two on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus appeared to Peter and John by the Sea of Galilee.
Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15:
6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
In the days between the Passover and Pentecost the resurrection was being made evermore real day by day. The anticipation of what God was doing continued to increase. Finally, after forty days we are told that Jesus appeared again to the disciples and ascended into heaven within the sight of those who had come to believe in him. Jesus commanded them to wait in Jerusalem so that they may be clothed with power from on high. Rather than Jesus ascension being the end of the story we find ourselves at the beginning of a new story.
The Pentecost Celebration and Fulfillment
The Bible tells us finally “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” It was during this time of celebrating God’s gift of grain and remembering the blessings of God’s law that:
2…suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
The Holy Spirit came to rest upon them visually, and within them spiritually. The word that was once given externally now came to dwell within them permanently. Peter defined the moment by recounting the words of the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,…”
Pentecost became the fulfillment of God’s great intentions to give life and a relationship with him to all people. Pentecost was always about this. The disciples came together to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest and they became the first fruits of God’s kingdom as the Spirit entered their lives. The disciples came to anticipate and celebrate a relationship with God through the receiving of the law, and they received the very Spirit of God into their lives so that the word of God might be written within their hearts and known within their lives. At one time God gave us his law with wind and fire and smoke upon Mount Sinai, but now that same experience came to reside upon God’s people. Pentecost is the fulfillment of these images and expectations that began in the past.
The Meaning of Pentecost for Us
When we come to Pentecost, what we need to remember is how deeply seated this moment is within the work of God that is meant to bring salvation for all. It is a moment that God has had in the works from the beginning. Pentecost is not a story in and of itself, but Pentecost is a story that is part of the whole story of God’s deliverance and salvation made known first to the Jews and then to all people. It is part of the Passover story as God brought redemption and deliverance to the people through the lamb that was sacrificed and through the parting of the Red Sea. It is part of the Exodus story as God created a scattered people into a holy nation. It is part of the Sinai story and the giving of the law, as Moses went up on the mountain amidst fire and smoke to claim God’s law for the people and bring them together.
An historic understanding of the day reveals a greater depth to the moment and reminds us of how what happened with the disciples is but the ongoing continuation of God’s work. Pentecost is also a story that is telling us to go and share this message of salvation, life, and relationship with God with everyone. We have been caught up in what God is doing as well.
I read that those of the Jewish faith like to remind themselves that the Torah is not so much given, as always in the process of being received. This is to say that we are always in the process of understanding and living out God’s law. It is an ongoing effort. Likewise, for us the Spirit is given, and we are always in the process of continuing the journey and the work that God began. It is a God thing.
In Acts there is this long list of places that people are reported to be from. If you map out these nationalities what you find is that they encompass what was pretty much the known world at that time. These nations lie in every direction that the Roman Empire claimed and that the early church would soon be expanding to include. From the East to the West and from the North to the South –Everyone began to hear in their own language the truth of Christ for themselves. All of this shows us how the message and the power of God are meant for everyone in our world today, and to bring a scattered people together. You too are part of God’s plan.
Someone has imagined a story of the angel Gabriel meeting Jesus on the day of His ascension into heaven and asking: How did it go Master, how did it go? It went poorly he said, they nailed me to a cross. But I preached the love of God as long as I could. Then said Gabriel, what did you do to see that it would be carried out. I chose twelve said Jesus and I gave them the gospel of God’s love for all mankind. I told them to go and tell others. But what if they don’t do I, he asked. And the story has it that the master said: then there is no other way.
The poet William Blake wrote a poem about Pentecost. Part of the poem says:
Unless the eye catch fire, God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire, God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire, God will not be named.
Unless the Heart catch fire, God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire, God will not be known.
Now I believe that God’s work and purposes will not be denied, but it is our privilege to become part of the story of the life, breath, and mission that God has poured out upon the world. We are on a great journey. We are part of a spiritual outpouring upon the world. We are in a relationship that will both save us and change us. This is not merely our thing, but it is a God thing, and that is why it can make a difference in your life and within our world today. Amen.