Pentecost 2020

It is a good rule that if we want to understand the Bible, we should look to understand the context- We should ask how people living at that time would understand what was happening.

To begin, it’s important for us to understand that the disciples were in Jerusalem, and that there was a festival happening. Pentecost was actually a Jewish festival. It was the second of three harvest festivals. 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 was also a time to observe 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 was a time to retell the story of the covenant, just as we tell the Christmas story or Easter story when we gather for those holidays. As they retold the story they imagined what it would have been like to be there, and as they told the story of the giving of the law they spoke about strong winds,[1] and a kind of mysterious fire, and a voice.[2]

Jesus had told his disciples 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.”

In the context of this festival it seems obvious that this experience is mirroring the giving of the covenant to Moses. In Acts we see the establishment of a New Covenant that is fulfilling prophecy, and it is being done in such a way that it is reflecting the covenant made with Moses and his people. … We see very interesting continuity with what we read in the Old Testament, as if to say this is the kind of thing God has been doing all along. We read about God sharing the Spirit that had rested on Moses, and Moses not being jealous that others were filled with God’s spirit, but instead declaring his desire that “all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29). The prophet Joel seems to be thinking about Moses’ words as he records God’s promise 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).
 … The Spirit that empowered Jesus is now filling his disciples, making them into the Body of Christ as they share his Spirit. … A new covenant was being established, which is in continuing with the Old Covenant, and the disciples were being commissioned to declare it to the people.

But the Spirit of God isn’t given to put on a show and amaze onlookers. The Spirit has a mission, and that is to draw all people into a loving relationship with God, and into a community of love. God’s Spirit is at work undoing the consequences of the Fall that have divided people from each other and from God- Like the jealousy and envy that caused Cain to kill his brother, and the pride that caused the building of the Tower of Babel that resulted in the division of languages. … The Fruit of the Spirit that Paul Describes in his letter to the Galatians seem to be about living in relationship with other people- 
“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
 These are what you need to live in a healthy community. Imagine a community where these fruit marked the character of every member. … That kind of character is required to overcome the barriers that stand between us. And I think that says something about the mission of the Spirit.

We read about the disciples speaking in a way that everyone can understand them- Language was no longer a barrier. The Tower of Babel story was overturned, where everyone was divided by not being able to understand each other. …

The Spirit speaks through ordinary people. It didn’t come through the High Priest, or the king, so the barrier between the classes was broken. … It was an experience shared by men and women. The stratification of society was overcome by the Spirit. … As Paul says, 
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
 … Peter points to Joel’s prophesy where God says, 
“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.” (Joel 2:28-32).
 The age barrier is overcome by the Spirit- Both old and young are unified in the Spirit.

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 will draw us into prayer. The spirit will remind us and nudge us to pattern our lives so that we will be drawn to God and be shaped as Disciples of Jesus. … The Spirit will work to deal with the sin in our life. It will not sit well in our hearts. The Spirit will cause us to have spiritual indigestion.

The Spirit wants to destroy the barrier that stands between you and your fellow Christian- whether that be a Christian in your church, or in other denominations. We are brothers and sisters because we share in the one Spirit. During this COVID-19 time when we can’t gather physically, I’m sure the Spirit is unifying us in ways we can’t understand. I think the Spirit also transcends death. There is a unity we have with our brothers and sister who have died that we can’t fully understand right now.

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. And the Spirit’s mission is the same- To draw people into a loving relationship with God and into the loving fellowship of God’s 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 belong to Christ. And even then, even if someone declares themselves to be an enemy of Christ, we are called to love. … 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

[1] Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 3.80
[2] Philo, on the Decalogue, 33, 46


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