Category Archives: Pentecost

Day of Pentecost, Year A

Empowered by the Spirit

The Mosaic Temple and the Church share much in common. Both were established and empowered by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. In Moses’s day the temple was a tent in the wilderness, yet God was strongly present. We read in Numbers:

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.   (Numbers 11:24-25)

The Temple began with the anointing of the Holy Spirit from the Father. Notice that the elders received the Holy Spirit and they prophesied, but it was a one time occurrence. There was no continual outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The blood sacrifices of the Mosaic Temple were required to be repeated because they did not fully eradicate the sins of the people. The Holy Spirit of God cannot reside in sinful hearts.

A perfect sacrifice was required for the sins of the whole world once and for all. That sacrifice was offered up by our high priest Jesus when he offered up himself to a cruel cross.

Jesus promise to us was that we would have the Holy Spirit continually poured into us and out of us, but first he had to sacrifice himself. In John we read:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

When Jesus was glorified on the cross, he purchased for us the right to receive the Holy Spirt with measure or limit. Today we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the people of God. On the Day of Pentecost the disciples of Jesus received the Holy Spirit, but in this case they continually prophesied, unlike the Mosaic Temple.

Peter stood up on the Day of Pentecost and preached, quoting the Prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.   (Acts 2:17-18)

Peter’s sermon greatly moved his listeners. The Spirit of God moves but we need to respond in faith. Such was the case at Pentecost:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”   (Acts 2:37-39)

Notice that Peter makes it clear that everyone may received the Holy Spirit who repents. Even their children who follow them would also receive the Holy Spirit. And all who are far off, which includes us, will receive the Holy Spirit when we call upon the Lord.

The Apostolic Age is not over. Scripture trumps any church doctrine. The message of Pentecost is that we may receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will fill us and remain in us. The Spirit will also flow out from us into ministry to those around us. That is the great message and promise of Pentecost. Are we to ignore or neglect such a great sacrifice which Jesus made on our behalf so that we might all be elders in the Body of Christ today?

The difficulty today is that many churches do not preach the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul said that the Kingdom of God is not just in a word, but also by power. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to kindle in us a great end-times revival. As we celebrate the birthday of the Church our worship must flow into a rebirth of the Church. It is time for all of us to call upon the Lord.

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Filed under Pentecost, Revised Common Lectionary

The Season of Pentecost

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (Hebrew: שבועות‎, lit. “Weeks”) is one of three main annual pilgrimage festivals in the Judaism. It commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai and it also celebrates the conclusion of the grain harvest in Israel. The date of Shavuot is directly linked to the celebration of the Jewish Passover. The grain harvest began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. The time in between was seven weeks or fifty days. This time frame also represents the time between Israel’s Exodus from Egypt until the giving of the Law at Sinai.

Pentecost is a major feast day of the Christian liturgical year. It is the Christian counterpart of Shavuot. The word Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή) means “the Fiftieth [day].” It occurs fifty days after Easter or Resurrection Sunday which roughly coincides with the Jewish festival of Shavuot. This is not coincidental. Just as Easter is the prophetic fulfillment of Passover, Pentecost is the prophetic fulfillment of Shavuot. The two feasts, Shavuot and Pentecost, have much in common, both historically and spiritually.

During the celebration of Shavuot the Jewish people were reminded of God’s Law:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.  (Deut. 8:3-4)

Often Jewish participants would spend all night during Shavuot studying the Torah. They would read significant portions of the Torah aloud.

Pentecost has to do with God’s Law as well. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote of a time that the Law would come in a new way:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Jeremiah 31:33)

This is what happens to us when the Holy Spirit comes upon us as it did on the Day of Pentecost for the early disciples. Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). It is the action of the Holy Spirit to bring us more into alignment with God’s Law. We cannot keep the Law by our own efforts, but we can yield to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus said would lead us into all truth and make alive His teachings.

Pentecost is not simply a static day of celebration of the historical birth of the Christian Church. Surely it marked the beginning of the Church. As with Shavuot for the Jewish people, Pentecost is a time for us to reflect upon God’s Word, allowing the Spirit to renew our zeal for both the Law and the Gospel.

The Season of Pentecost is the longest season of the liturgical year. The Sundays following Pentecost and extending up to the beginning of the new liturgical year in Advent are filled with readings concerning Christian growth. To live in Christ one must grow in the Faith. Spiritual stagnation could ultimately lead to spiritual death and a forsaking of God’s Holy Law.

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Filed under lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost