Reflections on Pentecost

BeFunky_Pentecost.jpg

“Pentecost” is more than just “speaking in tongues,” although you would think that’s all it’s about these days. “Pentecost” is actually a Jewish feast observed exactly 50 days after Passover, marking the anniversary of God’s giving the Law to Moses. Devout Jews will stay up all night to review the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) in commemoration of this great Feast.

It’s not surprising, then, given the fact that the early Church was made up almost exclusively of Jews, that the new Church appropriated this Jewish Feast and “Christianized” it. To them, it became associated with that great day when the promised Holy Spirit was poured out upon that infant church as they gathered in the now-famous Upper Room during the Jewish Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem.

But is this “Spirit-filled” life a New Testament thing? Did the Holy Spirit have anything to do with people in the Old Testament? One thing is certain, the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit is not just a historical fact. His work in believers transcends history. Let’s take a look.

Filled with the Spirit, Numbers 11:24-29; Acts 2:1-4, 16-17

The Elders, Numbers 11:24-29

Moses had just lead his people out of Egypt; he was their deliverer, and had now become their leader. The burden of this kind of leadership must have been overwhelming and Moses needed all the help he could get. The people faced the grim prospect of having to walk across the desert to reach their destination; they had few provisions and they did what hungry people do: they complained. A lot.

Moses vented to God out of frustration.

Moses said to the Lord, “Why pick on me, to give me the burden of a people like this? Are they my children? Am I their father? Is that why you have given me the job of nursing them along like babies until we get to the land you promised their ancestors?” (Numbers 11:11, 12 TLB)

God always has a plan even though we rarely see it. He shared His plan with Moses:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Summon before me seventy of the leaders of Israel; bring them to the Tabernacle, to stand there with you. I will come down and talk with you there, and I will take of the Spirit which is on you and will put it upon them also; they shall bear the burden of the people along with you, so that you will not have the task alone. (Numbers 11:16, 17 TLB)

When Moses obeyed God’s instructions, an amazing thing happened:

And the Lord came down in the Cloud and talked with Moses, and the Lord took of the Spirit that was upon Moses and put it upon the seventy elders; and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied for some time. (Numbers 11:25 TLB)

God gave the 70 elders His Holy Spirit, as He had with Moses before, and they began to “sound forth the praises of God and declaring His will,” according to the Amplified Old Testament. What the elders did was not unlike the witnessing done by a similar group on the Day of Pentecost. The elders probably went throughout the Hebrew encampment proclaiming the faithfulness of God so far in their journey out of bondage. Essentially these men built up the morale of the people.

Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad by name, for some reason never showed up at the meeting of the elders. In spite of that, we read this:

But two of the seventy—Eldad and Medad—were still in the camp, and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied there. (Numbers 11:6 TLB)

Not everybody was excited about these two elders prophesying. They hadn’t bothered showing up at the Tent of Meeting, so what gave them the right to run around prophesying like the others? Joshua was positively exorcised about it and insisted to Moses that they be stopped. Moses’ answer is epic:

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I only wish that all of the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!” (Exodus 11:29 TLB)

What a great lesson for Christians of every age: Not all who are serving God effectively are called in the same way nor do we all exercise our gifts the same way. A similar thing happened to Jesus:

His disciple John came to him and said, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons. And we told him not to. After all, he isn’t in our group.” But Jesus said, “You shouldn’t have done that! For anyone who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49, 50 TLB)

“He isn’t in our group.” Yes, the dying words of any church. It’s a mature believer who understands the wisdom of Warren Wiersbe’s words:

We do not use the Holy Spirit, He uses us.

Moses’ answer to Joshua isn’t really a prophecy, but in it he sort of foreshadows what the prophet Joel would utter centuries later:

After I have poured out my rains again, I will pour out my Spirit upon all of you! Your sons and daughters will prophesy; your old men will dream dreams, and your young men see visions. (Joel 2:28 TLB)

The Obedient, Acts 2:1-4

Flash forward to the Day of Pentecost, when The Lord poured out His Spirit on the believers gathered in that small, crowded Upper Room. This time, the miracle happened on a Jewish festival which was celebrated on the “day after the seventh Sabbath,” or 50 days after Passover. Originally it was the festival of the firstfruits of the grain harvest, and it was called the Feast of Weeks because it came after a duration of seven weeks of harvesting that began with the offering of the first sheaf of barley and ended with the wheat harvest. It wasn’t until much later in Judaism that it was considered the anniversary of the the giving of the Law at Sinai.

Just before His ascension, Jesus gave His followers some specific instructions:

And now I will send the Holy Spirit upon you, just as my Father promised. Don’t begin telling others yet—stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. (Luke 24:49 TLB)

In all, 120 of Christ’s followers obeyed this instruction to the letter, and like Moses’ 70 elders, each one was individually filled with the Holy Spirit accompanied by both audible and visual signs. The Spirit enabled them to speak in all kinds of languages they had never learned so that their listeners could understand their words.

And we all hear these men telling in our own languages about the mighty miracles of God! (Acts 2:11 TLB)

What an amazing day of miracles this was!

Fulfillment of Prophecy, Acts 2:16, 17

The great crowd gathered in Jerusalem for Passover had come from all over the known world and they were witnessing something truly extraordinary. They needed answers, and it was up to Peter to explain it to everybody.

No! What you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel—‘In the last days,’ God said, ‘I will pour out my Holy Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men dream dreams.’

It wasn’t a “new thing” at all. Joel had prophesied it. Moses had experienced it. God calls people to do His work and in His providence, He empowers them to get the job done.

Spirit-filled living, unity, and service

Fellowship, Acts 2:41-47

The early church was born, and in very short order it numbered into the thousands. Yet for their size, they had no building or buildings and no formal leadership structure. They did, however, have each other – the bond of community.

They worshiped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for Communion, and shared their meals with great joy and thankfulness… (Acts 2:46 TLB)

The fellowship of the early church revolved around worshiping God at the Jewish temple. It’s true that they met in “small groups,” probably in each other’s homes and they shared meals together, but notice neither their worship nor their fellowship was done “in private,” out of public view. While they didn’t have their own church building (yet), they did make use of the temple grounds for their times together.

All this fellowship led to some astounding spiritual results. The church grew at a phenomenal rate; more and more people were accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior and were becoming part of this new church. These new members were not shunned or turned away, but embraced and made part of this new community of faith. The upbeat, positive attitude and behavior of the church, combined with the excitement and joy of the Lord, impacted the community at large.

Worship, Ephesians 5:18-21

Don’t drink too much wine, for many evils lie along that path; be filled instead with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him. Talk with each other much about the Lord, quoting psalms and hymns and singing sacred songs, making music in your hearts to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:18, 19 TLB)

Paul was combatting some strange religions in his day; religions that threatened to split and destroy some of his churches. Often these religions involved drunken orgies and mind-altering experiences. Paul’s bone of contention was that drunkenness is merely the gateway to excess, hence his admonitions like this one: don’t use wine in hopes of having a spiritual experience, instead, let the Holy Spirit lead you. Christians should be “filled” with the Spirit. That’s a present imperative; an ongoing and important experience. Ralph Earle observed:

This is not to be a transitory experience, but an abiding one.

Far from a once-in-a-lifetime experience, believers should be filled with the Holy Spirit continually, on moment-by-moment basis. It’s the indwelling of the Spirit that forms the foundation of our fellowship as believers. Of note here is that our fellowship should involve things of a spiritual nature. That’s not to say that Christians should never get together and talk about the weather or sports, but we ought to recognize that the only reason for our fellowship – the only reason for our being together – is the presence of the Lord in our lives.

A fruitful community, Galatians 5:22-25

This group of verses describes how Spirit-filled Christians should live by describing certain attributes or character traits that should be common in our lives. These are known as the “fruit of the Spirit,” and also represent a kind of test – a proof that one is truly filled with the Spirit.

These character traits are not native to human beings, which is why they are the fruit of “the Spirit.” Naturally, there are people who from time-to-time may exhibit some or all of these traits who may not be believers, but when one is controlled by the Spirit, the Spirit will live through him and there will be peace and harmony within the church. When Christians finally learn to let the Holy Spirit control them, the church will be all that God wants it to be. This kind of life is far beyond the ability and strength of man; it is made possible by the Holy Spirit. And yet, it is available to all people who are in Christ.

William Adams Brown, clergyman and academic, once noted:

The church exists to train its members through the practice of the presence of God to be servants of others, to the end that Christlikeness may become common property.

Just so. The more we allow the Holy Spirit access to and control of our lives, the more like Christ we will become. When we become truly Christlike, we will be able to accomplish great things for the Kingdom. Michelangelo’s great wish will find its fulfillment in us:

Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.

It’s possible!

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