TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

15 May 2016

Pentecost.

The eighth Sunday after Easter, when the Holy Spirit started the church.

I’m a Pentecostal… and weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never notice when Pentecost comes round. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little.

Anyway, Pentecost is the last day of Eastertime, the day we Christians remember the start of the Christian church—the day the Holy Spirit gave power to Jesus’s followers. Like so.

Acts 2.1-4 KWL
1 When the 50th day after Passover drew near, all were together in one place.
2 Suddenly a roar came from heaven, like a mighty wind sounds,
and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3 Tongues, like fire, were seen distributed to them,
and sat on each one of them, 4 and all were filled with the Holy Spirit.
They began to speak in other tongues,
in whatever way the Spirit gave them the ability.
4 The Jews who inhabited Jerusalem at the time
were devout men from every nation under heaven.
5 When this sound came forth, the masses gathered, and were confused:
Each one of them was hearing their own dialect spoken to them.
6 They were astounded, and wondered aloud, “Look, aren’t all these speakers Galileans?
8 How is each of us hearing our own native dialect?
9 People from Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Israel, eastern Turkey,
10 western Turkey, Egypt, the Cyrenian part of Libya, visitors from Rome,
11 Jews and Jewish converts, Cretans and Arabs
—we hear them speaking of God’s might in our own languages!”
12 All were astounded and stunned. Some asked one another, “What caused this?”
13 Others said, joking, “They’ve been drinking port.”

Lots of Christians call this story the “first Pentecost.” It wasn’t. Pentecost comes from the Greek pentikostí iméra/“50th day.” It’s the Greek term for the Hebrew festival of Shavuót/“Weeks,” the first crop of the wheat harvest. Ex 34.22 From the first day the Hebrews began to harvest wheat, the LORD ordered Moses to have ’em count off seven weeks, or 49 days. Dt 16.9-12 On the last day they were to sacrifice some of the grain to God, and take a day off in celebration. Nu 28.26 Somehow, the first day of the wheat harvest became formally shifted to the first day after Passover, meaning Weeks is the 50th day after Passover—6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar. (In ours, 14 May 2016.)

All male Jews were instructed to go to temple on Pentecost. Dt 16.16 Meaning Jerusalem was full of devout Jews at the time, bringing the LORD their grain offerings—and suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew, spoken as if to them personally. That got their attention.

Peter’s sermon.

Simon Peter followed up with an explanation: The Holy Spirit’s outpouring was a prophetic last-days event which God had always intended.

Acts 2.14-24 KWL
14 Simon Peter, standing with the Eleven, raised his voice and shouted to them,
“Jewish men! Residents of Jerusalem! All this is something you have to know!
Listen to my words, 15 for these people aren’t drunk.
You assume so, for it’s the third hour of the day,
16 but this is what the prophet Joel had said: 17 ‘God said this’ll happen in the last days:
“I’ll pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and daughters will give prophecies.
Your young ones will see visions. Your old ones will will dream dreams.
18 In those days I’ll pour out my Spirit even on my slaves, men and women.
And they’ll give prophecies!
19 I’ll show wonderful things in the skies above,
and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and smoke in the air.
20 The sun’ll be turned to darkness,
the moon to blood before the great Lord’s Day comes,
21 and everybody who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved.”Jl 2.28-32
22 Men of Israel, listen to these teachings about Jesus the Nazarene!
A man who’d been endorsed to you by God with power,
wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst—
as you know personally.
23 By the Judean senate’s plan, as foreknown by God, you killed Jesus:
Handed over, crucified by the hands of lawless Romans.
24 God raised Jesus, released him from the pains of death:
It’s impossible for Jesus to be held by death.
25 For King David said about him,
‘I always see the Lord before me:
He’s at my right, so I wouldn’t be shaken.
26 For this reason, my heart cheers and my tongue rejoices.
My flesh will still pitch its tent in hope:
27 You won’t leave my life behind in the afterlife,
nor give up your holy one to see decay.
28 You taught me the road of life.
You will fill me with joy with your face.’ Ps 16.8-11
29 Men, brothers, I must tell you about the patriarch David:
Bluntly, he’s gone. Buried. His tomb’s with us to this day.
30 So he was being a prophet—he knew God swore an oath to him:
From the fruit of his loins, a descendant was to sit on his throne.
31 Foreseeing it, David spoke of Messiah’s resurrection:
He won’t leave Messiah behind in the afterlife; his flesh didn’t decay.
32 God raised up this Jesus. All us Eleven are witnesses of it.
33 So, lifted up to God’s right, receiving the promised Holy Spirit from the Father,
Jesus poured him out. This is what you saw and heard.
34 It wasn’t David who went up to heaven. He said, ‘The Lord told my Lord,
“Sit at my right 35 till I can put your enemies under your feet.”Ps 110.1
36 So the whole house of Israel has to infallibly know:
God made his Lord and Messiah this Jesus—whom you crucified.”

“Stabbed in the heart” (katenýgisan tin kardían—and no, not literally), Peter’s audience wanted to know what to do next, Ac 2.38 and Peter had ’em turn to Jesus. That day, Jesus’s new church grew from about 120 people Ac 1.15 to 3,000. Ac 2.41 And over the past 20 centuries, we’ve grown to roughly 2 billion. About a third of the planet. With plenty of room for more.

How the Jews did Weeks.

After the Romans ruined the temple in the year 70, there was nowhere for the Jews to gather every year for Weeks; no place to offer their grain. Hence the rabbis invented alternate customs for the day.

Over the centuries, Weeks has gone from a harvest festival to honoring the day God gave the Law to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai. ’Cause the Hebrews arrived at Sinai on the first day of Sivan Ex 19.1 and a few days later, God handed down the Ten Commandments. So the dates coincide. The idea was developed in the Sefer ha-Khinúkh/“Book of Education,” a 13th-century Spanish commentary on the 613 commands of the Law. As a result, certain devout Jews spend the festival of Weeks by going through the commands on an overnight binge. And some clever folks try to tie harvest and Law together, by pointing out the bible is our daily bread.

Various Christians claim the Jews of Jesus’s day also celebrated the Law during Weeks. It’s possible, but the problem is there’s no real evidence of it. (Yeah, there’s what the rabbis wrote. But because they had the annoying habit of rewriting history to match their teachings, it makes their histories really unreliable.)

Regardless, the primary purpose of Weeks was honoring God for the harvest. And check out the fun parallel: Jesus was “planted,” so to speak (and pardon the crudity), for Passover; but look at the harvest of 3,000 people whom the Holy Spirit produced for Pentecost.

The reason the Spirit empowers us is because the fields are ripe for harvest. Jn 4.35 More than just pray for workers to harvest it, Lk 10.2 we need to be the answers to those prayers. That’s why he empowers us after all. To prophecy, to produce signs and wonders, and to harvest.

How the Christians do Pentecost.

Christians began to put a different spin on Pentecost, as is implied by Paul’s special observance of it. Ac 20.16, 1Co 16.8 Some Christians observe it as the beginning of the church. Others look on it as the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the church. Either way, it’s a relevant day.

Churches celebrate Pentecost in all sorts of ways. Lots of us do prayer vigils, to remember how the apostles prayed for the Holy Spirit to come. Lots of symbols are used to represent the Spirit: Birds, red to represent his fire, flags or trumpets to represent his rushing wind. Sometimes the scriptures are read in multiple languages, reminding us of the many languages the Spirit enabled the apostles to speak. Pentecost is also a great day for baptisms.

And, like I griped at the beginning of this piece, some churches give it a miss altogether. Too traditional, too liturgical, too old-school, for their taste. In the United States, since it often falls near other holidays (like Mother’s Day or Memorial Day) the other holiday tends to take precedence.

Some churches make Pentecost Monday into a holiday. But beyond that, Eastertime is over, and we go back to “ordinary time”—the days between Easter and Christmas, when there are no big Christian holidays. But we should still strive to make these days more than ordinary—by making good use of the Spirit’s empowerment at Pentecost.