BLESSINGS OF THE PENTECOST
Warm greetings on this Pentecost day my friend!
Friends in Christ, let me begin by saying Happy Birthday to you!
You might be wondering whose birthday it is today? Let me tell you a little story:
You see friends, two thousand years ago, there was a man by the name of Jesus. He was put to death, but God raised him from death. As risen Jesus spent forty days with his disciples, he taught them many things, including the need for him to ascend to the Father in heaven. But promised, to send Holy Spirit, to look after His own.
Now just as promised, the Holy Spirit descended upon on the disciples of Jesus over two thousand years ago as tongues of fire. This arrival of the third person of the Trinity marks the beginning of the church (the body of Christ) in this world (Acts 2). Over 3000 people were baptised into faith on that day (Acts 2: 41). As people believed in Jesus, his life, death and resurrection, the received baptism, and the church was officially born that day. So gathered under the name ‘the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’ we could say: ‘happy birthday church!’ We could even greet the fellow baptised saints today saying ‘happy birthday’ (in fact, if you are able to turn around, you may say to the person sitting next to you, ‘happy birthday!’)
Let us pray:
Holy Father, we give you thanks for keeping up your promise and sending the Holy Spirit to be our advocate and friend. Be always near us Lord and cover us with the gospel of Christ. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen.
Friends in Christ, do you know that most appointed feasts of the Scripture, particularly, Old Testament festivals, had a story to tell? Generally, all the festival points to God’s rescuing work amongst his people. The Old Testament not only spoke of God’s salvation, but they also pointed to the coming and ministry of the Messiah, the promised one of God.
Take the feast of the Passover for instance, Jews celebrate this for a week to remember how God rescued them from Egypt, by sparing their children from the angel of death through the blood of the lamb (Leviticus 23 4-8). Amazingly, Jesus’ death happens in the week of Passover. Christ’s blood was shed on the cross to rescue people from sin. Even, Jesus resurrection coincides with the Feast of First fruits, to mark, life beyond grave for those who have fallen asleep in Christ! How remarkable each festival had a story of redemption written all over it, and it points to the work of Christ.
Yes, like seasons point to changes in nature around us, festivals bring to remembrance of everything God has done for us. Pentecost Sunday is one such beautiful day that reminds us of the gifts of faith we have been given and all the blessings we experience because of the gospel.
Every festival reminds us of something in this world, doesn’t it? Your birthday, your anniversary, and your baptism anniversary all these days are special to because some extraordinary thing has happened on that day, signifying changes in your lives. Those special days come to define our lives altering its meaning exclusively for us. Special days remind us of special things we have received over several years, be it love, attention, care, etc.
Likewise, this special day of Pentecost brings to memory God’s love, care, and rescue for this world. You see friends, original Pentecost refers to Jewish harvest festival, which falls fifty days after the Passover. The festival of Pentecost is the second of the three big festivals appointed by God to his people. The whole point of this festival is to give thanks to God for the land they are able to dwell, the peace they enjoy, the harvest they receive, and generally good life their God has blessed them to live in Promised Land. In Koine Greek’s Penta stands for five, and therefore Pentecost stands for fifty, signifying the days after Passover. God expected his people to show up at the temple bearing gifts, the fruits of harvest, such blessing meant, God was in their midst. Because God is in their midst they lack nothing. So, no one is supposed turn up empty handed to festivals, for they were rescued and were blessed by God. Original Pentecost festival symbolised, God’s work of salvation and providence in their lives. Historically, Jews living all over the world came to Jerusalem to offer thanks to God, bringing their gifts in celebration they went into the temple (if you would like to explore more please read Leviticus 23: 15-22, Deuteronomy 16: 1-16).
Guess what my friend, over two thousand years ago, God chose to rescue and bless His people all over again. This time, God’s people happened to be both Jews and gentiles. Rather than letting them remain empty, God blessed otherwise ordinary disciples the power from on high, the promised Holy Spirit. It was God’s intention to rescue everyone in Jesus and bless them with every blessing under heaven (Ephesians 1: 3-10). So, God sent the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. The festival of Pentecost, prior to Jesus’ life pointed to harvest coming forth from the land, but over two thousand years ago, this meaning has changed significantly with God pouring out the promised Holy Spirit.
Acts 2 recounts the story of disciples sitting around and waiting in Jerusalem. Why are they waiting in Jerusalem? Because prior to His ascension, Jesus commanded them to wait until they received power from on high. Jesus said:
44 “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me….45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “….The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24: 44-49)
This exclusive command (along with the promise) made disciples to stay in Jerusalem. By then, they have spent enough time with Jesus to know, they need to take their masters words seriously. They have learnt their lesson, that they should trust and obey Jesus’ words. For instance, prior to his resurrection, when Jesus spoke of his death, the disciples wouldn’t want to hear those words. Remember that time, when Simon Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about suffering and death upon a cross (Matthew 16: 22)? The disciples did not like God’s love would actually suffer for our sake. After all, what could possibly come out of death of someone condemned to the cross? From human point of view, death is loss, it signifies all things wrong in this world, it symbolises defeat. No wonder they did not like Jesus speaking about death, they fled the scene in panic and disappointment when those words came to fulfilment. Then one day risen Lord Jesus surprised them. Christ rising from the grave meant, nothing can challenge his authority. As Apostle Paul once reckoned: no suffering, no sickness, no pain, no power, and not even death can challenge Jesus’ authority.
This lesson disciples learnt, as they understood the reason for Jesus’ death. They understood, since God is love, and that love knows no bounds, Jesus willingly died in our place. In this death, God rescued us not only from sin, from death and the devil. Although our sin is so great that we deserve death (wages of sin is death Romans 6:23) The good news however is that God’s love changed everything for us! Where it was supposed to be death and punishment for us, God’s love sought provisions for our rescue.
John the Baptist, understood this mind of God, so he pointed to Jesus and boldly declared: ‘behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ The blood of the Lamb of God achieved our redemption, so scripture declares baptism saves you. 1 Peter 3: 21-22 says: and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
You see friends, gospel declares, God forgives and rescues. The disciples had enough relationship with Jesus to recognise this heart of God. No wonder they did what Jesus told them to do, they waited for the promise of Jesus to come to fulfilment.
As Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs showed up in Jerusalem with their harvest thanksgiving, Jesus chose this moment to clothe his church with the harvest of his own labour – the Holy Spirit. The arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost is good news for the church all!
The arrival of the Holy Spirit brought people together who were once lost, segregated because of the language. Remember the tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11, people once thought they can build a city and tower so high that they could touch heaven. These were the people who had ambitious spirit, wanting to make a name for themselves. At that time, it says, God confused their languages, so they did not understand one another (Genesis 11: 7). Now as God reconciled everything in Christ, God gave the name above every name to Jesus and put all things under his feet, in this way exalted Christ (Ephesians 1). As the Holy Spirit descended upon the earth, well God has changed quite a few things. As the tongues of fire descended over disciples, even though their languages were different they were understanding one another. How was this possible, because all things are reconciled in Christ.
Holy Spirit gave them power to not seek name for themselves but seek Jesus. Holy Spirit transformed otherwise meek disciples to bear witness to Jesus. Connected to the Spirit, disciples were able to boldly proclaim Gospel in this world.
In fact, since that day Holy Spirit’s work is visible in the church, as people are regularly connected to Christ. People are saved by the power of the gospel. Holy Spirit is in-charge of sanctifying people. According to Luther, Holy Spirit does this ‘by leading us into His holy congregation, and places us in the bosom of the Church, whereby He preaches to us and brings us to Christ. For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel. But if the work of Christ is not spoken and no one knew of it, then it would be in vain and lost. That this treasure, therefore, might not lie buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Ghost to bring this treasure home and appropriate it to us. Therefore, sanctifying is nothing else than bringing us to Christ to receive this good, to which we could not attain of ourselves.
The loving and caring heart of God offers us the Holy Spirit. To God you are never far away, that is why He sent the Holy Spirit to come to abide with you. The Holy Spirit becomes your companion in life, He knows your pain, your suffering and calls you to hope found in God. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as paraclete our resident helper to lead and guide us. Prior to his death Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as our advocate. Christ said: “when the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” (John 15: 26). Holy Spirit is given to convict the world of its sin (john 16:18). That is correcting us from the error of our ways, from our selfishness to heed the message of the gospel. Sometimes, you hear that still small voice calling you to heed God’s Word, to live repentant lives, what do you think that is? the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides you into all truth (John 16: 13). Holy Spirit comforts you (John 16: 5-7) In times of trouble the Holy Spirit intercedes for you in groaning (Romans 8: 26-27). As you can see my friend, Holy Spirit’s presence on earth is a power packed blessing for the members of the body of Christ, i.e you!
So, rejoice today as you celebrate the birthday of the church. Rejoice, you are found in Christ, rejoice you are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of your redemption. Rejoice opening the gift of the Holy Spirit, on this birthday of the church. Like the Old Testament festivals, this arrival of the Holy Spirit without a shadow of doubt shows God’s love, care, rescue, and on-going presence in your life. So rejoice and give thanks to God, now and always+
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.