May 15 - Pentecost

Pentecost

May 15, 2016

John 7:48

 

 

Pentecost

John 7:48

May 15th, 2016

 

Pentecost was one of the 7 major feasts, also called festivals or celebrations that were observed by the Israelites during each calendar year.[1]  And by the way, the Jewish calendar year was based on the moon’s cycles, so it does not line up with our solar calendar – it is about 11 days shorter. 

 

During biblical times, an additional month was normally added every two or three years (7 times in 19 years) in order to correct for the difference between twelve lunar months and the solar year, and place the feast days back to the correct time period in the year.

 

Maybe you wondered why the dates for Easter change considerably in our calendar, why, for example, some years it is in March, others in April.  That’s because the date of Easter is determined by the lunar, not the solar calendar.

 

Hebrew-speaking Jews did not call Pentecost “Pentecost”.  They called it “the Feast of Harvest” or “the Feast of Weeks.”[2] 

 

The reason Pentecost was called the Feast of Harvest, was that it marked the time when wheat was harvested – usually in May or early June.  There was also a Barley harvest during the Passover week, and a fruit harvest later in the year (during the Feast of Tabernacles).

 

The reason Pentecost was called the Feast of Weeks, is because there were seven weeks of seven days, 49 days, also called a week of weeks, between the Feast of Firstfruits (on the 17th of Nisan; the harvesting of Barley; a day we would know as Easter Sunday) and the Feast of Weeks (on the 6th of Sivan; the harvesting of Wheat). 

 

If one included the actual day of the Feast of Firstfruits, the 17th of Nisan (or Easter), that would make 50 days, hence the reason why Greek-speaking Jews in the first century, including the apostle Paul (1 Cor 16:8), called it Pentecost, which is derived from the Greek word for “50” (pentekonta).

 

Clear as mud?

 

So Pentecost originally was in reference to a harvest festival, when all male Jews were to travel to the temple in Jerusalem, in order to bring offerings, and celebrate God’s material provisions for them.

 

I don’t think that it is pure coincidence that the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus on that particular day … for two reasons.

 

For one, and this is the more practical point, the church would not have started in the same way, had not Jerusalem be filled with tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean region and beyond:

 

In Acts 2, we read of individuals from what is today Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Greece, the Island of Crete, Italy, Egypt, and Libya, were in Jerusalem for the feast.  And this was by no means a complete list.  Really Jews would make their way to Jerusalem from all over the the then-known world.  As Acts indicates, Jews were in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). 

 

The second reason why the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost is because his coming signified the presence and provision of God with his people in a more profound way than ever before … as was foretold by the OT prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Joel.[3] 

 

As I mentioned at the Wednesday Peninsula prayer and praise time, Jesus, while still with his followers, told them what the Spirit would accomplish after he fell upon them:

 

  • The Holy Spirit would be with them forever (John 14:16);

  • He would fill them and indwell them (Luke 24:49; John 14:17);

  • He would bring about a (spiritual) rebirth (John 3:6-8);

  • He would be like a stream of living water, of life bringing water, flowing within them (John 7:38); 

  • He would teach them and guide them into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13);

  • He would empower them to be witnesses for Jesus (Luke 24:49);

  • He would provide the right words when needed during times of persecution (Matt 10:20; Mk 13:11; Luke 12:12).

 

The HS is so important, that Jesus said that it is better that he himself, Jesus, died and wasn’t physically present, because only then could he send the HS.  As weird as it sounds, Jesus told his followers that the HS’s presence was more important to them than Jesus’ own.[4]

 

The HS is so important, that without him, there would be little difference between the followers of Christ and the other Jews, when it comes to their ability to discern and do God’s will.[5]

 

Let me focus for a moment on one of Jesus’ points about the work of the HS within his followers – the HS being a stream of living water within them.

 

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me; and the one who believes in me, let him drink.  As the Scripture says, ‘Streams of living water will flow from within him.’”  By saying this, Jesus was speaking of the Spirit, who those who believed in him later received.               John 7:37-39

 

Jesus may have been thinking of a passage out of the book of the prophet Zechariah, who, when speaking of the day when God would initiate his rule on earth, said that on that day living waters will flow from Jerusalem to the east and to the west ( 14:8).[6]

 

If you look at this small waterfall in the arid country south of Israel, what is it that strikes you?  You may think:

  • Oh look, what beautiful rock formations … and that striking orangey-red colour of the rock. 

  • Or you may think, what a beautiful little waterfall. 

  • OR, you may be struck by the green bushes … a sign of life in an otherwise dead place.

 

In our part of the world, there is nothing special about seeing something green.  Our yearly rainfall ensures that there is lots of vegetation in almost all places, even if there isn’t a body of fresh water nearby.  However, in an arid climate, the contrast between life near the water and lack of life everywhere else is striking.

 

Water isn’t just an absolute necessity for plant life, but, as you know, for animal life as well.

 

Looking at the next picture, guess where you might find water?

 

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that where there is a live tree, there will be water, even if the water isn’t apparent on the surface.

 

If we consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus, and we believe that Jesus’ promise to his followers holds true of us as well …, then, like the apostle Paul, we would likely acknowledge that indeed, we have received the Holy Spirit, even if we may not be aware of it.  Paul makes it clear that ALL those who belong to Jesus have the Spirit

 

If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ,[7] he does not belong to Christ.                                                      Romans 8:9

 

We were ALL baptized by one Spirit into one body.

                                                            1 Corinthians 12:13

 

The Spirit of God can bring renewal, to our conscience, to our attitudes, to our minds, and so, to our daily lives. 

The rain of the Holy Spirit can fall on the dry and dead places of our lives and lives … and bring them to life.

 

Dwight (Lyman) Moody, one of the great evangelists of the 1800’s, preaching with great intensity and effectiveness to crowds of up to 20,000 in both the US and Britain, said this:

 

You might as well try to hear without ears, or breathe without lungs, as to live a Christian life without the Spirit of God in your heart.                                   D.L. Moody[8]

 

 

So if this is true, if the HS indwells every single believer, there are a couple of questions that come to mind:

 

  1. When and how do I receive the Holy Spirit?

  2. How do I know that I have received the Holy Spirit?

  3. What does the Holy Spirit do within me?

 

It is those questions I want to pursue within the rest of the time we have together this morning, even as I realize that all three are intertwined. 

 

To me, it seemed rather easy for the initial followers of Jesus.  They were meeting in a room in a house in Jerusalem praying.  And something just happened.  Something noticeable happened:

 

  • Sound of a great gust of wind, even though the air didn’t move.

  • What appears to be tongues of flames coming to rest on them, even though nothing burned. 

  • The ability to speak in foreign languages, even though no one learned it. 

  • The conversion of literally thousands.[9] 

 

It wasn’t as if they could ignore this, or brush it off.  It was an EVENT!

 

Today many come to faith, they believe that Jesus is the son of God who came to earth and died for their sins.  Subsequently, they commit to living their lives for God and his will, and yet their conversion was not associated with some emotional experience, some sensation, some dramatic event, … which is particularly disconcerting if they had been told that some event HAD to take place as a confirmation of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with an emotional experience or a dramatic event – and for those who experience it, it is wonderful. 

 

However, for some reason that is not a universal experience as much as we wish it to be.  And as a result many Christians may not even be consciously aware of the Spirit’s presence within them. 

 

Combine this with the fact that for many, coming to faith doesn’t necessarily mean that all their problems are over; that all of a sudden, their bad personality traits and addictions and bad habits and doubts and emotional struggles have all disappeared. 

 

For some, the cravings, or inner turmoil, or self-hate, or the need to control others, or depression, or feelings of insecurity, or the need to control others, or something else that is negative, is gone. 

 

But others continue to struggle with some old baggage, with some bad habits, with some doubt, with some emotional or psychological or relational issue.   

Why does it seem as if God has not poured out a mighty power that turns the desert of their dry lives into a carpet of blooms? Where is the “Spring of Living Water” flowing inside of them?

 

(i) Some would say that the problem is that they have not received the Spirit at all.  They simply weren’t sincere when they became Christian.  While this was a common view a few decades ago, we find that this is no longer a predominant view.

 

(ii) Others would say that the problem is that are quenching the work of the Spirit because they have not fully abandoned themselves to the will of God, to be truly grafted into the Vine, to honour and glorify God with all of their lives. 

 

In other words, they would prefer to sit on the fence than truly take a stance … they have not allowed Jesus to enter triumphantly into their hearts and minds. 

 

(iii) Others again would say that the problem is that they have not actually figured out what it means to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. 

 

They would say that the passages where Paul speaks about “walking in the Spirit” really have to do with deciding to listen to and follow the voice of the Spirit in every area of life. 

 

Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.                                                Galatians 5:16

 

Walking” here is the same as allowing oneself to “being led” by the Spirit of God.

 

All who are led by the Spirit are the children of God.

                                                                        Romans 8:14          

 

One of the reasons why they may be struggling to sense the Spirit’s presence is because they are not really listening to him when he speaks to them. 

 

For example, I may be driving along the road and see someone with car problems.  A voice within me tells me that I should stop and ask if the person needs some help.  But I am in a hurry, I tell myself.

 

Or I may be going for a walk and a dog is wandering the streets, obviously lost.  A voice with me tells me that I should make sure that the dog is not hit in traffic.  But I don’t have a leash, I tell myself.

 

Or my elderly neighbour is struggling to cut the grass.  A voice tells me to give her a hand.  But there’s nothing in it for me, I tell myself.

 

Or a person at work obviously seems troubled.  A voice tells me to go over and find out what’s going on and if I can do something to help.  But I have my own problems, and a heavy workload, I tell myself. 

 

Or I’m in conversation with a neighbour and we’re talking about spiritual things, and a voice tells me to invite them to church or to a bible study.  But then he will think that I’m some kind of religious nut bar, I tell myself. 

 

You get the idea.  If that is our problem, what can we do?  And I’m speaking here to believers:

 

How can walk in or be led by the Sprit?

 

  1. I must affirm (acknowledge) that the Spirit in fact indwells me.

  2. I must ask for the Spirit to speak to me and make me willing to do what he says.

  3. I must trust that the Spirit will speak to me, tell me the right thing to do or say.

  4. I must act on what he says to me. 

  5. I must thank him for any virtue attained or any good deed performed.

 

A story is told about a certain guide in antiquity who led people through the Arabian dessert.  He had the reputation of never losing his way.  He carried with him a homing pigeon in a cage.  If he ever doubted which path to go, he would tie a fine but strong cord to one of its legs and throw it into the air.  The bird would take flight, circle once overhead and then would inevitably fly toward home.  The man would pull the pigeon back from the sky and take the right direction.  

 

Maybe it’s no coincidence that when the HS fell on Jesus he came in the shape of a dove, a pigeon. 

 

At times believers don’t know if the inner voice that tells them to do something is the Spirit speaking or if it is just their own thoughts or maybe something else? 

 

Perhaps the problem is that when we want to hear from God it is usually about direction for a major choice in our lives:

 

Where should I study?  What car should I buy?  Who should I marry?  Where should I live? What career should I chose?  And in most instances, there are enough principles in the Bible that can be referred back to, as well as wise people who we can ask for advice, in order to figure these things out ourselves, without being told directly by God.

 

I think the HS is more interested to answer a different kind of question, because his greatest concern is NOT our vocation or place of residence or mode of transportation.  His greatest concern has to do with spiritual things that concern our hearts and our souls. 

 

We read in the book of James that we know whether or not a voice is from God because it will have a certain flavour. 

 

The wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy, full of good fruits, impartial and insincere.                                                               James 3:17

 

So if we hear this inner voice speaking to us, we know it is from the HS if it is encouraging, uplifting, motivation, positive, helpful, merciful, and reasonable.

 

So let us assume that every believer receives the Spirit at the point of conversion, the point where they decide to turn their lives over to God.  Is there a need for further infillings of the Holy Spirit?  Many Christians continue to pray to be filled again with the Spirit ... are they doing something that is wrong?

 

Keep being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. 

Ephesians 5:18-19

 

I need continually infilling because I leak.

                                                                        D.L. Moody

 

The truth is that we all leak. 

 

This kind of filling is different from the initial filling of the Holy Spirit, although its effects could be similar.  Part of desiring to be guided and directed by the Spirit, is to continually be empowered to make a difference for God, for good, for truth, in this world. 

 

So much division in the church has been over what is called the spiritual gifts or gifts of the Spirit.  In fact the gifts of the Spirit are simply God’s empowerment and enablement to serve others in a variety of ways.  As the apostle Paul writes to the believers at Corinth:

 

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.                                1 Corinthians 12:7

 

The gifts of the Spirit are not meant to be used selfishly, they are to be used in service to others.  In fact, a large part about having the Holy Spirit, is his empowerment to be more effective in our service to others, either within our outside the church. 

 

To pray to be infilled with the Spirit, to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, is not something selfish.  It is NOT seeking after another emotional experience, although one could potentially experience one.

 

Rather, asking to be infilled with the Spirit is really a prayer to serve more effectively, to show greater compassion, to follow God’s will more closely.  And this is something that Jesus wanted for his followers.  Speaking of the willingness of parents to give good things to their children, he said to them:

 

How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?                    Luke 11:13

 

Both the initial and subsequent fillings of the HS in fact have internal as well as external signs, but often we are not even aware of the changes that are taking place. 

 

The internal, has to do with a softening of the conscience toward God and a softening of the heart toward others.  Practically speaking that means two things. 

 

(1) First, there will be a greater desire to weed out the things that may be bad or destructive in our personality and our lives.  We may still struggle, in fact our struggle may increase, but that is simply a sign that our conscience is being softened. 

 

(2) Second, there will be a greater desire to want God’s best for others and treat them with compassion, kindness and patience.  That doesn’t mean that we will never get impatient, that we will never act mean, be selfish or that we will never get angry. 

 

In fact, we may become more aware of our selfish and destructive and negative attitude and behaviour, but that is simply a sign that our hearts are being softened.

 

For some, the change of desires both for oneself and others have instant and profound repercussions.  The Pharisee Saul, desiring the death of Christians, becomes the apostle Paul.  For others, those changes come more incrementally over time. 

 

Regardless, the internal leads inevitable to the external.  The presence of the life-giving Spirit within leads to life-giving actions toward others.

 

When the apostle Paul spoke about the fruit of the Spirit, we can both the internal and the external as well.

 

 

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.                                                        Galatians 5:22-23

 

Some internal fruit speaks of being joyful and at peace and being more self-controlled.  The external fruit then is being loving, gentle and kind toward others. 

 

If the internal isn’t there, then the external is missing as well.  When religious people are perpetually joyless, self-centered, and harsh, then they won’t be kind and caring toward others as well.  And, as the writer of 1 John points out, that is one of two things that cannot be true of genuine believers.

 

If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar.  The one who does not love his brother whom he can see cannot love God whom he has not seen.

                                                                                    1 John 4:20

 

No one who dwells in God makes a practice of sinning.  No one who makes a practice of sinning has either seen him or known him.                                                    1 John 3:6

 

The signs that a person’s profession to believe in and follow God, are a renewed conscience toward God and a renewed heart toward others.  Without these there is no fruit to speak of.

 

So let me get back to the questions I raised to begin with. 

 

  1. When and how do I receive the Holy Spirit?

 

We receive him initially when we become a Christian, but we can receive him many successive time afterwards for further strength and empowerment used to serve others spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

 

  1. How do I know that I have received the Holy Spirit?

 

The most obvious sign that indicates that I have received the HS is a greater desire to weed out the things that may be bad or destructive in our personality and our lives … as well as a greater desire to want God’s best for others and treat them with compassion, kindness and patience

 

  1. What does the Holy Spirit do within me?

 

He actually will guide, strengthen, encourage, empower, heal, teach, and help us to be all that God would want us to be.  IF WE LET HIM!

 

WHAT CAN I DO TO BE MORE SENSITIVE TO THE LEADING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND MORE OPEN TO HIM SOFTENING MY HEART TOWARD OTHERS?

 

 

[1] Three of these were to be celebrated in Jerusalem:  Feast of Unleavend Bread, Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering.

[2] Exodus 23:16; 34:22 Lev 23:15-21; Num 28:26-31; Deut 16:10.

[3] Isaiah 32:15 (the Spirit is poured upon us from on high); 44:3 (I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring); Ezek 39:29 (I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel); Joel 2:28-29 (I will pour out my Spirit on all people … even on my slaves, both men and women).

[4] Let me tell you, this is true:  It is for your own good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Advocate (paraklete) will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him.   John 16:7

[5] The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.  The sinful mind is hostile toward God.   Romans 8:6-7

[6] Possibly also the reason why Jesus was insistent that this event would take place in Jerusalem.  Zech 14:8: “On that day living water will flow out of Jerusalem, one have to the ocean in the east, the other half to the ocean in the west.  It will flow both summer and winter.”

[7] Called the Spirit of God in the previous sentence in Romans 8.

[8] Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899).  US evangelist and pastor.  “I think it is clearly taught in Scripture that every believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. He may be quenching the Spirit of God, and he may not glorify God as he should, but if he is a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in him… Though Christian men and women have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, yet He is not dwelling within them in power; in other words, God has a great many sons and daughters without power.

[9] Acts 2:2ff.