We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and of God the Son and of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the power of the Holy Spirit said … AMEN
The feast of Pentecost is the oldest continuous celebration that Christians observe. Reason being it was originally a Jewish festival that God directed Israel to remember going all the way back to Deuteronomy 16:10. It is originally referred to by Yahweh, as communicated to Moses, almost what we would think of as Thanksgiving in the United States. Israel was to raise up thanks to Yahweh for the “first fruits, the first harvest”. God reminds Israel: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’ (Joshua 24:13) Israel would have a lot to be thankful for. The Israelites had to fight their way in, but when they made it, there is ready made homes, fields, vineyards. They had to make their way into Palestine/the Promised Land, but Yahweh intends that when they get there, they will be set, they will be free from the paganism they escaped from in Egypt and that surrounds them and they would be able to provide for themselves. Pentecost was also a day to remember that Yahweh gave Israel His Law. The Law is what Israel is built on. Jewish people believe that they are saved by the Law, so Pentecost is to celebrate what they perceive as their salvation in the Law. In response there was only continual griping. God is providing them with manna to live on, He gives them water, He gives them the Law, He gives them the promise of a fruitful life in the Promised Land and what is their response? “We are still in the desert, we’re sick of this manna and we don’t want to go to the Promised Land because we are afraid and we just don’t trust your promises.” So God hears the griping, He gets angry, that means Moses gets angry who whines to God and Yahweh tells Moses to bring the 70 elders of Israel together for a huddle. Moses is fed up with the complaining and so Yahweh promises: “Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.” (Numbers 11:17) Life is not a bed of roses for Israel, but they are about to see the fulfillment of God’s promises. Considering everything God has promised them it’s a life that’s not to shabby and their response is to continue to fuss and whine.
Take out your bulletin. Look at the Numbers reading verse 25. “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him [Moses], and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” What do you notice about “God’s Spirit”? It’s capitalized, a proper noun. “What” you say, “this is 1,500 years before the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples, what’s going on here?” Yahweh gave Moses the Holy Spirit probably right from the start of His revelations to Moses. William Wrede describes it: “…the Lord comes down in the cloud and gives them a gift. The same gift of the Spirit given to Moses is now shared with the seventy. Moses loses none of his gift, but as one candle lights another, the Spirit is given to each and they all begin to prophesy. This is God’s gift to his people to be a blessing to others.”1 I really like that imagery, while the Holy Spirit didn’t descend upon the Jews in the desert the same way He did on the disciples in Jerusalem, the outcome is still the same. Men possessed by the Holy Spirit and led by Him to prophesy. Clearly a preview of the Christian Pentecost here in the Sinai desert 1500 years before Jesus. These two men, Eldad and Medad, apparently didn’t check their e-mail or got caught in traffic, and didn’t make it to the elder’s meeting at the tabernacle and they are back in the camp, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t miss them. Joshua rushes to Moses to rat them out, contrary to expectation Moses is not at all disturbed: “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets.”
Fast forward 1,500 years, we see a stark contrast. Where Israel had God’s promises of material satisfaction in Israel, they had the tangible tablets of the Law, and some of them even had the Holy Spirit. We find Jesus’ disciples huddled together in a house in Jerusalem. While everyone else in Jerusalem is probably out, celebrating the third most important feast-day in Judaism, the disciples probably still have a “bunker mentality”, they remember Jesus’ promise, ten days earlier: “…you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” (Acts 1:5, 8) OK, fine, but when will that happen? In the meantime, “we’re going to hide out here, our Shepherd’s gone, no doubt there are people who want to arrest us and are looking for us. Until such time as Jesus does what He promised and we have no idea what that really means”, maybe they don’t remember Numbers 11, “we will make ourselves very scarce.”
Hiding away, cowering. Certainly an odd contrast to their ancestors who are standing out in the desert heckling Moses, demanding immediate satisfaction. The disciples are together, they are trusting in Jesus’ promise, they don’t know how that will happen, but in faith they wait. Their faith is rewarded, probably beyond anything they imagined: “…a sound like a mighty rushing wind..” You’ve probably heard people describe an on-coming powerful tornado,… they often say it sounds like an approaching freight train, concentrated power and fury. Can’t we imagine the Holy Spirit’s approach being at least like a freight train? The Greek is pneu,matoj a`gi,ou in English we have the word pneumatic, as in pneumatic tool, how is a pneumatic tool powered? … Compressed air, we have tools that use the power of compressed air. In Hebrew the word is x;Wr [ruach] which also means “wind, spirit”. Both usages imply momentous power. This wasn’t just a sudden burst of wind, but an enormous, continuous blast, a strong enough blast that all these people in Jerusalem, our reading says “…devout men from every nation under heaven..” rush together, “bewildered”, what is this noise! We don’t rush into the street at any random burst of wind, we might take a quick look out, but normally we don’t pay anymore attention. Then “…divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them” Now that we have your attention, you will hear us preach in your native language. This is all the work of the Holy Spirit, a clear demonstration that God is at work, the Holy Spirit inspires Peter to preach in a way he would never have before (this is the same guy who didn’t want to talk about Jesus to a few people after Jesus had been arrested. Now Peter is proclaiming the Gospel to thousands.) From this Peter is used to bring three thousand souls to know Jesus as their Savior.
Remember they are here to celebrate the “Feast of the First Fruits” those who God chose to come to faith are now the “First Fruits” of the Christian church. Philip Schaff notes: “This festival was admirably adapted for the opening event in the history of the apostolic church. It pointed to the first Christian harvest … We may trace to this day not only the origin of the mother church at Jerusalem, but also the conversion of visitors from other cities, as Damascus, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome, who on their return would carry the glad tidings to their distant homes…”2
We who are chosen by God to be saved in Christ, baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Spirit, disciples and apostles of Christ, we are called to proclaim Him just as the disciples did on the Festival of First Fruits. We are called to proclaim Him in the language and understanding of those we know, being used by the Holy Spirit to reach those He has put in our lives to point to the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that only He can promise. Take some time this week in prayer, help us Father to feel the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and to live that life in Him and to the world. The Spirit’s power in the wind, but to also pass from you to those He leads you to, like a candle lighting another candle. And also as our young men are “lighted” by the Holy Spirit in recognition of their confirmation today.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.