This Pentecost, I want to share three things with you.
Open your Bible to Acts 2:1-21 and we can jump in…
- Chapter 2 verse one, When the day of Pentecost came…
Indeed, let’s just focus on the word “when”.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a Bishop. He asked me to tell me more about my life in chronological order.
“I was born in Kidderminster…. The most depressed town in Britain.
I went to school in Wolverhampton and Droitwich.
I got a degree in history and religion and I studied for a PhD. a King’s College London.
I met my wife whilst an undergraduate and we have two wonderful children…”
I’m sure that many of us have been asked to give an account of our lives in chronological order.
When Luke writes the acts of the apostles, he places the day of Pentecost within a historical framework. So should we. There is a time before Pentecost and there is a time after Pentecost and, sandwiched in the middle is Pentecost.
Before Pentecost, the church as it was, a huddle of potentially scared individuals hiding from the authorities.
Pentecost is not the wishful fuzzy warm feeling that is often described or even hoped for within the modern church. Luke the author of acts, is as ever, keen to record a history of what happened.
But here’s the rub… This is not a history but our history.
I should have started my chronological life history with speaking about creation, Abraham, Moses, King David, exile, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ… And Pentecost.
Don’t allow Pentecost to be a faraway reality that has no impact on our life. Pentecost is who we are.
Secondly, Pentecost is the end of the exile….
Too often, we remember our Bible stories as a child and, thinking back to books or cartoons, we know that the exile was primarily when Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery and to the edge of the promised land. Moses the prince of Egypt.
We can forget the other exiles where foreign marauders came and took God’s people, the Israelites, from their land and placed them once again into the bondage of slavery.
There is significant evidence to believe that in Jesus’s time the Israelites interpreted their situation as once again in exile. Exile was not just about the land… Although, as we can see from current Israeli-Palestinian disputes the land is significant… But it was also about the presence and rule of God.
Throughout the latter stages of the Old Testament we recognise especially in the prophets, the people of God going through the trials and tribulations of exile.
Exile was not just about being taken from the land but rather about the absence God and his kingship. You will be my people and I will be your God, says the Lord. In exile, this isn’t true.
The people of God, the Israelites in Jesus’s time – the Jews, were in exile in their own land because of the despotic rule of the Roman authorities. The messianic fervour was stoked by a nationalism that wished to see the return of self-rule in Israel. Because, when self-rule was achieved, the Israelites would know that God had returned to his throne.
Forgive me for being a theological heavy guy this morning. But the issue of exile is one that we must grapple with. When we miss the theme of “exile” we run the danger of misunderstanding salvation itself.
Imagine you went to hear The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and they were going to play your favourite Mozart symphony. You sit with anticipation in the seats waiting to hear the beautiful melody of the musical master. Then, the lights fall and the conductor’s stands on the podium. She calls the orchestra to order and the music begins. But immediately your ear picks up that a whole swathe of the orchestra is not playing. Tonight, Mozart is only going to be played by the stringed instruments. Percussion and wind instruments take their bow and leave.
Too often the playing of the symphony of salvation is restricted to one section of the orchestra. I was talking to a young Christian who is currently on a discipleship course. We spoke about personal salvation as being the focus of the course; indeed, it’s the whole course.
We too easily reduce God’s kingdom to just personal salvation. Now, please don’t misunderstand me, personal salvation is completely part of God’s kingdom. Just like the stringed instruments are part of the orchestra. But there is much more to the symphony of salvation than just this section.
Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of women and men, for all flesh, as it says in verse 17, is the irrefutable proof of God’s return to his people. The end of exile. God’s home is now amongst his people.
The end of exile was the promised outcome of the arrival of the Messiah. This is why it is significant that God’s Spirit was poured upon the followers of Christ when they were altogether, verse one. Pentecost is not a personal salvation moment but rather the inauguration of the kingdom of God. It’s concrete and corporate – which leads me to my third point…
Pentecost, the Spirit of God, is always outward focused.
The Old Testament was about the establishment of the covenant between God and his people. The creation of the kingdom in physical terms. As one reads the Old Testament and the covenant with Abraham one could be forgiven for wondering how God was going to fulfil his promise to draw all humanity into his kingdom.
Today, in Pentecost, we get the answer. Firstly, the spirit of God fills the followers of Jesus and they speak in every tongue. Jews from around the world, speaking in different languages, had descended on Jerusalem for the early harvest festival of Pentecost.
And they hear in their own language the good news of Jesus.
The Spirit of God is reaching out through his people to extend and expand the kingdom that will now be measured not by national boundaries but by the quantity of human hearts.
I remember preaching last year about the progress of the disciples who meet together in secret and move through to declaring in public. In verse 14 when Peter stands to address the crowd he has seemingly moved from in a room, to the outside, to proclamation.
There is often a lot of debate about the authentic movement of the Spirit. I am both product and a member of the charismatic movement that gripped late 20th century Christianity. The Spirit is often described as being present when there are words and pictures, speaking in tongues, healing is and prophecies. And I love them all. And my prayer is both for myself and for all of us that we experience more of God’s Spirit in this way.
But, and it’s an important but, the real measure of the presence of the Spirit of God is the determination of his people to be outward focused and proclaiming the kingdom in their place, in their time and in their cultural language.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has wrestled with my concern that God is less present in my life. And rightly I have delved into my past, my sins and my spiritual disciplines…. But rarely am I encouraged to consider how I outwardly express God’s love. Pentecost drives us out. God’s Spirit drives us out.
So, what’s to be done?
Firstly, surrender your history to embrace Pentecost. The giving of the Spirit of God is part of our history and we should relish and celebrate that truth. The end of exile.
Secondly, Pentecost assures us that God is with his people and his kingdom is being established. It has not come in its fullness. The nations will wrestle with self-identity… Struggling to understand their place in the world. This is the very core of Brexit. We may struggle to understand our place in the world…. I get that… But we do not need to struggle any more about our place in the kingdom. The slogan of Pentecost to all humanity is “welcome home”.
Thirdly, and finally, if we wish to be a Spirit filled church then yes we eagerly anticipate great healing, words of knowledge and prophecy and the exuberance that comes from speaking in tongues… But primarily, the Spirit of God forces us outwards and forwards to engage in the world… In its diversity and multiplicity of cultures… Pentecost is not just a point in history, it is the new standard of activity for the church in the world.
Happy Pentecost everyone!