Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pentecost—Festival of the Arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete

A devotion starter, from Peter Toon

From where do we get this word "Pentecost"?

It is in the Jewish Calendar the fiftieth day (Greek, pentekostos) after the presentation of the first harvested sheaf of the barley harvest—that is, the fiftieth day from the first Sunday after Passover (cf. Leviticus 23:15ff.) Amongst Jewish people it was known as the "feast of weeks" (cf. Exodus 34:22a; Deuteronomy 16:10), and also as "the day of the first-fruits" (Numbers 28:26; Exodus 23:16a) because it was the day when "the first-fruits of the wheat harvest" (Exodus 34:22a) were presented to God. In later Judaism it also was reckoned to be the anniversary of the giving of the Law at Mt Sinai (a deduction from the chronological note in Exodus 19:1).

Coming out of Jewish roots, the early Christian Church gladly incorporated the fact of the season of Pentecost into its own Calendar because it was, significantly, at the festival-- fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day--that the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete of Jesus (see John 14-16) descended upon the assembled disciples and the mission of the Church in and to the world truly began. For details of the events concerning Jesus in the fifty days from the Resurrection to the Day of Pentecost, Christians turn to the final chapters of all the Four Gospel, to 1 Corinthians 15 and to Acts 1. Here they read about various appearances of the resurrected Lord to his disciples, leading up to his final appearance on the fortieth day, which became his Ascension; then they learn that during the final ten days the disciples met together to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot, to engage in sustained, unified prayer and to wait for the promise of Jesus that he would send the Holy Spirit to them. It is in Acts 2 that what occurred on the Day of Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spiirt, is described in vivid but restrained terms.

So within the Christian Calendar there is, after the all-important Festival Day of Easter Sunday, what has been called "the great Fifty Days" which climaxes on the Day of Pentecost (later called "Whitsuntide" in the western Church because of the use of white baptismal robes).However, there is within these special fifty days a most important, indeed a unique Day, the Day of the Ascension of the resurrected Lord Jesus. So the Jewish fifty becomes--because of Jesus the Jewish Messiah--the Christian forty plus ten, making fifty. And the fortieth day is a most important focal point, for the regular and remarable visits or/appearances of Jesus to his disciples ceased on that very day, and, it is, as such, the last of the great festivals of the Lord Jesus, for his appearance became his Ascension into heaven (thus Birth, Epiphany, Baptism, Transfiguration, Resurrection and Ascension).

The descent of the Holy Spirit, sent by God the Father in the Name and at the Request of the Exalted Lord Jesus, was a unique moment in human history and of God's saving activity in the world, and, therefore, it is not surprising that various extraordinary phenomena proclaimed that Arrival. The three supernatural signs were: a sound, a sight and strange speech. The sound was like the blowing of a violent wind; the sight was of what seemed to be tongues of fire, which separated and rested upon each one present; and the speech was the speaking in languages that were recognized by the visitors from all parts of the Roman Empire, present in Jerusalem for the feast. The experience was more than real and it was so because the new era of the presence with the disciples of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete of Jesus had begun—the Spirit of power (wind), of purity (fire) and of universality (many languages) was indwelling and resting upon chosen human beings.

And the immediate effect of the Spirit's presence in and upon the disciples was to cause them to engage enthusiastically and heartily in evangelism and mission to the many Jewish pilgrims in the city of Jerusalem at that time. The Gospel of the Father concerning his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, was proclaimed in many languages at various points by the disciples and then it was proclaimed to all in one place (probably the Temple precincts) very publicly in the language all understood by Peter, the leader of the apostles. Converts were made and they were baptized in water for the remission of their sins. The Christian Church was now truly up and running, with a mission to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

And the nature of the kingdom (saving reign) of God known in the Church is declared to be—in the best senses—multi-racial, multi-national, and multi-lingual. Further, the curse of Babel was reversed. At Babel (see Genesis 11:1-9) languages were confused and peoples scattered. In Jerusalem the language barrier is supernaturally overcome as a sign that in Christ all the nations and people will be gathered together in Christ, when finally the ingathered, new people of God is "from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7:9).

For people entering the Church in repentance, faith and by Baptism after this first amazing Day of Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit from the exalted Lord Jesus was (and is) very much present, available and ready to be given in fullness, not only to bring everlasting life and virtuous, graceful living ,but also for empowerment in worship, witness and service. We recall that there are fruit and gifts of the Spirit and both are available from the Head of the Body!

By the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the emerging Church came to know truly that the LORD our God is truly the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Three Persons and One, a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity. Thus Trinity Sunday immediately follows Pentecost or Whitsunday.

An excellent poem/hymn by John Keble contrasts the descent of God to Moses at Mt Sinai and his descent upon the waiting disciples in Jerusalem—"When God of old came down from heaven…" And for praying about the Holy Spirit as the author of renewal in the Church, and in the baptized believer, Charles Wesley's " O Thou whom camest from above, the pure celestial fire to impart…" is wonderful.

Let us pray (in traditional or "contemporary" form):

"Send, we beseech thee, Almighty God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that he may rule and direct us according to thy will, comfort us in all our afflictions, defend us from all error, and lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who, with thee and the same Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth one God, world without end."

"We humbly ask You, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, to send Your Holy Spirit into our lives, that he may direct us according to Your perfect will, comfort us is all our troubles, defend us from all error and lead us into all Your truth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, your Son, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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