THE FORGOTTEN PENTECOST
We Christ-followers think we have the church calendar pretty well figured out. There’s Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter: three stories in one, a kind of “narrative tri-unity,” the foundation stones of our faith.
First comes Christmas—the birth of Jesus. The Son of God come to save his people from their sins. Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus, the vulnerable infant, who survived against all odds through divine intervention and human obedience. Evil, hell-bent on destroying the child, did not—could not—prevail. The King of kings, the Savior of the world, the long-expected Messiah, had come to let us know who our God is and to deliver us from our sinful selves and the evil one himself. And so, rightly we celebrate with carols, and gifts, and stories of angels, shepherds, wise men and, of course, the holy family: Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. “Our Deliverer has come! Amen.”
And then we fast-forward through the life of Jesus at blinding speed, scarcely able to explore the life and teachings and stories of the One named “Yahweh Saves.” We jet to Holy Week. We give a passing nod toward Palm Sunday, the triumphant arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem.
For some church attenders, Good Friday is but a slight blip on the screen of our faith because it doesn’t happen to fall on Sunday. Most believers, I imagine, do spend some significant time reflecting on Good Friday, however. The suffering of Christ, who makes us whole, sets us free from the penalty of sin, and brings us safely home—that’s very much a part of our faith’s story. The cross is the symbol of that ghastly, once-and-for-all suffering. And communion is the Jesus-ordained practice by which we remember his suffering and death, a righteous life poured out to extend to us forgiveness undeserved. We have been reconciled! We have been adopted at great price! We are now whole.
And then Easter! In the dark of morning on the third day, bundles of burdensome funeral spices in tow, the woman are confronted with an unexpected reality. “He is not here. He has risen just as he said.” Easter is that glorious reminder that evil does not win, darkness has been overpowered, new life is the reality of our present days, and eternal hope is now the kingdom air that we breathe, the environment into which we have been newly born.
Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ now lives again.
And somehow, someway, we foolishly and audaciously then attempt to live out of faith alone in a world that is rebelliously bent, sin-twisted, a world that leans away from God, and precariously so. We attempt to live as if Jesus made no promises about an Advocate, a helper. We hunker down trying to survive in this world that is determined to discredit the Jesus story and destroy the ones who have committed themselves to it. We do not avail ourselves of the transforming joy, the authoritative belief, the equipping power, the witnessing truth, and the demonstrating reality that Jesus promised (Luke 24:49; John 14:25–31, 15:26–27, 16:1–15; Acts 1:8). In my observance and, sadly, at times, my own personal experience, we live as if Pentecost had never occurred.
What is Pentecost? It is the time, originally a harvest festival, fifty days after Passover (Lev 23:15–21) when God fulfilled his promise to his fearful, praying, gathered community. The Holy Spirit came with the very Old Testament-identifying mark of God, his breath or wind and his purifying, refining presence of fire. And the result? A power-filled community left the relative safety of the upper room and ventured out to boldly witness; to tell the Jesus story, their story with Jesus, to a potentially hostile crowd. And the world that was gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost took notice. They heard in their own languages about the death and resurrection of Jesus. They heard that the Holy Spirit, once just a distant promise, a fading story, a possible future event, was now present and real and at work.
In the Holy Spirit an inheritance is promised, victory is guaranteed, hope is solidified, mission is empowered, gifting is extended, and a godly character is enabled.
This is an excerpt from material created for Pentecost Life, a Global Strategy initiative. For more information about Pentecost Life and a look back at the pilot program in 2018, as well as a hint of the new devotional and curriculum resources that will be available in 2019 for churches and individuals, visit www.chogglobal.org/pentecostlife