HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHURCH!

(June 6, 2019) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, shares about ‘the dynamite’ of Pentecost

The Christian Pentecost is sometimes called the ‘Birthday of the Church.’  While some question the accuracy of that description, it nevertheless is a helpful reminder of a unique day in the life of the church.

Almost 2000 years ago a group of about 120 people (Acts 1:15) began a journey that was to impact the whole world. As that group of Jews who were followers of Jesus met to worship and celebrate the Jewish festival of Feast of Harvest (aka the Feast of Weeks), they were not expecting that what they were about to experience would change them, the church and ultimately the world!

The first Christian Pentecost was a hugely significant event. Luke recorded the event in this way: ‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them’ (Acts 2:2-4).

That is what happened, but why did it happen?

Peter explained it this way, ‘Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear’ (Acts 2:33).

Pentecost was not just a random spiritual revival-type experience for those first Christians – it was a fulfilling of Christ’s promise in John 14:16-17. And it bonded those Christians together as a new community of faith.

The day of Pentecost is significant for many reason, such as:

1. Presence
In the midst of that group a mighty wind began to blow and flames of fire appeared.  In this startling and memorable way God demonstrated his presence with his people. They certainly would never forget those symbols of his powerful presence.

The Hebrew word for wind (ruach) can also be translated as breath or Spirit. In Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones the Spirit of God spoke, the winds blew and life-giving breath was given to the dead bodies. Where the Spirit of God is present, new life can spring into being. Indeed Jesus told Nicodemus, ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit’ (John 3:8).

The other symbol of God’s presence was the flames of fire. In the Old Testament days fire was often associated with the presence of God. In the great challenge between Elijah and the prophets of the false gods, Almighty God demonstrated his powerful presence by sending fire to consume Elijah’s sacrifice.  On that first Christian Pentecost God was unmistakably declaring that he is present with his church. We are not alone. God is with us!

2. Preparation
On Pentecost the church was being prepared for mission. Until that day those first Christians were wholly disinclined to do anything about God’s redemptive mission for the world. Yes, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and to proclaim the message that called people to repent and believe the good news.

But even after his resurrection his disciples, who had been with Jesus for three years, had decided that it was now time for ‘business as usual’ and they went back to their ‘normal’ jobs. ‘Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also”’ (John 21:2-3 NKJV).

The experience of Pentecost realigned their vision and prepared them for the real work that Jesus had called them to.  For them – and for all Christians – once they had truly realised the significance of their relationship with Jesus Christ, life could never be the same again. Now they were prepared to move from the ‘comfortable’ and ‘familiar’ to the ‘challenging’ and ‘faith -based’ task of living for him.

3. Power
Just before he ascended to his place of authority in heaven, Jesus told his disciples, ‘You will receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit comes on you’ (Acts 1:8). The Greek word used here for ‘power’ is the same word from which we get our word ‘dynamite.’ At Pentecost God empowered his church to conduct and complete the mission Jesus had given it – ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:19-20).

How much the early church needed that power in a hostile world to persevere with boldness, courage and faithfulness to stand firm and to witness to its relationship with Jesus Christ.

Against incredible odds and in the face of horrendous persecution it not only survived but grew and its message spread throughout the world. Apart from the power of God the church would have been snuffed out like a candle wick before the end of the first century.

That same power, that energised that group of Christians 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, has remained with the church for 2000 years. Pentecost is not just a historical event; it is the dynamic power source for the church of today. 

Paul wrote the Ephesians, ‘How very great is his power [dunamis] at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world’ (Ephesians 1:19-20).

4. Proclamation
Notice that the first thing that group of Christians did following their encounter with the Holy Spirit was to share the good news about Jesus with the crowds outside!  In Acts 2:14 we read, ‘Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.’

And then with great boldness and passion he proclaimed the message about the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected and exalted to God’s right hand. And then he gave this impassioned appeal, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:38-39).

Before Jesus was crucified, Peter denied even knowing Jesus to a servant girl. But now, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, here was a different Peter – a man emboldened to proclaim before all that Jesus Christ is Lord of all! And 3000 people were saved!

5. Penetration
It was as if on that first Pentecost Sunday God had fired the starting pistol for the church. Its task of living for God and sharing with others the good news of salvation had begun. The mission of the church which began on that first Pentecost Sunday continues today. The theologian Emil Brunner wrote, ‘The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.’

This sad, confused and hostile world we are living in today still needs to be penetrated by the message of God’s saving love. That is the message of hope our world needs today.

And to penetrate the defiance, the political correctness, the violence that is consuming our world and our country we need more than our own personal skills and abilities and cleverness. That is what the Apostle Paul fully realised and he wrote, ‘My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power [dunamis].’ (1 Corinthians 2:4).

Pentecost Sunday reminds us again, individually and collectively as a church, that God’s greatest resource available to us to ‘get the job done’ is the Holy Spirit who was poured out so powerfully and so spectacularly on that small group of believers on that Sunday.

We still need to live in that God-given gift today.

____________________________________________________________________________

Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.

His enlightening Grace Revisited and Looking for Answers in a Confusing World are highly recommended, also Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: jbmcclure@gmail.com

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