Waiting for Pentecost – Acts 2:1-8
The Origins of Pentecost
The origin of Pentecost lies in the ancient Hebrew festival of Shavuot (pronounced sha–vo-ott), or Feast of Weeks. (Shavuot is the Hebrew word for ‘weeks.’) It is one of Israel’s three ‘solemn’ feasts – along with Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. Shavuot was the celebration that commemorated the giving of the 10 commandments to Moses on Mt Sinai, seven full weeks or 50 days after Israel’s escape from Egypt. (Pentecost is the Greek word for 50th).
In Rabbinic tradition, this writing of God’s Laws on tablets of Stone was referred to as the Atzeret – ‘the conclusion’, the final chapter of the story of God’s rescue of his people from their slavery to Pharaoh. It marked the completion of Israel’s redemption.
Over the years, Shavuot also became a thanksgiving day for the wheat Harvest, the first fruits of Israel’s new blessing from God. By the time of Jesus, it had become one of the nation’s largest events, always held 50 days after the Passover.
It was thus amazingly appropriate that it would be on this morning, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, that God should work the final chapter of his rescue of humankind from our slavery to sin. As promised in Jer 31:33, as God wrote his law on the tables of stone in the Old Covenant, so now he would write his law on the hearts of men and women in the New. And he would do so by his Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
God’s Spirit, of course, has been around much longer than simply that first Pentecost. Gen 1:1-2 tells us that the Spirit was present at creation:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
The Hebrew word here is Ruach which means ‘Spirit’, ‘the wind’, and the Ruach Elohim is ‘the breathe of God.’ Whilst God is not a human (Num 23:19) and we are not to represent him in the form of idols – either male or female (Deut 4:15-16), it is interesting that Ruach in Hebrew is feminine. We tend to speak of the Spirit as He but this is primarily because the word used in Latin, from which our English translations first came, is Spiritus which is male. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, and in all Semitic languages, the word for Spirit is feminine. In Greek translations it became ‘Pneuma’ which is neuter and then in Latin it became Spiritus. Tis worth a thought!
In the Old and New Testament, the role of the Spirit is almost always associated with creation and the giving of life.
In Psalm 104:27-30, we read: “All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”
In Job 33:4 Elihu says “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
Paul says the same in Rom 8:2: he speaks of “The Spirit who gives life.”
God’s Spirit has always very much been involved in the creation of our world but he (or she!) has also been particularly involved with God’s creation of humanity.
In Genesis 2:7 we read, one of the most fascinating and significant verses in the whole of the Bible,
Gen 2: 7 “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Other translations say he became a living soul.
Notice that Adam became Adam not simply when God created him as a physically being, but when God’s Spirit was breathed into him.
There has been quite a bit of discussion about Genesis recently – but let me at least suggest that in the accounts present in this first book of the bible there seems to be a difference between our physical creation and our spiritual.
When God then warns Adam, in Gen 2:17, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.” It seems to me that it is clear from the biblical narrative that this death God warned Adam of was not about whether he would physically live or die. Reading on in the account, when Adam and Eve did disobey they did not in fact die physically. The first person to die was actually their murdered son, Abel. The death God was warning of in v 17 of Genesis, what Adam and Eve lost in the garden of Eden, it seems clear, was not their physical life but their spiritual one. It was God’s breath, his Spirit within them, that was lost as a result of their rebellion and fall.
We’ll come back to this in a little while.
Adam and Eve were initially filled with God’s Spirit but from the point of their rebellion onwards in the Old Testament, it is clear that the presence of the Spirit in the lives of God’s people, was significantly altered and diminished. The Spirit is still present. Ruach appears over 2 dozen times in the OT documents but the Spirit is generally spoken of only in a general way and in connection with only a certain few individuals.
1. In the life of David, for example, We see the Spirit at work in giving leading and instruction.
In 2 Sam 23:2 as David’s life is coming to an end he says there that, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.
2. We see the Spirit at work in empowering individuals giving them strength and courage.
We see it in Gideon in Judges 6:33-34: “ Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him
In Judges 15:14-15 we see the Spirit at work in Samson when he was bound and given over to the Philistines: “The Spirit of the Lord came on him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands.”
We see it in Saul, Israel’s first King,
I Sam 10:6 “The Spirit of the Lord will come on you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.”
And sure enough, a few verses later we read: “the Spirit of God came on him in power, and he joined in their prophesying. 11 When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”
Sadly in Saul’s later life (I Sam 15&16) we also see him grieving the Spirit and loosing the anointing that God had given him – but that’s the subject for another day.
3. We see the Spirit at work in bringing giftedness and expertise.
In Exodus 31:1-6 when the Tent of Meeting was being constructed: “Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills — 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you:”
So throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit continued to be at work but generally the Spirit’s presence and power rested only on a few, and only for a season.
BUT in Numbers 11:24-29, however, we come across Moses’ longing and the birth of the hope for another experience with God’s Spirit.
“24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” 29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.”
Not only was this a wonderful insight into the humility and character of Moses, it also became a prayer that grew into a longing within the people of God – that one day they could all know the presence and empowerment of God’s Spirit within them – which brings us finally to the prophecy of Joel:
Years later, In Joel 2, this is what the prophet foretold from God:
“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-29
God’s promise was that one day, the Spirit would be poured upon every person, on every gender, on every age. And this is exactly what first happened when Pentecost finally came.
The Holy Spirit in the New Testament
Look with me at John 20:19-22
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
Notice: Jesus breathed his breathe on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’’.
In Gen 2:7 when God created us he breathed his Spirit into us, and after Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of Eden he breathed his Spirit into us once more. What God did before he has now done again – and all because of Jesus.
It is thus not Easter Sunday but Pentecost that completes the undoing of our fall in the garden of Eden. As we read the remarkable story of what took place on that first Pentecost what we are seeing is the moment in history when God once again began to breathe his Spirit into all those he had created and thus, once again, bring them to spiritual as well as physical life.
This is what Jesus was telling Nicodemus in his famous evening conversation in John 3:
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” 4 “How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
Later, as we read through the Gospels and NT, we see Jesus confirming that the day foretold by Joel was now at hand.
John 14:15-18 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
AND his disciples were not to do anything until the Spirit had come:
Acts 1:4-5 while he was eating with them for the very last time, Jesus gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
The Disciples, as usual, didn’t quite understand and in verse 6 asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And so they waited. They waited for Pentecost when God’s incredible gift at last came upon them. They waited for the conclusion to Easter to finally arrive. They waited for the moment when God’s laws would no longer be written only on stone.
SO what does all this mean for us?
- Well , firstly Scripture tells us that we receive the Holy Spirit when we give our lives to Jesus.
In Acts 2:37-39 at the end of Peter’s great sermon on the day of Pentcost, we read:
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ 38 And Peter replied, ‘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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
Paul confirms that this is so in Romans 8:1-2, 9:
“ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.”
If you are a Christian you already have the Holy Spirit living in you!
- However, Pentecost also reminds us that we need to be filled with the Spirit again and again.
Paul in Ephesians 5:18 says to us: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
The greek verb in the phrase ‘filled with the spirit’ here is in the Present Passive Imperative. It means don’t just be filled once, but be filled, and be filled again, and go on being filled. The anointing of God’s Spirit in our lives is a well to which we must come again and again. We need Pentecost every day.
And how do we do that?
I like how CS Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity:
“The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. and the first job each morning consists simply in shovelling them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. and so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”
CS Lewis – Mere Christianity
Bill Bright , that key leader in Campus Crusade for Christ, describes our relationship with the Holy Spirit as Spiritual breathing. We need to be Breathing in the Spirit to our very cores. We need to be Breathing out the spirit in our every word and deed.
So, as we await, are we ready for Pentecost? To yield our lives to God so that he can fill us with his? To be willing to experience this new birth into God’s kingdom that only his Spirit can accomplish? To be willing to experience it again?
This week, let us look to the one who writes God’s law on our hearts, and let us take time and space to invite God’s Holy Spirit to fill and lead us afresh.