Given as a devotional at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on June 3, 2001.
"And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49, RSV).
Today is the day of Pentecost. When I saw that on my calendar this week, the Lord said, "That's your topic for Sunday." There are many interesting things we could consider about this special day in the Jewish calendar, which is also the birthday of the church! (Acts 2:47). However, rather than giving you a lot of facts that may not be important to you, I asked the Lord to show us what Pentecost means for us today. The Feast of Pentecost was celebrated on the 50th day after the Sabbath of Passover week (Lev. 23:15-16). The Israelites were instructed as follows: "Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD" (Lev. 23:16-17, NIV). Until I began studying the topic, I didn't realize that Pentecost fell on the first day of the week, our Sunday, rather than on the Sabbath, or Saturday, when many other feasts were celebrated. It was also called the "Feast of Weeks." In Deut. 16:9-10, we read, "Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you." Still another name for this celebration is "Feast of Harvest" They were told, "Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field" (Ex. 23:16). As I was meditating on this remarkable day in the life of the disciples, God reminded me about how they offered the firstfruits to the Lord. Lev. 2:16 describes it as ".. an offering made by fire unto the LORD." The first heads of grain in the fields were brought to the priest and they were roasted in the fire as an offering unto the Lord. This is very significant when we consider that the Apostles and disciples, all gathered in one place, were indeed the firstfruits of the New Covenant that Jesus established with His own blood (Col. 1:19-20; Heb. 9:12; 13:12, 20; Rev. 1:5).
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, the book of Acts reports: "And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4,5, RSV). This ties in with the prophecy that John himself had made to the people, "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16, RSV). This was a promise made by the Father, through His servant John the baptizer. I would suspect that if I asked you today how you regard fire as mentioned in the bible, many would shudder and think of hell. And yet actually, fire is one of the descriptions of God. The Hebrew writer says, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29, RSV). What does that mean for us?
All through the Old Testament we see fire associated with God's presence. Of Moses' encounter with God, it is said "And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed" (Ex. 3:2, RSV). That was act one, scene one of God's epic drama in which He delivered the children of Israel from 430 years of slavery in Egypt (Ex. 12:40). The fire of God represented His power, His glory, His majesty and His justice. He led the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The prophet Nehemiah said of God, "Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take" (Neh. 9:19, NIV).
Fire from on high was sometimes associated with God's punishment of the wicked in the Old Testament: "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven" (Gen. 19:24, RSV). As an aside, ancient peoples considered brimstone, which is sulfur, to be a purifying agent which was burned in their rituals to cleanse the air and their temples; thus it became symbolic of something that purifies and cleanses. Speaking of the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb, Moses said, "Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you; and on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire" (Deut. 4:36, RSV).
Elijah the Tishbite was one of God's mighty prophets in Israel during the reign of wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and beyond. The well known story recounted in I Kings 18, tells how he withstood the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The story always thrills me. In that encounter, as you will recall, there was a contest between the many prophets of Baal, and Elijah, the lone prophet of God. The prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifices and called upon their god to send down fire from heaven. They wailed and railed on for most of the day, even cutting themselves with knives, but nothing happened. Elijah prepared his sacrifice, and poured water over all of it, repeating it three times until everything was soaked. He called on the Lord to make Himself known. The scripture says, "Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench" (I Kings 18:38, RSV). God identified himself with fire so that His name was glorified.
There are many more illustrations I could give about fire being associated with God's glory, but you get my drift here that fire is used to define power from on high in scriptures. On the day of Pentecost, a most remarkable thing happened. The account reads as follows:
"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 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. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs, we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" (Acts 2:1-11).
This was a wondrous occurrence, which the Apostle Peter said was the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'" (Acts. 2:17-21, NIV). There is powerful imagery here used throughout the bible to indicate God's glory, His power, His authority and sovereignty over all the earth.
Imagine with me, if you will, that you have discovered a scientific secret that will save millions of lives on the planet, end world hunger, and end all disease. You decide to share it with the world. How would you do that? Perhaps you would get on a plane and fly to New York City to the United Nations building and ask for a chance to speak to the representatives of all the nations that belong to that organization. Suppose they agree to allow you to speak, and at the appointed hour, you show up in the great assembly hall. Just as you take your place behind the podium, there is a power outage in that part of the city. The lights go out and all the electronic equipment goes dead. Perhaps you know that presently, each country's Ambassador has an interpreter who listens to what is said and then interprets it in the language of that country so that each one understands what is being said in his native tongue. This is done by electronic equipment. Each Ambassador wears a receiver, but these, of course, do not work for you now because there is no power to run them. Someone remembers the emergency generators and turns them on. The lights come on, but there is not enough power to operate the transmitting devices. So, there you are standing in front of hundreds of distinguished guests from many nations, without power available for the microphones. It's an awkward moment but you decide to apologize as best you can. When you begin to speak in English, lo and behold, every Ambassador hears you in his or her own language, without the benefit of interpreters. Amazed, you begin to share your scientific secret with this august body of diplomats, and they write it all down to take it home to their fellow countrymen. They are amazed at what you have to say, but especially that they can understand you perfectly, even though they speak German, French, Farsi, Japanese, Swahili, or Swedish or Hebrew and you are speaking English.
This is EXACTLY what happened on the Day of Pentecost. Speaking by the power from on High, the Apostle Peter delivered to them the secret of the Universe, the wisdom of the ages, the power above all powers, the name above all names, the Way above all ways to set men free from the cruel bondage to sin and corruption that had held them captive since Adam's fall.
This simple, uneducated fisherman, who had denied his Lord just 50 days beforehand, while operating under his own strength, made this eloquent speech, empowered by the Holy Spirit: "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Vs. 22-24).
Peter continued by telling them that Christ, was the fulfillment of God's promise to David that his descendants would always be upon the throne of Israel: "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear" (Vs. 29-33). To you see here that He is poured out on us? The church world has pushed the second coming of Christ out to some unknown future day, but we we see by the Spirit, that He came again on the Day of Pentecost!
Unlike evangelists and revival preachers today, Peter did not need a microphone, an invitation hymn, a choir, a video, a passion play, or a TV camera to get his point across. He was operating by the Power flowing from on high; the Holy Spirit of the living God was the flame of fire that coursed through the crowd that day: "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, 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 2:22-24; 29-33; 37-39, NIV).
Notice that the promise of the Holy Spirit is for "all whom the Lord our God will call." That pretty much takes away our right to boast and take credit for what God has done in our lives, and confirms what Jesus said that, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44, RSV).
Jesus was God's Passover Lamb, who took away the sin of the whole world (Jn. 1:19, 36; I Cor. 5:7). His death on the cross fulfilled the Feast of Passover. Under the old law, the sacrifices were made on the great altar which was located in the outer court of the Tabernacle (I Kings 8:64; II Chron. 7:7). Only the priests could go into the Holy Place to minister (Ex. 28:43; 39:41), and only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat for the sins of himself and the rest of the people (Lev. 16; Heb. 9:12). That was a dangerous job, by the way. "The LORD said to Moses: "Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover" (Lev. 16:2). Because the presence of the Lord was there, it would be fatal for anyone other than the High Priest to go behind the veil into the Most Holy Place. Aaron's special linen garment had gold bells sewn on the hem (Ex. 38:33,35). This was so he could be heard moving around inside the Most Holy Place. Tradition says that they tied a rope around the high priest's ankle before he went in there, so that if he died, they could pull the body out. Presumably they knew he was dead if they failed to hear the sound of the bells.
When Jesus died, the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was ripped open from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). This was highly symbolic of the fact that the presence of the Lord, which had been reserved for only the high priest to encounter, was now available to everyone (Heb. 10:10). Because of Christ's sacrifice, the Hebrew writer says, we can boldly go to the throne of grace "that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16; 13:12). The Day of Pentecost symbolized the truth that the Holy Spirit, the living presence of the Most High, flowed out among the people, and was a gift to all mankind, "for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call."
As I was meditating on the Day of Pentecost, the Lord stressed two things to me. 1) Without this miraculous intervention and outflowing of His power onto the people, Christianity would have been just been another sect of the Jews. To further ensure sure that this did not happen, He sent His Holy Spirit to give them power from on high with signs and wonders following (Acts 5:12; 14:3; Rom. 15:19; II Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4). Additionally, He sent the Roman hoards, led by General Titus, to completely destroy the temple and the City of Jerusalem in AD 70, so that the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled concerning the great temple build by Herod, "there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down"" (Matt. 24:2, RSV; See also Mk. 13:2; Lk. 21:6). And 2) because they were imbued with power from on High, God gave them the ability to obey Him. What He said to me this week is that it is easy to obey God, because when He gives a command, He gives with it the power to perform it. However, it can be very difficult to obey the commandments and doctrines of men. Why? Because they are laying them on us in their own strength and often out of their natural minds, and we have to depend on our own strength to obey them. This was the whole lesson of the law, by the way. The law was given to show us that we cannot keep His commandments; we cannot be pleasing in His sight; we cannot get into the presence of God on our own steam.
It is the risen Lord, dwelling within us by the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live overcoming lives (I Jn. 5:4), to be free from sin (Rom. 6:7, 18; I Jn. 3:9), to enjoy being seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). Ours is not a form of godliness that denies the power of God (II Tim. 3:5), but rather, ours is the power that raised Christ from the dead (Rom. 8:11). This is the significance of Pentecost to me, as I thank Him for His faithfulness to reveal Himself in every situation, and look to Him for the power to accomplish whatever task He may lay upon my heart.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Following the Glory"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
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by Jan Antonsson, on 6/3/01
and last edited on 11/03/08.