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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost Sunday

In the Jewish Scriptures, Pentecost is known by several names: The Festival of Weeks, the Harvest Festival, and the Festival of First Fruits. It was celebrated fifty days after Passover, the day on which God brought Israel’s out from Egyptian slavery. 

Throughout the books of Moses and the prophets, Israel was often called the ‘congregation of called out ones.’ The Hebrew word Moses often used is similar in meaning to the Greek, Ekklesia, usually translated in the New Testament as ‘church’ – meaning the ‘congregation of called out ones.” 

Called out from what? Called out from the godless world (in its original sense, from life in Egypt) and into a community separated to God. 

Centuries later, when God displaced Israel from the Promised Land because of their continuing sins, many Jews stayed in those nations of exile. That’s why Luke records in the second chapter of Acts Jews from "every nation under heaven" were visiting Jerusalem. 

Why were they visiting? Because Pentecost was one of the three holidays which God commanded the Jewish people to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (The other two days were Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles). 

This brief historical background brings us now to Pentecost Sunday, as celebrated by those who follow Jesus the Messiah. Pentecost Sunday reminds us that we are part of the spiritual ‘ingathering’ of the new congregation of both Jews and Gentiles into the Ekklesia (church) as we journey this ‘wilderness’ we call life.

On this day 2000 years ago 120 disciples gathered in that upper room, (Chapter 2 of Acts) “And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 

If you remember the story, Peter and the other apostles spoke to the Jewish pilgrims visiting Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection as God’s proof that Jesus is the Messiah. Here’s what happened next:

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (verses 37-40) 

What does all that history have to do with you and me on this Pentecost Sunday? Only hours before His crucifixion, Jesus promised this about the Third Person of the Trinity “But now I am going to Him who sent Me . . . But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment . . . .”(John 16:1-8)  

I hope you caught that. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict us – in other words, to show us our sins, to convince us of our sins, and warn us that we face eternal judgment for those sins – unless we repent and through repentance receive God’s righteousness. 

When the Holy Spirit fell upon those 120 disciples of Jesus, He empowered them to proclaim His message of forgiveness of sins to everyone who cared to listen and receive God’s promise. He empowered them – as He empowers us today – to proclaim Jesus – not the ‘church,’ not some organization – but about Jesus who alone can change our life. The Holy Spirit empowered them –as He empowers us – to proclaim Jesus as humanity’s only hope for mercy and forgiveness of sins. He empowered them to proclaim Jesus as the only means of eternal life. 

As Peter spoke to the crowds, they called back: “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Listen! That’s the same message God the Holy Spirit sends us out with today as He continues to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment . . . .” 

Please do not interpret this role of the Holy Spirit as one of vindictiveness or malice. God is love. Whatever He does, whatever He tells us, whenever He reproves us, He does so out of great love and compassion for us, that we may live with Him forever. 

When we first meet the Holy Spirit in Genesis chapter one, He ‘hovered’ or ‘brooded’ (the Hebrew can be translated either way) – He brooded over the waters on that first Creation day. That word paints for us a picture of a mother chick brooding over her young, covering them with her wings, protecting them, holding them close to her warmth. 

And that, my friends, is how the Holy Spirit, sent by the loving Father and Son, ‘broods’ over you and me, to protect us, to hold us close to His warmth, to give eternal life to all who desire it. As the psalmist wrote: How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalm 36:7) 

You may remember what the Lord Jesus said to those who were about to crucify Him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. (Matthew 23:37) 

Oh, Lord! Do not let us remain unwilling to hear your voice and follow you wherever you lead us!
Sin, righteousness, and judgment; Protection, nurturing and warmth.
That’s why Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said what he did on that Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Do we want to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Then repent. But please know, repentance is not something we do only once in our life. Neither is repentance something we do only in community during a time of common prayer.
Repentance means we agree with God – on the spot – when He says we’ve done or said something wrong. We agree with God and we STOP doing whatever it is that offends Him. 

Do we want to live in the power of the Holy Spirit?  Then repent. Do we want to live with the approval of the Holy Spirit?  Then repent. Do we want an assurance of eternal life after our life on earth is over? Then repent. 

This point of repentance cannot be overemphasized. Too many people sit in too many pews living what is often referred to as ‘sloppy grace’ – meaning they think of God more like a dotting grandfather than a Holy Fire. We think of God more of His willingness to forgive us, and not so much about what forgiveness of our sins cost HIM! 

God help us to do as we ought to do with our sins – bring them to you with words like these as often as we need to say them:

O my God, I am very sorry for having offended You. I hate my sins, not only because of your just punishment for my sins, but most of all because they offend You, my God, You who are deserving of all my love. And so I do my best right now, with Your help, to turn from my sin and again with your constant help, to not do it again. Thank you for your complete and utter forgiveness that you now give me, through Jesus your Son and my Savior. Amen.

Pentecost Sunday – indeed, ANY day – is a good day to start or to renew our relationship with Him who loves us so much that He died on that cross to reconcile us back to Himself.

Please. Don’t wait another hour to do so.

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