Reading Ramblings – May 24, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – May 24, 2015

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 139:1-12; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Context: Pentecost was a Jewish celebration, which is why there were so many Jews from so many different places present in the reading from Acts 2. However the Jewish festival was originally known as the Feast of Weeks, detailed in Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10. This was a firstfruits celebration, and it occurred at the beginning of the wheat harvest. Jewish tradition says that this festival also coincides with God’s giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai 50 days after the Exodus. However the fifty is more directly linked to the celebration of Pentecost 50 days after Passover. This was one of three major Jewish festivals that was supposed to be celebrated in Jerusalem if at all possible.

For Christians Pentecost is the beginning of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples, pouring out in them as a firstfruit, a promise of more outpourings to come. Peter promises that this outpouring is to all those who receive faith in Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:39).

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – This vision is not just one of rejuvenation or refreshing. This vision is a promise of life from death. Not a helping hand, but resurrection. When there is no hope to be had, no outside chance, no long-shot, nothing but death and silence, the Word of God speaks and creates life. This reading is traditional for Pentecost Sunday because we say that the Holy Spirit has created life – the Church. He enters into us when we are spiritually dead and brings faith which brings us to life. He fills us with his presence, the breath of God that animated an army of former bones, the breath of life that filled Adam to consciousness. We are blessed to have this Holy Spirit, this breath of God filling us all of our days in faith.

Psalm 139:1-12 – If God the Holy Spirit is within us, there is truly nothing that God does not know about us. There is nothing that can separate us from his presence (other than our rejection of him!). This might frighten us, but the psalmist assures us that this is to be a comfort, not a threat. We are assured that He will be with us constantly, encouraging, strengthening, enlightening, forgiving. He is in a very real sense our life – both the creator and sustainer of our physical bodies, as well as the author of our spiritual life. When I doubt my own faith, when I doubt my own sincerity, I lean on the constant presence of God the Holy Spirit. I cannot keep my promises, but God can and does. I cannot trust myself, but I trust in the God who created me, redeemed me, and promises to make me wholly and holy his.

Acts 2:1-21 – The formal account of the Holy Spirit’s coming to the disciples in power. They had already received the Holy Spirit privately (John 20:19-23). It is the power of the Holy Spirit that allows the disciples to declare the forgiveness (or non-forgiveness) of sin. While it is traditional in some ways to talk of a partial receiving of the Holy Spirit in John 20, now completed in Acts 2, this seems awkward to me. Can the Holy Spirit be partially received? Or is it more likely that the issue is not the presence or power of the Holy Spirit, but the perfect timing of God the Father? Just as Jesus waits upon the Father’s timing for his coming in glory at the end of time, so the Holy Spirit waits for some period of time. It makes logical sense that the Father would wait until Pentecost, knowing how many Jews from how many places would be present. The Gospel Peter preaches is undoubtedly carried back to these distant places, facilitating the start of the Church not just in Jerusalem but around the Jewish diaspora! I am not capable of discerning how much of the Holy Spirit may or may not have been given immediately after Jesus’ resurrection, but I can trust completely that God the Father’s timing is perfect, and that in His time and according to His will, the power of the Holy Spirit is more than enough to accomplish his will!

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 – Jesus clearly predicts the Holy Spirit’s coming and what it will mean for his disciples. It is not their efforts that will spread the Gospel throughout the world, but the Spirit of Truth within them that will accomplish this. Jesus goes on to clearly indicate that He will not remain with them much longer. While contextually this references his arrest and execution in a few hours, it also presages his ascension. Jesus does actually depart. He does actually go to be with his Father. It is his departure that makes the coming of the Holy Spirit possible. Again, our duty here is not to try and decipher some hidden mystery of how God works. Is it only possible or God the Son and God the Spirit to be present separately from one another? Hardly, as Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration both make clear (Mark 1:9-11; Mark 9).

It simply is what it is. Jesus must go, the Holy Spirit will come. This is actually a good thing! As hard as it is for us to accept, Jesus actually states that having the Holy Spirit is better than having the incarnate Son of God in your midst! What an amazing assertion, and therefore what comfort we ought to have! Far from wishing that we could see Jesus, encounter him and experience him as his disciples did, we have the Holy Spirit of God with us constantly.

The Holy Spirit will be at work in spreading the Gospel. But as He does this, attendant things are associated. People will be convicted of their sin, because they will be confronted with the Gospe land will be forced to make a decision about it’s truth and implications. They will be convicted of Jesus’ righteousness, as accounted not just his resurrection from the dead, but his ascension to be with the Father. And they will be confronted with a decision – to accept these things or to be condemned in their rejection, just as Satan is condemned.

We are promised that the Holy Spirit can and does convey more to us than Jesus himself conveyed to his disciples during his short time with them. All of this is to the glory of God the Son and God the Father, and therefore the glory of God the Holy Spirit as well. We will not lack anything, but will receive all that we need as his faithful followers until the day of our Lord’s return. We should not think of this in purely physical ways – as is popular these days in American Christianity. Jesus is speaking about revelation and an understanding of what God has done, is doing, and will do.

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