Reading Ramblings – May 31, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – May 31, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 25:1-15; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

Context: Fifty days after Passover, Pentecost is the Greek word for the Hebrew festival of Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks, primarily a harvest celebration. However the Jewish people also associated Shavuot with the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. So there is great significance that it was during this festival celebration the Holy Spirit was poured out first on the disciples and then on all those who were brought to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The symbolic timing would not be lost on those Jews gathered together and listening to the disciples speaking miraculously in languages they did not know, perfectly understandable to a broad cross section of Jews gathered from around the Roman world for this special festival celebration. The God of the Bible continues to pour out his blessings on his people, marking special occasions such as the creation of his chosen people Israel at Mt. Sinai, and the expanded people of Israel through faith at Pentecost.

Numbers 11:24-30 – Moses is tasked with leading perhaps as many as two million people through a desert wasteland where they are daily dependent upon God to satisfy their needs for food and water and safety. Needless to say, they are not always pleased with how God chooses to do this, quickly forgetting the laborious slavery and genocidal policies He delivered them from in Egypt. Their constant complaining is a burden to Moses, a responsibility he is unable to handle on his own. God’s solution is to provide assistance. Moses is instructed to gather 70 leaders of the people. These men would have come from each of the twelve tribes (though 70 isn’t neatly divisible by 12. It could be that larger tribes would have more leaders to watch over them) and would already be held in high regard by the people (v.16). But that esteem and regard was not enough. To properly lead and guide the people of God, these leaders needed the very Holy Spirit of God, and so God the Father shared the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit among these 70 persons as well as continuing to abide with Moses himself. Joshua’s response to the Holy Spirit’s presence even with those who had not obeyed the summons to assemble is understandable – why should they benefit from the Holy Spirit? Isn’t the Holy Spirit something to be guarded and restricted? Moses understands better though. What could be better than the abiding presence of the Spirit of God with every one of God’s people? What should better guide and keep the people of God in unity and obedience if not the indwelling Holy Spirit? Moses’ words foreshadow Pentecost, when God will indeed pour out the Holy Spirit upon all believers!

Psalm 25:1-15 – In Hebrews this psalm is an acrostic with the ongoing theme of the necessity and importance of being taught by God. The opening line of the psalm is a visualization of prayer itself, a lifting of and presenting to God of oneself in acknowledgement that all we have comes from God and is dependent upon him. In contrast to the speakers’ enemies, who are presumed by their actions to be enemies of God as well, the speaker desires most to learn (vs.4-5). This is the major blessing of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, opening minds and hearts in obedience to the will and Word of God where alone we can find reliable and truthful guidance through our lives. While we may obsess over the acts of power the Holy Spirit works through the disciples on Pentecost and all through the book of Acts, these acts of power are secondary and dependent upon the disciples acceptance of divine wisdom and guidance. As such these acts of power are no longer to be interpreted as the arbitrary initiative of the apostles, but rather as their obedient following of the Holy Spirit’s prompting to heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, and work other powerful signs and wonders as well.

Acts 2:1-21 – Jesus granted his disciples the Holy Spirit on Easter evening (John 20:19-23) but now they receive the Holy Spirit in power, a power made discernible as a mighty rushing wind instead of the gentle breath of Jesus on Easter evening. A power made visible in tongues of flame setting apart the followers of Christ – not just the apostles but all those gathered in faith together there. A power demonstrated through the sudden speaking of foreign languages. Multiple senses as well as internal and external observations validate that something is happening, the Holy Spirit is at work suddenly and mightily. Likely gathered together in the vicinity of the Temple, the languages now spoken by the apostles draw the attention of the Jews surrounding them, pilgrims to Jerusalem from much farther away than Galilee! They are amazed that these men – who obviously are not men of leisure or learning – can speak their languages fluently. Yet these mighty signs are quickly shown to be secondary to what really matters – the preaching of the Gospel, confronting the hearers with the objective reality of Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead and the subjective implications on the hearers’ lives. Either accept or reject. Either repent or refuse to acknowledge responsibility or guilt. Either believe the testimony of the gathered witnesses or ignore or reject it. Power in and of itself is never of value, but rather is the means to accomplishing some other end. That end can be personal and sinful, or it can be the salvation of individuals as guided by the Holy Spirit.

John 7:37-39 – The third of the great Old Testament feasts is referenced here in the Gospel – the feast of Sukkot or the Festival of Booths as it is otherwise known. Solomon’s Temple was dedicated on Sukkot (1 Kings 8:2), and Sukkot was the occasion when the exiles returned from Babylon and assembled to hear Ezra read God’s Word to them (Nehemiah 8). Themes of true worship are then bound up closely with this festival. So when Jesus proclaims loudly in the Temple on the final day of the feast, it is accented heavily. Rather than coming to the Temple, people should come to him. Rather than worry about the required sacrifices, those who come to Jesus will instead be given living water to flow out of them to others. Here Jesus prophecies what will happen at Pentecost, but also in fulfillment of Moses’ words in Numbers 11. Only in Jesus will the Holy Spirit be poured out in full rather than on just a few. In Jesus all will find life that is not merely a subsistence living but is bountiful and plentiful and a blessing to everyone around them, perhaps foreshadowing the descriptions of the early Church in Acts 2:42-47.

Jesus’ words clearly strike a chord in the people. He speaks with the power and boldness of the prophets of old, as some in the crowd acknowledge (v.40). So Jesus’ call remains bold and decisive today, leaving each person to either accept or reject the witness of his resurrection and his promise of forgiveness.

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