Why we need the transformative power of Pentecost.
By Charles Gardner.
The greatest need for both Jews and Gentiles is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as on the Day of Pentecost (or Shavuot) – 50 days after Yeshua was raised from the dead.
Whereas the Law of Moses, given 50 days after the exodus from Egypt, is the focus for Jewish celebrations today, Christians recall how Jews from all over the known world heard the good news in their own language, through which repentance and forgiveness of sins gave way to a new life of joy and intimacy with their Creator.
The commandments they were previously unable fully to keep were now written indelibly on their hearts through a power outside of themselves.
For example, the Apostle Paul referred to the Corinthian disciples as a letter from Christ “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Shavuot is the only feast still shared with Christians, though tragically many believing Gentiles neglect this celebration today despite it being generally recognised as the birth of the Church – though ‘birth of the new covenant gospel’ to the nations would be more accurate.
The reason for this is twofold, relating first to the distancing of Gentile Christians from the Jewish roots of their faith, cutting them off from the ‘nourishing sap’ on which they depend (see Romans 11:17). This results in a drying up of the vitality without which the church will wither and die.
Secondly, much of the church has settled for a faith that is more about head knowledge and ritualism, but lacking the dynamic aspect that launched the first disciples onto the world scene like an Exocet missile.
For Pentecost wasn’t some kind of initial blast-off to get the church moving into orbit. It was something that every new generation, and every new individual coming into the kingdom, needs to experience.
John the Baptist made it clear that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). And Jesus told his disciples – already believers – that they were to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from on high (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4 & 8).
After the Samaritans gladly accepted the gospel, Peter and John laid hands on them to receive the Spirit. And when Paul found believers in Ephesus, he asked if they had received the Spirit yet. The answer was no, so he prayed accordingly. Even Paul had to wait for this gift following his conversion.
If it was essential then, it surely still is. It’s pretty obvious anyway, bearing in mind the present weakness of the Western church. It is the fruit of the New Covenant, purchased by the blood of Christ, and spoken of by the prophets.
The Spirit emboldens us to preach the gospel fearlessly. We might have to wait and pray for it (for ten days in the case of Jesus’ first followers). But if we are determined to be so empowered, God is bound to answer, perhaps with fire and tongues, echoing the Mount Sinai experience – fire to ignite us and words from God to loosen our tongues!
Without this impartation our witness will be hampered. So I am joining in prayer with Christians around the world during this 21-Day fast for Israel (in the run-up to Shavuot) for an outpouring of the Spirit on Yeshua’s brothers in the flesh and for the peace of Jerusalem.
It is reminiscent of the ten-day prayer meeting that preceded the outpouring prophesied by Joel when the Apostle Peter inspired 3,000 fellow Jews to follow Jesus. That was the spring harvest; now we pray for the latter rains, when the full number of Gentiles have come in and Jews turn to Messiah en masse (see Luke 21:24, Romans 11:25f).
Joel’s prophecy was given in the context of the call to repentance – “rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13) – and the promise of restoring the years the locusts have eaten. Then, “after the rains” (Joel 2:28 New Living Translation) – that is, Israel’s physical blessing which has seen the desert blossom – the Spirit will be poured out.
Zechariah specifically prophesies of a time when a spirit of supplication will be poured out on Israelis (Zechariah 12:10). Pentecost took the gospel to the nations, and will bring it back to Israel.
There is, I believe, a suggestion that this revival will happen quite suddenly, much as Israel’s physical re-birth (Isaiah 66:8) did. Paul seems to think so with his statement about “how much more readily” the natural branches will be grafted back into the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11:24).
Pentecost is always a special time for me. I was born again at this time of year and it also coincides with my wife’s birthday and our wedding anniversary. It even relates to the number of our house (50), for which contracts were exchanged during Pentecost 2002. And with spring bursting out all over, what’s not to get excited about?
Journalist Peter Hitchens, writing of the current obsession with medication as the answer to all our problems, recalls how Aldous Huxley predicted a society in which a drug called Soma (miraculously harmless) would solve all our woes thus: “All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects… the warm, the richly coloured, the infinitely friendly world of Soma-holiday. There is always Soma, delicious Soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon.”
Hitchens then makes the point: “He meant it as a warning. We have taken it as a manual.”1
Whatever the future holds, it is not pills or protest or propaganda that will bring lasting peace and security, but Pentecost.
As Salvation Army founder William Booth put it in song: “O God of burning, cleansing flame, Send the fire!”
1Daily Mail, May 18, 2023