One of the joys of being a parent is learning to see the world again from a fresh perspective. I say “fresh” and not “new” because far too often we forget the wonder of what it was like to be a child. The beauty of a child’s perspective comes in this: they can build whole worlds from the items you and I consider to be ordinary, boring, or even forgettable.
What part of your childhood do you carry with you like an old heirloom kept deep in your pocket? For me, I’ve always wondered what sort of language animals speak. I cannot help but consider the birds of the air, as they fly together, and sit upon the highest tree chirping back and forth.
Languages have always been fascinating to me. How a single item can have so many names by so many people, and yet all point to the same thing. Language is a tool, a key even! But is the church’s celebration of Pentecost merely a recognition of the gift of languages (“tongues”)?
Pentecost began with the early church of 120 gathering together “devoting themselves to prayer…” (Acts 1:14 ESV). Notice that there were no cliques, no divisions, no carnivals, no bait-and-switch. There was a singular focus on praying to the Lord Jesus Christ and obeying his command to wait in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4-5). They waited for ten days in prayer. When was the last time you spent ten days in prayer? I certainly haven’t. But it tells us something about their priorities, doesn’t it? Church was not a societal obligation for them, but a sweet delight, worth the best of their time and effort. But we have to ask a more basic question: What is Pentecost?
Pentecost was a Jewish feast day meant to celebrate God’s physical provision for the harvest. But it also commemorated the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20). There, in the fire and the smoke we see a parallel to Pentecost. In Exodus, Moses and the people of God gathered on the brink of a new moment in the history of redemption. Moses ascended the mount, where the people could not go. Moses beheld the mount covered with fire, bellowing with the sound of ever-increasing trumpets all signifying the descent of the LORD. Lastly, Moses received the Law, descended from the mount, and gave it to the people of God.
The parallels to Pentecost are striking! In Acts, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Last and Greater Moses stands with His people on the Mount of Olives, and ascends into the heavenlies where the people cannot yet ascend. The Son and the Father send the Holy Spirit, with the images of fire and the sound of a violent rushing wind so that the words of Jeremiah 31:33 would come to pass, “…I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts…” (ESV). As we carefully consider these two moments we find Moses to be pointing forward to this sacred moment. We find in Christ a greater Mediator, and a fire which no longer keeps the people at bay. We find a law, no longer external to the people of God. We find a Spirit, no longer limited to a few, but poured out upon all of God’s people at Pentecost.
Pentecost is not meant to be an isolated event. But a reminder that God accomplished something remarkable in that unrepeatable, significant moment in redemptive history; He gave Himself to His church forever. And because God gives Himself, Christians are transformed from spiritual tombs into walking Temples of the Most High God. Pentecost is all about God’s empowering the believer to live for God with the people of God under the Word of God while feasting upon the Word of God (the sacraments). You cannot be full of the Spirit, if you are already full of self-righteousness and bitterness. If you stand cold and in need of God even now, cry out O Christian, “Come Holy Spirit. Purify us. Vivify us. Cleanse us O Spirit of the living God.”