This past Wednesday was a holiday. The Jews call it Shavuot. It
celebrates the handing down of the Law from God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Today is also a Christian holiday. It is Pentecost. It celebrates the giving
of the Holy Spirit to all believers.
Why do we celebrate a religious holiday?
Because God tells us to do so?
Yes, but that really only applies to the Jews.
So why do we do it?
To make us better Christians?
No, for the act of celebrating a holiday doesn’t make us any better or, more importantly, move us any closer to God.
Then why do we celebrate so many holidays in church?
Unfortunately, the answer all too often is because of tradition. And that’s not a good answer, for far too many people who claim to be Christians participate in the violent ways of the world.
The real answer should be to remember what God did for us, and thereby praise Him for what He did. And if we praise and worship Him in spirit and truth, and live the peaceful life Jesus taught us to live, then and only then will we move closer to God. This should really be the only reason to celebrate a holiday.
Now, in order for us to begin our spiritual journey into remembrance, we must prepare our hearts and minds by removing any worries, concerns, or doubts we may have.
Father, help each of us here today to be open to your message; remove anything within us that is hindering us. Anoint us with a special infilling of your Holy Spirit, and let it be your words that are spoken and heard. Amen.
So where do we start on our spiritual journey?
The best place is where God started it.
Back in the days of Abraham, there was no Law. In fact, God had a grace/faith relationship with His people. We are told about this relationship in Genesis 15:6, where Abraham believed in the Lord, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.
All Abraham did was believe and have faith, and God considered it better than any work he could do. This was 430 years before the Law. And do you know something? It hasn’t ever changed. It is we who have changed.
Let’s look a little closer.
During the time that the Israelites were in Egypt, they picked up many of the worldly traits of the Egyptians. They, for the most part, lost their faith in the Lord. Even when shown the many miracles of the Exodus, they still didn’t have real faith.
So what happened?
God had to become more formal with them. Don’t we react the same way when our children abuse the freedom we give them? And have not our own privileges been taken away when we have done something wrong?
So God calls Moses to the top of the mountain and gives him His commandments. And even through these 40 days of testing, the people could not wait, and turned from God.
In Exodus, chapter 32, we read the account of these events:
How the people turned from God by making a golden calf (verses 1-6),
How God’s anger rose up to destroy them all (verses 7-10),
How Moses interceded for them with God (verses 11-14),
That in Moses’ anger with the people, he broke the tablets (verses 19-20),
And finally, how 3000 people died for turning against God (verses 25-29).
The Law was nevertheless in effect, and the Law brings death.
Hold this last thought as we move forward in our journey.
The Jews celebrate this holiday, the fourth of the seven feasts, by presenting their "first fruits" to the Lord.
As part of this service, the priest waves two loaves of leavened bread. In the Old Testament, leaven speaks of sin. And this is the only celebration that uses leavened bread.
The priest waves the one loaf from side to side to ward off the evil wind, and the other loaf he waves or heaves up and down to ward off the evil dew.
If the leaven in the bread represents sin, then is this saying that sin, or evil, can ward off evil?
May it never be! And this is not what it is saying. It is speaking of God’s grace and not the Law and sin relationship.
See, the bread represents a type of us, all puffed up and fluffy in our own self-esteem. Yes, and full of sin; all of us.
But there is also something else very special about this leavened bread, and all leavened bread, for that matter. It is full of tiny air holes. The word for spirit in the Bible can also mean wind or breath, both of which describe air in motion, either good or evil. And if we are truly open to the Lord, we will be full of the Holy Spirit, and He will ward off the evil in the world around us.
This brings us full circle to the true meaning of Pentecost.
Pentecost, which is but 50 days from the sabbath of Passover, and but 49 days from Easter, or more properly, Resurrection Day, speaks of God’s Power within us. This Power is the Holy Spirit.
It’s all His power. It’s not ours. All we have to do is be willing to accept Him into our lives.
We see Peter in Acts, chapter 2:36-42, anointed with the Holy Spirit, stand up and preach a sermon that led 3000 people to the saving power of Christ.
This is the same Peter who didn’t recognize the Lord, at first, from the fishing boat; who wasn’t sure of Christ’s resurrection on that first Easter; who denied Him three times, and who suffered with the affliction of “foot-in-mouth disease.” Yes, this is the same Peter. And here at Pentecost this same Peter is anointed and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
And with the power of the Holy Spirit, 3000 are saved. With the conviction of the Law, 3000 died.
How did this happen?
Peter repented of his sins. He believed in the Lord. And this we know, for this is also the same Peter, that when asked by the Lord, “Who do you say that I am?” responded with, "Thou art the Christ." And the Lord forgave him. For once he submitted himself totally to the will of God, God was able to use him.
And what about the 3000?
This can best be answered by reading Acts 2:36-42.
36. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has
made Him both Lord and Christ — this Jesus whom you crucified."
37. 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?"
38. And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39. "For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself."
40. And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"
41. So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
42. And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
These are the ones who truly repented and turned away from their worldly
ways with all its violence, just as Peter turned away from fishing.
And what about us?
We can’t work our way into heaven. It’s all by faith. It’s all by grace. All God wants is our total submission to Him. We have to do what the 3000 did.
And when we submit to Him, He will set us free; free from the powers of sin and death; free from all the pressures we put upon ourselves; free to truly rest in Him.
His burden is light. The work we do in Him after salvation is a joy. That which we do without Him is usually just work.
Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us this.
8. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of
yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9. not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
10. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Jesus is right here with us now. He has His hands outstretched for you,
personally. Yes, outstretched on the cross for each one of us. He died for
every one of us while we were yet sinners. All we have to do is accept that
completed work. And He rose from the dead to prove it.
He also has His hand outstretched toward each of us. All we have to do is accept it. Accept His free gift. Take His hand today, if you haven't already done so. And if you've let go, reach out again. His hand is right there.
Think about the celebration of Communion; doesn’t it also celebrate this free gift?
It is His body that was presented for us. It is His blood that was shed for us to cover all our sins: past, present, and future, as long as we have a repentant spirit.
Partake of it in remembrance of Him. Here's that word again: remembrance, in remembrance of Him.
There is no longer any need, if there ever was, for the blood sacrifice of innocent animals to cover our sins. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, to cover our sins, once for all time. All we have to do is accept it.
By first laying upon the altar our sins by confessing them, and repenting of them.
Unload any remaining burdens. Accept His offer of forgiveness and eternal salvation. Receive the Grace and Power of Pentecost.
It’s a free gift. Receive it right now. Our personal relationship with
Him is more important than anything in the entire world. Don’t reject it. He loves you very much. So much so, that He died for you, and for me, and for everyone else in the world.
He wants us to be transformed into the loving, compassionate, and peacemaking children of God who turn away from the violent ways of this world and help to free creation from its present corruption.
If you have that burden on your heart, come up to the altar now, even if it’s only a spiritual altar right in front of you. Unload it here. Then celebrate a very special and truly holy communion with Jesus Christ, even if only a spiritual one.
And when you leave, don’t pick up what you set on the altar; for if you do, you will leave the blessing behind in its place.
Have faith and trust in the Lord.
You will never regret it.