When the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jews from across the known world at Pentecost, it was not meant to be a one-off, as is widely claimed today.
Both Gentiles and Jews still need that power – along with all the gifts of the Spirit, including tongues. And for my key witness, I call in a friend and colleague from the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), Rev Ralph Goldenberg.
Ralph, now a retired vicar, was having second thoughts about being ordained into the Church of England ministry when confirmation came through a message in tongues – in Sudanese Arabic!
He had grown up in Sudan, where his grandfather was Chief Rabbi, and immediately recognised the language of the speaker at a home prayer meeting whose message translated as “God loves you. You are from the blood of Abraham. The gospel is in your mouth.”1
The Day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection of our Lord, was essentially a fulfilment of the New Covenant promised to Israel (Jer 31.31) – not just the birth of the Gentile church with 3,000 new believers, but an extension of God’s promises to his ancient people, through whom we would all be blessed (Gen 12.3).
It was also a fulfilment of the Law given on Mt Sinai (50 days after the Exodus) – then written on tablets of stone, now engraved on human hearts (Matt 5.17, Rom 2.15, 2 Cor 3.2f) – as well as a reversal of the curse at Sinai which saw 3 000 rebels die, and of the Tower of Babel, when languages were confused. So while the Law was given on Mt Sinai when God spoke through thunder, lightning and fire, we are now empowered to fulfil the Law through the wind and flames of Pentecost (or Shavuot).
As with all three main festivals, Shavuot is concerned with harvest – in this case the wheat harvest, seven weeks after the barley harvest (first fruits) that followed Passover and coincided with the resurrection. Tabernacles marks the final harvest of all the fruit of the land, and it is widely believed Jesus will return during this feast, when the harvest of the earth seeded by the gospel will be reaped.
The Book of Ruth is traditionally read at Shavuot because the Moabitess returned to the land with her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi during the barley and wheat harvest. Ruth is also symbolic of how the Gentiles would play an essential part in Jewish restoration – first to the land, but also in revealing their Kinsman-Redeemer. She even formed part of the lineage of our Saviour!
Ruth took refuge under the wings of the God of Israel (Ruth 2.12) just as Gentiles have done over the past 2,000 years, though not always appreciating or recognising this obvious truth. Ruth indeed symbolises the Gentile contribution to the final harvest.
As Joel had prophesied, the Spirit was poured out in wind and flame as God spoke in many tongues to the pilgrims in Jerusalem. Harnessing our sails to God’s life-giving Spirit will give us movement and direction, as it does for yachts on the ocean wave. It will also fill us with great joy – indeed, Peter had to explain: “These men are not drunk, as you suppose…” — Acts 2.15
And along with the wind comes the fire of conviction experienced by Isaiah when his lips were touched by a live coal from the altar (Isa 6.7) and by Elijah when calling down fire from heaven to demonstrate who is God.
What’s more, we are given strength to resist temptation – remember how Jesus successfully resisted the devil after being led by the Spirit into the Wilderness (Matt 4.1). My chief motivation for seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit 40 years ago was a cry for help in resisting temptation. I received what I was asking for – and so much more, especially boldness in witnessing along with an ever-deepening well of joy in worship (see Isa 12.3) and in my daily walk with the Lord.
As stated last week, Pentecost is primarily to equip us for witness: The Bread of Life sending down the Breath of God to bring in the harvest. The Greek translation of the word used for Pentecostal power (Acts 1.8) is dunamis, from which we get dynamite. It’s explosive!
Duncan Campbell, a key figure of the Hebridean Revival of 1949-52, rightly challenges us: “How is it that while we make such great claims for the power of the gospel, we see so little of the supernatural in operation? Is there any reason why the Church today cannot everywhere equal the Church at Pentecost? What did the early Church have that we do not possess today? Nothing but the Holy Spirit, nothing but the power of God.”2
In the 1904 Welsh Revival, debts were paid, stolen goods returned and family feuds settled. Amidst scenes of ‘wild jubilation’, some meetings went on all night. Men came along in their work clothes with their lunch already packed ready for the next day. Police had virtually nothing to do except control the crowds queueing outside the chapels and magistrates had no cases to try.
And for my piece de resistance, Shavuot coincided with my wife Linda’s birthday, for which I cooked her favourite meal. Unusually, she asked for hollandaise sauce with the salmon (along with asparagus and Jersey royals) and then, on a whim, decided to rustle up a baked raspberry cheesecake for pudding – something she has not made in nearly 20 years of us being together.
It was only afterwards we discovered that dairy food in general, and cheesecake in particular, are traditional Jewish treats for the festival as they remember their journey to the land of milk and honey!
We took that as further confirmation of the weight of importance with which our Lord accords this festival. Don’t be a foolish virgin; keep the fire burning!
1A Nation Reborn (Christian Publications International) p129, quoting from Find the Truth and Lock it in Your Heart (www.creativebooksolutions.com)
2Christian Friends of Israel’s Watching Over Zion newsletter, 28th May 2020