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"Sir, we wish to see Jesus" John 12:21
Pentecost   PENTECOST

Ten days after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples gathered again in the upper room where they had celebrated the Passover and where Jesus had appeared to them after his resurrection. It was the 50th day after his resurrection and also the Hebrew festival of Shavuot, or in Greek, Pentecost (meaning 50 days). Shavuot is an agricultural festival that marks the beginning of the wheat harvest in Israel. It also marks the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai when the people encamped by the mountain of God fifty days after departing Egypt. When Jesus was taken up to heaven he told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the “promise of the Father.” So they gathered, about 120 in all, both men and women. While they were in prayer they heard the sound of a rush of violent wind filling the house and they saw divided tongues of fire that rested upon each one of them. Luke says in his account, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

So the promise of the Father, as Jesus called it, was now beginning to be fulfilled. The prophet Joel spoke of this promise when he wrote, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” There were both men and women in the upper room that day. And likely there were both slaves and freemen. But there were only Jews. No Gentiles were present. For this reason the Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in other languages. So when the disciples went into the streets of Jerusalem to witness to what had happened, they spoke in various native languages of the Gentiles. Devout Jews who lived in those lands and had come back to Jerusalem for the festival heard them speak in their own tongues. This was a prophetic sign that the promise was indeed for all flesh equally, Jew and Gentile, male and female, salve (poor) and free (rich). Without partiality God grants his Spirit through Jesus to all who seek it.

The effects of this baptism with the Holy Spirit are manifold. One is that we come to know ourselves as beloved children of the heavenly Father. Once in a dialogue with a man named Nicodemus Jesus declared, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” Nicodemus misunderstood and asked how he could enter his mother’s womb again and be born once more. But Jesus was speaking of rebirth by the Spirit from above. Our fleshly birth from our earthly parents gives us an identity of family, clan, race, language, class, and nation. This identity is good but limited. With it we see ourselves separate and apart from others. When we are born from above by the Spirit we receive an identity from the one God and Father of all. It is an inclusive household, or kingdom, and the Spirit enables us to “see” it. John saw it in a vision that he records in his Apocalypse, where he wrote, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, robed in white with palm branches in their hands.”

What John saw in his vision was a distant dream from the small gathering of Jews at Pentecost in Jerusalem. But as the disciples began witnessing to Jesus and the Spirit after that day their numbers grew as other Jews came to believe in Jesus... They were referred to as “Followers of the Way.” These “Followers” in obedience to Jesus’ commission to go into all the world and empowered and guided by the Spirit soon began to witness to the Gentiles as well. From Jerusalem they went out in all directions gathering people everywhere into Jesus’ fellowship. Greek was the lingua franca of its day and thus the fellowship came to be called the church, from the Greek word ekklesia – to call out. The members of the fellowship came to be called Christians – the Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah – since it identified into whose fellowship they were called.

The work of the first disciples of witnessing to Jesus has been replicated in every generation since for two reasons. Becoming a Christian involves spiritual birth not physical birth and so each generation must come to it again and anew as Jesus had told Nicodemus. And it has taken many generations to spread the message throughout the nations. It has spread and presently this household of God’s kingdom more nearly matches John’s vision of a great multitude. Today there are 2 billion Christians in the world and they can be found in virtually every nation and among most tribes and peoples and languages.

(Painted by El Greco)

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