PENTECOST 2018 (1/5)

Can you remember a day in your life that impacted you so much that whenever you recall that time, it does something with you as if it were yesterday?

Hold that thought…

Let me start differently.

What do you think would be an event in world history that pretty much most people will remember, even with great details such as where they were when they first got notice of what happened?

Some older people may say something like: the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Others may even have another big event that they can call to remembrance as if it really was yesterday only.

Allow me to mention this biggie: 9/11.

I think it is safe to say that most of you who were (young) adults or teens remembered this day. Early in the morning in New York City two airplanes hit the Twin Towers causing a major scare among people of all nations. This day was so incredible that it is perhaps safe to say that there was a world before 9/11 and one after 9/11. Ever since reality changed. War-on-terror. Security. Fear. Nothing was the same since that day.

Perhaps for Australians it was experienced a bit different. Yet, recent attacks in Indonesia, besides other terrorist attacks in Melbourne, do show us that our world has changed. And somehow the marking point, the game-changer probably was 9/11. It wasn’t that bad stuff didn’t happen before that date in 2001. Terrorism wasn’t suddenly a totally new phenomenon, yet, after the attacks it became headlines.

A major event that shook up the world. While watching the CNN images of collapsing towers, despair and utter confusion, the world conscience knew that something major had shifted. The world would never, ever be the same.

Today it’s Pentecost. It’s part of the Christian holiday calendar. Still, for most Australians it is probably just another Sunday. In fact, if you were to ask random citizens in Perth what Pentecost was all about, what answers would you get?

We know that Australia is becoming increasingly post-Christian, meaning that the predominant factor of life, worldview, morality and destiny is not based on the Bible, nor is the relevance of God in daily life one to be considered. An increasing number of Aussies would consider them perhaps spiritual, although many others would associate themselves with ‘no religion’. If Christianity plays a role, it is for most of them a very nominal one. Going to a service with Easter and Christmas, two other Christian holidays. But Pentecost? No! Not really…

In the collective memory of first century citizens of Jerusalem, the day of Pentecost was like a 9/11 experience. It was a big, big game-changer. Everything changed! It’s safe to say that for the people of Jerusalem back then there was a time before Pentecost and a time after. Pentecost changed everything!

Now, let me first clarify a few terms here for those of you who, like many Aussies, are not so sure of the term ‘Pentecost’. The Greeks in our community have the advantage here because Pentecost is actually a Greek word. It means something like ‘fifty’ or ‘fiftieth’. Why? Simple. In the Jewish calendar (another one we are not so familiar with…) life revolved around 3 major festivals that were ordained by God to keep being:

  1. Pesach – we know it as Easter or Resurrection Sunday
  2. Sukkoth or Tabernacles – Christians usually don’t celebrate this festival but the Jews do this in order to remember their time in the wilderness as they came out of Egypt (see Exodus for the story and Leviticus for the festival)
  3. Shavuot – First-fruits (or Weeks) – again Christians know it now as Pentecost but the Jews celebrated this festival 7 weeks + 1 day after Pesach.

Pentecost was an agricultural festival where the first fruits, the first incoming of the harvest – not the full harvest but the first part of it – was celebrated. It was also the time where the Jews thanked God trusting that He would also provide in the full harvest which would come later in the year.

During these three festivals people from all over the Roman Empire would flock into the Holy City to partake in this important feast.

My family used to live in a city near the beach for some time a few years ago. During the year this city was not very busy, but that would change dramatically with the big holidays such as Christmas and New Year. Thousands of tourists would come into this beautiful place to enjoy the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean, pristine beaches and nightlife. For those who lived there, this experience sometimes was a bit overwhelming with suddenly a city that just became a complete chaos overnight. I imagine that Jerusalem was pretty much like that. It was packed with people from all over the world coming to celebrate the Festival of Pentecost.

Now, shift gears with me again. When I said earlier that 9/11 was the huge game-changer for the public conscience of people of the 21st century, Pentecost surely was that for the people present in Jerusalem. There were no media outlets to report on it, no Social Media to spread the word about what just went down there, but people of different tribes and tongues were present there.

Let’s read Acts 2:1-4 to understand what happened.

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they (120 people including 12 disciples) were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from Heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

The natural elements that played a role here were so significant that it was not just an event that affected 120 people in a room. It caught the attention of Jerusalem. Probably the noise was so loud that many people flocked to the place where the 120 praying men and women had gathered.

When you continue reading the passage, you see that there was a great diversity of peoples and opinions about what just happened here. The writer, the physician Luke, in great detail describes the nations where these people were from. Basically, he was saying that the people came from all neighbouring countries of Israel and beyond.

The diversity of opinions is also striking to read. Two reactions stand out.

Reaction 1: Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?

Let me translate this to 2018. I am still relatively new in Australia, but usually every country has a certain (condescending) view of one particular group in society. It often has to do with class, intellect, socio-economic status or religion. For example, in my country, Holland, people from the countryside are often seen as ‘farmer people’. Simple souls. Not very sophisticated or intellectual like the people from the city. Particularly from the northern regions of Holland that is the stereotype that is very persistent. Perhaps you can think of a people group, a city or region where the citizens have perhaps an ‘interesting dialect’, meaning, funny or even ‘stupid’.  That is what the first reaction is about in Acts 2. These Galileans, in the USA they’d be probably considered something like hillbillies from the deep south, are suddenly linguistic masterminds speaking all the languages of the people that were present there. How on earth is that even possible?

Reaction 2 is even more condescending:

‘They are full of new wine’

Reality check…it was still morning. These praying men and women were not into booze. It was a derogatory way of saying: these folks are full of nonsense…

There was also a third reaction of many people. What was it?

Acts 2:12 says this: ‘So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”…’

When God is on the move – and He obviously was at Pentecost – everything changes. Yet, people’s reaction can be very different. Many people got saved on Pentecost, but many also reacted negatively. Living for and with God divides the waters. In the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it was already like that and with His followers it wasn’t much different. It shouldn’t surprise us 2018 years later that the mission of the church to make followers of Christ (even with the good and the bad stuff that happened) divides the waters.

In my next blog I will tell you the big story of God as we go through 6 big scenes. Four of them I will cover in blog 2 and two more in blog 3. It will help us getting understanding in where Pentecost fits in.