This Sunday, May 31st, Christians around the globe will be celebrating Pentecost. When you take a step back and think about the significance of this celebration one could wonder why the church at large doesn’t give much attention to it. Pentecost doesn’t get near the top billing for holy days like Christmas or Easter. But should it? Is Pentecost just a day of remembrance for the church or is it a day of reformation for the church? Let’s dig beneath the surface and take a look at the roots and see if we can’t understand the fruits of what we are celebrating.
The word Pentecost is a Greek word that means “50th day.” In the Hebrew/Jewish world it marked the 50th day after Passover and was a celebration of two very important events in the history of the nation. On a natural plain, it was a celebration of the conclusion of the grain harvests, specifically the harvest of the wheat. Wheat was a key grain in that it was the base for the staple of their diet, bread. On a spiritual plain, Pentecost was also associated with the giving of the Law of God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The true significance of Pentecost comes out when you meld these two celebrations together. It was the celebration of the completion of the wheat harvest and so loaves of bread made from the wheat were offered to God in thanksgiving, and it was also the celebration of the beginning of another thing, the giving of the Word of God, the living Bread, to man.
I believe that it is highly significant that the very first words that Jesus spoke to Satan at the beginning of His temptation were, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Luke 4:4). This is a quote from Deuteronomy, the book of the Old Covenant that explained the power of God’s Word given to the Hebrew nation. Here we have the key to defeating Satan and the forces of evil - allowing to come out of our mouth (human bread) the words that are coming out of God’s mouth (True, spiritual bread). When we are not living by human means alone, and yield and surrender to God’s desire to live through us, we become the power of God’s Word to free the world from the bondage of evil and to feed the world with the true bread that every heart is longing for!
When Jesus walked this planet as God in human flesh, He told His followers that He was the Bread of Life. To a Jew, this was a direct reference to the bread (manna) that God provided to the ancient Hebrews as they wandered in the wilderness before they entered into the Promised Land. Jesus was telling them that just as God provided this supernatural bread to keep them physically alive, Jesus was presenting Himself as the new Spiritual Bread that will keep man alive, eternally. At the last supper, Jesus took a loaf of bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, and said, “this is my body, take it and eat it.” Jesus was fulfilling the first part of Pentecost, the offering of loaves of bread in thanksgiving to God for the harvest. He was offering his life (human bread) in thanksgiving for the harvest of souls that was about to be reaped through the giving of the Spiritual Bread that was about to be released on the world.
The second part of the celebration of Pentecost was connected to the giving of the Word of God (the Law) to the Hebrew nation. If you read the account in Exodus, you will see Moses being called up onto Mount Sinai. Moses gets to the top and he is enveloped into a dark and ominous cloud that flashes of lightning and peals of thunder were exploding out of. It was a terrifying sight to the people standing at the foot of the mountain. It was the most awesome display of magnificence and power they had ever seen. The description of this event also included language that said that the mountain was on fire as God was speaking. The Word of God coming out of His mouth was like fire! This is the connection we must make if we are to understand the impact of Pentecost.
The scriptures are replete with references to fire and God’s presence and voice. The phrase, “God is a consuming fire” is perhaps the most broad description of God’s intention for interactions with the people He created. The word “consuming” means to eat up completely - to leave nothing, no scraps, no leftovers. When God’s fire is released, His intention is to completely devour whatever it touches. So think about this, the first part of Pentecost is Jesus offering Himself as bread and wants us to “take and eat.” He wants us to consume Him, completely. In the second part of Pentecost, God wants us to offer ourselves as bread so He can “take and eat” and consume us completely. Remember, bread is symbolic of life, and life is directly connected to words (man does not live by bread alone but by every WORD...) so there is a divine connection we must make with the giving of our life to God and the giving of His Word to us. Here is where Pentecost really heats up!
Before we jump into the upper room of Pentecost we need to hop up on the altar of sacrifice. The books of Exodus and Leviticus explain the procedures and protocols for the ancient Hebrews concerning worship and living out the Word of God (the Law) given through Moses. In the section where instructions were given for offering sacrifices upon the holy altar, we read that the very first offering, a ram that the High Priest Aaron had prepared, was laid out on the altar. This sacrifice was to be called, The Whole Burnt Offering, which means that the entire offering was to be consumed on the altar by fire. Nothing was to be left over. It all belonged to God.
Picture the scene. This is the first sacrifice to be made on the altar per God’s instructions. Aaron had done everything according to plan. There, on the altar, lay the ram. What about the fire? In the scriptural account we read that as soon as Aaron finished his job, fire came out of Heaven (from God) and totally consumed the offering. It must have been an awe-inspiring moment for the nation. Man provided the sacrifice. God provided the fire. This is the order that is set up at the beginning and this is the order that is to continue as long as man and God are partnering together in bringing the glory of Heaven to Earth. This fire that God sent was never intended to go out. The priests, from that point on, needed to keep the fire going for the future sacrifices.
Now fast forward a few thousand years. There is a new High Priest on the scene, Jesus. Jesus was not only the priest who prepared the sacrifice, He was the sacrifice! Jesus ushered in a whole new era of communion and commission between God and man. Jesus was the Word of God (the fire) in flesh form. He is the eternal flame, ready to consume any sacrifice that is willingly placed on the altar. Jesus, as a priest, spent more than 3 years preparing the first truly human sacrifices, His disciples. The life He lived and the words He spoke to them acted like the knife of the high Priest of old who had to cut the animals in pieces and lay them on the altar.
His words like, “take up your cross and follow me” cut to the quick of all who heard. Forcing decisions to be made about laying down lives for the sake of the Kingdom. Decision time was coming and Jesus had done everything He could do to get them ready...except for one thing. The fire still had to come and consume the sacrifices.
After His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days meeting with and giving final instructions to His disciples about what to do when He was no longer with them in the flesh. The last words He spoke in person was to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father, the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples had no clue what this meant, but they were willing to obey. It was now day 40 after the resurrection (passover)- how much longer did they have to wait? If you read the account in Acts 2, it was on the day of Pentecost (50th day), and something awesomely powerful took place.
There were approximately 120 disciples, sacrifices hand prepared by Jesus, sitting (or standing) as it were, on the altar, just waiting. And suddenly, fire falls in the form of flames flickering on the heads of these disciple-sacrifices. They were not consumed as the burnt offering of old. They looked more like the burning bush that Moses encountered in the wilderness that was on fire but not burning up. It was out of this fire-bush that God called Moses to his mission as a deliverer. It was out of these new fire-bushes that God was calling a new generation to be His faithful witnesses with the same mission to be deliverers to a world in bondage.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove that John described as, remaining on Him. The Holy Spirit never lifted. It is this picture that John equated with the prophecy that Jesus would baptize (fully consume) his disciple-sacrifices with fire. A fire that was to remain lit, just like the fire God lit under the Old Covenant. Now, these fiery disciples would be living sacrifices, setting the world on fire. They were consuming evil and setting other disciple-sacrifices on fire. Tending the fire was now the focus for the newly founded Church of Jesus.
Over the centuries, the church has tried to tame this fire by building nice campfire pits that we could all sit around, sing camp songs, roast our religious marshmallows and recount our tales of the glory days of the church in the book of Acts. Every once in a while, the fire would get too big for the enclosure and jump out into the streets and flames of Pentecost would begin to burst into wildfires, only to be contained and controlled once again by religious firefighters.
Alas, this has been the history of the church. But is it possible to break the cycle and let the fire rage? It is interesting to see what happened on that first Pentecost day. The church was gathered together in an upper room in a configuration that was safe and familiar to them. When the fire fell, what happened in the room was immediately thrust out into the streets. The disciples could have found a way to have fiery church services from then on and keep the fire for themselves but God had (still has) other intentions. This fire was designed to burn out of control!
When someone yells, FIRE!, after they have detected that a fire has started in a building, it is supposed to be an alarm signal (now we have smoke detectors and fire alarms) to get everyone out of the building. If we have ears to hear, I believe that Jesus is shouting, “FIRE!, everyone out of the building!” Could this Pentecost be a new beginning for the church to get out of the building and set the world on fire?
As much as the church is desiring to get back into their church buildings after months of lockdowns and shutdowns (rightly so, for fellowship is sacred), let us have the same passion to get out into the streets and be a burning bush for someone who is wandering in the wilderness looking for hope. It is time to light up the world! FIRE!
by Pastor Jim Anan