Sunday, June 8, 2014

Day of Pentecost
Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 25:1-15
Acts 2:1-21
John 7:37-39

Mine eyes are ever toward Jehovah; For he will pluck my feet out of the net.

The psalmist says, ďUnto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee have I trusted, Let me not be put to shame; Let not mine enemies triumph over me.Ē He then goes on to list his hope for this relationship with the divine. He does not want to be put to shame. He does not want his enemies to triumph over him. He believes that those who trust in God will never be put to shame, but the treacherous enemies will.

The psalmist hopes that God will show His ways and teach His paths to those who believe. He wants to be guided in truth and to be taught by the only one in whom we can have hope. He hopes God will remember His mercy and love. He hopes God will forget his sin. ďAccording to thy lovingkindness remember thou me, for thy goodnessí sake, O Jehovah.Ē His hope is based entirely on Godís goodness. The psalmist goes on to describe the reason we can trust in God. God is good and upright. He instructs, guides and teaches His people in the right way. His way is loving and faithful. He takes care of those who live according to His Word.

This sounds all well and good, but we know that Christians have not always seemed to have this peaceful and blessed life. Neither have the Jews. When we think about the Nazi regime and the incredible persecution of the Jews, we see how Godís enemies did put Godís people to shame. Most of what the Nazis did to the people who suffered at their hands was designed to be degrading and shameful, even to the ultimate humiliation: cruel suffering and death. People have died in disgusting and shameful ways throughout the history of the Church, but in the end those martyrs knew that there was no shame in their death because their God was waiting for them on the other side.

The psalmist recognizes that life is not perfect, but even more importantly that he is not perfect. ďFor thy nameís sake, O Jehovah, Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.Ē We are not worth being saved, but the psalmist knows that Godís promises make our lives valuable to Him. He asks for Godís pardon, not for himself, but so that the world will see Godís faithfulness. He asks again for Godís teaching and guidance for those who fear Him, for he recognizes that it is only by Godís grace and power that any of us can be blessed by God.

It is only by Godís grace and power that we can be set free. The psalmist puts it this way, ďMine eyes are ever toward Jehovah; for he will pluck my feet out of the net.Ē We want this to have something to do with making our life easy in this world. We want God to protect us from those enemies that threaten persecution and death. We want God to save us from the world.

But the psalmist reminds us that thereís a greater enemy that we have to face, and that it ourselves. We are sinners and nothing we do will ever be good enough to live in the presence of God our Father. We donít deserve to be led or taught by the Most High. We donít deserve to be forgiven or remembered with lovingkindness. We deserve to be shamed. But God wonít shame us. Ever. As a matter of fact, He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to take on His shoulders everything that we deserved.

Jesus suffered horribly at the hands of those who did not believe Godís Word and did not fear God, but instead feared that theyíd lose their power, position and place in this world. They shamed Him by putting Him on a cross, but the reality is that Jesus was not shamed. He was glorified on that cross, a glory that won for us the forgiveness of God and a place in His Kingdom. Because of Jesus, we have received the fulfillment of all these hopes of the psalmist. God invites us to learn from Him, to walk with Him, to share in His glory and to serve with His grace. He is our Savior, despite our failure to be the people He created us to be, and in our salvation He makes us those very people again.

Thatís what Pentecost is all about. In the life of Peter we see our own reality. Peter was chosen by Christ, he was a leader of the disciples. He was in Jesusí inner circle, perhaps even Jesusí best friend. He was given a lot of responsibility, and in many ways filled Jesusí shoes when He ascended to heaven. He was the first to speak in Acts 1:16, encouraging the gathered assembly of believers to get on with the business of Church. He was the first to speak in todayís second lesson; his speech at Pentecost was the first public ministry of the Church without Jesus. Yet, this Peter who is given so much authority by Jesus and the other disciples was as imperfect as the rest of us. He failed Jesus in many ways while He was still among the disciples. Peter never fully understood what Jesus was teaching. Peter might have gone his own way if it hadnít been for Godís answer to the prayers of todayís psalmist.

The disciples were abandoned briefly when Jesus ascended into heaven, but even then they had a bit of the promise. Jesus had breathed on them that first night after His resurrection. They received the Holy Spirit in that breath, but there was more to come. It was enough to help them learn and understand what Jesus taught them for forty days, and then to patiently wait for the fulfillment of Jesusí promise. They waited and they prayed until God finished the work of preparation.

The Holy Spirit came upon those disciples at Pentecost, not just as a breath like they experienced seven weeks ago, or like it came upon those in the Old Testament who had been so blessed. The Holy Spirit came into the world in a whole new way. They were not just kissed by the Spirit. The Spirit did not just land on them. At Pentecost they were filled with Godís Holy Spirit. They were filled. God was no longer going to work at them from the outside, pushing, leading, guiding; now He would move them from within. They would not just learn Godís Word in their heads, it would be written on their hearts. The words they spoke, though in their own voice, would be Godís Word as He spoke through them.

We see this in a spectacular way at the first Pentecost. After waiting and praying, the Holy Spirit came upon them in tongues of fire and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The people who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost, people of many different nations, could hear them declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues. ďWhat does this mean?Ē they asked. They certainly could not have spoken those words on their own. Though the disciples probably had limited knowledge of the languages of Jerusalem, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin and Greek, they could not have shared the message of Jesus in the many foreign languages that were witnesses to this incredible moment.

The Jews were all in Jerusalem for one of the three major pilgrimage festivals held throughout the Jewish year. Pentecost was a time to celebrate the first fruits of harvest. They had come from all over bringing their offerings of wheat, figs, olives and grapes to praise God for His goodness. Pentecost was also a time to remember and praise God for the Torah, the Law. This was a joyous festival, but was a time of contemplation for every Jew. Just as the Israelites received the Ten Commandments at Sinai, every Jew was expected to receive Godís Law for themselves, through study of the scriptures and prayer.

Some of those who heard the disciples at Pentecost made fun of them and claimed they must be drunk. It must have seemed so disgraceful, perhaps even shameful, for the disciples to be acting with such disrespect for Godís Word. However, they were not drunk: the disciples had finally received everything that was promised since the beginning of time. The prophecies were fulfilled. Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit. The Word of God now dwelt within each believer. The power of God was part of their life. They were fully prepared to continue the work of Jesus and do even greater things than He did, because now they were gifted to preach Godís word with POWER! Through their witness, many called on the name of the Lord and were saved.

We are also recipients of the promises Jesus gave to His disciples. He is faithful Ďtil this very day. He has not left us. He has prepared a place for us. He has given us the Holy Spirit and everything we need to continue His work in this world. At Pentecost, the Jews celebrated the outward giving of Godís Word to the people of Israel, and we continue to celebrate Pentecost to this very day. As Christians, though, we celebrate something very different. For us Pentecost is the day God sent His Spirit to dwell within the hearts of believers, each child of God filled with His Word. In faith we live in the same power and authority that the disciples were given so many years ago at that first Pentecost.

At Pentecost we also see the hope of Moses fulfilled. Moses was overwhelmed. He was leading a million people away from slavery into an unknown Promised Land. He only knew what God had told him and that God was faithful. He did not know when they would arrive or what they would find when they got there. The people were tired. They were hungry. They were scared. They wanted to go back to the place Egypt, despite the reality that they would go back to being slaves. They remembered having food to eat and water to drink. In Egypt they had roofs over their heads and they did not have to walk endlessly through the desert. Slavery seemed the much better choice. They complained, and Moses did not know how he, one man, could possibly handle the people any longer.

God told Moses to gather the elders of Israel. When they were gathered, He took the Spirit that rested on Moses and divided it among the other elders. He gave them the authority to lead the people, to share in Mosesí responsibility. He took some of the burden from Moses and laid it on others. This act of mercy meant Moses would have to let go of some of the control, but Joshua was not ready for Moses to do this. The problem was not that Moses had helpers, but that God had appointed helpers that were not on Mosesí list. The Spirit also fell on some men who had not come to the gathering. ďTell them to stop,Ē Joshua told Moses. Moses was not bothered by this development because he knew that it came from God. God is in control, not Moses. As a matter of fact, Moses would have preferred for every Hebrew to prophecy for the Lord. This was a hope that would come into fulfillment beginning at that first Pentecost. Even now, God continues to pour His Spirit into the lives of all who believe, trust in the Lord, fear Him and live in obedience to His Word.

Today we recall that first Pentecost and celebrate the birth of the Church, which is the body of Christ manifest in this world. Ever since that day in Jerusalem, Jesus has continued to give the Holy Spirit to those who believe, so that we too might have the voice to speak and the words so that others might be saved. In the beginning, there was some confusion. Some even thought they were drunk. Things are not much different, for there are many who consider Christians nothing more than silly storytellers. And yet, every day people hear the message that we take into the world and miraculously, some believe. The miracle is not in our ability or in our words, but in the Holy Spirit who gives faith to those who hear with a humble heart.

Jesus said that if we believe in Him, He would give us living water that will flow from our lives. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, to live and work to Godís glory. As believers, we live in Christ, baptized into His body. We are joined with other believers by the power of the Holy Spirit as He moves in our lives. God has blessed us so that the living water will flow through us into the world. Our Father gives us the greatest gift when we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given us His Spirit so that we can join in the work of sharing His mercy and grace with the world. The Living Water flows from us so that others will be able to drink from the fountain of life.

Will it be easy? Of course not. The disciples learned immediately that there would always be someone unwilling to believe that God is at work. They will blame and accuse; they will harass and threaten. Some Christians will even die at the hands of those who want to degrade and shame Godís people. But we know that even if we do face the terror of persecution, God is on our side. He will not let us be shamed; He will be faithful to all His promises. Heíll guide us, teach us, and encourage us. He will give us the power and strength. He will give us the words. He does all this from within, dwelling in our hearts as His Living water flows from us into the world. And in that day when we no longer live in this world, whether we die by natural causes or at the hand of an enemy, God will be waiting to take us into eternity to live with Him forever. Our death will not be our shame; it will be our greatest moment of glory.

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