The Curious Case of Pentecost

Yesterday was Pentecost but whether you're a Christian or not, there's a good chance you didn't hear anything about it. Why? Because Pentecost is easily the most underplayed and routinely ignored date in the Christian calendar. 

It's weird. Very weird. So weird that before I wrote this blog, I wanted to make sure everyone else was having the same experience. We make a huge deal of Christmas and the Resurrection, after all. Parties. Feasts. Gifts. Special services. We look forward to those holidays for weeks. (The arguments about how we celebrate them is for another time but the point is just that we do, in fact, celebrate them. By doing so, we show that these events matter to us.) And yet, when it comes to Pentecost...nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

At least, that is my experience. And it has been for as long as I can remember. To make sure this wasn't some strange quirk of life in Scotland, I posted on Facebook yesterday asking if anyone else's church had celebrated the event. Well, it was an extremely unscientific and small poll, but of the 13 who replied on topic, the results were:

- DIDN'T Remember Pentecost/No Mention At Church/Not Celebrated: 7 (54%)
- DID Remember Pentecost/Mentioned At Church/Celebrated: 3 (23%)
- Celebrated Shavuot: 3 (23%)

If these stats are representative, it would confirm that Pentecost is indeed pretty much ignored by around half of the church. Again, if true, that's weird. Maybe I can express just how weird it is by laying down the background:

You see, all throughout the Old Testament period, God's people, Israel, lived under a specific set of rules called The Law. God made a covenant with the people that if they kept The Law there would be blessings, but if they disobeyed The Law there would be curses. Jews celebrated the giving of The Law (The Torah) with an annual feast called Shavuot. But what soon became clear during that same period is that they were actually incapable of keeping it. Due to the inherent corruption in human hearts, no matter how hard they tried to keep its commands, they failed. They found that they were slaves to their own sinful natures. They lied. They stole. They cheated. They erred like all humans do. And so they duly experienced the curses of the covenant. Illness. Poverty. Bondage. Death.

Now just when things started to look hopeless however, God started making exciting promises about a second covenant. As Hebrews 8:7 says, this second covenant would replace the first, and it would be on different terms too. “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (Hebrews 10:16). God's requirements would no longer be written on parchment or stone like The Law had been - the old Law was in fact, going to be made obsolete when the new covenant came along (Hebrews 8:13). Instead, God was going to write his requirements within human hearts. And He was going to give us an incredible power to help us keep them too. He said "I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations." (Ezekiel 36:26-27) So God would put his own Spirit within people to empower them!

Pretty exciting right? The power of God within us. Wow. Fast forward to the arrival of Jesus and it became clear that this was the pivotal moment everyone had been waiting for - the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new, and with it, the giving of the powerful Holy Spirit. Jesus confirmed he came to fulfil the old covenant in Matthew 5:17. The writer to the Hebrews elaborates: "[Jesus] cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect." (Hebrews 10:9) Paul confirms, “By his death [Jesus] ended the whole system of Jewish law with its commandments and regulations…” (Ephesians 2:15) 

So with Jesus the old was gone and the new had come. Which just left one more thing to be fulfilled. The giving of the Spirit. Therefore, just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4,8) Jesus insisted that the disciples mustn't move until they had received the Holy Spirit. They. must. not. move. The Holy Spirit was key. As the newly born church, they had a lot of work to do, but they absolutely needed His power to do it. The Spirit came at Pentecost:

Symbolically, Pentecost happened on the same date as Shavuot. So in the same way the old covenant had been launched with the giving of The Law (The Torah), the new covenant was launched with the giving of The Spirit. Therefore, Pentecost represents the beginning of a brand new era. The start of the Church Age. A vital moment, I'm sure you'll agree. A moment to celebrate. Imagine it! God's own power within us! The coming of the Holy Spirit was so important to God that he'd been promising this event for hundreds of years through the prophets. The coming of the Holy Spirit was so important that Jesus insisted the church do nothing until He had come to empower them.

And yet today...we ignore Him? We don't even mention this moment? Or commemorate it? What?? 

I mean...what?!?! What on earth is going on here? If God's people in Old Testament times thought the giving of The Law was worth celebrating with Shavuot, how much more should we be celebrating the giving of the Holy Spirit with Pentecost? As our mini-poll above shows, even 23% of those who did mark the day in some way yesterday were giving more thought to Shavuot/The Law/Old Covenant than they were to Pentecost/The Spirit/New Covenant. 

Maybe we've just stumbled across one of the church's biggest problems here. Maybe we just don't value the Holy Spirit enough? Maybe it turns out that we're trying to do things in our own strength without Him. Maybe we're not really being led by Him. Maybe we're not really empowered by Him. Maybe we don't even give the Spirit a second thought. And maybe that's why we're often ineffective. And weak. And timid. Just maybe. 

I'm reminded of a well-known verse that we often direct towards New Agers: "They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!" (2 Timothy 3:5) It's definitely true of New Agers. But in a slightly different way, can it also be true of us? Do we also act religious while rejecting the power of God that could make us godly? i.e. The Holy Spirit? Could that possibly be?

These are big questions but the more I think about this, the more baffling it all becomes. Why is Pentecost ignored by so many during this second covenant era? Why is it not a high point in our calendar? Why isn't it a holiday? In fact, how about we make a deal today. How about next year at Pentecost, we go all out. How about we arrange meals, and special worship events, and treat it as a real holiday, and make a big effort to thank God properly for this Gift? Let's make a note in our diaries. Let's tell Google or Siri to remind us in advance, and let's make Pentecost 2018 a time of massive celebration. And maybe a time of repentance too, for the way we have criminally failed to commemorate God's goodness in this. Churches and small groups in The Fuel Network especially, there's something to think about for next year. You in?