Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Pentecost

Light and Land, conclusion

God did not just create light, He is the light. Those who follow where God leads are in the light, those who reject God are in darkness, whee all manner of evil spirits dwell.

This was symbolized at the time of the Exodus when God allowed darkness to fall over the whole lad of Egypt for three days, while the Israelites in Goshen had light.

When God led the people out of Egypt, He was a light for them, but to the Egyptians He was a dark cloud that prevented them from coming near. A little later, Moses went up the mountain, through the thick cloud that hid him from the people camped around the mountain. But when he reached the top of the mountain he was in the light of God’s presence, so much so that when he came down the mountain his own face shone so brightly the people could not bear to look at him.

But the natural tendency of humanity is to prefer darkness, so that others do not see what we do, even though God has promised that He will forgive us when we confess our sins and open them up to the light.

The Old Testament warned the people of Israel:
And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee. Deuteronomy 28:29
And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Zephaniah 1:17

It also promised that one day light would come into the world in a new and glorious way:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Isaiah 60:1-3

Jesus was that light and all four gospels tell how the forces of darkness conspired against Him. Yet he continually demonstrated His power over the realm of darkness by healing diseases, casting out demons and giving sight to the blind.

There were sinister forces behind those waves on the sea of Galilee that threatened to destroy the disciples, and even Jesus Himself, if possible. In one incident, Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves and their power was gone. In another, He came walking on the waves, showing that they had no power over Him.

And yet, the forces of darkness did eventually appear to triumph, having Jesus nailed to a Roman cross where He died. He was declared innocent by the Roman trial, yet the religious leadership demonstrated just how thoroughly they were controlled by the realm of darkness by insisting that He be crucified.

Their plan backfired. The tomb could not hold Him. Fifty days later, after our risen Saviour had departed from this world, His followers received power to become bearers of the light. They numbered 120 at that time, according to Acts 1:15. On the day of Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared upon each of them and they began to boldly preach the gospel. Since that day, the light of the gospel has spread into all the world.

Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets

The words of the title are taken from the eleventh chapter of Numbers. Moses had complained that he was not able to bear the load of leading and caring for all the people who were with him in the wilderness. God instructed him to bring seventy elders of the people to the tabernacle and there He would give each of them a portion of the spirit which He had given to Moses. Moses and the elders did as God had commanded and when the spirit was given to the elders they began to prophesy and could not stop.

However, two of the seventy did not come to the tabernacle. No reason is given but we must assume that it was not because they rebelled against God’s command,for the Spirit was given to them also and they began to prophesy.

When Joshua, Moses’ servant, heard of this, his immediate reaction was that this was disorderly and must not be allowed. “My lord Moses, forbid them,” he said. The answer given by Moses reveals the greatness of his love for the people of God:

“Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them” (verse 29).

Moses’ wish is fulfilled in the gospel dispensation. Ever since Pentecost, every born again child of God, young or old, man or woman,  has received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has been given to guide us personally in the way of truth, but also to empower us to share this truth with others, unbelievers, those new in the faith, the confused and discouraged. Even those who may be considered spiritually mature need the spiritual admonition and counsel of their brethren.

God has ordained that ministers and deacons should be ordained in each congregation for the orderly functioning of the church. But most congregations do not start out that way. I have been involved in three young congregations that did not have any ordained leadership. Two of those groups have grown into fully functioning congregations, with two ministers and a deacon in each place. In the third one, we all gave up and moved away. The problem seemed to be a feeling that without an ordained minister we couldn’t do anything. I don’t think such hand wringing is pleasing to God, who has given to each of us a portion of His Spirit.

Even in well-established congregations, with one or two or three or more ministers, if everything is left to the ministers the congregation will not prosper spiritually. Christian life is not meant to be a passive activity. God has given His Spirit to each of us to be used in some way for the benefit of the whole body.

And certain women

“And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:1-3).

The gospels of Matthew and Mark also mention the women who followed Jesus, but those mentions do not come until the time of His crucifixion. Luke tells us  that there were women among those who travelled with Jesus at a much earlier period. He names three of them and says there were many others, and that they provided financial support for His ministry. The gospels of Matthew and Mark add the names of Mary, mother of James the less and Salome, the wife of Zebedee,  and also mention that there were many others.  It is always mentioned that these women came from Galilee.

Luke tells us that Jesus had cast out  seven devils from Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala). Some would infer from this that Mary was a woman of low repute who had been rescued by Jesus. It seems more likely that she was a woman of some status and means who was in no way inferior to Joanna and the others. The Herod mentioned here would be Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. It appears there were believers in his household, just as Paul later mentioned the believers in the household of Caesar.

These mentions are tantalizing and we would wish to know more. Did they aid Jesus and the apostles in their ministry, perhaps ministering to women and children along the way? Certainly Jesus considered them to be worthy to be present during His ministry and to hear His teachings.

Yet most people of Jesus’ time would have been scandalized to see women among His entourage. No doubt they were somewhat discreet in their actions, but the very fact that they were there is evidence that Jesus held women in much higher esteem than did either the Jews or the Romans. The fact that they are mentioned at all in the gospels attests to the fact that the writers of the gospels had caught Jesus’ attitude of respect for women.

The role of these women comes into much sharper focus at the time of the crucifixion. All three of the synoptic gospels mention their presence and Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection before He appeared to any of the apostles.”And they remembered his words, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles” (Luke 24:8-10).

This is in itself a mark of the authenticity of the gospels, for if they had invented the story of the resurrection they would never have mentioned the women as being the first witnesses of the risen Lord. The testimony of a woman had no validity at that time and place. In fact, the next verse tells us the apostles did not believe the women. It was only Peter and John who were sufficiently stirred by their testimony to run to the sepulchre to see for themselves.

If we see nothing exceptional in the account of the women at the tomb, it is because over the years the gospel has transformed people’s attitudes toward women. The last mention of these women is in Acts 1:14, immediately after the ascension: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” No doubt these women were present a few days later on the day of Pentecost and were filled with the Holy Ghost, thus becoming witnesses and participants in the beginning of the Christian church.

The glory of the Lord

God’s presence with the children of Israel during the Exodus was shown by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. There were instances when there must have been a more glorious manifestation of God’s presence in the cloud. The glory of the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai and God’s voice spoke out of the cloud, calling Moses to come up the mountain.

The glory of the Lord appeared on occasions when Moses’ authority was questioned and when the tabernacle was dedicated. The pillar of cloud rested upon the tabernacle from that point on. Many years later, when Solomon dedicated the temple the glory of the Lord descended upon it and the cloud filled the temple. The cloud, or Shekinah, a Hebrew term not found in the Bible but used by rabbis to describe the cloud, remained above the temple until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The Shekinah was one of the five things said to be missing from the second temple. Ezekiel had visions of the glory of the Lord during the Babylonian captivity.

It does not appear that the glory of the Lord, the Shekinah, was seen again until the birth of Jesus. The second chapter of Luke tells of the shepherds on the hillside during that night and then verse says: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” No doubt the angels were also glorious in appearance, but the phrase “the glory of the Lord” refers to a glory much greater than that of the angels.

Could this also explain the star seen by the Magi? I am going beyond anything that can be established by the Bible, but there is really no physical explanation for a star that led the Magi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then to one specific house in Bethlehem.

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost could also be considered an appearance of the shekinah, or the glory of the Lord: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:2-4).

From this time forward the glory of the Lord has been with God’s new covenant people, the church. It is known today not by outward signs but by the life changing power of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.

Further thoughts on Pentecost

I used to think that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in visible form as tongues of fire while they were gathered in the upper room.  This impression may have come from a Bible story book, a Sunday School lesson or some other illustration.  It seems a common impression.

I now have serious doubts about that picture.  For one thing, Acts 1:15 tells us that the number of disciples wan one hundred and twenty.  Was there an upper room somewhere with enough room for such a crowd?  There were women in that number.  Does it seem likely that a mixed group of men and women would gather in the living quarters of the apostles?  (Verse 13).  If they were somewhere in a residential area, how did a crowd of thousands suddenly gather around them?

The gospel of Luke ends with these words: “And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.”  (Luke 23:43).  Acts 2:46 says: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”  Their meeting place was in the temple, not the upper room.

I think the problem was that I understood the temple to consist only of the building where the sacrifices and ceremonies took place.  I now understand that there was a huge walled courtyard around three sides of this building and this courtyard was considered part of the temple.  Other groups met for prayer in the courts of the temple, benches were provided for such meetings.  No doubt the disciples designated a certain place in the courts as their meeting place.

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).  The wording here is so close to Luke 23:43 and Acts 2:46 that there should be little doubt the place where they were gathered “with one accord” was the temple.  This explains how it was possible for a crowd to gather around them almost immediately.

There is significance also in that the birth of the church, the new people of God, took place in the holy place of the old people of God.  This temple would be destroyed before many more years had passed, but the people of God would continue to exist, in a new form.

“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come” (Acts 2:20).  Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke understand Peter’s use of this prophecy from Joel to refer to the eclipse of the light of the Old Covenant kingdom.  Both the civil and the sacred light of the Jewish nation were about to be extinguished, and the light of the gospel would shine over all the world.

Pentecost

This is Pentecost Sunday.  What is it all about?  The conception among non-Christians is that this day commemorates the day when the original disciples began making incoherent noises and blamed it on the Holy Spirit.

Before we get into what really happened on that day, let’s look at the historic background.  It begins with that first Passover in Egypt, the exodus of the descendants of Jacob (the children of Israel), and the crossing of the Red Sea.  Seven weeks later they gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai as God descended in fire on the mountain and called Moses to come up the mountain to speak with Him.  Then God spoke the Ten Commandments in a voice that caused the mountain to shake.  This day was ever after commemorated as the feast of weeks (a week of weeks), and later was called Pentecost (fifty days) in Greek.

The giving of the law transformed the descendants of Jacob into the people of God.  God wrote the law on tablets of stone; those tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant which eventually was placed in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple.

At the dawn of the New Testament era the tablets of stone had long ago disappeared and the worship and religion of the Children of Israel had become corrupted.  God’s only Son, the long anticipated Messiah came into the world and gave His life on the cross as the true Lamb of God just before the Passover.  Then He completed the victory over sin and Satan by rising from the dead.

On the day of Pentecost, God descended once more in a visible fire – tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples.  The disciples then began to speak to the Israelites around them in intelligible languages, languages which they had never learned or spoken before but which were fully intelligible to the hearers.

This was a sensational happening and thousands of people gathered in amazement.  But the real miracle, the real significance of Pentecost, was the giving of the Law – not on tablets of stone this time, but on the hearts of the believers.  The prophets had long foretold such a happening and this is the true significance of Pentecost, not the outward signs and wonders but the transformed hearts.  This event transformed the frightened, demoralized disciples into the people of God, bold and fearless men who scattered in every direction from Jerusalem and “turned the world upside down.”

It is clear from the account in the Book of Acts that the disciples were speaking real languages that were understood by others.  The Apostle Paul also understood speaking in tongues to be real languages, since he gave instructions that no one should speak in tongues in church unless there was someone who would interpret.

The apostle gives three clear guidelines in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 concerning speaking in tongues in church.  First, no more than two or three should speak in an unknown tongue, each in turn.  Second, if there is no one to interpret, then those who would speak in another tongue should be silent.  Third, women are not permitted to speak in church.  This last rule may have a wider application, but the apostle most certainly meant it to apply to speaking in tongues.

The Apostle Paul did not condemn speaking in tongues, gave no commandment to cease and desist, he just gave three easily understood rules to govern the practice of speaking in tongues, and this seems to have been pretty much the end of speaking in tongues in the early church.

What we need today is not a revival of speaking in tongues.  That would be to value the package more highly than the contents.  What we truly need is a revival of Holy Spirit-filled Christians with the Law of God engraved on their hearts.

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