By Charles Gardner
The Feast of Pentecost (or Shavuot) is the perfect time to celebrate the miraculous birth of the Church – and a reminder that all further growth is equally supernatural.
The original outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place on what is also known as the Feast of Weeks – seven weeks or 50 days after Passover, when Jesus was crucified. It’s a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, and it’s interesting to note that the number of disciples increased sevenfold on the Day of Pentecost. For 3,000 souls were added to the 500 already following Yeshua (Acts 2.41, 1 Corinthians 15.6).
Shavuot is also traditionally (as encouraged by the rabbis) the anniversary of the giving of the Law (Ten Commandments) to Moses on Mt Sinai and, on this level, is also fulfilled in Yeshua who came, not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them, as he stated so clearly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.17). In fact he now writes the law on our hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31.33, Ezekiel 36.26f), not just on tablets of stone, to enable us the more easily to follow its precepts. And he spelt it out on the ‘mount’, as his Father had done through Moses.
We are reminded that, even though the ‘established’ congregation of Yeshua’s first disciples had clearly been born again as, through divine revelation, they recognized Jesus as their Messiah, they still needed “power from on high” (Luke 24.49) for any significant missionary success. If they wished to get beyond what was humanly possible through persuasion, supernatural help was necessary.
As it happened, Jews from throughout the known world were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast, the disciples having waited in the city in obedience to Yeshua’s command until they were endued with heaven-sent boldness.
They weren’t told how it would be manifested, so they would have been profoundly shocked to witness tongues of fire resting on each one of them. But it was a sign of how their message would be conveyed. For they suddenly found themselves speaking in languages they had never learnt – and thus it was that the gospel spread like wildfire.
It was a reversal of the Tower of Babel, when man failed in his efforts to reach the heavens as God confused their language. But now, in these last days, the gospel preached in every tongue unites all who follow Christ, creating “one new man” born of his Spirit (Ephesians 2.15).
The Apostle Peter saw it as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy of when God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, which surely also speaks of the time approaching Yeshua’s return – the last of the last days – when another great revival would circle the globe.
There can be little doubt that a ‘Pentecostal’ outpouring has been gaining pace over the past 100 years. I have studied the worldwide Pentecostal movement myself – and written a book about it, Tongues of Fire (Sable Publishing) – and I implore readers to wholeheartedly embrace the kind of empowering we really cannot do without if we are to maximize our impact on the world. But I am not saying you must necessarily accept everything ‘charismatic’ as kosher.
God is once again pouring out his Spirit on all flesh, and he wants you and I to be part of that. Last night I found myself singing in a language I hadn’t learnt. My wife Linda, who was listening upstairs, said it sounded like French. (Having been brought up in South Africa, where it wasn’t generally taught at school, it’s a language with which I am unfamiliar.)
We need to get away from doing things ‘in the flesh’, restricted by our human intuition and emotions, when God wants to fill us with power from on high. One of my favourite stories from Pentecostal history is of Henry Garlock, an American sent as a missionary to West Africa in 1920. His denomination didn’t believe in ‘tongue-speaking’ but, when he faced the prospect of ending up in the cooking pot of a tribe of cannibals he had inadvertently upset, he suddenly found himself speaking a language he had never learnt and it got him and his colleague out of very hot water! Although he had no idea what he was saying at the time, it turned out that he had been persuading them to kill a rooster in their place! And the incident set the ball rolling for the conversion of the entire tribe.
Some Pentecostals have gained a reputation for over-the-top methods and much excitement, which may seem out of place. But there’s a balance to all this exuberance. For Pentecost comes with persecution, which is what happened to those first believers: Stephen, empowered by the Spirit, was stoned to death! Others were crucified, or thrown into arenas to be torn apart by wild animals. And today it’s happening all over again in Syria and elsewhere where true Christians are being beheaded for their faith. Even in the UK Christians are losing their jobs and landing up in court for refusing to compromise.
Indeed, Joel prophesied that a latter-day heavenly outpouring would be accompanied by “blood and fire and billows of smoke” on earth (Joel 2.30). Israel’s fortunes would be restored, but its enemies judged (Joel 3.1f); and like a wounded snake, evildoers will lash out at those who stand with God.
So although we are witnessing a global revival – with massive church growth in Asia, Africa and South America – the pressure to conform to ungodly ways remains severe. The Bible speaks much of a “remnant” (e.g. Acts 15.17) holding onto God’s Word, and Jesus asked: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18.8) When things got tough, when his teaching seemed too hard, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6.66)
By all means allow yourself to be caught up in the excitement of God’s blessings; but at the same time make up your mind that you’re going to follow Jesus no matter what. There will be tears, but you will triumph in the end. And Jesus will wipe your tears away (Revelation 7.17).
So seek God with all your heart and allow yourself to be baptized1 in the Holy Spirit.
A very significant revival took place in Pensacola, Florida, in the mid-1990s and I’m sure it was no coincidence that Messianic Jew Dr Michael Brown played a key role there with his profound teaching ministry.
Perhaps we are about to witness a great outpouring in Israel itself. It’s 49 years since Jerusalem’s Old City was restored to the Jews for the first time in nearly 2,000 years. That year – 1967 – also marked the beginning of the ‘Charismatic’ wave of the Holy Spirit (a second stage of the modern-day Pentecostal movement) in the old established churches. And it was the very same year that saw the birth of Messianic Jewish congregations in the Land.
Will Israel experience Pentecost in the 50th year since restoration?
1From the Greek baptizo meaning to immerse, plunge or dip