Monday, 2 September 2013

"Pentecost - A Paradigm Shift" Talk Notes

Audio on the church sermon archive.

Our minds are powerful things, constantly filling in the gaps in our knowledge so that our experience of life feels complete and we understand the big picture as best we can. Sometimes they do it well, but sometimes they get it wrong.

Reading the Bible often falls subject to that mental filling in. Pentecost and the events of Acts 2 are familiar to many of us. But in the absence of information, our imaginations - for better or worse - have done a lot of filling in the gaps. So to help us get a truer, fuller picture of what went on that day, we need the prophetic eyes of the Old Testament and more specifically the Book of Leviticus.

Leviticus is a book many Christians fear and so skim through or skip it altogether. Its rules, routines, rituals and bloody sacrifices all seem too alien to us. There are certain cultural myths we hold which make the reading of Leviticus unattractive:
  1. We assume without thinking that because we have made technological progress, we are superior to our forebears and don’t need to learn from the past.
  2. We assume without thinking that spontaneity makes us authentic and that ritual, routine and religion just turn us into robots.
  3. The place of worship in the Old Testament was a glorified abattoir. Most of us feel more revulsion at the thought of animal slaughter than the crucifixion of Jesus.
But if we could overcome our natural and cultural biases, we would find, for example, that the feasts that God set up in Leviticus 23 join all of history together and prophetically map out in symbols the whole of God’s salvation through Christ all the way from Jesus entering our world as one of us to God’s people enjoying eternal life with the Father, Son and the Spirit in a renewed creation. (See presentation slides for more info.)

So, in Leviticus 23, God command all his people to appear before him with two loaves of bread. What on earth is that about?

The Feast of Pentecost commemorated the first Pentecost, which took place at Mt. Sinai, 50 days after the Israelites came out of Egypt. Moses went up the mountain to meet with an incognito Trinity and he received the Law from them on two tablets, which from a distance at least, look like loaves of bread. Just as we eat bread to sustain our physical bodies, so the law of God was to be spiritual food for the Israelite souls and the imagery of this is all through the bible - e.g. Matt 4:4, John 4:34.

But instead of receiving this law gladly God’s people rebelled. (See Exodus 32) and a day that should have been full of joy and thanksgiving was filled with judgment and bloodshed as 3000 people were executed. For, whilst the law could cage the heart, it could not transform it (we know this from our own, often painful, experience). And whilst through the Law one could draw near to God, only in Christ - the promised one, could one be united to God.

These loaves also point forward to Jesus who obeys and fulfills the whole law in our place and is the true bread from heaven who sustains and restores us. Just as Moses went up the mountain to receive the law to pass on to the people, Jesus ascended into Heaven and received the Spirit whom he poured out freely on all who would come to him and on that day 3000 people were born again.

Pentecost is less a power encounter and more a personal encounter. At Pentecost, God gives us himself so that we would know him, love him and be transformed to be like him.

When Acts 2 opens saying they were all together in one place, that place was the temple along with millions of other Jews and God fearing people all come to celebrate the feast. The house they were in was God's house. And just as the Spirit of God came hundreds of years before to ignite the animal sacrifices and inaugurate his temple (2 Chron.7:1). Now, on the altars of human hearts God comes again to kindle a new fire as he sets up a new home.

But there's more, Leviticus 23 has what looks on the face of it an oddly placed command about sharing your harvest with the poor and the foreigner. What's that doing there?!

In many cultures and in the Bible, land is symbolic of inheritance. When parents die they will usually leave land or property to the children. The Israelites were told by God that they would inherit the land of Canaan after coming out of Egypt. Only ethnic Israelites had any right to the land (Lev 25). So any non-Israelite who wanted to join themselves to Israel like the Egyptians who left Egypt in the Exodus (See Ex.12:38) to worship Israel’s God would have no right to the land and this law was put in place so that Israelites and non Israelites could live and worship God together and Gentiles could share in the inheritance and blessing of Israel.

Fast forward to the end of Acts 2 and what do we see? God's people giving up their earthy inheritance to provide for those in need and testifying that their hope is no longer for an inheritance in this world, but for eternal life in the next. Cheesy as it sounds, love is our greatest witness to the world. Not miracles, not clever books and programmes, but love.

You may not feel like you need the love of God right now. You may not feel like you are sinning badly in life. But if you are not filled with the love of God you will at best do the spiritual equivalent of treading water and have no vision, no appetite and no energy to obey God, be transformed and transform the world.

Pray the words of Ephesians 3:14-21 over yourself, your church family and anyone else you want to see know the love of God.

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