The power of God to live His way
Pentecost changed everything. The struggle to do all the things required under the Law, not just the Ten Commandments but all the other provisions, made more and more complicated over time – the struggle was over.
Instead of constraint and sanction, there was enabling and freedom. This new life lived for God in Jesus now became new life lived with God’s enabling help and involvement.
Hundreds of years before, prophets around the time of the disastrous failure and exile had foretold how God’s law would become innate, almost instinctive ((Law written on our hearts — Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 2:15; Hebrews 8:10, 10:16)). They didn’t use those words, but spoke of a time when God’s people would gain a new, sensitive heart and God’s purposes would be embedded ((Heart of stone, heart of flesh — Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26)). They didn’t say it would be part of a new spiritual DNA, nor did they speak of being programmed differently, or of being coached to succeed. But what they described was a new disposition, a not-quite-conscious desire to be Christlike. The ‘doing’ would then look after itself.
On the actual festival day, with crowds swarming around the temple courts, the original disciples, now with Peter as their spokesman and the hundred or more friends that had been worshipping in the Upper Room and preparing for what Jesus had spoken about, were central to what happened. Something like a flame divided and touched each of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and as they responded, praising God for His presence their praise took on a life — and language — of its own. They weren’t thinking it, let alone reciting it; it was spontaneous praise in a language unfamiliar to them. In 2020 this kind of spontaneous prayer and praise language is widely experienced in the church of every nation, now in traditional denominations as well as Pentecostal ones.
On this occasion, this praise language was used as a powerful sign to others present, who represented a range of Mediterranean ethnicities and languages. These ‘incomers’ were being welcomed and caught up in praise in words and accents that they would only expect to hear at home. They were catching the impartation that had started with the 120 and they were experiencing the uncanny sense of belonging to God and belonging to all the others who shared this experience. Later they would learn a name for this — the koinionia or communion of the Holy Spirit ((Fellowship of the Holy Spirit — 2 Corinthians 12:14)).
When Peter managed to get a hearing in all the excitement and praise being proclaimed, he explained what was happening in the familiar phrases of one of the earliest recorded prophets, Joel, who had foretold the beginning of the end times marked by the sign of this outpouring, which would come on everyone, men, women, older people and youngsters all counted equally.
The Holy Spirit, His distinct gift-enablings, His love and togetherness, and His way of bridging ethnic and social barriers, would be the key characteristics of God’s people.
But the big change was from “doing” to “being”. Doing what was necessary for righteousness was a patchy experience for most, even the uber-rigorous Pharisee sect. Jesus had told His disciples, your righteousness will need to be on a whole different level from them, and it will ((Righteousness that exceeds — Matthew 5:20)).
From Pentecost, they would learn that it works differently. It comes through relationship, and that happens within, not externally. Being right with God, who was accessed (if at all) through priests who had exclusive rights in a temple, was a challenge bound to bring failure. Being right with God whose Spirit is now giving life to and energising your human spirit, is living with a disposition to succeed! The teaching of Jesus to “be perfect” or equally, to ” be complete” ((“Be perfect” — Matthew 5:48)) puts a red ring around the incompleteness and inadequacy of trying to practise a religious kind of ‘faith’ without Him. Better by far to be changed, to be a new creation ((New creation — 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15)) and to have the very Spirit of Jesus giving us the prompts we so badly need.