Pentecost Revival

baptism

Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, was celebrated seven weeks after Passover. It was one of the three annual pilgrimage feasts where Jews from all over the world made the trek to Jerusalem to celebrate. They were celebrating the first fruits of their crops and would offer up some of the crops as a way to thank God our Father.

Jesus was crucified on the Passover, fifty days before Pentecost. During Pentecost, Jerusalem was packed with people. The disciples were gathered together in one place and the Spirit descended on them, entering like a mighty rushing wind and descending like dividing tongues as of fire, resting on each one. God’s Spirit was given as a sort of “first fruits” to the Christians that day.

As the Feast of Weeks was a celebration of plentiful harvest, so the ushering in of God’s Spirit commemorate a plentiful harvest of souls. Disciples began speaking in different languages, so that everyone could hear the message in their native tongue. Peter preached a sermon on the resurrection of Jesus, a fitting message for the celebration of the new crop. Peter said, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24 ESV).

Peter delivered the rest of his message, which cut the people to the heart and prompted their question, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38, 39).

Luke says that those who received his word were baptized, and about three thousand were added to the church that day. This is the Good News for those of us who were once dead in our sins. There is a first fruit of the Spirit that waits for us, which will renew us and give us power over death. There was revival on the day of Pentecost!

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Jesus’ Resurrection Did Not Have Fanfare

Empty tomb

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, most churches had special services planned for Easter. Easter Sunday is the most attended church event out of all 52 weeks. Many churches use it as an outreach for people who only bring their families for Easter services. Bigger churches put on Easter plays and some have full production teams. The resurrection of Jesus is definitely worth celebrating!

This year has certainly changed things dramatically. LifeWay Research in Nashville did a recent survey among pastors in the US and, at the time of the survey, they found that 47% of churches will be closed on Easter. Only 3% said they will have in-person gatherings no matter what, and many said they will wait and see what the recommendations are at Easter time. A lot of churches are worried about funds, as the economy has slowed and many people have lost jobs. As Christians, we are all forced to rethink both how we do church and how we are the church.

The best place to look is to Jesus Christ. His resurrection did not have fanfare. While there was an earthquake, Jesus did not seek out big crowds. He could have walked the streets of Jerusalem, proclaiming victory over death. He could have walked to the Temple and announced that he was risen. Much like our Easter of today, Jerusalem was swarming with people who traveled for the Passover. Thousands would have heard of Jesus’ death. Jerusalem was primed for a huge resurrection Sunday appearance by the king of the Jews.

Instead of a large gathering, Jesus left the tomb and didn’t appear to anyone until later that day: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:1-3 ESV). The women found two angels and were told to tell the disciples. Peter and John went to the tomb to see with their own eyes and found it empty, exactly as the women had reported. For an entire day, the disciples marveled at the risen Christ but still had not seen him until evening.

Jesus instead walked with two people on the road to Emmaus, a village that rested seven miles from Jerusalem. They didn’t know that it was Jesus until he revealed himself in the breaking of bread: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). The two men ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples, and that’s when Jesus showed himself to the eleven disciples for the first time.

Jesus chose to only reveal himself to a few people. Over and over again, Jesus is revealed to small groups. Yet the gospel spread very quickly. The great news about the resurrection is that we don’t need huge church gatherings for Jesus to continue to reveal himself. He works through small groups, and in unconventional ways. The word of God is powerful and effective, and will continue to bring salvation to many!!

Photo used with permission under Creative Commons.

Jesus Predicts His Death and a Fight Ensues

Jesus on cross

Resurrection Sunday is about to be celebrated around the world. Easter Sunday is a time for us to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a time to participate in new life, in the salvation we have and hope in eternal life. But leading up to the resurrection was the betrayal and death of Jesus. It was a dark moment in history. In fact, Jesus said to his captors, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53 ESV).

The events leading up to Jesus’ revealing of his death were mountaintop experiences, literally. Luke records that the transfiguration happened just prior to this. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain and began to pray. As he prayed, his clothes became dazzling white, his appearance changed, and Moses and Elijah appeared. This moment was frozen in time for the three disciples. A cloud enveloped them and a voiced boomed, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).

The very next day a man pleaded with Jesus to heal his only son. The boy was possessed by a violent demon that would seize him, convulse him, and shatter him. Jesus’ disciples had already attempted to cast the demon out but were unsuccessful. So Jesus healed the boy, and handed him back to his father. There was no question at this point about the power and compassion of Jesus. At this point, he seemed invincible to everyone around, including the disciples.

Luke records what happened next: “While they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.'” (Luke 9:43, 44). Jesus, of course, was referring to his death. But his disciples didn’t know what he meant and they began to argue about which of them was greater than the other.

“But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48). Jesus was reminding them that he was going to die, that being great means being the least of all, and that welcoming little ones in the name of Christ is their purpose. It’s a great reminder for all of us as we think about what matters entering into the Resurrection Sunday.

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Resurrection of the Dead

empty tomb

To be honest, I feared death as a kid. I remember, at a young age, having my imagination go wild. What if I died? What if a parent or sibling died? What happens to them? Are they gone forever? Will we ever see them again? It’s natural for us to think of these kinds of questions. I no longer have a fear of death. Death is something that brings life. It’s spring right now. The grass is gorgeous! Flowers are blooming. Trees are in blossom. Life is emerging from death.

Paul says, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:36). He was talking about Christ’s resurrection. There were people who denied the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees were a sect of the Jews who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Paul is clear, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:13-14). Earlier Paul told the Corinthians that he decided to know nothing while he was with them except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Without death there cannot be life. The seeds that are sown are dead and, when they take root, are raised up with life. Paul rightly says that we are resurrected with Christ. At our baptism there is a death to our old self. We crucify our old selves with Christ and are raised up a new person. We share in his resurrection! The good news didn’t stop with Christ being raised from the dead. That was just the beginning! The good news is that we are raised with Christ-that he is our salvation and we will live for eternity. Christ is our hope. The empty tomb is the heart of the gospel. There is so much to celebrate as we remember the empty tomb!

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A Servant of Justice

servant songs

I’m continually blown away at the volume of messages I get from people crying out that their church covered up abuse. It never ceases to amaze me what lengths these “leaders” go to to keep the victims silenced. I’ve had several messages this week from people who showed me the evidence–women who were hospitalized from husbands beating them and others where churches had private meetings about how reporting child rape to authorities is a “liability” to the church, so they decide to keep it a secret from their church and not report to police. How people can paint Jesus as someone who is OK with this is a leap that would confound even the devil. No amount of twisting of scriptures can account for this poor theology.

We make mock God’s justice if we blend oppressors and the oppressed together. If we silence the cries of the abused and embrace the abuser, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26, 27).

The servant songs in Isaiah do not depict a helpless Savior who rolls over and plays nice with oppressors. Instead, in Isaiah 42:1-4 we find a warrior savior who is destined to bring forth swift justice for the poor and oppressed:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice on the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice; or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Throughout Jesus’ life, the oppressed flocked to him and the oppressors hated him. This is consistent with the servant songs in Isaiah, with God’s foundation of righteousness and justice in Psalm 89:14, and with Jesus’ mission to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ compassion was reserved for the oppressed, not the oppressors. Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

This was not a figure of speech. The people who cried out to Jesus really were harassed, and this drove his compassion. The religious leaders were relentless in their attacks. They wanted to silence the oppressed. They abandoned the poor. They were angry when Jesus healed people. Think about that for a moment. Imagine desperate people who, either they or their children had suffered for years, walking out of a hospital healed. Then imagine what it would take for people to become angry enough to march into the hospital and scold the doctors for healing them.

Jesus was a servant of justice. He brings forth justice because this is what love does. Love does not turn a blind eye to oppression and injustices. Love requires us to step in and protect. It requires us to call people to account who use force, coercion, and deception to get what they want. Yes, Jesus was a servant of justice. And this is good news to people who are desperate for help.

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I Am the One Who Helps You

desperate

I recently watched the 2013 Netflix documentary on trafficking called “Tricked.” It follows both former trafficking victims and current pimps who go on camera to talk about the industry. Human trafficking is a multi billion dollar industry that has increased exponentially in recent years. Because of the threats to prostitutes and the dehumanization of the victims, it’s virtually impossible to catch the pimps and incarcerate them. Police departments are completely overwhelmed and, because they are losing ground, governments are cutting money from the departments.

One District Attorney’s office said, “We’ve cut $1 million per year for three years. So they’re asking us to do more with less and with fewer people. At some point I have to weigh, can we continue to handle all these cases at the normal level? When somebody brings me four or five times the number of cases, I may not have the staff to handle all those cases.”

One of the detectives in the documentary said that pimps used to scout for women and young girls who came from broken homes or who had a past of abuse. With the advancement of technology, they said that everyone is a target, no matter how stable their home life is. He said that this is why trafficking has gotten uncontrollable so quickly. Trafficking is called “modern slavery” for a reason. Nobody goes into this “work” because they want to.

But it’s not just trafficking that has people distraught. There is a crisis at our southern border. Thousands of people every day are risking their lives to desperately cross into the US because they are running from dangerous gangs. There is a global crisis of oppression. The questions are “How did we get here?” and “What do we do about it?”

Many people will be packed into church buildings across the world on Easter Sunday to celebrate the risen Christ. I know there is a real temptation to use Easter as “outreach” in order to grow the church and reach those visitors. But maybe a better way is to talk about the desperation in the world and how Jesus came to redeem it. There is so much oppression, poverty, and sickness. The world needs redeemed from it. People need a refuge–a safe fortress. Isaiah 41:14 says, “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”

A few verses later says, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” God feeds and waters the poor. He is a fortress and a refuge for the oppressed and weary. There is hope in the resurrection. We need to share in this hope. We need to let people know that only in Christ can there be restoration and redemption from the pain and suffering of this life. And Christians need to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people who are suffering to remind them that God is the one who helps us.