Earth, wind, and fire

Artwork by Aletheia Mellott

The Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost, Luke says, came with a sound like a violent wind, as fire atop the heads of gathered disciples (Acts 2). Pentecost? The word takes us back to Old Testament times, and one of the 3 great annual feasts to be celebrated by God’s people. Pentecost is the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23, Numbers 28, Deuteronomy 16), a harvest celebration of the produce coming, once again, from the earth. Each year, people would look at the ground to remember and rejoice in what God provided.

On the Pentecost following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, a great many people had assembled in Jerusalem (as had been the case 7 weeks earlier, for Passover–another of those 3 big feast days) to celebrate. Followers of Jesus had also gathered, to remember, ponder, worship, prepare. And then, a surprise: the Spirit, accompanied by the sound of a tornado and the sight of flames above each head. This Spirit fills hearts to overflowing and followers of Jesus spill into the streets, praising God. Luke says they spoke in a variety of languages, which caught the attention of those from other countries who were in Jerusalem for the holiday. What is this? they were asking.

Peter has a reply. This, he says, referencing the multi-lingual praise, is evidence of a promise made long ago (see Joel 2), and then updated by Jesus (John 14, 16): the Spirit–so often associated with fruitfulness and life–was on the move. As Peter spoke, listeners were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and many (Luke puts the number at about 3000) turned toward the Lord.

The festival of Pentecost reminded people of God’s faithful commitment to life and abundance. The Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost* dovetails nicely with this commitment, as Luke’s account makes plain. And the great turning of Acts 2 is a glimpse of what would happen down through the ages and around the world, as many saw/heard/sensed the Lord and said yes. Yes to God’s provision. Yes to a connection with the Creator and Sustainer. Yes to the One who rescues and restores, and who, through the Spirit makes possible life to the full.

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*The Spirit was known in the Old Testament (there are stories of the Spirit filling  judges, kings, and artists), but usually had direct contact only with individuals for specific reasons and for brief periods. In the NT, the Spirit falls on and stays with many.

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