Pentecost Sunday marks the day when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on some of His followers after His ascension back into the heavens. The church celebrates Pentecost 10 days after the ascension and 50 days after Easter. Some call this day "the birthday of the church" because over 3,000 souls in Jerusalem put their faith in Jesus (Acts 2:41).
The two major events of Pentecost as recorded by Luke in Acts 2 are:
- The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on 120 Jews in the upper room
- Peter's sermon to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
If we are to rightly understand the significance of Pentecost, we must do more than acknowledge the giving of the Holy Spirit - we must understand why He was poured out. This is what Peter explains in his sermon. The sign of tongues was meant to do much more than spice up their prayer meeting - it was to confirm the truth about Jesus. Therefore Pentecost has everything to do with who Jesus is.
Today, Christians in the Western tradition celebrate "Ascension Day", commemorating the day of Jesus' ascension into the heavens to retake His place on His throne of glory. The church calendar marks 40 days following the day of His resurrection, according to Acts 1:3:
“He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3 ESV)
The magnitude of the ascension is overwhelming. This was not just Jesus' "disappearing act". The place where He ascended to was not unfamiliar to Him, because that's where He had come from (John 8:14; John 16:28). He went to a physical, tangible locale in the heavens with an authentic human body that has real bones, real hands and feet, and a real face with a beard, eyes, and nose. Where He went to and what He is doing there is what is enormously significant to understand as we celebrate His ascension today.
In all of the social media/blogging buzz on the grace of God, it is troubling to me that the second coming of Jesus has been largely absent from the discussion. According to Paul, anticipating Jesus' return was the goal of grace. Jesus' return will bring an end to all unrighteousness, therefore true grace motivates sober, self-controlled living before that day. And because His return is the culmination of all of our hope, grace also teaches us to eagerly anticipate that day:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
(Titus 2:11-14 ESV)
To be presently forgiven and loved by God is joy indeed, but the true fruit of our salvation is an ever-increasing preoccupation with the glory of Jesus and a longing to dwell with Him on the earth again. Our friendship with Jesus begins with the glorious introduction of the cross and His "finished work" but grows through relational knowledge. To preach a gospel that subtly marginalizes or neglects Jesus' current absence and future return is no gospel at all because the gospel at its core is relational and has its culmination on a future day.
The four Gospels contain the beautiful and unrivaled record of the words of Jesus of Nazareth. For the Christian, those words in red on our Bible's pages are more than just moral precepts or proverbs to be studied and imitated - they are the very words of the God who formed the heavens and the earth. Those words are His precious, holy food for our famished souls. Those words are our only fountain of life everlasting (John 6:63,68). Those words can both bind up our wounds and afflict our self-centered hearts - all for the sake of love. No poet, philosopher, or philanthropist's eloquence will ever compare to the moving simplicity of the utterance of the LORD of glory Himself.
Yet we perhaps too quickly forget that both the words and deeds of Jesus we have recorded in the Gospels are only a small summary of that which He spoke and performed while dwelling among us for about thirty three years. As believers, we come before the Lord Jesus and His recorded words to "hear Him" (Luke 9:35) so that we "might believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in His name" (John 20:31). Each of the Gospel writers purposely penned a short synopsis of Jesus' three years of ministry to incite faith, but John of Zebedee, a close disciple of the Lord, pens a phrase of overflowing affection at the close of his account:
I'm excited to be in College Station, Texas next week on the campus of Texas A&M University with the College Station House of Prayer to teach a training intensive on Christology, or more simply the study of Jesus the Christ.
Together we'll spend time searching the Scriptures and beholding the glory of Jesus. We'll specifically be looking at these topics:
- The importance of studying Jesus and Christology for all Christians
- The development of the Western worldview and how it has skewed our understanding of biblical Christology
- Peter's sermon in Acts 2 and the confession of Jesus as "Lord and Christ"
- Understanding a Christology of "Divine Identity"
If you're in the College Station / Houston / Austin area, join us! Here are the details:
915 Harvey Rd
College Station, TX 77845
(On the back side of the Mugwall's shopping strip)
For more information, check out this link.
We are a couple weeks into the new year and undoubtedly for many, the strong resolutions made in late 2012 are already turning into hopeful wishes for 2013. Whether it be the new workout routine, better time management, or healthier eating habits, our human zeal wanes without constant provocation and motivation from others. But even with incentive, our follow-through is often lacking the consistency we desire.
Yet among all of the resolutions we could possibly make for the new year, one will always rise above the rest because it has the guarantee of God's might helping us to follow through. It's a resolution I set my heart to make not just every year, but every day - to grow in the knowledge of Jesus.
Just as we can't instantly know all there is to know about our spouse, close friends, or co-workers the moment we meet them, we can't have immediate depth in our relationship with Jesus the instant we give our lives to Him. At the moment of our repentance and salvation, we are merely introduced to Him by the Holy Spirit as Lord of all and our brother in humanity, and daily we hear His invitation to spend the rest of our lives searching Him out and actually growing in a real friendship with Him.
Don't rob yourself of deep joy and anticipation by pondering Jesus' birth for only a few hours in church this entire Christmas season! Advent begins this coming Sunday, December 3rd! During the season of Advent, Christians all around the world will take time to intentionally focus on Jesus' first coming and anticipate His second. Noel Piper put it well: "For four weeks, it’s as if we’re re-enacting, remembering the thousands of years God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus."
In my last blog post I gave a couple of resources to help you engage your heart with the Lord during Advent. I wanted to post a summary again and add a few more resources for you if you're still looking for materials, devotionals, scripture reading guides to help you and your family celebrate and prepare your heart.
As a young boy, I eagerly anticipated Thanksgiving evening's desserts and Christmas morning's presents. But as I've grown older I've begun to more deeply appreciate the "reason for the season", as the coined Christian phrase goes. And as I have studied the life of Christ these past couple of years a different anticipation has arisen in my heart around the holidays - an excitement of the season of Advent.
Advent is a term originally derived from Latin meaning "coming" or "arrival". During Advent, the church celebrates and contemplates Jesus' first coming and joyfully anticipates His second. From His lowly birth in a feed trough to His humble life amongst the people of Israel, we reflect on God's humility and faithfulness while recalling the promises of our Bridegroom, King, and Judge's return to rule and dwell in Jerusalem and be adored by the whole earth.
Apple recently announced their new flagship phone, the iPhone 5. Yes, it's faster, thinner, brighter, and cooler than its predecessors. Every bit of it is meticulously designed to increase productivity, give you more "surf time", and make your friends jealous because your phone has a bigger, clearer screen and can do so many other things that theirs can't.
No matter how much Tim Cook and the folks at Apple tell us how "amazing" their products are, one thing remains true about every one of them - we will eventually be bored with them. The luster of the upgrade wears off, and we find ourselves in the same cyclical pattern, eagerly waiting for the next new model because that one surely will solve all of the issues and leave us fulfilled.
You'd think we would get the point after a few of these cycles. The "newness" is supposed to satisfy us, right? These things are supposed to make our lives more productive, which in turn frees us up for the things that are "really important". That ultimately makes the world a better place for everyone, right?
Because of the sinful nature of humans and the curse of death in this present evil age, we often find ourselves in trying situations. We all know that pressure due to family, work, church life, health, or our faith in Jesus is not an uncommon experience. What we do not so quickly remember, however, is how pressures are part of the LORD's design to expose the depths of our heart. From the well-known story of Job to the life of King David and the Apostle Paul, trials have buffeted even the most devout Christians. Whether a believer or an unbeliever, our response to pressure reveals what our confidence lies in. For some that confidence might be intellect, money, or a clear advantage over our adversary. For the believer in Jesus though, the confidence of strength, wisdom, and endurance in difficulty must not come from ourselves. We know this in word, but often struggle to practice that confidence in deed.
King David is one of our premiere biblical examples of responding rightly in difficulty. The life of the sweet psalmist and warrior king of Israel had been sought by Saul and later by his own son, Absalom. David so often set his heart to respond with mercy and kindness, blessing his enemies instead of cursing them. He believed that God would vindicate him as he kept an upright, clean heart.
How did David maintain this posture of mercy towards his enemies? What sustained this belief in God's faithfulness to him, even though everything seemed to be falling apart?