On Pentecost we celebrate an unraveling of the curse of Babel, tongue’s in Christ are now united in love and truth instead of divided and confused. On this day we celebrate that when the Spirit comes, people are changed, lives are renewed, and the Gospel marches on in victory.
Song: Come Down O Love Divine
Passage: Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2 1-21, John 7:37-39
Hello everyone and Welcome to episode #14 of the Anno Domini Podcast. A podcast dedicated to the supremacy of Christ over all things including our days, weeks, and months.
Join me as we explore how Christ is revealed through the cyclical life of the church calendar year. We’ll discover how this calendar once structured culture and how it can again. We’ll also discuss practical ways to observe and celebrate these holy days in our quest to glorify God and live the good life in the midst of all good He has given us.
Pentecost has come! Christ is Risen, is Ascended and is Reigning, and now in the kindness of God the Spirit has been poured out onto all believers. Just as at the beginning of the world the Spirit hovered over the waters of the deep and from the formless and void was brought forth a new creation, on Pentecost, the Spirit hovers over His lost children and recreates them into living sacrifices fitted with tongues of fire from heaven. On Pentecost we celebrate an unraveling of the curse of Babel, tongue’s in Christ are now united in love and truth instead of divided and confused. On this day we celebrate that when the Spirit comes, people are changed, lives are renewed, and the Gospel marches on in victory. On the Day of Pentecost, that great vision of hope that came to Moses in the wilderness became not just a hope only but a reality. What was his vision and hope and how was it fulfilled? That is what we will find out together as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on this glorious Day of Pentecost.
There are three major readings for Pentecost. One is from of course Acts 2 where we learn about the story. However there is an Old Testament reading as well from Numbers 11 as well as a 3 verse section from the Gospel of John. All together it is Numbers 11, Acts 2, and John 7. In Acts chapter 2 we read the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The believers are together with one accord in Jerusalem during the most holy week of the Jewish calendar. Jerusalem is filled with people from all over the known world. All of a sudden there is a mighty wind. This wind however isn’t whistling through the eaves of the house, oh no this wind is INSIDE the house and what’s more coming with the tremendous wind comes FIRE! This fire descends and rests on each of the heads of the believers and they are filled with the Holy Ghost. They then began to speak in a variety of real languages which, not by accident, were spoken by the multitudes that had come from all over the region to Jerusalem. We are given an extensive list of the many nations present each of which is hearing the gospel preached in his or her own language for the very first time. Some marvel that plain Galileans could speak fluently the many languages present. Some mock, and explain it away by saying they were drunk. And then Peter rises and gives his first real sermon preaching the good news that God has come to dwell among us and made His Son Jesus both Lord and Christ. The multitudes are convicted and 3000 souls were converted.
This is familiar ground to many of us. There is a temptation though to fall into the modern day trap of thinking atomistically instead of holistically. To the modern man, everything can be reduced to atoms or at least to the simplest of its parts. We say you’re sick because a tiny virus has infected you. We say you’re healthy because tiny building blocks called vitamins and minerals are in sufficient quantities to keep you healthy. Anything worth understanding the thinking goes is worth understanding in its parts. But the bible isn’t like this. The bible is one story. It is one arching narrative of God choosing a people for Himself and then setting out to bless them, feed them, correct them, and ultimately save them. So when we read this account of the Holy Spirit, we might be tempted to think that this is the beginning of the Spirits work. But it’s not. The Spirit has been at work throughout all of history and seems to always show up during periods of creation, recreation, and change. In the beginning the Spirit was hovering over the waters and then God speaks and the world is formed. The Spirit comes upon men their fearful hearts are strengthened, and they no longer walk in disobedience but in obedience. Ezekiel 36:26 promises the fulfillment found in Pentecost when Ezekiel prophecies that “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” This same Spirit that descended on believers in Acts 2 was present at the crossing of the Red Sea, came over Samson on multiple occasions often with catastrophic results for the enemies of God. David begged God NOT to take His Holy Spirit from him in Psalm 51, and it was the same Spirit in the book of Numbers that rested upon Moses until one day when an extraordinary thing happened. In Numbers chapter 11, we read yet again about the unfaithfulness of Israel. They are moaning and complaining about the food even though they have been struck down by God in His anger multiple times for this sin. God is angry with the people. Moses is fed up and shows us the proper way to bring your complaints or your petition to the Lord, he pours out His heart before Him and says “ Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”
To this God replies
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.”
He also promises Moses that because the people are feeling so sorry for themselves that they wish they were still slaves in Egypt He would give them what they asked for in abundance until it became loathsome to them. Moses asks the next question which seems reasonable “where are we going to get all of this meat?” This is almost the exact question the disciples ask Jesus when they are in the wilderness with the multitudes. To this very “reasonable” question Yahweh responds in what I assume to be incredulity “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” We are reminded that nothing is too much for the Lord and we should never question How He will do something but instead Trust Him to accomplish His work.
So Moses gathers all the 70 men out side of the camp just as the Lord commanded and then the text continues “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.” The Spirit has now been shared amongst the elders of Israel and they are prophesying but there are two in particular that were still in the camp when this was going on and they received the Spirit as well and began prophesying while they were IN the camp! This news gets back to Joshua who is jealous for Moses because to prophesy IN the camp is an honor that Joshua feels should be reserved for Moses. To this display of team loyalty, Moses makes an astonishing reply. “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” This is an amazing display of humility. It is not surprising that we are told in the following chapter “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” This truly is the kind of humility that seeks the good of others over one’s own exaltation. Moses desired to see the day when all the people of God would be prophets speaking God’s truth in love. With the coming of the Spirit, what was once the dream of the most humble man in all the earth, is now a reality. As the people of Christ, we are now prophets. Not in the predicting-the-future, wearing-camel-hair prophets; But faithful followers of Christ ready to give truth to a waiting world; a reason for the hope that is in us.
Pentecost is a big deal. It is the 7th day of the 7th Week from the Resurrection. This may seem hard to believe. We live in an age that has been completely secularized and the few remaining holidays we do celebrate are understood mainly within the confines of their commercial and pop culture influence. Pentecost is a holiday that once held immense sway in our culture and political structure. Up until the 70s it was still a national holiday for the United Kingdom. It wasn’t always historically referred to as Pentecost but more commonly as Whitsun which is a contraction of the words White and Sunday, a reference to the color white being prominent during liturgical usage during Pentecost Sunday… From this came a national holiday Whit Monday, and entire of week of celebration Whitide, parades by different churches called Whit Walks accompanied by brass bands and girls in white dresses. Whit fairs and different weeklong celebrations were common when our people had a common culture that wasn’t steeped in a secularized worldview. In other countries such as Italy, it is common to throw red rose petals from the church steeples to symbolizes the fiery tongues that fell on the heads of believers. In France, often during the worship service there will be tremendous blasts on trumpets to remind people of the “sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind which actually filled the house!” Also common within the historical view of this holiday is that some have used the time between Ascension Day and Pentecost (the 9 days in between) for fasting and prayer much in what could be speculated was the actions of the apostles during those 9 days before the Holy Spirit was given.
Here is a key historical takeaway as you think about the Day of Pentecost and the entire liturgical calendar as a whole. We as a people used to have these days as a blessing in structuring our lives. When I say we as a people, I mean everyone, not just our Christian brothers and sisters but everyone that comprised our county, state, or nation. Whether you were a Christian or not didn’t matter, the holidays came and the people as a whole observed them. Holidays are didactic by nature. They are meant to teach the observer something. Christmas teaches us that we were lost in the darkness of sin until the Light of the World descended. Epiphany teaches us that Christ has come to save ALL the world, not just the Jews. Easter teaches us that while we are dead in our sins, Jesus has conquered death and offers us Life abundantly. I could go on but you get the point. Holidays are meant to teach, impress, and shape cultures. This is no different today. What a nation feels is worth celebrating and emphasizing describes well the priorities of that nation. As an American, we have fallen far from the blessing of the church calendar. The holidays we celebrate are either completely secular (think Presidents Day, the 4th of July, Veterans Day), or celebrate secular ideals and morals devoid of Christ as King. (Memorial Day, MLK, Labor Day). As I said before, the few remaining holidays we have that ARE on the church calendar have been sanitized and stripped of their potency. Think easter bunny, santa claus, etc. When our culture was shaped by the liturgical calendar, common grace allowed that non Christians could benefit from the celebrations and observances that were meant to teach, spread, and live out the gospel. Non believers could ignore them, could join them, and could even blessed by them but they were teaching and calling the celebrant to an explicit Christ-centered righteousness. There was no worry about making the message “relevant” to heathens. The heathens were expected to make themselves relevant to God by responding in repentance to the call of the Gospel poured forth from the church every day including the church calendar holidays. As a nation and often within the church as well now preach a Christless righteousness through our holiday observances. We endlessly moralize the holidays and make them entirely humanistic and man centered. This is profoundly wrong as our celebrations should prioritize getting the focus off ourselves. C.S. Lewis noted a phenomenon in his day as it regarded preaching the gospel to heathens. His observations have become so common that I believe we are amazed to see anything to the contrary.
“The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin… The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, or Pagans, a sense of guilt…Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.
The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.”
― C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics
The modern man makes holidays for himself that are self serving and full of the pride of life. Part of the role of the church is to continue to preach the reality that God is the judge and man is “in the dock.” Without this knowledge, man will perish in his blindness and vainglory. He will continue to reject days of celebration that honor anyone but himself and replace those holidays with celebrations more relevant to his own designs.
Each episode of the Anno Domini podcast I highlight a hymn or psalm of some sort. Often these are ancient hymns and other times they are fairly new. This episode for Pentecost has a hymn that was written 586 years ago by Bianco da Siena. The hymn is called Come Down O Love Divine. I’ve set it to new music but my favorite arrangement is still the tune DOWN AMPNEY written by Ralph Vaughan Willians in 1906. I will have both versions linked up in the show notes so you can here the far superior Williams tune as it is sung by Kings College.
This hymn is a Pentecost Hymn and basks entirely in the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I will read the stanzas and then briefly comment on them.
Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn, til worldly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
No soul can guess the grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.
The first stanza asks the Holy Spirit, here called “Love Divine” to come and find our souls and to visit it with the “ardor” which is a great word and seems to mean passions and warmth. We ask that the ardor of the Spirit would come. We then sing, asking the Comforter, another name for the Spirit to draw near to us, to fill our heart, and kindle a fire of holy flame. All this is very challenging for me. Jesus is a physical King in a physical place. He had to go away and told us that only in His leaving would we receive the Spirit and a new heart. He then sent His Spiritual presence (The Holy Spirit of Christ) which is meant to stir our hearts in our zeal for the Lord just as Christ was filled with zeal for the House of God.
Having asked the Spirit at the end of the first stanza to kindle a fire in our hearts we then ask that the flame would freely burn and that the ardor of this presence would consume our worldly passions turning them to dust and ash. We ask that the Spirit’s glorious light would fill our eyes and surround us while still being a light to our path. To put it succinctly, stanza 2 expresses a desire for the Spirit to cleanse us and guide us in the paths of life.
While stanzas 1 and 2 are somewhat ethereal and open to various practical interpretations, stanza 3 is crystal clear with imperatives. We ask the Holy Spirit to clothe us in love with the hymn using the more ancient word charity. If love is what we put on we are also asking that lowliness or humility would be the clothes that we wear on our insides. In other words, we are asking the Spirit to give us hearts that are dressed in humility. That is convicting but just you wait. The hymn continues that if you truly want to be lowly in heart, you ought to be weeping over your OWN shortcomings. In other words be tough on yourself and be gracious to others. Give your own heart no quarter and believe the best in the intentions of others. The hymn even uses the phrase to “loath” our shortcomings. That is some cleansing stuff to hate the sin you sin in your own heart. That can ONLY come when the Spirit is at work in your heart.
Stanza 4 ends in hope. For those that belong to Christ, our hearts long to be the dwelling place of the Spirit. While we don’t have the words to describe the yearning and longing of our hearts for the Spirit to fill us even if we did, we couldn’t even guess the blessings that will be received when we become the willing temple to the Holy Ghost.
With that I will play the song and I hope you enjoy it. We will be back next week for Trinity Sunday and then there will be a long break as we enter into ordinary time.
Have a blessed Pentecost Sunday everyone and enjoy this new setting of the ancient hymn Come Down O Love Divine.
We’ll see you next week!