The Road to Pentecost

“One of the great metaphors of the Bible is “the journey.” The Bible is filled with journey upon journey. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is full of people on the move”. . . .

The quote above is taken from a Holy Week sermon in 2009 titled, Three Journeys,” given by The Reverend Michael Seiler, Managing Associate Rector, at The Parish of Saint Matthew in Pacific Palisades, California. Here is more from that sermon:

In the beginning of the Old Testament, Abraham journeys from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land. Many generations later, Abraham’s descendants journey from slavery and oppression in Egypt into the land of Israel. Many generations after that, they journey back to their Promised Land after the tragic downfall of their civilization and their forced exile in Babylon. In the New Testament, Jesus himself journeys through Palestine, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. As he journeys, he shows people what that Kingdom looks like by his deeds of love and power. After the Resurrection, Paul and the apostles journey all over the Roman Empire, and their message reaches to the ends of the earth – and here we are, millennia later, with our journeys touching theirs.

It makes sense that the concept of “the journey” would be so central to Scripture, because we human beings are journeying people. We make sense of our lives by understanding them as journeys, as the unfolding story of who we are and what we do in the world. We think and talk and worry about our career arcs, or our family histories, or our financial forecasts, or our estate plans. In our better moments we think and talk and pray about our spiritual journeys – all ways of thinking about our lives, our stories, about the journey that has been, and the journey that will be. In some deep way, journeying is an elemental part of who we are as human beings.

This image, this metaphor of the journey has been very helpful to me over the past week or so, as I’ve tried to understand the deeper meaning of this morning’s reading from the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel. John tells us in this passage about the moment when several different journeys intersect, and he tells us something about what it means that those journeys come together.

The first journeyer in John’s Gospel is, of course, Jesus himself. From its very first words, John’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus is on a journey – a journey that is far more than just a walking tour of Palestine. The pre-eternal Word of God, who is with God and who is God, has journeyed into this world, has chosen to be with us, to become flesh, to reveal his divine being and nature and love to us by becoming a human person in the man Jesus of Nazareth. For John’s Gospel, this is the first and greatest journey – the cosmic journey of Christ from the Father into this world, through suffering and death and then back to the glory of the Father. Every other journey in John’s Gospel, all of the lives and experiences of all the other people in John’s Gospel, only make sense in the light of that great journey of Christ. John’s Gospel wants to tell us that apart from the great journey of Christ, our lives don’t really get anywhere.

Apart from the grace and power and love of Christ, our lives are just a kind of going in circles. But, John wants to tell us, in the light of the great journey of Christ, our lives can be a journey into God.

There are other journeyers in this morning’s Gospel. John doesn’t tell us their names – all we know about them is that they are “some Greeks.” They are the only Greeks – the only non-Jews, that is – in John’s Gospel [see John 12:20-33] who encounter Jesus during his ministry. They have somehow heard of Jesus, they have learned something about him, and what they’ve learned has given them a desire to be with him. They have journeyed to be with Jesus, perhaps over a very long distance. That distance may be geographical, or spiritual, or both. They seek out the follower of Jesus who has the most Greek-sounding name – Philip – and they ask Philip to arrange a meeting with Jesus. And in this moment, their lives, their journeys, and the cosmic journey of Christ from God and to God, suddenly and dramatically intersect.

And that, Jesus says, is precisely the point. The journey of Jesus, the journey of destiny and salvation and healing that he is traveling, now starts to touch not just Jews but non-Jews. The Greeks have arrived. “The hour,” Jesus’ decisive moment of glory and revelation that will climax in the Cross, has come. This is the moment, in John’s Gospel, when the full meaning and power of Jesus’ journey begins to be revealed. This is the moment when the saving journey of Christ begins to be revealed as the work of God that will heal and save and transform not just the covenant people of Israel, but the whole human race. “The hour has come,” Jesus says, “and when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

These mysterious, unnamed Greeks become the sign that all human journeys, all human lives, find their meaning in Christ. These mysterious, unnamed Greeks are the people through whom Jesus demonstrates that he is drawing every person, bending every journey, toward himself. Christ, now that he is lifted up from the earth by his crucifixion and his resurrection, has become the pole star, the magnetic north, for every journey, for every person, for the meaning and destiny of every individual and of the whole human race. All our journeys are destined to find their meaning by intersecting his great journey. Until our journeys are caught up in the journey of Christ from God and to God, we really are just going around in circles of our own making. Once we make Christ’s journey our own – or rather, once Christ makes our journey his own – then and only then are we are safely on the road to God. . . .

But there is one last detail about this Gospel passage that has puzzled me for years. What happened to the Greeks? Do they get to see Jesus? Doesn’t Jesus ever talk to them? Do they ever get what they came for? John’s Gospel doesn’t say. It just leaves them – and us – hanging. And for years, that loose end in the story drove me crazy.

But now I think I am starting to understand. I think the Greeks did see Jesus. I think John’s Gospel is suggesting to us that the Greeks did see everything they needed to see of Jesus – because they had come to Jerusalem, and they were going to see his suffering and his death and perhaps even be eyewitnesses of his Resurrection. It’s as if they came seeking an interview, but what they got was to SEE the cataclysmic, earthshaking events that were going to unfold in Jerusalem over the next few days. If they showed up, they would see. If they saw, and let the cosmic journey of Christ fully intersect theirs – if they saw, and understood what they were seeing, and if they believed – they would find what they were seeking. They just needed to show up for the next few days. They needed to show up – for Holy Week. They had to be brave enough to take it all in, and to believe what they heard and saw. (Quote source here.)

This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and it marks the end of the seven week Easter Season also known as Eastertide which is the time between the resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrated on Easter Sunday and the filling of the Holy Spirit in his disciples and followers in the Upper Room fifty days later (known as Pentecost–see Acts 2). In an article titled, What is Pentecost? Why Does It Matter?” by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, pastor, author, leader, speaker, blogger, and Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary, he states:

On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had gathered together in Jerusalem. What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though usually not in such a dramatic fashion. We rarely get a heavenly wind and tongues of fire anymore. Nevertheless, God pours out the Spirit upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (see Romans 8:1-11).

Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-23).

Personal Implications: Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Are we relying on the power of God’s Spirit? Are we an open channel for the Spirit’s gifts? Are we attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) growing in our lives? Most Christians I know, including me, live in the presence and power of the Spirit, but only to an extent. We are limited by our fear, our sin, our low expectations, not to mention our tendency to be distracted from God’s work in us. Pentecost offers a chance to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh with his power.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Thus we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church.

In theory, the Spirit could have been poured out on the followers of Jesus when they were not gathered together. There are surely times when the Holy Spirit touches an individual who is alone in prayer, worship, or ministry to others. But the fact that the Spirit was given to a gathering of believers is not incidental. It underscores the centrality of the church in God’s work in the world. The actions of the earliest Christians put all of this in boldface. The Holy Spirit is not only given to individuals, but also, in a sense to the gathered people of God. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul observes that the church is God’s temple and that the Spirit dwells in the midst of the church (3:16-17; in 1 Cor 6:19-20 we find a complementary emphasis on the dwelling of the Spirit in individual Christians). (Quote source here.)

GotQuestion.org adds the following information on Pentecost Sunday:

Today, in many Christian churches, Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in believers. During this service, John 20:19-23 may be the core of the message about our risen Savior supernaturally appearing to the fear-laden disciples. Their fear gave way to joy when the Lord showed them His hands and side. He assured them peace and repeated the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23).

The celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the reality that we all have the unifying Spirit that was poured out upon the first-century church in Acts 2:1-4. It is a reminder that we are co-heirs with Christ, to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him; that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7); that we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); and that the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives inside believers (Romans 8:9-11). This gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised and given to all believers on the first Pentecost is promised for you and your children and for all who are far off whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39). (Quote source here.)

The road from Easter to Pentecost is one of the many roads we as Christians take in our journey of faith. It is crucial that we remember what Jesus said in John 15:5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit . . .

For apart from me . . .

You can do . . .

Nothing . . . .

YouTube Video: “Which Way the Winds Blows” by the 2nd Chapter of Acts (1974):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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