Pentecost - the Time of Fulfilment

Reading: Acts 1.1-4
I wonder what's happening, we thought. Is the service station near the Burdekin River Bridge being demolished - or refurbished and enlarged? For a while it just hasn't been clear. Now that a large metal framework has been erected, it looks like a major redesign to accommodate large trucks and possibly buses as well.

A few years ago on the Sunshine Coast, a sign simply told us, "Watch this space". Then, an announcement that there was going to be a university campus, a high school and 1500 houses on this site. While a big debate went on as to whether the campus should be built on Sippy Downs or in Nambour, the sign - the space to watch - became like a torn page with a large question-mark over it. But then the question was settled and building and earth-works began. The sign began to invite passers-by to be part of the action. As people began living there, the sign changed again and announced, "Chancellor Estate. Display homes open." It was the time of fulfilment and the Sunshine Coast University became a reality.

Do you take much notice of such signs? Do you "watch this space"? Or are you sometimes bored with signs like that - impatient that nothing ever seems to happen?

God's "Watch-this-Space" Signs

God gave his people some "watch-this-space" signs. Those who brought them are called the prophets. Too often God's people became impatient and forgot to watch and wait. Yes, they had to wait - for hundreds of years. Has God forgotten? Did the prophet get the message wrong? There are other things for us to do anyway!

Following this morning's reading, Peter quotes a "watch-this-space" from the prophet Joel. Eight hundred years before the coming of Jesus, Joel wrote this: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2.17-21, from Joel 2.28-32).

That sounds like an important announcement, doesn't it?

The Jewish people knew about the Spirit of God. The Spirit had moved over the waters in creation (Gen. l.2). The Spirit had given the artists and craftsmen special skills in making the Tabernacle (Ex. 31.1 ff). The Spirit of the Lord was especially on the priests for the service of the Temple, and on the rulers for wisdom in leadership. The Spirit came on the prophets, enabling them to speak the Word of the Lord. But now - watch this space - "I will pour out my Spirit on all people... even on my servants, both men and women..." No longer will the giving of the Spirit be restricted to special people for special tasks, but the Spirit will be poured out on all God's people, on all believers.

And there is another special part to this "watch-this-space" - "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Joel doesn't spell out the details, but it seems clear that there is to be a time when it will be possible to come to God for salvation without the mediation of a human priest and sacrificial system - "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

"Everyone" goes another step further too - not just the Jewish people - "everyone" means anyone and everyone who receives and believes the promises of God!

Watch this space! "This is what I will do!"

The Time has Come!

They should have been ready, shouldn't they? If only they had kept watching the space for this and other messages God sent out for them!

But then the time of fulfilment came! We hear John the Baptist preaching to the people, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt. 3.2). The time has come! The action is now! Get with the action!

And Jesus - baptised, tempted in the desert - returns preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (4.17). Yes, in Jesus the Kingdom has come and people have the opportunity to respond to the Good News and become part of the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus sent out the seventy to prepare people in the towns he was about to visit, they were to tell people that the Kingdom was near. But where they were not welcomed, they were to go out into the streets and say, "Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near" (Lk. 10.11).

The time had come, the time of opportunity and choice! And they took him and nailed him to a cross! Their accusation to Pilate was that he was setting himself up as a political rival to the Roman Emperor. Their private objection to him was the inference that he was the final message on God's bill-board, that he was the one to whom all the other messages were pointing, that he had come as the Messiah, the unique Son of God…

Three days later God demonstrated that the time had come by raising him from death! And that's the message Peter brought - "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death… Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2.22-24a,36).

Get with the Action!

But Pentecost wasn't the latest bill-board notice with the latest information about what God was doing. It was a call to respond - to "get with the action".

These things have happened. Even when the people of the time were doing their worst, God was working out his purposes. That is all historical fact. But now is the time to act. "Repent and be baptised, 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call" (vv. 38-39).

And the Lord's call is still the same today - repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ, receive him as your Saviour and Lord.

And the Promise...

And there is a promise attached - "…the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

In the gracious plan of God, these two go hand in hand. For his purpose isn't only to forgive us whenever we go astray, but to live within us by his Spirit so that we will be strengthened to stay in the right path.

The Jewish Feast of Pentecost was a harvest festival that marked the completion of the barley harvest. They called it the Feast of Weeks, because it was a "week of weeks" (seven weeks) after the Passover. ("Pentecost" is simply a Greek word meaning "fiftieth").

The first Christian Pentecost was the beginning of the Christian harvest as people began to respond to the Good News about Jesus.

That harvest isn't finished. "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call" (v. 39). It's still time to get into the action. Repent and believe the Good News! Receive the promised Holy Spirit!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 30 May 2004
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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