Episode 2: What was Pentecost?

Today’s Bible reading for January 2 is in Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Matthew 2 and Acts 2. These include some incredibly significant passages! Matthew 2 details the visit of the Wise Men/Magi with Jesus when He was extremely young, as well as Herod’s attempts to snuff out His life by killing all male Bethlehem children who were 2 years of age and younger. In response to the threats against them, Joseph leads Mary and Jesus into exile in Egypt, where they stay for no more than 2 years. (We know this because Herod died around 4 B.C. and Jesus was likely born sometime between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C., so it is possible that Jesus and His family only sojourned in Egypt for a few weeks/months. To understand how it was that Jesus was born 4-6 B.C., scroll down to the bottom)

The Genesis 2 passage is a detailed description of the creation of man and woman, and God’s first verbal interactions with them, which comes in the form of a command – they may eat from ANY tree in the Garden of Eden EXCEPT the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Interestingly, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was NOT the only named tree in the Garden of Eden – there was also the Tree of Life, which Adam and Eve could freely partake of.)

In the beginning, “the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The sexual arena stands to the fore, of course; yet there is a symbol-laden depth to the pronouncement. It is a way of saying that there was no guilt; there was nothing to be ashamed of. This happy innocence meant openness, utter candor. There was nothing to hide, whether from God or from each other. How different after the Fall. The man and the woman hide from God, and blame others. The candor has gone, the innocence has dissipated, the openness has closed. These are the immediate effects of the first sin.

D. A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word., vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 25.

Ezra two is one of the more difficult reads in the Bible – especially out-loud! because it is an extremely long list of names, and many of them are hard to pronounce. I’m going to enjoy reading that passage on today’s podcast.

Acts chapter 2 sees the disciples of Jesus – men and women – gathered together in prayer, and seeking to be clothed with power from on high. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes on them in a powerful and obvious way, and they speak in other languages, or tongues, and proclaim the good news of Jesus to thousands of Jewish people and foreigners. 3,000 of those respond to the message, and the church is birthed on the Day of Pentecost. This is our featured passage of the day.

Rich were the blessings of this day if all of us were filled with the Holy Ghost. The consequences of this sacred filling of the soul it would be impossible to overestimate. Life, comfort, light, purity, power, peace; and many other precious blessings are inseparable from the Spirit’s benign presence. As sacred oil, he anoints the head of the believer, sets him apart to the priesthood of saints, and gives him grace to execute his office aright. As the only truly purifying water he cleanses us from the power of sin and sanctifies us unto holiness, working in us to will and to do of the Lord’s good pleasure. As the light, he manifested to us at first our lost estate, and now he reveals the Lord Jesus to us and in us, and guides us in the way of righteousness. Enlightened by his pure celestial ray, we are no more darkness but light in the Lord. As fire, he both purges us from dross, and sets our consecrated nature on a blaze. He is the sacrificial flame by which we are enabled to offer our whole souls as a living sacrifice unto God. As heavenly dew, he removes our barrenness and fertilizes our lives. O that he would drop from above upon us at this early hour! Such morning dew would be a sweet commencement for the day. As the dove, with wings of peaceful love he broods over his Church and over the souls of believers, and as a Comforter he dispels the cares and doubts which mar the peace of his beloved. He descends upon the chosen as upon the Lord in Jordan, and bears witness to their sonship by working in them a filial spirit by which they cry Abba, Father.” Source: C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

What was Pentecost?

Pentecost is the Greek name of a Hebrew festival (Shavuot) that was instituted by God all the way back in the book of Exodus. The focus of the Feast of Weeks, also known as the Feast of the Harvest, was to celebrate God’s provision of wheat, and other early harvested food-crops, to His people. Deuteronomy 16 gives some details:

“You are to count seven weeks, counting the weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. 10 You are to celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God with a freewill offering that you give in proportion to how the Lord your God has blessed you. 11 Rejoice before the Lord your God in the place where he chooses to have his name dwell—you, your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite within your city gates, as well as the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt; carefully follow these statutes.

Pentecost/Shavuout usually occurs sometime between May and June of our current calendar year, and is still celebrated by many Jewish people. They celebrate the holiday by reading the book of Ruth (much of which took place at harvest time) and enjoying a feast with various dairy based treats.

P.S. Time is a funny thing, and dating is a funny thing. We are in the year 2020 according to most Western calendars, but the Western (Gregorian) calendar isn’t the only one that is in use. The Chinese calendar is much older than the Western, and we are in year 4716 according to their reckoning, moving to 4717 on January 25, 2020. According to the Hebrew calendar, we are in year 5780, and according to the Islamic calendar, we are in the year 1441. Confusing, right?! The Gregorian or Western calendar is came into use in the 16th century and is based on an understanding that reckoned year 1 as the time that Jesus was born.

Interestingly, and obviously when you think about it – our understanding of year 1 would not have been held by the inhabitants of the Roman Empire living at the time – the vast majority of which would have no idea who Jesus of Bethlehem would be, or understand the concepts of A.D., B.C., or C.E. and B.C.E. Instead, year 1 to them would have been the Year of the Consulship of Caesar and Paullus or 754 AUC in Rome. The A.D. and B.C. system that designated A.D. 1 did not come into being until 525 A.D. when it was put forward by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus, and it appears that he miscalculated the time of the birth of Jesus by a few years, so that Jesus was actually Himself born in the B.C. period. Strange, I know! Exiguus’ system was not widely used until the 800s A.D., so that up until the ninth century, the vast majority of Western people did not date things the way we currently do.

To further clarify, A.D. stands for a Latin Phrase, “Anno Domini” which means “in the year of the Lord**” 1 A.D. was thought to be the year that Jesus was born. B.C. means ‘Before Christ,’ and time is measured in years distant from the birth of Christ. For instance, an event that took place 100 years before the time considered to be the birth of Jesus would be reckoned as 100 B.C. and an event that took place 100 years after the time considered to be the birth of Jesus would be reckoned as 100 A.D. There is no year 0 in this scheme. Much more information here in the Wikipedia article.

** A.D. has never stood for ‘After Death,’ despite the commonly held misconception.

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