The Mercy of Pentecost

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. (Matthew 27:27-26 ESV)

Tensions were running high in Jerusalem during this particular Passover. Not only was their land occupied by a forgeign army, but a small group of radicals was poised to bring Rome down on everyone’s head.

The crowd, in such a fervor over the perceived blasphemy of Jesus, could not wait to have the man executed. In fact, some were willing to pass his blood onto their own children. They did not care about the consequences, they just wanted him dead.

A few months later, after things had settled down and the radicals had no doubt come to their end, the full import of what they had done was shown to them. Peter, being filled with the Spirit, told them the truth of the one who had been crucified.

Perhaps many of the same people who were calling for Jesus’ death now listened to Peter. Maybe they came to the sad conclusion that they, God’s own chosen people, had killed their very Lord.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized 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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39)

This is the mercy of Pentecost. With man there is bloodlust and murder; with God, grace and forgiveness. The blood the crowd was so willing to place upon their children was transformed from hate into love.

Isn’t it the same with us? Without a question, I have stood in that crowd and yelled “Crucify him!” I have railed against the Creator, shaking my fist into the air with many acts of defiance. And the whole time, Jesus looks to the Father and says “Forgive him, for he knows not what he does.”

Again with the Pentecost

If you think about it, celebrating Memorial Day instead of Pentecost indicates much that is wrong with American evangelicalism. Memorial Day is an American civic holiday that celebrates our superiority over the nations.

While on the surface we are honoring those who have died in military service (certainly a noble cause), the day actually becomes a celebration of our superior military and victories over the enemy. We lift America up and thank God that we defeated the evil empires of Britain, Germany, Japan, communism, terrorism, and whatever else we’ve deemed to be evil.

Pentecost, on the other hand, is not limited to one nation. In fact, it is a celebration of God’s mercy on all nations. We thank God, not for one country’s victory over a perceived enemy, but for the outpouring of His Spirit on all flesh, Jew and Gentile. It is a day without national boundaries.

Pentecost

Today is one of the most important days in the Christian year, and yet most American churches will celebrate Memorial Day instead. Barely a word will be spoken about the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church and God’s plan to spread the Kingdom. Instead we’ll get patriotic sermons, patriotic songs, and plenty of flags.

From my vantage point, churches are missing out when they celebrate Christmas and Easter, but not Pentecost. There is a trinitarian flow to the Christian year that is savaged when you cut the Spirit out. It’s like reaching the crescendo of a good song and then suddenly stopping.

Jesus rose, told his disciples to spread the Kingdom, and then ascended into heaven; is that it? How do we reach the nations? How do we go on without our leader? What empowers the church in its’ mission? Without Pentecost, we don’t have the answers to those questions.

Now, I obviously know that most churches deal with those questions and answer them adequately, so it’s not as if people are sitting in the pews oblivious as to the existence of the Spirit. But people know about the incarnation and resurrection, so why spend the time on those days? Because they are vitally important to the church, that’s why.

And so is Pentecost.