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May 2005

Pentecost

In focusing on the powerful preaching of Christ crucified, risen and ascended, Acts 2 defines a true outpouring of the Spirit of God.

Genuine revival results in widespread repentance and faith, springing from the spiritual regeneration of large numbers of ungodly people, who have hitherto known only what it is to be fallen in Adam.

The transformation of so many individuals from a life of sinfulness to one of righteousness inevitably has a powerful knock-on effect on the whole of society.

No wonder that in every age the Christian church prays for further widespread effusions of the Spirit, in the awareness that Jesus said, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18).

Timing

But there is one particular feature of Pentecost (the Bible’s normative revival) that we must not overlook — the matter of timing.

Exact timing is written into the very word Pentecost (‘fifty days’). The feast of Pentecost was exactly fifty days after the offering of the barley sheaf at Passover (Leviticus 23:16) — the latter recalling Israel’s redemption out of Egypt under the blood of the Passover lamb.

Also called ‘the feast of weeks’, Pentecost linked together God’s redemptive acts at the Exodus with his gift to his redeemed people of the land flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 16:16).

Pentecost was a ‘feast of harvest’, an occasion of thanksgiving for God’s faithful provision of harvests in the Promised Land (Exodus 23:16).

These two Pentecostal themes — redemption and harvest — meshed exactly with (and foreshadowed) Jesus’ prediction of the harvest of souls that would result from his atoning death. ‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you … if [a grain of wheat] dies, it produces much grain’ (John 12:23-24). As Isaiah prophesied, ‘He shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied’ (Isaiah 53:11).

Timing is crucial to God’s purposes. It was only ‘when the fulness of the time had come, [that] God sent forth his Son’ (Galatians 4:4). The Spirit was poured out only ‘when the Day of Pentecost had fully come…’ (Acts 1:6-7; 2:1).

Significance

What is the significance of all this? It tells us that the Lord sends revivals only when he is ready to do so — not a minute earlier, not a minute later. If revivals seem to happen suddenly, it is only because we are not party to heaven’s secret decrees, for they are planned from all eternity (Acts 15:18).

There are important practical benefits in resting on this truth. Firstly, it brings balm to the anxious soul. We need have neither anxiety nor ‘over-kill’ in praying for revival. Pray for it we certainly should, but its timing is not our business.

‘To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven … a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). This counsel is a pillow on which to rest our heads, as well as a source of abounding hope.

Our prayer is heard

Secondly, as we (obediently) pray for the fulness of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), we know that our prayer is heard. Even if revival tarries, the Spirit is given to us in sufficient measure for the tasks of today — even if ‘today’ seems light-years away from another ‘Pentecost’.

The Lord would say to us in our present waiting experience precisely the same as he said to fearful Gideon: ‘Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?’

To have that confidence and to know that our times are in his hand (Psalm 31:15) is more than enough to see us through.

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