Sunday, May 31st, marked the beginning of the Pentecost Season. According to the Christian calendar (i.e. the calendar of Christ’s Church), Pentecost was the next great event in the drama of salvation following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Pentecost means “fifty” or “the fiftieth”, and according to the Jewish calendar has been observed annually fifty days after Passover, as in the time of Jesus. He was making the trip from Galilee to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the Passover for the last time, when he would enter the city as foretold in one of the Old Testament messianic prophecies (Zechariah 9:9), “meek and lowly” and riding on a donkey, on what we know as “Palm Sunday.” His followers did not know that was destined to be the week of Christ’s passion, suffering, and death, when he would offer himself as the spotless Passover lamb — “the Lamb of God” without blemish, who would suffer death upon the cross as a living sacrifice for our salvation, the “one sufficient and perfect sacrifice” for the forgiveness of all the sins of all sinners for all time (read John1:29 and Hebrews 2:10, 7:26-27, 9:24-26, and 10:11-14).
During “forty days” (Acts 1:3) after his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples many times, and once to “more than 500 of his followers at one time” (I Corinthians 15:3-8). During his final appearance — before his ascension into heaven, when he would return to the glory he had “before the worlds were created” (John 17:5), i.e before his incarnation as the Eternal Christ in human form, as the historical Jesus — the resurrected Jesus was with his disciples in Jerusalem that they might witness his ascension. However before that event, he would command them to remain in Jerusalem until the “promise of the Father” (John 15:26–27, 16:5-14; Acts 1:4) was fulfilled, which he told them would happen “not many days from now” (Acts 1:5) — supposedly about ten days for a total time span of approximately fifty days between his resurrection and Pentecost — when the Holy Spirit would be bestowed on them and they would “receive power” from on high (Acts 1:8).
As I said in the previous post, Pentecost is often referred to as “the birthday of the Church”, but Christ had a Church before Pentecost. The Church is the fellowship of people who belong to Jesus, which began with the calling of his disciples. Just as God had his own people in Old Testament times (i.e. the Hebrew people, the “covenant people” of God, Israel), so Jesus had those who had been “given” to him by God the Father approximately three years before Pentecost (John 17:1-23). I believe it is much more accurate (and more truly descriptive of what actually happened in the Pentecost event) to refer to that miraculous occurrence as “the birthday of the Church’s power.” Before Pentecost, they were without the power of the Spirit, but following Pentecost the disciples of Jesus (i.e. “followers” and “students” of their Master) became apostles (i.e. “those who were sent”), sent into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses, to begin the fulfillment of his “Great Commission” (Acts 1:4-8; Matt. 28:18-20).
This command to “wait in Jerusalem” (vs. 4) came just before Jesus was “taken up from them into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Then it happened, just as Jesus had told them: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). That command was not only given to the original twelve and all those who were among the first to follow him in the first century, but to all those who would follow as members of his body of believers through the ages (read the entire “High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17), as a result of the bold and faithful witness of the apostles, including the testimony of those who had been “eye-witnesses” which we find in the writings of the New Testament (i.e. the written record of their faithful witness to the Lordship and supremacy of the crucified, risen, ascended, and glorified Christ.
Furthermore, the purpose of the baptism of Jesus with the Holy Spirit in the first century is still the same in the twenty-first century, as it has always been through the preceding centuries ages since the day of Pentecost. That purpose has been to not only empower all followers of Jesus to witness with convincing and convicting power but also to “withstand” — to “stand” steadfast and immovable in faith and loyalty to Jesus Christ as Lord (Ephesians 6:10-18).
To “stand” and “withstand” in the New Testament always refers to victory in our spiritual struggle with evil in all of its forms in this world). “…Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power” (vs. 10). “For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of the present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places… Stand therefore… pray in the Spirit at all times… and to the end keep alert and always persevere” (Eph. 6:12,18). “Though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy (i.e. to “pull down”) strongholds” (i.e. strongholds of evil, I Corinthians 10:3-4).
Suffice it to say, the Christian life is not a frolic, but a fight, a fight to the finish! As “God’s own people” (I Peter 2:9) we are engaged in a mighty spiritual conflict”, for although we are in this world we are not of this world (John 17:14-23). The Apostle Peter calls believers “…aliens and exiles called to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war with the soul” (I Peter 2:11). However, there are many pastors and teachers in the contemporary Church who, because of their passion for “peacemaking”, do not like these common biblical images of warfare, and therefore choose to omit them from their preaching and teaching. For the same reason, many modern hymnals have simply omitted such hymns as “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war” — “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross” — “Soldiers of Christ arise, and put your armor on, strong in the strength which God supplies through His eternal Son.”
However, most of these same critics can sing lustily Martin Luther’s great hymn, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; a helper he amid the flood… and he must win the battle.” How can such critical moralists explain such selectivity when it comes to our faith set to music? Even more confounding, how can anyone who says he or she believes in the inspiration and authority of the Bible for faith and practice justify such a “cafeteria” approach to scripture (i.e. just choosing what appeals to their taste, and ignoring (at best), or rejecting (at worst,) what is not to their liking? The Apostle Paul, the master interpreter of the mind of Christ, and the first missionary of Christ’s Church, did not hesitate to describe the Christian life as a struggle, a battle, a conflict, emphasizing as Martin Luther would centuries later that the people of God are fighting a battle with the enemy of Christ and his Church, the evil one who in the Bible is given several names: “Satan”, “the Devil”, “the Tempter”, the “Father of liars”, and the “enemy of our souls.”
We are told that Jesus himself was tempted by Satan at the beginning of his earthly ministry, tempted to detour around the cross, to take a shortcut to kingship, and was even “tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin” (see Luke 4:1-13; Hebrews 5:15). No Christian is immune to temptation. The Christian life is not easy for any follower of Jesus. All of us are involved in warfare against a formidable enemy. However, in this spiritual struggle, we are not left without the necessary resources, the equipment and provisions, that are necessary for winning the war. Paul the apostle tells us to ”Put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11-17), explaining to his readers what the “whole” armor of God is, piece by piece, and why each piece is essential for victory as we “…contend for the faith which has been entrusted to us” (Jude, verse 3).
In the posts that follow during the Pentecost season, we will be looking more closely at the “whole” armor of God through the bifocals of faith, and will hopefully gain a much clearer understanding of the important truths each piece represents. So read Ephesians 6:11-17 (then read it again, and again), meditating on Paul’s words and applying them to yourself, considering your own spiritual struggles, asking yourself if you have clothed yourself in the “whole” armor of God.
Beloved in Christ, there is not only a fierce struggle going on in this world, but a battle is being waged in the depths of your own soul, a battle for the conquest of your mind. So stop at this point and consider your own thought life, ask yourself how well you are “withstanding” against some of those unhealthy thoughts. Do you feel like you are winning the battle for the conquest of your mind? Our minds are being bombarded every day via television, radio, the internet, and voices on social media that “oppose the truth”, those of “corrupt mind”, as well as those preaching a “counterfeit faith” (2 Timothy 3:1-8).
Are you taking seriously the call to “fight the good fight of faith”? (1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 4:7). Are you putting on “the whole armor of God” or just trying to do the best you can all by yourself? My friends, Christianity is not a “do it yourself” religion! Also, we are not contending with mere mortal beings, but with organized powers of malevolent spirit beings, with supernatural power (Romans 8:38; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:7-9). We dare not think we can succeed in winning in this conflict in our strength alone.