Pentecost Reminds Us that God is in the Vision and Dream Business

On the calendar of Christ’s Church, we are now in the “Season of Pentecost,” which began on Sunday, June 9th. Pentecost was the next great event in the drama of salvation following the resurrection of Jesus. The actual Pentecost event was a supernatural occurrence when the followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem with thousands of Jews for the festival of Shavuot, the second great Jewish feast in Israel’s yearly cycle of holy days. It was originally a harvest festival (Exodus 23:16) but eventfully was transformed into an annual commemoration of the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the most important event during the Exodus. 

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For Moses, that experience changed not only the direction of his life but his destiny. It began with the vision of a bush that was burning, but not consumed. When Moses drew closer to observe this phenomenon, he was stunned and startled to hear a voice that was no ordinary voice, speaking with divine authority that compelled him to obey and caused him to tremble. Even the mountain itself seemed to shake. “Moses, take off your shoes, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.”  He knew he was in the presence of Almighty God, the God of creation, the God of the covenant, the God of the Hebrew people, who with fire from heaven then burned Ten Commandments into two tablets of stone carved from the side of Sinai, the mountain that was believed by the nomadic people who dwelt in that area to be the holy mountain God visited from time to time, always accompanied by smoke and fire that made Sinai light up shake as if God was making His mighty presence and power known. It was on such a day that Moses dared to go up into the mountain and the one true and living God delivered his law to Moses to be given to His covenant people.

That was the event destined to become second in importance to the Jewish people, second only to the Passover, when God delivered the firstborn sons of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt from the angel of death, who passed over their homes as the firstborn sons of Egypt died during the last plague that finally caused Pharaoh to relent and agree to let God’s people go. You know the rest of the story – how they were later led by the hand of Moses from bondage to freedom. For it was on that day when God visited Mt. Sinai that Moses was given his divine commission. His countenance was so dramatically changed that the people watching, from a safe distance, knew when he came down from the mountain that he had been in the very presence of God, and had survived that divine encounter for a purpose as yet unknown to them. From the beginning, the Hebrew people knew that their God was the only true God who not only who created all things in the beginning, but the God who had given them His law as well. Furthermore, they would learn that their God, the God who “had no name,” was the only true God, the God who makes Himself known in remarkable ways. Consider the ways God made Himself and His will known to the patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets of Israel, often by visions and in dreams. The God of Israel in Old Testament times was the God who speaks for Himself, to those whom He chooses to be His servants.

Go back to the first books of the Old Testament. Noah was a dreamer, who endured the mockery of others while he was building a huge ark in a time of drought because God had spoken to him and given him a dream (or was it a vision?). Abraham was a dreamer, who had heard the voice of God telling him to leave his homeland for He was going to make him the “father of many nations.” Abraham went forth, not knowing where he was going, in search of a promised land that he was able to see only through the bifocals of faith, faith in a God who is in the vision and dream business, a God for whom there are “no impossibilities.”  Moses was a great dreamer, who dreamed of his enslaved people settled in a land of their own, a land their God would give them in the fullness of time. It was not always easy to believe in those many times of testing during their wilderness wanderings for so many years. Moses grew old, but he never grew too old to dream! Jacob was a dreamer, who dreamed of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, with angels descending and ascending upon it. The next morning he built an altar and named that place Bethel (which means in Hebrew “house of God”). Consider the prophet of God Isaiah, who had a vision of God “high and lifted up,” a vision of angels, cherubims, and seraphim flying in the temple and singing, “Holy, holy, holy.”  He was so overcome with a sense of God’s holiness that he fell to his knees crying out, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man; a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”  It was God’s prophet, Joel, who prophesied that the day was coming when God’s Spirit would be poured out on His people and “their young men would see visions, and their old men would dream dreams.” 

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Now fast forward to the Day of Pentecost during apostolic times that this prophecy was fulfilled (the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles). Just as the Apostle Peter said in the great sermon he preached on that day, when so many bystanders thought all the followers of Jesus were acting so strangely that they had apparently been drinking too much wine. They were accused of being drunk, and indeed they were –  they were intoxicated with the Holy Spirit: “These are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16-17). Pentecost was that day when suddenly a sound came from heaven, like strong wind, filling the place where the early Christians were gathered (Acts 2:1), and there was a vision of something that looked like tongues of fire resting on their heads, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (i.e. “other languages,” languages other than their own) as the Spirit gave them the ability (Acts 2:4). Luke, the author of Acts and the historian of the Early Church, makes it very clear that these were known languages (i.e. the languages that were known to all the hearers from so many nations – see Acts 2:4-12). So this was not the gift of “unknown tongues,” another gift of the Spirit, but actual native languages. Therefore, the miracle of Pentecost was a miracle of “hearing and understanding,” not a miracle of “unknown tongues.”  Everyone was amazed that they knew what Peter was saying in that first Christian sermon (Acts 2:13-43), because those Christians (120 of them according to Luke, who is always careful to give us such specific details) were all speaking in different languages (rather than their own (Acts 2:4), so all non-Christians who were listening to Peter heard the Gospel for the first time (i.e. the “full Gospel,” including not only the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus, but also the meaning of what they had witnessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit to Christ’s Church on that day, which was a sign of the dawning of a new age, “the day of the Lord.” See Acts 2:16-21 and Joel 2:28-32).

So, Pentecost, which had been for so many years a holy day for all devout Jews, including those who had come to Jerusalem on that day in the first century to celebrate Shavuot, also became from the beginning one of the holiest days for Christians, and the gift of the Holy Spirit was accompanied by many “gifts of the Spirit” (see 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4:11-16). That event was followed by many more miraculous experiences, such as the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the greatest persecutor of Christ’s followers, who became the Apostle Paul. From the hour of his encounter with the Risen Christ on the Damascus to the day he was martyred for his allegiance to Jesus, Paul was a dreamer. He dreamed of the day when the Gospel would be taken beyond the boundaries of Judaism to the Gentiles, to the Greek-speaking world, and eventually to Europe (especially to Rome). The Apostle Peter was also a dreamer, although his experience on the roof of the home of Cornelius is called a vision (Acts 20), it was a life-changing experience that convinced Peter also that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was meant for all people, all races, all nations, even as Jesus had said in his so-called “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19-20).  That is the great dream and vision that we are still waiting to see completely fulfilled (i.e. the “making of disciples” in all nations”), although the time is now drawing near, or the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached around the world in all nations today, and new converts to Christianity in all nations are being taught and nurtured in the faith, in spite of intense persecution in many countries. The Apostle John was a dreamer, although the revelation he received was also a great vision of heaven and the “end times.” He dreamed of that day when the Lord of glory, the mighty Savior, the object of heaven’s worship, would return to earth to consummate His kingdom, and he prayed, ” EVEN SO, COME, LORD JESUS!” (Revelation 22:20). Let that be our prayer, and our dream as well, today and every day!

I am now living in the latter years of my life. I celebrated my 89th birthday on July 1st, so I am in that group of older people Joel spoke of when he said the “older men will dream dreams.” There was a popular song years ago many of you are too young to remember, “When I grow too long to dream.” Well, if you ever get that old, you are indeed too old!