Today is Pentecost Sunday, a seemingly benign celebration in the midst of the church’s liturgical calendar.
But it’s anything but benign. This is nothing less than the beginning of the most stunning revolution in human history, and it really messed with the Pharisees.
You see, the reason the Pharisees and teachers of the law were looking for a way to kill Jesus was precisely because so much of their honor was wrapped up in their position as gate-keepers to God, and Jesus was challenging this by declaring the kingdom of God was now available to anyone through him!
How dare he dish out the blessings of God willy-nilly like that? How dare he circumvent a system of access to God that had been carefully manipulated to benefit those in charge of it? Who does he think he is, offering forgiveness and healing just because people need it? Where is the propriety? This Jesus had to go.
They were so highly invested in the system of religious control they had crafted that murder felt like the only option when it was challenged. They were the gate-keepers to God’s presence, carefully sifting out the unworthy from the worthy. But now Jesus was acting as a gateway for anyone to run straight into the presence of God! They were scared to death that their position as gate-keepers was coming to an end.
So they thought they had solved the problem when Jesus was crucified. But they had actually made things so much worse. They just didn’t know it until the day of Pentecost.
When the Spirit was unleashed on Pentecost, all of the Pharisees’ worst nightmares came true. Now instead of dealing with Jesus, they had to deal with 120 Jesuses! The same things that had happened through Jesus’ life were happening through his followers’ lives! Their ability to control access to God was now even more tenuous than it had been before.
There used to be one gateway, and they thought they had gotten rid of him. Now there were over one hundred gateways, and it turned into thousands on Pentecost. Their position as gate-keepers was crumbling under their feet, because God’s presence and blessing was now radically, readily, and increasingly available to ordinary people who simply trust Jesus through the Spirit.
The virus they thought they had eradicated was now spreading like wildfire, and all their attempts to put out the flames of Pentecost only seemed to pour gasoline on the inferno.
Pentecost meant game over for those invested in maintaining systems of religious control, and it continues to this day! God is radically available to anyone today because the Spirit of Jesus has been unleashed.
“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Peter’s Pentecost sermon, Acts 2:21
For more on God’s radical availability to all who call on him, I’d recommend you read Dallas Willard’s modern-day classic The Divine Conspiracy. It was truly a life-changing book for me, and, in my opinion, will be considered a Christian classic 100 years from now.