We wake up on Pentecost Sunday to yet another round of terror. For most secular Westerners it’s just the second day of the weekend, or the second day of a three day weekend if you are lucky enough to live in Western Australia today.
But for the Church it’s a reminder, and an invitation for a revisit, of God commencing the final stage of his promised salvation work for the cosmos, pouring out his Holy Spirit in power.
Pentecost was an eschatological event, a breaking in of the future, a taste of the world to come, but in the present. That’s what sets Pentecost apart from all other power events.
Jesus said to his disciples before his ascension:
I am sending the Promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
The key word here is not the word “power”. The idea of power was not new to the disciples. They had just witnessed Jesus being subjected to the powers of Rome and Jerusalem in the bloody events of the cross.
No, the key to the power Jesus speaks of, the Pentecost power we celebrate today, is not the presence of that power, but the locus – the source – of it. It is power from on high. It is not from here. It is not from below.
And in that regard, the power we celebrate today in the Church is diametrically opposed to every other power display on the planet. Not just the power display of Islamic terror last night in London, but to every other power whose source is grounded in this age, or from below.
Power, having it or gaining it, is invariably linked to the desire to usher in an eschaton, a telos that brings about a desire, whether that desire be personal or corporate.
And that goes for religious and secular alike.
The terrorists in London last night were in no doubt as to their goal. “This is for Allah!” is an eschatological statement; a desire for Allah to complete in power from on high the work of judgement they are commencing in power for his sake below.
But the same is true for the conservative libertarian whose eschaton needs the power of individual autonomy and self-regulation to be ushered in.
And for the progressive sexual revolutionary, whose eschaton requires the state’s suffocating compliances and regulations, especially in the area of the new morality.
All are driven by power from below.
Not so the Christian and power. Especially not so on Pentecost Sunday. So for those evangelicals affirming and nodding their heads up until this point, recall and recoil from the lascivious words of President Trump to the evangelical power brokers before the US election: “I can give you your power back.”
No he can’t. And in saying so Trump’s ideology is, in the end, as idolatrous and destructive as any other power from below. Whether the apocalypse is ugly or whether it is a beautiful facade, its power is the wrong source.
Pentecost Sunday should, in the light of all this, give Christians reasons for both hope and humility.
For hope: The power from below that crucified the King of Glory has been defeated by the power from on high. The gift of the Spirit has been bestowed upon his church by the Risen King. Whatever this age throws up at us, it cannot, in the end, compete with what was poured down on us from Pentecost onwards.
For humility: In all our efforts, conservative and progressive alike in the church, we need to remember that we don’t have the power to usher in the kingdom. If we think it’s up to us there will be no abuse of power that we will not excuse within ourselves. We have the power to announce, enact, demonstrate, live, but we are, at the very least, one step behind the Holy Spirit power of God all of the time. That’s the gospel way.
The Church received power from on high at its commencement. It is receiving power to live holy and godly lives in this present age; an eschatological sign of the future. It will receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken – a kingdom formed by the Spirit and not the flesh – and receive it from on high at its coronation (Hebrews 12:28). Everything we do is in response to that power.
So on this Pentecost Sunday, with the lure of error and the fear of terror, let’s commit ourselves to the powerful King who generously gives good gifts to his people, especially the gift of the Holy Spirit from on high.