Today is “Whit Monday,” traditionally the day after the Christian holy day of Pentecost, which was yesterday.
Interestingly, “Whit Monday” is still an official government holiday in many Western European countries, whereas evangelical Christians in the U.S. don’t have a holiday to help remind them of the important events this day represents.
Unfortunately, many have forgotten the critical significance of Pentecost to our calling to transform the world through our work.
The Feast of Weeks and God’s Gift of the Law
During the Exodus in the Old Testament, God tells Moses to initiate seven “Feasts” during the Exodus:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies’” (Lev. 23:1-2).
These seven feasts were to serve as cultural touchstones, reminders to the Israelite people of God’s bountiful blessings and his help in their lives―in the past, present, and future. These seven feasts are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of First-fruits, Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths.
Most of us are familiar with Passover because of the role it plays in the Easter story. We remember that Jesus and his disciples gather together on the Thursday night before the Passover meal and Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Historically, Passover has been celebrated by the Jews to commemorate their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt by the hand of God.
Pentecost, originally called the “Feast of Weeks” was celebrated 50 days after Passover to celebrate the first harvest. As time passed, the feast gained an additional focus—celebrating the giving of the law (the Ten Commandments) on Mount Sinai, which was said to have taken place fifty days after the first Passover. The feast eventually became known as Pentecost from the Greek word pentekoste, which means “the fiftieth day.”
A Gift of Order and the Presence of the Holy Spirit
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Joe Lieberman articulates the Orthodox Jewish understanding of the purpose and importance of the law:
How do the children of Israel serve God? By accepting and obeying a code of law, the Ten Commandments. Freedom is not enough. Liberty without law leads to chaos, immorality, and violence. Law without liberty is what the Israelites endured under Pharaoh’s tyrannical rule.
The ancient Jews understood the law is not a social construct devised by man, but a gift from God. The moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments became the basis for all of the laws and virtues that have supported the growth of Western civilization. The nineteenth-century economist, Frederic Bastiat writes in his classic essay “The Law”:
Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.
Yet, the giving of the law at Sinai is only a shadow of what Christians celebrate at Pentecost. Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus had instructed the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). We read about what happened in the Book of Acts:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them (Acts 2:1-3).
The day the Jews are assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the giving of the law on Sinai, God pours out his Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers gathered in the upper room. This is, in part, the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise in Jeremiah 31 empowering us to live virtuous lives reflecting our creator’s very nature.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jer. 31:33).
Now, in us, the power of God’s word works from the inside out. Not only do we become like Adam before the fall, having the law of God written on our hearts, but we are empowered to live out our lives in a way that impacts those around us. This is how a small group huddled in an upper room in Jerusalem could transform the world around them—in effect, overcoming the mighty Roman Empire in a little over 300 years.
The Power of the Holy Spirit to Act
It is the same power that the disciples received that enables us to impact those around us. Yet the church today seems to have forgotten this critical point. The gospel is a redemptive call to a lost and forfeited call to fill and subdue the earth through the power of the Holy Spirit working in each one of us.
Our goal in this life is not to build a utopia or a new government based on Old Testament law, but to positively influence those around us while we work to fill the world with God’s redeemed images and to make the world an incredible place for human beings to flourish. That is God’s design for his creation. We do this work based on God’s desire for us to live lives in accord with his statutes, which are even now being written on our hearts.
As N. T. Wright explains in his book, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense:
Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.
As scary as it may seem, we are the ones God has called to give those around us a glimpse of “the way things should be”—as we work in our jobs, our families, our communities, and our churches. And because of Pentecost, we have received the power of the Holy Spirit to do just that.
Editor’s note: Learn more about our call to transform the world through our work in How Then Should We Work?