Many Protestant denominations consider Pentecost the third most important date in the Christian calendar, after Easter and Christmas. It was the time, fifty days after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, when the Holy Spirit landed on His disciples. They flopped around, laughing, crying, babbling incoherently – sometimes all at once – and people in the area – many of whom were visiting Jerusalem for what was then a Jewish religious feast -- assumed they were drunk.
That’s when the disciple Peter gathered himself together and stood up to the visitors. He told them they were witnessing the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by the prophet Joel centuries before, saying that God “will pour out [His] Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams ... and whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter then went on to berate the visitors for crucifying the Messiah but allowed that they really did not know what they were doing.
He spoke so forcefully and convincingly that three thousand people were touched to the core and became believers in Jesus on the spot.
So, who was this man who dared to lecture Jewish leaders about prophecy and the Messiah, and have the effrontery to point an accusing finger and then tell them they were forgiven?
It was the same man who, fifty days earlier, denied Jesus three times on the night he was arrested. The same man who realized that Jesus had predicted he would do that, and “went out and wept bitterly,” according to Luke. But do you realize that from that time until the end of the Bible, Peter’s denials are never mentioned again? When Peter refers to Jesus, he doesn’t beat himself up in public for denying Him, although he certainly could have.
What happened in those fifty days?
Three things happened. First, Jesus’ sacrifice wipes the wrongs “off the books” for anyone who believes. Second, He absolved Peter of the shame he felt by telling him, “If you love Me, feed My sheep”. He told him that three times – as many times as Peter had denied Him.
Third, Peter “got it”. He understood what it meant to be absolved. Only then could he get on with the task Jesus had assigned him.
The Christian idea of repentance and redemption is a two-way conversation for us today, as it was with Peter. We are expected to accept that we are forgiven, and are no longer the person who committed those wrongs.
It sounds simple, but it’s not easy. It means shutting out the Nattering Nabob of Negativism that never misses a chance to remind you what a jerk you’ve been, the dumb things you’ve done and how many people you’ve hurt. The Nabob – some call him the enemy, some call him Satan – usually natters at me when I’m alone with my thoughts or trying to get to sleep, trying to drag me backwards with thoughts of things that can never be re-done. My defence – my only defence – is to remind him – and myself – that Jesus has absolved me of all that – just as He did Peter.
The devil is welcome to my past, but a vital part of being a Christian involves handing our present and future over to Jesus Christ. That requires faith in things unseen -- another vital part of being a Christian.
So, when we think of Pentecost, beyond thoughts of Holy Rollers and speaking in tongues, let’s consider the example it gives, of a man who “got over it – and got on with it.”
Drew Snider is a writer and former broadcaster who pastored for ten years on Vancouver's Downtown East Side. He's an occasional guest speaker at churches and writes a blog, "Two Minutes for Cross-Checking!"
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* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, May 19 2-18