As an "apostle to the Gentiles," Paul knew well the reconciling power of God's Spirit. He told the Ephesians that Christ "has made [Jews and Gentiles] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" (2:14). And this unity breaks into every type of human relationship. No matter what our skin color, nationality, economic status, gender, or theological tradition is—we all are one in Christ and we all drink of the same Spirit (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13).
Unfortunately, we don't always act like this is a reality. Spend 30 minutes reading Christian news sites or theology blogs, and you'll find the church can be a contentious bunch. News reports about a kerygmatic kerfuffle or the rift between two groups never seem to be in short supply. And then there's the continuous backbiting unleashed on comment sections. Authors are like water skiers, only the internet is like the Amazon River. You pull off a fun or sophisticated trick and make a wake with your words, and then piranhas start chomping at your feet. Day after day, Christian media show us how difficult it is for some of us to live in unity.
But Paul calls us to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). One way of doing this might be recalling the Day of Pentecost, how "all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4, my italics). Luke doesn't say "some of them were filled" or "all of them received a portion." No, the Spirit of God came in fullness to everyone. No one of us has a monopoly on the Spirit. We all have the Word of God written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). This doesn't mean that everyone is always right or that teachers are obsolete. Rather, it means we should recognize we all have the endowment of the Spirit and should therefore treat one another with mutual love and respect.
Everyone who experienced the earth-shattering, barrier-breaking event at Pentecost devoted themselves to "fellowship, to the breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42). That is, they lived in communion with another and shared the Lord's Supper together—the sign of our unity in Christ. The Lord's Supper, therefore, is not just a commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection; it's a symbol of our unity, and it should challenge us to pursue unity all the more.
A Foretaste of the New Creation
The Spirit's descent at Pentecost was so mind-blowing that Peter used apocalyptic language to describe what he and the other disciples experienced:
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. (Acts 2:19–20)
Yet scholars recognize that Peter's language also anticipates the eschatological nature of Pentecost. Even though the Spirit's descent at Pentecost has broken down major barriers in our lives here and now, there are still barriers yet to be broken. Thus, Pentecost is also a promise of redemption in all its fullness. While we have new life in Christ now, we await the resurrection of our bodies. And in the new creation, we will have uninterrupted fellowship with the Trinity and with one another. There will be no barriers between us and God or us and each other.
Pentecost, therefore, is far more than a past event describing an audacious group of Christians. It's the reason for their audacity—the day when redemption became a reality, heaven met earth, and Jews and Gentiles became one—and the promise of what's yet to come.
Kevin P. Emmert is CT assistant online editor. You can follow him on Twitter @Kevin_P_Emmert.