Occasionally someone asks, “What is your favorite Christian festival day?” I struggle to answer. Other followers of Jesus would probably say Easter or Christmas; a few might say Good Friday. But I doubt if more than a tiny percentage would think of Ascension Day or Pentecost. Each special day has a meaning of its own.
His birthday is a statement about humility and humanity. If God had transported a fully-formed Jesus to earth ready to start teaching and doing miracles almost everything in the Gospels would still have been written. But we would have no idea of how low God stooped to make His good news plain to us. We would have no idea what God acts like in true human form or of the beauty and power of a man filled with God. Christmas is a celebration of the incarnation of the God-man.
Good Friday roars sacrificial redemption loud and clear. It boasts the surrender of Jesus to the will of the Father. It cries with anguish at the wickedness of humans given over to the will and ways of Satan. But it laughs at the futility of the devilish attempt to destroy the indestructible One. Good Friday is sweet and sour in itself.
Resurrection Day easily tops the charts for many people. That empty grave is the proof that sin, death, and Satan were decisively conquered. And that victory gives us hope of our own bodily resurrection. It assures us that even the decay and brokenness of life around us can be transformed by God into a new dimension of life.
Ascension and Pentecost seem almost afterthoughts. Jesus’ return in a cloud to heaven signals His divinity and came with a promise of a second coming. Then, seven weeks after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit came like illegal fireworks thrown into a crowd. Some laughed, others frowned at or mocked the seeming disorder. Perhaps the Spirit is evoking a similar range of reactions today. The questioning continues, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) Pentecost has fewer fans.
I struggle to name a favorite because I don’t see how we can single one day out. Although each one of those memorable festivals has unique significance, each is linked to the others. The birth of Jesus was essential to His exemplary life. It was the necessary starting point that ended with His murder. And His resurrection life could never burst out until the grain of His life had laid dormant in the tomb. The Spirit could only be poured out after Jesus had returned to His Father’s side.
Peter seems to tie them together too.
This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnessed. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. (Acts 2:32-33)
When we read Peter’s full explanation to the crowd, we see that the gift of tongues is a manifestation of a promise being fulfilled. In His life, Jesus was attested by God with miracles and wonders. Godless men killed Him, but God raised Him again. The resurrection demonstrated Jesus’ true nature as God and Messiah (Christ). But it seems that the outpouring of the Spirit is somehow the culmination of the plan.
How can that be? I suggest that the good news has two sides—like a coin. Most often we hear good news in terms of the death of Jesus to pay for our sins and make us right with God again. We cannot diminish or discount that. But don’t forget the rest of the good news. We have been given new life; not just for the heaven but for earth. The Spirit of the risen Jesus was poured out to fill and empower His followers with resurrection life. Pentecost is our entry into the anointing that Jesus received at His baptism. The Spirit makes resurrection personal, practical, and potent for us. The Spirit breaths a new kind of life into new creatures.
So, I guess I have five favorite days. But you know it’s hard not to get excited about the new life that wells up in us whenever we let it.
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