Jewish people commemorate the giving of the Law in the Old Testament on the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. It is still a holiday in Israel, and celebrated by Jewish people around the world. It is one of seven feasts they honor throughout the year. I remember discussing Pentecost in a Sunday school class at a Protestant denomination over 40 years ago while I was in Junior High. We read in the New Testament how the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles as they spoke to the crowds in Jerusalem. I did not give much thought at the time what it meant to Jewish believers. I just knew it as the day God poured out His Spirit into the world.
This morning I attended a Protestant worship whose liturgy included readings and a lesson concerning Pentecost as written about in the Book of Acts. Many in attendance had worn red articles of clothing symbolic of the Holy Spirit. I had taken with me a small burgundy red blanket to drape over my shoulders during communion. My way of inviting the Holy Spirit into my life; into my heart. The readings and lesson reflected on the new law that Christ had brought into the world, a law within our hearts. The written law that the Jews had observed for centuries was not to be ignored but a new law as witnessed by Christ had been ushered in. One that fulfilled the old law so to speak because all the hopes, purposes, intentions and directions that the old law tried to accomplish in bringing the Jewish people into relation with God were brought to greater meaning with the sacrifice of Christ. God’s desire for his people, the Jews, to be in relation with him had been initiated with the writings of the Old Testament prophets. After Christ death and resurrection, seven weeks later on the day of Pentecost, all peoples of the world were invited into God’s Kingdom. Christ promised his apostles he would send his Spirit into the world to those who believed in him. Long before Christ lived this had actually been prophesied in the Old Testament in the Book of Joel.
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams. Young men will see visions. In those days, I will pour out my Spirit even of servants, men and women alike.”
Joel 2: 28-29
The little blanket I took with me to the assembly of believers has some small words embroidered towards one of the corners that reads “Freedom is Not Free.” My Father-in-Law gave the blanket to my wife because he received it as a gift for giving to an organization to help wounded Veterans. He gives to a lot of charities so he receives a lot of thank you gifts. I like the little blanket because it not only reminds me of the sacrifice that our Veterans have made for our freedom, but it reminds me of the price our Savior paid for our freedom from sin. Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day to commemorate those of our nation who died in our wars. That blanket will be used again tomorrow. I also use it many times each week in devotional time as I remind myself of the sacrifice others have made for me, including the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus who won the war over Satan and his Kingdom.
The past few weeks my blog has touched on crowns, tiaras, and diadems. These are items of beauty as well as value that people of authority and royalty wear, especially in past centuries. In the context of treasure they are indeed items to be sought. That is why many illustrations in religious writings use the context of crowns to convey a message. For example, in Islamic teachings, a Crown of Pearls in the afterlife awaits those who have lived honorably for God in this life.
In the Old Testament the High Priests in the tabernacle wore crowns as they eventually would in the Temple. The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah had rulers who for hundreds of years wore crowns. The New Testament writers spoke of a crown of glory, a crown of life, and a crown of righteousness. I often think of this image of a crown of righteousness. Paul in the book of Ephesians speaks of the armor of a Christian. He uses the image of a soldier. The sword represents the Word of God, the shield represents faith, while the belt represents truth. The soldier also wears a breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation.
This image of righteousness is intriguing to me. Christ offered himself as a sacrifice in order for us to have the opportunity to be presented as righteous before God. I can envision a Roman helmet, but I ask you this. What is your image of a crown of glory or a crown of righteousness? Is it a Halo? Is it a gold diadem? It may be hard to describe what a crown of righteousness would look, and that is fine. The point is righteousness. What does that look like? Again, different images come to the minds of different people. Let me share with you images that are on my heart.
When Jesus lived as an adult, the absolute ruler was Tiberius, Emperor of Rome. He had absolute power and lived a life of opulence and indulgence. The later years of his life he lived secluded on an island with a predilection to sex. It has been written that he preferred young males and after a period of time would discard them by having them thrown over a cliff. Sounds like a depraved, evil existence. Contrast that with Jesus who walked and lived among ordinary people often staying in their houses. He chose to use his power to give to others by teaching, sharing his food, and healing. Not to mention the greatest gift of all, a crown of righteousness given to each of us if we choose to accept it. The next time you wonder if it would be cool to be rich, famous or have royalty, remember that it is not unusual to ponder such thoughts. It is also not inherently wrong to be rich, just that it is often a trap and can be destructive spiritually as it was for Tiberius who had it all in this life. During this Christmas season of gift giving remember Christ’s gift for each of us, the gift of life, a crown of righteousness.