Friday, February 24, 2012

Psalm 119: The Pentecostal Psalm

Psalm 119, the longest psalm of the Bible, captures perfectly and poetically, what the Baptism in the Holy Spirit does and what the New Covenant is like.
The expectation of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 makes clear that the primary difference between the elder covenant and the younger covenant is not what is legislated, but where its laws are kept and from where they blossom. Then, in the book of Acts, everything about how the Holy Spirit is given sounds like the way the law was given at its covenant enactment: from the way Jesus ascends to heaven, to the day on which the Spirit is given, to the manifestations surrounding it. They all sound like traditions about Moses ascending mount Sinai around the feast of Shavuot/Pentecost. In other words, one of the Holy Spirit's jobs is to write God's heavenly, eternal law on our hearts, and from the depths of our souls faithfulness, devotion, and obedience should sprout.

In no other Psalm is there as dramatic or as artistic a fusion between emotional passion and obedience towards God's commands as there is in Psalm 119. As I read through it with my peers, I was awe struck by the visceral desire and unquenchable thirst for both the knowledge of and compliance with God's word. Traditional Hebrew narrative does not dwell upon the internal turmoil of its characters, and as a consequence the book of Acts does not tell of what Baptism in the Holy Spirit "feels" like, or what "emotions" it conjures. For this we must turn to the music of Israel, and Psalm 119 embodies this hope second to none.

This psalm provides not only a powerful image of the inscribed heart, but also a potent corrective to passion filled Pentecostals. The "experience" of the Holy Spirit is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. It is not simply joyful exuberance. It is joy over something and exuberance which empowers and compels us toward a life of learning and a life lived right. This psalm goes so far beyond legalism written on stone, which must be enforced upon us by others. It goes so far as to implant within us an internal motivation of love which drives us toward learning and obeying God's word. Indeed, those possessed by the Spirit of God should be the most avid Biblical researchers on the face of the planet, captivated at every turn by every nuance of every word. And they should be the most holy, observant, devout individuals.

Since this psalm was written long before the out pouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, to what extent was its subject realized before the New Testament era? To say that no one enjoyed God's rules or obeyed them on the basis of love before that time would be narrow minded indeed, not to mention unread. But to say that such heart felt covenant observance was widespread or easy would also be a stretch of the truth. The magic of the New Testament is not that God fundamentally changed his game plan, but rather that he exponentially expanded it. The baptism in the Holy Spirit thus is not a new kind of work of the Spirit, it is a work broadened in scope and availability. The pledge of the book of Joel is not of a new Spirit, but of the same Spirit which makes people new. The emphasis of Joel is that the the Spirit that has been at work in lives of the past will be poured out "on all people" regardless of gender, age, occupation, and status in the future. Thus the only thing new in the new covenant are the people in it.

To what extent is joy in learning and obedience possible before one is "baptized in the Holy Spirit"? This question needs to be flipped on its head. When a person for the first time in their life wants to plow into their Bible to obey it, and when a person for the first time is able to do this, it should be attributed to the work of the Spirit, with or without the miraculous. This is the essence of rebirth or Spiritual birth or new birth that rote religious people fundamentally need to come alive within them. The renewal that Jesus brings is a renewal via the Spirit he dispenses which breaks into this world ahead of time. The only time the manifestation of tongues becomes an object of focus in the New Testament is when the court in the Jerusalem Church must submit legal proof for the acceptance of gentiles as covenant members. The only proof that will satisfy is evidence that is not man made, and hence something more supernatural than mere obedience. God forbid that we would be so prejudicial that we would need the evidence of tongues to admit someone to our circles as a full fledged covenant child of God.

The flip side of this same coin is that if God's word is tattooed on our hearts, what should naturally come out of our mouths? This is the speaking side of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, for the lips are the blossoms of the heart. The Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit also mean breath and thus refer that which God breathes out of his figurative mouth. Thus all things verbally inspired, all things prophetic, all true teachings from heaven, all God's commands are associated with the Holy Spirit, which is the breath of God, the voice of the Almighty. If the Spirit is the covenant forger which brands God's word upon our inner being, what should the natural and logical manifestation of this be? Words. Words spoken. Words written. Words sung. Words taught. Words proclaimed. Words of instruction. Words of life. Words of encouragement. Words of healing. Words of knowledge. Words in every language under the sun. Words only heard in heaven. Words which cut to the heart. Words which cause mountains to crumble and topple rulers and can stand before a court and testify to the truth of the gospel. There is none that can abide with the Spirit and remain silent. It would be like closing all the windows in a hot building in the summer. Those inside would suffocate with heat prostration in misery. The most miserable creature on the face of the planet, who suffers the most mental anguish is not a sinner dead in their trespasses. The most miserable creature is a person invigorated by the Spirit, who will not give voice to what they hear and feel and will not conform to it. This person deserves our pity and sympathy above all others. A hungry person can be happy. But a Spirit filled Christian who disobeys the Spirit feels the grief of the Spirit. The only solution is to obey and speak.

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