Pentecostal Redemption

Excerpted from Pastor Michael’s Pentecost sermon, June 4, 2017.

Sometimes salvation looks like restoration: God removes the bad and restores the good.

But sometimes salvation looks like redemption: God transforms the bad into something good.

Sometimes salvation looks like restoration back to the good. This is what forgiveness is, which the Pentecost story describes: a relationship is restored to the way it was. This is also what Pentecost’s reversal of patriarchy is: the full equality and dignity of all human beings is restored to the way God originally created us in God’s image.

But that’s not the only way salvation can work. Sometimes salvation looks like the redemption of the bad. This happens when something negative happens—the circumstances of life, or maybe even our own sin and its consequences—and God works in and through that negative thing and weaves it into God’s new, good thing.

At the heart of Pentecost is exactly this kind of “redemption of the bad,” but it’s often missed when we tell the story of Pentecost.

The story of Acts 2 opens with Jesus’ followers and family together, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. And then she comes: with a rush of wind and flames of fire, the Spirit comes upon them and they begin to speak in other languages from all around the world.

A crowd gathers, Jews in Jerusalem from all those places in the world, who speak all those languages as their mother tongues. And they marvel at this: all these languages, from all these scattered peoples of the earth, all being used to declare a unified message of God’s deeds of power.

This should ring a bell for us. It should remind us of another story of multiple languages and scattered peoples: the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11.

There the people of the earth all speak a single language, and they all gather to accomplish a singular feat: to build a tower up to the heavens, in order to make a name for themselves, in order to exalt themselves again above God. But God sees what they are doing and he knows the prideful arrogance of their hearts. So God confuses their language and scatters them over the face of the earth.

In the story, then, the multiplication of languages is the judgment of God, so that humanity will not be able to unite in prideful arrogance against God again. But while in Genesis the multiplication of languages is God’s curse, in Acts 2 it becomes a beautiful expression of diversity now united by the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost stands as a redemption of Babel. This is not simply salvation as restoration: removing division and restoring to unity. Even more, it is salvation as redemption: taking something that was negative, even something that was seen as the judgment of God, and transforming it into something good and beautiful.

To put this another way, it is only because of the curse of Babel in Genesis—all the nations and languages of the world—that we can look forward to the blessing of the New Jerusalem in Revelation—people from every nation and language of the world, bringing their gifts into the holy city come down from heaven to earth.

So sometimes salvation looks like restoration: God removes the bad and restores the good.

But sometimes salvation looks like redemption: God transforms the bad into something good.

The restoration of the good is the easier of these two kinds of salvation to understand. It makes sense to us. It gives us a nice and neat story of good vs. evil. In the beginning God created things good. Then something bad happens and the good is gone, or it’s tainted in some way. But then God steps in and removes the bad, and the good is restored to the way it was before, maybe even better.

The redemption of the bad, though, is a harder kind of salvation for us to understand. It doesn’t always fit into a nice, neat story. It raises difficult questions for us, questions like, “Did God intend for that bad thing to happen? Did God actually plan that bad thing, or even cause it?”

This is also a harder kind of salvation for us to believe in, to hope for. It takes greater faith to believe that God can use the negative things in our lives or in our world to build something good, than it does to believe that God will simply remove the bad to bring back something good.

This kind of “Pentecostal redemption” is the idea behind the well-known verse, Romans 8:28: “We know that God works in all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” That purpose is spelled out in the very next verse: that we might “be conformed to the image of God’s Son.”

The idea in Romans 8:28 is not that God intends or plans or causes all the bad things in our lives—God doesn’t. It’s the thief who steals and kills and destroys; God brings life, and life abundantly.

The idea in Romans 8:28 is not that God ensures we only experience good things in our lives—that view makes a mockery of the cross, let alone our real-life experience.

No, the idea in Romans 8:28 is that of a full “Pentecostal redemption”: that God can take the hurts and pains, the traumas and tragedies, even the sins and punishments of our lives, and work through those things to bring about God’s good thing—ultimately our transformation to be more like Jesus.

I wonder: in what ways do we need a “Pentecostal redemption” in our own lives?

What sins have haunted your spirit? What prisons have you inhabited in your mind?

What wounds do you bear in your soul? What scars do you have carved across your heart?

What traumas or tragedies have defined you—or are defining you even now?

Know this: God is love. All that God is, is love. All that God does, is done in love. God desires only your good: your joy, your freedom, your full and flourishing life.

And know this: God has not caused your harm, but God knows your pain. In Jesus God has walked the path of suffering, of woundedness, even of punishment and shame. And so God walks with you, even now.

And finally, know this: God is our mighty Saviour. God can restore the good for you, bringing you back to a place of freedom and joy and abundant life. But even if the bad remains, God can redeem it, weaving it over time and by God’s Spirit into something good and beautiful. This may be impossible to see now, but I urge you to keep trusting in God, to keep walking by faith even when you can’t walk by sight.

Because sometimes salvation looks like restoration: God removes the bad and restores the good.

And sometimes salvation looks like redemption: God transforms the bad into something good.

But always, either way, salvation will come: God will bring about God’s good purpose for you, for our world, and for all creation.

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