Pentecost Against the Backdrop of Failure

Acts 2:1‑4

1          And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

2          And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

3          And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

4          And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. KJV


Pentecost, almost as much as Resurrection Day, is remembered by the Church as a day of Great Victory.  It is true that Jesus had begun the New Testament Church during His ministry, but here is the empowerment of the church, sufficient to sustain it through the centuries to come, against all enemies, to a final moment of victorious glory in the Resurrection of the saints.


It was a mighty day, a glorious day, a day like no other before or since.  But this day shines in its fullest glory when viewed against the backdrop of immense and powerful, soul wrenching (and almost destroying) failure.  We might even wonder if it could have happened at all without the awful days that had preceded.


The night before the crucifixion, Jesus had told the disciples what was about to transpire and they could not get their minds around what He was saying.


Matt 26:30‑35

30        And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.

31        Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.

32        But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.

33        Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.

34        Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.

35        Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples. KJV


Several things to note:


Jesus had eaten with them and established the Lord’s Table with them, fully aware that they were going to fall apart morally and spiritually before 24 hours had expired, actually before 12 hours.


It had already been prophesied that He was going to be ‘smitten’ and they were going to be ‘scattered.’

Zech 13:7

7          Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. KJV


And the way that they were going to be scattered, at least part of the way, was that they were going to have a breakdown of spiritual courage and forsake Him.  Peter, of course, vehemently denied that this would be the case, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended,” and, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.”  And, the other 10 likewise affirmed their absolute loyalty to Him, “Likewise also said all the disciples.”


The determination was absolute.  It was real.  Their loyalty to Jesus in their own minds could not be shaken even with threat of death.  What they did not know and could not know until later was that a significant part of their loyalty to Jesus was fleshly and not spiritual.


Item for discussion: there is a way to be honestly and courageously devoted to Christ and yet be fleshly to a great degree in that loyalty.


I have no doubt that if Judas and the Romans had come upon them in that moment and Jesus had not restrained them they would have honored their commitment.


But some things were going to happen that would reveal their impotence to honor what they knew in their souls to be right.


Jesus was going to lead them right to the edge of spiritual communion and they were going to see their own weaknesses in regard to it.


Matt 26:36‑38

36        Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.

37        And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.

38        Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. KJV


All eleven were made a part of the process.  But here is the thing.  He was going to pray.  Three of them were taken a little further and asked to ‘watch’ with Him.


From a sterile distance we look at them and wonder that they would not have overwhelmed with concern, provoked with care, and that their determination to ‘die with Him’ would not have also translated into the purpose to pray with Him and for Him.


But, of course, neither the 3 nor the 8 others were moved with such concern.  In fact, in the very midst of a powerful spiritual encounter with the Father, they were overwhelmed with fatigue.


Matt 26:39‑45

39        And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

40        And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?

41        Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

42        He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

43        And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.

44        And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

45        Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. KJV


Note: it is not uncommon for the flesh to become very sleepy in the midst of spiritual activity when the mind and heart are operating ‘in the flesh’ instead of ‘in the spirit.’  One might flash forward to the prelude to Pentecost and Pentecost itself and find a very different story.  It is what is about now to transpire that will make the difference, though it will be very painful.


One can only marvel at the patience of the Savior with these men who could not pray with Him though He had asked them to and, whom He also knew, were going to forsake Him in just a few minutes.  One part of the patience, no doubt, is that He had ordained that this coming failure be used to prepare them for what was coming later.


Matt 26:47‑54

47        And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.

48        Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.

49        And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.

50        And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.

51        And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.

52        Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

53        Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

54        But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? KJV


They awakened from sleep to find the Romans, Jews, and Judas coming to them, the quick betrayal, and the arrest of Jesus.  They reacted as they had planned to react, with physical force.  Peter swung his sword at one of those who as taking Jesus, no doubt intending to behead him with one blow.  The man ducked or Peter missed and the man’s ear was severed.  Jesus rebuked him to put the sword away, healed the severed ear and pronounced a rebuke upon the effort to defend Him with the sword.


Notes: Having slept and awakened, these men were not spiritually ‘at’ themselves, as few ever are.  Also note: Jesus never sanctioned the advancement of His kingdom by violence.


“This must be,” Jesus said, affirming that He had all the help He needed for just the asking.


We can only wonder at the disarray into which their minds had been thrown.  Sleepy and tired, their Leader being arrested, and now they are forbidden to fight for Him.  They had neither the time nor the spiritual resources to process the events and succumbed to panic, just as He had predicted.


Matt 26:56      …Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.


We assume that even John fled in the initial panic even though he returned and stood with Jesus at some point later.


John 18:15

15        And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.


Peter was not easily shaken loose, following the group at a distance.


Matt 26:58

58        But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end. KJV


The initial panic was quickly quieted in John’s soul and he apparently stood with Jesus as closely as he was allowed until the end.


Peter was taking it all in, trying, no doubt, to sort out in his mind what was going on, trying desperately to regroup, remembering what Jesus had said just a few hours earlier.  But his fleshly effort, like his fleshly commitment before, was about to fall apart.


Matt 26:69‑75

69        Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.

70        But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.

71        And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.

72        And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.

73        And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.

74        Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

75        And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly. KJV


The failure was not total and complete.  Only John was able to compose himself and overcome his initial panic.


Peter and the other nine had completely and utterly abandoned Jesus during this time when they had just sworn they would never do so.


Please understand that these were noble men, men of character, strong and able souls who had already been through some very difficult times.  These were men who had devoted themselves to Jesus, forsaking businesses and families for His sake.  These were not weak and frivolous souls, blown over by the first difficulty that had come along.  They had stood with Jesus when He rebuked the Jewish establishment for their sins and confronted powerful evil spirits.  They had been with Him when mobs had sought to murder him.


I fear that we can only dimly imagine what it did to the souls of these men who had lived lifetimes in which they firmly kept their word in every category of life.


One can only scarcely grasp the questions which they must have asked themselves or the embarrassment and humiliation that they felt.




We know that Peter was crushed, but do we assume that the others were not?  Other than John and Peter they had been too afraid even to watch the crucifixion, even from far off.


No one can know how profoundly a spirit can be crushed under failure except one to whom Jesus has been fully revealed, who had surrendered himself (he thinks) completely to Him… and then failed completely.  The poets have neither word nor song to describe the emotions of the one who “weeps bitterly” over the complete and profound breakdown of moral principles in his soul after having received mercy and grace, the pardon of his sins, from the revelation of Jesus Christ to his soul.


Yet, one might argue that the only path to Pentecost lies down this road.  Until all one’s falseness is exposed, even as a believer in Jesus Christ, he cannot be persuaded, coerced, bribed, forced or convinced to surrender himself as fully to the Lord Jesus as these 120 who gathered in prayer for the 10 days leading up to the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit.


One might also argue that there is no way to ‘short-circuit’ this process, no “10 Easy Steps” to the fulness of the Holy Spirit.


Oh, how frightening it is to contemplate being reduced to rubble as these men were that God might actually build a building worth the habitation of His Spirit.


Who wants to pursue death, complete death, total and humiliating, excruciating death, that he might be filled with God’s Spirit?  Yet, do we believe that the Holy Ghost will consistently inhabit and enable one who is not broken in some kind of an absolute way?


This pile of rubble, however, in each life became the fuel for the fire of the Holy Spirit.  These hideous days of shame and humiliation finally pried these men’s fingers off their own lives that they might surrender them completely to God.


Oh, no wonder the Holy Spirit had full sway over their lives.  There was nothing to hinder Him, no walls of self-will and self-righteousness, no false confidence in self, no bravado or arrogance, nothing but a broken, crushed, empty vessel that had been offered up in an absolute way to the Lord Whom they had denied, abandoned, forsaken at His most awful moment (humanly speaking).


It was into these vessels, properly prepared, that the Holy Spirit was poured and it was these instruments, crushed and re-fashioned that He was willing to use.


Maybe this is the real issue that anyone seeking the fulness of God should examine.  “Have I fully confronted my sins and yielded myself to the convicting power of the Spirit of God?”  “Have I been sufficiently humbled under the realities of my sins against God that the Spirit may use me without endorsing pride and self-will?”


Many people have speculated that if Christians would pray like those 120 did for 10 days that the Spirit would come once again.  Few have tried it and even fewer have had their prayers answered.  Why?  Or, should I say “Why not?”  Is it because the Spirit is continually working with defective tools and improperly prepared vessels?  Is it because our pride has kept us from truly facing the depth of our sins?  Is it because any ‘filling’ of us by Him would put Him in the place of endorsing a yet fleshly and totally insufficient loyalty to Jesus similar to that held by the disciples prior to the crucifixion?


If so, then may God grant us the real conviction of sin which will lead us to understand and comprehend the depths of our failures that will lead us to the kind of brokeness and emptiness that the Spirit may bless and fill.