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Pentecost—all are included!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

I remember as a child lining up in the schoolyard where sides were chosen for a sports competition. Invariably, the most athletic or popular were picked first. Though kids lacking athleticism and popularity were some of the brightest in my class, they typically were picked last. I remember feeling sorry for them—some, no doubt, still bear emotional scars.

So that no child would suffer the humiliation of being picked last, a gym teacher in my school tried a different approach. He assigned two kids (ones that often were picked last) to serve as captains who then chose the other team members. One began by picking kids usually selected last. Unfortunately his team lost and the next time captains chose sides, they reverted to picking the most athletic and popular first.

Perhaps you remember Merlin Olsen (pictured at right). As a child, he was one of the non-athletic, less-than-popular kids who got picked last. The embarrassment he felt apparently motivated him to work hard at sports. Eventually he excelled—during a 15-year career in pro football he was selected for the Pro Bowl 14 times! After retiring, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and went on to become a popular actor, portraying Jonathan Garvey on the TV show Little House on the Prairie.

Thinking about the humiliation of being picked last in sports got me thinking of the very different way God picks people to be invited into his kingdom. Instead of choosing on the basis of talent or popularity, God chooses on the basis of who he is and what he, in Christ and by the Spirit, has done. On that basis, as we say in GCI, all are included! [1]

Jesus made it clear that he came into the world not to reject or condemn, but to include and to save. In his economy, those who (by worldly standards) seem highly qualified, may end up going into his kingdom last, while the seemingly un-qualified may end up going in first. In his parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus declared that “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). His point was that God invites all into his kingdom and so excludes none. Jesus made a similar point when, speaking of his death, he said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

The Eleventh Hour Laborers by Jan Juyken (public domain)

As the “son of man,” Jesus (the “Son of God”) is the elected (chosen) human. In and through him, and by the Spirit, we all have been chosen to share in all the benefits of God’s grace—we all are invited to become participants in Christ’s rule and reign. The Day of Pentecost (June 4, this year) celebrates this inclusive calling. It is made possible by Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, followed by the Spirit’s post-ascension ministry to lead all people to repentance and faith, and as followers of Jesus, to live into the reality of who they have been called to be—members of God’s household. Pentecost is thus a joy-filled reminder that everyone has this calling—everyone has been selected to be on God’s team. On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate that inclusion—the reality that, in Christ (the elected One) and by the Spirit, all are included!

The interesting twist here is that God does not force those he selects to play on his team. Each person must decide whether they will play or remain non-participants, watching from the sidelines. Though God loves all unconditionally, he loves each one of us enough to want us to participate and thus receive all he offers. But God does not force that participation—personal fellowship and communion with God cannot be impersonally coerced or mechanically caused (Hebrews 4:2). Instead, God sends the Spirit to free and enable us to share in all that Christ has accomplished for us, in our place and on our behalf. Though, in love, God permits people to reject his love, forgiveness and grace, he never stops loving them—he never stops calling them to participation.

As the captain of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10 KJV), Jesus continues to reach out to all people—and his training is available to all who say “yes” to his “Yes” to them. What a blessing it is to be on the Lord’s team—and what a joy it is to share with him in reaching out to those who, though included, remain on the sidelines.

Happy Pentecost!
Joseph Tkach

PS: For a beautifully-produced meditation with readings from the Pentecost account in Acts 2, see the video from Fuller Studio at https://youtu.be/F5w3upHui48—it would make a great introduction to a Pentecost sermon.

[1] Regarding what GCI means by the phrase, “all are included,” be sure to read Dr. Gary Deddo’s essay “Clarifying our Theological Vision,” being published serially in GCI Equipperclick here for the first and second parts, the third will be included in the June issue, published later this week.

4 thoughts on “Pentecost—all are included!”

  1. Great stuff Joe, The Father, Son, and Spirit have included all of humanity but will never violate our personhood and distinction by forcing us to participate in the reciprocating relationship to which we are called. We are free to cohabitate with the Older Brother in Luke 15 but we cannot send the Father away as he vehemently opposes our refusal to join in the celebrating and woos the unbeliever into eternity!

  2. Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    We wish you all a most blessed, joyous, peaceful and inspiring Pentecost celebration.

    “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” – Habakkuk 2:14

    God for us, in us and through us.

    In Him,
    Santiago and Elke

  3. Barth’s notion of election is difficult to reconcile with traditional ideas about election. He seems to maintain that predestination and election pertain to Christ. Christ is both the Elector and the Elected and the whole process takes place within the boundaries of the hypostatic union. Whereas scripture seems to present the picture that the Elect are a body of people chosen by God from the foundation of the world who are predestined to salvation. Maybe there is a bridge between these two different concepts but I have never found it in any exegesis.

    1. David, in response to your comment about the doctrine of election, GCI’s understanding (which aligns with that of Karl Barth and T.F. Torrance on this particular issue) is set out in an essay by Gary Deddo titled “Clarifying Our Theological Vision.” The essay is being published serially in our sister publication, GCI Equipper. The first part in found at https://equipper.gci.org/2017/04/clarifying-our-theological-vision-part-1. Also see GCI’s article, “Predistination, Does God Choose Your Fate” at https://www.gci.org/CO/election.

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