Isaiah 11:1–10 (ESV) There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
The feast of Pentecost, which we celebrated yesterday (in fact, Pentecost Monday used to be observed as a festival, too), is also known as “Whitsunday” among English-speaking churches. While “Pentecost” should be preferred since it is an Old Testament festival (“the Feast of Weeks” in Leviticus 23:15) that finds fulfillment (and continued mention) in the New Testament (Acts 2:1, 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:8), “Whitsunday” is an interesting term that can add to our appreciation of this festival.
Obviously, it is a shortened version of “White Sunday,” and its origins seem to be in the 12th or 13th centuries in England. Some think that it is a reference to the white garments worn by those who would be baptized on Pentecost. While I relish the opportunity to wear my red chasuble on Pentecost, in England it seems that the liturgical color for Pentecost was white. However, I think the most interesting interpretation is given by the English Augustinian priest John Mirk (1382-1414). Here is the Middle English followed by my rough transcription into modern English:
“Goode men and woymen, as ȝe knowen wele all, þys day ys called Whitsonday, for bycause þat þe Holy Gost as þys day broȝt wyt and wysdome ynto all Cristes dyscyples.”
“Good men and women, as we all know well, this day is called Whitsunday, for because that the Holy Ghost has this day brought wit and wisdom unto all Christ’s disciples.”
Mirk thought that the origin of the term would have been “Wit-Sunday” rather than “White-Sunday,” since “wit” means “to know” (as in “witting” or “unwitting”). This explanation makes a lot of sense, since the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Wisdom,” who gives us knowledge of God: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:1–2). When Jesus was baptized, whom did He receive? Yep, the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus can be the one who “gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34) and reveals God’s grace to us.
After the Holy Spirit had led Him into the wilderness to be tested by the devil and then led Him back to Galilee, Jesus begins His first sermon by quoting Isaiah 61:1-2: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:16–22).
This same Jesus is the one who poured out the Spirit on His Church on Pentecost (or Whitsunday, if you prefer) so that the “good news” of forgiveness, life, and salvation could be preached to all nations. And through the Spirit, we have received a heavenly wisdom that is considered folly by the world but is in fact the power of God for those who receive Christ crucified, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). This is truly “Wisdom” from above: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:12–13).
Prayer: Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant that we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.