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An ancient pelican and Pentecost

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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An ancient pelican sculpture which stands atop a column in the Crusader-era structure which stands where the Upper Room was once located (Credit: Denison Forum on Truth and Forum/Jeff Byrd)

I have spent the last several days in Israel, leading a study tour of the Holy Land.  Near the end of our study tour, we had an experience I will never forget.

Our group assembled in the Upper Room, a 12th-century Crusader structure located near the spot where many historians believe Jesus’ disciples gathered for the Last Supper (Luke 22:7-13) and later for Pentecost (Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-4).  One of the most interesting discoveries in this building is the pelican sculpture atop a medieval column in the room.  The pelican is one of the first symbols for the Lord’s Supper.  Why?

According to tradition, during times of extreme drought and deprivation, the mother pelican allows her chicks to eat from her body rather than starve.  As you can see, the sculpture depicts two baby pelicans doing just that.  This image served early Christians as a metaphor for the One who gave his body for us (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

During our service in this remarkable room, I explained the Lord’s Supper and this amazing artifact.  Then I discussed the Pentecost miracle that occurred seven weeks later.  We focused on the need for God’s people to depend on his Spirit in fulfilling his Great Commission.  Then our worship leader helped us sing the familiar chorus, “Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.”

The tour group behind us in the room was from Sweden; their leader had been lecturing in their language.  As we began to sing, they grew quiet.  Then they began to sing the same chorus with us, in Swedish.  We sang the chorus twice, as our prayer for the Spirit’s power echoed in the medieval chamber.

Given the Pentecost miracle, whereby the disciples were enabled to witness in languages they had not learned (Acts 2:6-12), this was a remarkable event.  When our song was done, many of us were in tears.  Later we thanked God for his remarkable providence—bringing his people from two foreign lands to a third so we could seek his Spirit together.

Perhaps the words of our chorus express your heart’s prayer today: “Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.  Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.  Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.”