Holy Spirit

What Is Pentecost?

Acts 2 Pentecost.png

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngA very happy Pentecost Sunday to you! Today is Pentecost Sunday and Christians around the globe will be celebrating this event. Why is the Day of Pentecost so important in the life of the church?

Pentecost is the message that God has a promise for you! Long ago, God made a promise that was so wonderful that the Israelites were to celebrate it on a certain Sunday every year until the promise was fulfilled. This promise was rooted in the yearly Feast of Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, one of the great celebrations in the Old Testament. It was harvest time! It was a time of rejoicing at what God had provided for his people. It was a time to celebrate the blessing of the God who provides. It was also an anticipation looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s marvelous promise that is for you and for everyone who asks for this promise, this gift of God our heavenly Father.

The Feast of Pentecost was established in the Law of Moses. 1,445 before Christ, the Law stipulated that Pentecost was to be celebrated every year until it was fulfilled.

The word Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentêkostos (πεντηκοστός) which means “fiftieth.” So the Feast of Pentecost took place on the 50th day after the offering of the firstfruits during Passover week. That was seven full weeks after the offering of the firstfruits. In fact, the Feast of Pentecost is called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament. It took place the day after the completion of seven weeks following the offering of the firstfruits. Seven weeks of seven days is 49 days. The next day is the 50th day. So this feast has two names: the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Pentecost.

We see that the ideas of the fiftieth day (for Pentecost) and the period of seven weeks (for the Feast of Weeks), these two ideas come together when God instituted Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus 23. God had said,

Lev. 23:15-16 ESV You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.

These two celebrations, the offering of the firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost, took place the day after the Sabbath. In other words, these two celebrations took place on a Sunday. The offering of the firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost both took place on a Sunday every year from the giving of the Law of Moses until the fulfillment of the Law in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Right in the very Law of Moses, God had indicated that he was going to do something marvelous for his people. The offering of the firstfruits the first Sunday after Passover pointed to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection. Just as the firstfruits were the promise of the coming harvest, so the resurrection of Christ is the promise of our future resurrection.

But 50 days later came the harvest. Pentecost. The Feast of Weeks. Count seven full weeks from the offering of the firstfruits to the day after the seventh Sabbath. On that Sunday, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promise of the Father was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.

On that very Sunday, the promise was fulfilled and the Apostle Peter preached,

Acts 2:39 ESV For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

That means that the Day of Pentecost, the day that we are celebrating today, is a reminder that God has made a promise that is for you.

So just what is this promise?

1.        Pentecost Is a Fulfillment of the Father’s Promise

Jesus refers to the giving of the Holy Spirit as the promise of the Father. You will remember that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover. He was raised from the dead on the third day and appeared to his disciples for 40 days, teaching them many things about the kingdom of God. Then, shortly before ascending to the right hand of God, he reminded the disciples about the promise of the Father.

At the end of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told his disciples,

Luke 24:49 ESV And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Again, we find the promise in the very first chapter of the Book of Acts:

Acts 1:4-5 ESV And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Now this is most interesting. Jesus reminded the disciples, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Jesus makes a distinction between being baptized with water and being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Being baptized with water is not the same thing as being baptized with the Holy Spirit.

This is the same thing that John the Baptist had said:

Mark 1:8 ESV I have baptized you with water, but [Jesus] he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Now, 40 days after his resurrection, as Jesus is preparing to ascend to the Father’s right hand, he tells the disciples,

Luke 24:49 ESV And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

This promise of the Father, this gift that would be given the Day of Pentecost, has something to do with the Holy Spirit, and it has something to do with power for service. This is what Jesus told the disciples just before ascending into heaven:

Acts 1:8 ESV But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Why is this the promise of the Father? Why does Jesus refer to the giving of the Holy Spirit and the empowering for service, why does he call this the promise of the Father?

This is the promise of the Father because in the Old Testament, God the Father had promised that the time when come when he would give the Holy Spirit to his people.

Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father. On Ascension Day, which we celebrated just 10 days ago, before their very eyes, Jesus was taken up bodily into heaven. The disciples then returned to Jerusalem. They entered into the upper room where they were staying. About 120 disciples gathered in that upper room and devoted themselves to prayer. For 10 days they prayed, waiting for the promise of the Father.

Then we read in Acts 2,

Acts 2:1-4 ESV When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

It was the Day of Pentecost. Jews from all over the world had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the event, but nothing like this had ever happened before! Jews from all over the world, who spoke many different languages, were now hearing Jews from Galilee, the disciples of Jesus, speaking in these different languages.

Acts 2:6-12 NLT When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. 7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee,… And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

The Jews had been celebrating the Day of Pentecost for nearly 1,500 years, but this was a Day of Pentecost like no other. This was the fulfillment of the promise of the Father. “What can this mean?” the people asked. “What is this all about?”

It was then that the Apostle Peter preached the first Christian sermon. There, on that Sunday, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter explained that God had fulfilled his promise by pouring out his Holy Spirit on them.

Acts 2:16-18 NLT …what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.

This was the promise of the Father! He would pour out his Spirit on all people. He does not mean that everyone would receive the Spirit, but that the gift of the Holy Spirit would be for everyone who called upon the name of the Lord. God would pour his Spirit on them and they would prophesy.

In the Old Testament, the anointing of the Holy Spirit was generally limited to three classes of people. The Spirit’s anointing was for prophets, for priests, and for kings. But God had promised that the day would come when he would pour out his Spirit on all people. The gift would not be limited by gender, by age, or by social class:

  1. The gift of the Spirit would not be limited by gender; God would give his Spirit to men and women: “Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.”
  2. The gift of the Spirit would be not be limited by age; it would be for the young and the old: “Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
  3. The gift of the Spirit would not be limited by class or level of society: “I will pour out my Spirit on my male servants and female servants.”

The gift of the Spirit would be available for all who called upon the name of the Lord to be saved. This was the new life of living by the Spirit instead of living by the Law.

Before Christ came, people tried to please God by following the Law. It was a list of rules that they tried to obey. It was all on the outside. The people tried to change their lives from the outside in. The outside-in approach started with the list of rules, some 613 laws, that people tried to observe, trying to change their hearts from the outside.

But God had promised that a new day was coming, a time when he would change people not from the outside in, but from the inside out. God would change people not by telling them to obey a written code of laws, but by empowering them by the Holy Spirit who would change them — and us — from the inside out.

Yes, there would be an outward change, but the change begins on the inside, not on the outside. This is the promise of the Father:

This is that promise in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:31-33 NLT “The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

God had promised through the prophet Ezekiel,

Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

So Pentecost reminds us that the Christian life is not following a list of rules and laws. The true Christian is one who is born of the Spirit of God.

2.        Pentecost Is the Power to Serve

Pentecost is also the power to serve. Jesus had promised the disciples,

Acts 1:8 ESV But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The disciples needed the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective in ministry. You and I need the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective for Christ. “You will receive power,” Jesus said, “and you will be my witnesses…” We receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses. We are witnesses to Jesus Christ. We preach Christ.

This power of the Holy Spirit is seen in the boldness that the disciples had in witnessing for Christ. Over and over again, we read about the Holy Spirit coming upon the believers and how they spoke about Christ with great boldness.

On that great Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers, Peter preached with great boldness. He confronted the Jews with their sin:

Acts 2:23 ESV this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

But God had reversed the decrees of men and had raised Jesus from the dead:

Acts 2:32 ESV This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.

There in the very city where Jesus had been crucified and buried, Peter declared with boldness that God had raised him up. Furthermore, Peter said, “of that we all are witnesses.” Christianity is not some philosophy or some interpretation of life. Christianity is history. The gospel did not begin somewhere else. It began in Jerusalem where Jesus died and was raised from the dead and appeared to hundreds showing himself to be alive by many proofs (Acts 1:1-3).

Jesus died. He was buried. He was raised from the dead. And after 40 days, he ascended to the right hand of God. Then Peter declared,

Acts 2:32-33 ESV Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

The gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was a result of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God. He received the promise of the Father as a result of his finished work of salvation. And he poured out the Holy Spirit on the 120 disciples in the upper room.

But was the gift just for those early disciples?

3.        Pentecost Is a Message that the Gift of the Holy Spirit Is for All Peoples Everywhere

On that Day of Pentecost, Peter was preaching to thousands of people who were gathered in Jerusalem. They had seen the effect of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They had heard as Peter preached to them the gospel.

Acts 2:36-37 ESV Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

They have been convicted of their sin against God. “What shall we do?” they asked. Yes, there is something to do. Salvation is not automatic. It is not the result of being born in a Christian nation or of being born of Christian parents or of going to church.

Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Peter said that the first thing that we must do is to repent. These people were “cut to the heart.” They felt the guilt of their sin. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would convict people of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.

We need that work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Until we see and feel the depth of our sin against God, we can never be saved. If we think that we are pretty good compared to others, then we are like the Pharisees who were self-righteousness. If we justify ourselves, we will never by justified by God. But if we see and feel that all our righteousness is as filthy rags before God, if we feel our uncleanness, if we feel our guilt before a holy God, then the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts producing conviction of sin and godly sorrow.

2 Corinthians 7:10 NIVO Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Repentance involves confession of sin, admitting before God that we are guilty. It is a change of mind. We no longer want to do the things that we used to do. We are now ashamed of the things that we did (Romans 6:21)! So repentance means turning away from our sin. It is an about-face. It is walking the other way.

“Repent,” Peter said, “and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Baptism means that we have a change of loyalty. We are now baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ means that we are baptized in the authority of Christ. We are baptized as Christ told us to be baptized. And he told us in Matthew 28:19 that we are to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Christ is our Lord and Master. By baptism, we identify with him in his death, his burial, and his resurrection. We are raised with him to walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:1-3).

Now Peter says, “Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We have already seen that water baptism is not the same as the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And yet, it is normal for Christians to be baptized into the Holy Spirit for this promise was not just for the 120 disciples. This promise is for us:

Acts 2:39 ESV For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

The promise of the Spirit was not limited to the 120 disciples. It was not just for the age of the apostles. The gift did not die out at the end of the first century. Peter clearly says that the promise of the Spirit is for all of us, for all whom the Lord our God will call.

4.        Pentecost Is a Celebration of the Birthday of the Church

Acts 2:40-42 ESV And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Peter and the disciples had been baptized with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had said. They had received power to be his witnesses. With great power and boldness, Peter bore witness to Jesus and the gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit moved upon the crowd with conviction of sin and three thousand souls were added to the church.

On that Sunday, that Day of Pentecost,

  • The Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers,
  • The first Christian sermon was preached,
  • Three thousand people were added to the Church

On that Sunday, the Church was born. And one this Sunday, we celebrate the birthday of the Church and the fact that Jesus Christ is building his Church.

5.        Pentecost Is a Reminder that Christ Will Continue to Build His Church

In his book Witness Essentials, Dan Meyer lists some encouraging statistics about the growth of the church around the world:[1]

  • In 1900 Korea had no Protestant church. Today, there are over 7,000 churches in just the city of Seoul, South Korea.
  • At the end of the 19th century, the southern portion of Africa was only 3 percent Christian. Today, 63 percent of the population is Christian, while membership in the churches in Africa is increasing by 34,000 people per day.
  • In India, 14 million of the 140 million members of the “untouchable” caste have become Christians.
  • More people in the Islamic world have come to Christ in the last 25 years than in the entire history of Christian missions.
  • In Islamic Indonesia, the percentage of Christians is now so high (around 15 percent) that the Muslim government will no longer print statistics.
  • In China, it is estimated that there are now more self-avowed disciples of Jesus than members of the Communist party. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that China will soon have more Christians than any country.
  • Across the planet, followers of Jesus are increasing by more than eighty thousand per day.
  • 510 new churches form every day.

Conclusion

On this Day of Pentecost, we remember

  1. The Father has fulfilled his promise by the Holy Spirit to those who ask.
  2. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective witnesses of Jesus Christ.
  3. The message of Pentecost is for all believers everywhere.
  4. We celebrate today the birthday of the Church.
  5. Christ will continue to build his Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

 

[1] Daniel Meyer, Witness Essentials (InterVarsity Press, 2012), pp. 32-33

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

 

Advertisements