This weekend the church celebrated Pentecost, the birth day of the church, when the Holy Spirit came with a sound like a strong wind and tongues as of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples. Acts 2 gives us the dramatic story of the disciples who were waiting in Jerusalem as Jesus had instructed them before he ascended to heaven.
Jews celebrated the corresponding holiday this week. Shevuot (pronounced shuh-vot)reminds them of the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. It was the birth day of a nation. After the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea (the Reed Sea), escaping from Pharoah and the slavery of Egypt, the Lord told Moses to prepare the people before he came down on the mountain to meet with them (Exodus 19). The mountain shook, there was fire and smoke and a long blast of a trumpet. In this first meeting with their holy God, these people were terrified.
In the calendar of feasts the Lord gave to Moses (Leviticus 23) this event is commemorated on the fiftieth day after the Feast of Firstfruits. How does this correspond to what we know as Pentecost? Let’s start with the first three feasts of the Lord and some adaptions that have been made to the calendar.
The Passover was to be celebrated on the 14th of Abib, the first month of their new calendar (Leviticus 23:4), recalling the deliverance out of Egypt. The week-long feast of Unleavened Bread was to begin the next day, the 15th, a Sabbath day. A sheaf of the firstfruits of the barley harvest was part of an offering to the Lord on the 16th, which would be the day after the Sabbath. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was crucified at the same time as the Passover sacrifices. The day after the Sabbath he was raised to life as the firstfruits from the dead! What came to be known as the Lord’s Day in the early church is our Sunday. What we celebrate in the West as Easter is the day of the Lord’s resurrection–on the Feast of Firstfruits!
My Egyptian husband watched his fig tree very closely because the first figs to ripen were the sweetest and best. Sometimes he was gracious enough to share one with me! Firstfruits are evidence that the harvest is coming and the firstfruit offering to the Lord was a consecration of the coming harvest. The resurrection of Christ is a promise of our future resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). That’s sweeter than a first ripe fig, for sure!
The Lord told Moses to count out fifty days from the new grain offering and hold another celebration (Leviticus 23:15-22). It was called the Feast of Weeks. The name Pentecost is from the Greek word for “fifty”. Think of a five-sided pentagon, and the word makes sense even if you don’t study Greek. At this feast, another grain offering was brought as two loaves of fine flour. We can see that the two loaves represent Jew and Gentile, sanctified (holy) to the Lord even though they contained yeast, an image of sin. The Pentecost celebration of harvest was characterized by rejoicing and generosity, leaving unharvested portions of the field for the poor and foreigners to collect (Leviticus 23:22; see also the story of Ruth).
Acts 2 begins, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they [the disciples] were all with one accord in one place.”
Those days of hanging out together, praying, repenting, worshipping, and waiting with expectation seems to have had its intended purpose. They were all in one accord. Finally!
Then all the action began with full audio and visual effects reminiscent of the fire, shaking, thunder and trumpet at Mt. Sinai. The disciples, and the world, were never the same again. Men from all nations were present because of the festival and all heard the praises of God being spoken in their own languages. With boldness and power in the Spirit, quoting from a prophecy in Joel 2, Peter began to explain what was happening. Three thousand people were added to the church that first day! Though not terrifying in the same way as Sinai, the men who heard Peter were cut to the heart with the fear of the Lord. God’s desire has always been to take hold of our hearts.
What was this promise of the Father and the baptism of the Holy Spirit that had such earth-shaking effects? The Gospel writer Luke, also author of the Acts of the Apostles, recorded the promise made by Jesus before his ascension, tieing his two books together very neatly:
“Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you, but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49)
“Wait for the promise of the Father which you have heard from me; for John truly baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5).
Promise of the Father, Baptism with the Holy Spirit, Power from Heaven
John’s gospel tells of the instruction and comfort Jesus gave his disciples before his death (John 14-16). A large part of this was the assurance that they would not be left alone. He would send them another Helper, just like him, describing what the Holy Spirit would do after Jesus had gone (John 14:16-18, 26).
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener and Standby), that He may remain with you forever–the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive (welcome, take to its heart) because it does not see Him or know and recognize Him. But you know and recognize Him, for He lives with you [constantly] and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans [comfortless, desolate, bereaved, forlorn, helpless]; I will come [back] to you” (John 14:16-18, Amplified).
When Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, he was seen briefly by Mary Magdeline, telling her to let his friends know that he was ascending to their God and Father (John 20:11-18). As the true High Priest, he presented to God his own blood as the offering for our salvation, going into the heavenly tabernacle. Appearing to his disciples and teaching them more about the Kingdom for about 40 days, he then ascended to heaven in their sight (Luke 24:51).
This ascension now seated him on the throne! Our High Priest forever is also King forever. The author of Hebrews described at length the superiority of Christ over the high priests of Israel and the superiority of his atoning work, so that the old system has been totally replaced. The veil (curtain) of the temple that separated men from God was torn while Christ hung on the cross (Matthew 27:51).
“Now this is the main point of the things we are saying. We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Hebrews 8:1-2).
When I read Andrew Murray’s commentary on Hebrews, The Holiest of All, I found a marvelous fresh understanding of Pentecost, although I had been haptized in the Holy Spirit many years before. Murray writes, “Salvation prepares us for the true blessing–the revelation and power, the Holy Spirit revealing Him within our hearts. Ascension and Pentecost are inseparable… Pentecost pours into us the life within the veil.”
This power was needed to transform believers into fearless witnesses. I found a new sensitivity to the Spirit of God and new power to live a holy life. The Lord would not ask us to be holy without giving us the means to obey such an impossible task! The ministry gifts that are also given by the Spirit become “supernaturally natural” as we learn to serve the Lord in love, growing also in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Salvation by faith in the work of Christ is our first baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Baptism in water is an act of obedience demonstrating publically our new life in Christ, now that our old life is dead, having been nailed to the cross (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12).
From his position on the throne, Christ could now pour out His very person and presence into us so we can participate with Him in His joy and ministry. What Wesley called a “second act of grace,” this baptism is also received by faith as we not only receive Christ’s forgiveness, but also yield totally to his Lordship and seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We continue to grow in faith and in sanctification, knowing that without the power of his anointing, we have little to show for the work we know he has called us to do.
- The Feast of Pentecost (frjayareddy.wordpress.com)
- Do You Speak in Tongues? (eternalchrist.wordpress.com)
- Pentecost (barholz.wordpress.com)
- Sacred Interlude (fireyandfree.wordpress.com)
- Pentecost and the Feasts(Appointed times) of God (biblethingsinbibleways.wordpress.com)
- Pentecost – The Holy Spirit Has Come (girlfriendscoffeehour.com)
- Celebrate Pentecost – May 14, 15 and 16, 2013! (jscotthusted.wordpress.com)
WordPress provided these links to other articles on the subject of Pentecost. I have enjoyed reading them, with their variety of devotional and theological approaches. I hope you will read and comment on them also. They are not all as long as mine turned out to be, but oh, what a wonderful subject!