Pentecost celebrated harvesting the first fruits of the new crop and giving the Torah at Mount Sinai. (Exodus 23:14-17 and note JSB). The symbolism of the Jewish festival of Pentecost was perfect for this day that we remember as the “birthday” of the Church. It marked the giving of the good news about Jesus Christ who fulfills the Torah that was given at Mount Sinai. And it marked the first fruits of the harvest of people whose lives produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
When Jesus was eating with his disciples (after his resurrection and before his ascension to heaven), Jesus commanded them:
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For . . . in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5 (emphasis added)).
Since the Holy Spirit is a gift of the Father, our baptism by the Holy Spirit is an example of the Amazing Grace of the LORD our God—an example of how we are saved by our faith in the LORD our God and not by our own works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8).
For if anyone boasts, it should never be about what we have done. We should only boast about what the LORD has given to us and what the LORD has done for us (Jeremiah 9:25; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 2 Corinthians 10:17-18).
The passage in Acts where Jesus says to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit does not specify what Jesus had previously told his disciples about “the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4). Presumably, Jesus was referring to the types of things he said about the Holy Spirit during the Last Supper.
At that time, Jesus told his disciples: “. . . I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). This Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26).
In God’s good time and in God’s good way, the period of waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit came to an end. And, because of the importance of this gift, God brought the period of waiting to an end in a particularly dramatic fashion.
The Holy Spirit came upon the 120 believers with power while “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2). They must have been startled by this sound.
Then they saw a sight that must have amazed them. “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (Acts 2:3).
An equally startling and amazing change came over each person: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4).
Evidently they created quite a commotion. Because “a crowd came together in bewilderment” to find out what was going on (Acts 2:6).
And now we begin to see that God timed the coming of the Holy Spirit perfectly.
A large crowd was in Jerusalem that day.
Because it was “the day of Pentecost.” (Acts 2:1). Pentecost celebrated harvesting the first fruits of the new crop and giving the Torah at Mount Sinai. (Exodus 23:14-17 and note JSB).
This major Jewish festival was celebrated fifty days after Passover. Because of this important Jewish festival “there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). This was a marvelous opportunity to begin making disciples of Jesus Christ from every nation under heaven!
Peter made the most of this opportunity.
Peter preached about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and about the gift of the Holy Spirit. He explained that these events had long been foretold in Scriptures that he quoted. (Acts 2:14-36).
Peter concluded: “[L]et all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36-37).
Peter urged the people: “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.” (Acts 2:38).
Peter spoke persuasively. About three thousand people were baptized that day. They joined the 120 believers who started the day of Pentecost by waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them with power.
The Spirit of truth had come. The Spirit of truth had spoken.
What is this truth?
God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah. Everyone should repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The symbolism of the Jewish festival of Pentecost was perfect for this day that we remember as the “birthday” of the Church.
It marked the giving of the good news about Jesus Christ who fulfills the Torah that was given at Mount Sinai. (Matthew 5:17).
And it marked the first fruits of the harvest of people whose lives produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).
We must always be careful to avoid Anti-Semitic perversions of the Bible.
Peter himself said a short time after Pentecost: “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” (Acts 3:17).
Furthermore, I would hate to be held responsible for what my pagan ancestors in England and Germany did 2,000 years ago!
Fortunately, the one—and only one—God is “the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands [of generations], and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7; 20:6).
For more of my thoughts about Pentecost, please read the chapter “The Believers Are Filled with the Holy Spirit” in my book Lighting the World, at pages 21-24; and the chapter “Getting Off the Launch Pad” in my book Visions of the Church (published together with my book Visions of America, at pages 155-158.