Pentecost—Why the church should celebrate
That Jesus of Nazareth literally died and bodily rose from the dead makes the resurrection the central tenet of Christianity. Another equally supernatural event that occurred 50 days later is given focused attention in the book of Acts.
On that day known as Pentecost (Hebrew, Shavuot), the church was birthed and dramatically empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke describes the circumstances surrounding Pentecost in the following passage:
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language . . . we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’” (Acts 2:1-8, 11 NIV).
The biblical celebration of Shavuot concluded the season of Bikkurim—also known as Firstfruits—that began with the waving of a representative first sheaf taken from the barley harvest on the first day of the week following Passover.
Fifty days later on the morning of Shavuot, another ceremonial offering of the harvest was required at the Temple. This time, wheat flour from the firstfruits of the wheat harvest was used to prepare two loaves of leavened bread approximately two feet long and a foot wide. These giant yeast bread loaves were then baked and given to the priests.
Filled with pageantry and spiritual significance, the priest would ascend the ramp of the altar holding a baked loaf in each hand. When he reached the platform of the altar, the priest was required to methodically wave the two loaves before the Lord from each of the four sides of the altar.
Following the exuberant Temple observance, everyone in Jerusalem gathered in private homes or public meeting places to celebrate the festive occasion, which explains why the disciples were gathered in an upper room.
Our Lord’s own words as recorded by the apostle John are key to grasping the transformation of the day Christians now observe as Pentecost. The night before our Lord and Savior was crucified, He told the disciples,
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:16).
Fifty days after His resurrection, Jesus fulfilled His promise. People of faith are well acquainted with the facts; but let’s look at the details.
- As the disciples celebrated Shavuot, a deafening roar like a violent wind filled the room. In conjunction with the mighty sound of rushing winds, supernatural “tongues of fire” appeared above each of the 120 guests in the room.
- It is noteworthy that the text describes the sound as wind. The words “spirit” and “wind” derive from the same root pneo (Greek, πνέω) translated wind, breath, spirit. In an inaugural occurrence evidenced by the sound of what we might call hurricane-like wind, the Holy Spirit baptized the disciples gathered in the room by indwelling each person, thereby creating the new identity known as the church.
- The fire—that separated to form what looked like individual flames resting over each person in the room—was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise (Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16; Acts 1:8). (1)
Before His ascension to heaven ten days earlier, Jesus said, “you have heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4b-5).
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
For any who have experienced a tornado or hurricane, it’s not difficult to imagine the sound of violent wind so intense that it drew the attention of the multitudes thronging the city of Jerusalem for the celebration of Shavuot.
Leaving the room following the supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were met by a crowd gathering to investigate the source of the deafening roar. Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (2: 12).
Explaining what had transpired, the disciples began spontaneously communicating in different languages that permitted devout pilgrims from at least 13 nationalities to hear the Good News in their native tongues (Acts 2:9-11).
WHAT SHALL WE DO?
Peter explained the significance of the event to the gathered throng in response to their question, “What does this mean?” (vv. 14-36). Another question, however, followed.
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, ‘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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (vv. 37-39, 41).”
More than 3,000 believed Peter’s message, placed their faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus the Christ and were added to the newly birthed church as a result.
It was an astonishing outcome at the conclusion of the celebration of Shavuot. The spiritual harvest of souls was the “firstfruits” of the redeemed body of believers (later called Christians, Acts 11:26) who constituted the freshly established church.
The practical implications for people of faith living in the 21st century are equally astonishing.
Is it coincidental that our Lord’s resurrection took place on the first day of the week—on the Feast of Bikkurim—following Passover? Paul described Jesus’ resurrection saying:
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).
Later, the apostle James described the church as, “firstfruits of His creatures “(Jas. 1:18).
Is it coincidental that the two loaves were prepared and baked separately for the Feast of Shavuot—50 days after Firstfruits? Remember, the two loaves constituted a single offering as stipulated by the Mosaic Law. Many believe the offering typifies the church—a single new entity made up of two parts—Jewish and Gentile Believers (Eph. 2:13-16).
The church is truly unique. The church is not an organizational structure or a building on a piece of prime real estate. The church is organic comprised of people who by the grace of God have been redeemed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
God launched the church by sending His Holy Spirit to indwell Believers on Shavuot; and, that is the point of commemorating Pentecost some 2000 years later.
My generation has spent significant time evaluating the subject of Pentecost focusing on the question: What was it? In our obsession to determine what constituted the manifestation at Pentecost, we failed to discuss the more relevant questions expressed by the God-fearing men of Jerusalem who ran to the disciples asking, What does this mean? and What shall we do? (Act 2:12, 37).
Jesus anticipated these questions as He prepared the disciples for the eventuality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
The Greek word translated “power” is dunamin (Greek, δύναμιν) describing raw explosive energy. The Lord’s words require little commentary.
Each Believer is energized by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the ministry of the corporate church. The church is not reliant upon the combined natural talents, abilities and expertise of members, but rather on the Holy Spirit working through individuals He indwells and empowers for service.
The church is a supernatural entity designed to visibly demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit in the everyday realities of life, but particularly in sharing the Good News.
It is my prayer that you’ll take time to consider what the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit means to you, to the success of your local church and your mandate to impact the world with the Good News. Begin now to make preparations to celebrate Pentecost—the birthday of the church.
1) Scripture repeatedly uses fire to represent God’s presence. For further study, read: Gen. 15:17; Ex. 3:2–6; 13:21–22; 19:18; 40:38.
1) Pentecost Preaching. (By Gebhard Fugel [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Wind, tongues of fire and the dove symbolically represent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Photo courtesy, Pixabay [Public domain]/Enhancement: MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.