What were all those pilgrims doing in Jerusalem? What was the significance of the Day of Pentecost prior to this day we in the Christian world associate the ushering in of the Age of the Holy Spirit—the official birthday of the Christian Church?Dennis Bratcher gives us a brief background:
Pentecost was originally an Old Testament festival, since the time of Josephus calculated as beginning on the fiftieth day after the beginning of Passover. In the Christian calendar, it falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter. It was called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and in the Old Testament was originally an agricultural festival celebrating and giving thanks for the “first fruits” of the early spring harvest (Lev 23, Exodus 23, 34).
In Exodus 23:14-17 we read the background behind this special day:
“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. No one is to appear before me empty-handed. “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first-fruits of the crops you sow in your field.
“Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering in the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.“Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.”
It is this Second Feast -–the one where the first-fruits of the new crop were to be offered to the Lord—that was held 50 days after the Celebration of the Passover (the First Feast mentioned). Thus, it became know as the Feast of Pentecost (meaning 50 days).
And so we find in our scripture today that all the men of Israel, in obedience to the commandment given that we read in Exodus 23, had come to Jerusalem to offer their gifts to the Lord. They would celebrate with a “wave offering”—Waving 2 loaves of bread made from the new wheat grain from the just ripening wheat fields.
Such was the setting. The city of Jerusalem was crowded with obedient pilgrims who had come to worship God.
And along with these faithful pilgrims there was another group of pilgrims who were also there in an act of obedience. Just 10 days earlier Jesus had commanded them to “tarry in Jerusalem and wait for the gift the Father had promised—the baptism with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:4)
It is this second group of pilgrims—the followers of Jesus that we relate to today. Because of their obedience the New Testament Church was born of the Spirit. And while we Gentile Christians do not celebrate the Jewish Festival of First Fruits, we do celebrate Pentecost because of what happened on that particular Pentecost Sunday—God poured out His Spirit in a new and powerful way, and we are living in the Age of the Holy Spirit today. God is still pouring our His Spirit to all who will receive Him. Have you received the Holy Spirit in His fullness into your life? Perhaps you need a fresh infilling. We see several outpourings throughout the Book of Acts. And there is no reason to believe God has stopped pouring out His Spirit. As a matter of fact, Jesus says in Luke11: 13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Today, let’s reflect on the significance of Pentecost and the Coming of the Holy Spirit in a new dispensation.
I. PENTECOST WAS THE OCCASION OF THE CHURCH COMING ALIVE.
a. Up to this point in Salvation History, the believers in God lived under the old Covenant, the Jewish Law and Tradition. Sacrifices had to be made regularly in the Temple. Holy Days and Holy Feasts were still being observed. God was thought of as the God of the Jews. All other believers were considered to be Jewish Proselytes.
b. But with the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and the Coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way, the Church suddenly took on a new life, a new dynamic. It had a new mission, a new purpose. It quickly leaped out of the Jewish Realm and became a Movement for All Peoples—Jew and Gentile alike!
c. The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—took a group of people who had been adherents of certain rules and regulations and transformed them into People who were connected to each other and to God through the quickening Power of the Presence of God within them—the Holy Spirit. This was the fulfillment of what God had promised through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:26-27). This is what is so powerfully illustrated in Ezekiel 37 in the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones that God brings to life and makes into a powerful army. THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A NEW DAY!
d. Understand that the Holy Spirit was not new. But in the Old Testament and up to this point in time, the manifestations of the Holy Spirit had been limited and selective. Now, the Holy Spirit comes to manifest Himself in the life of anyone who would receive Him. It is as if all the Old Testament and up to this point in the New Testament, was like a pregnancy, but the Day of Pentecost was when the church had finally reached full term and was born. Thus, Scholars often refer to the Day of Pentecost as being THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH!
II. PENTECOST WAS THE STARTING POINT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’S FULL MINISTRY.
What was /is the ministry of the Holy Spirit?
a. It is a Ministry of Conviction. Jesus said, “When He [the Comforter} comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment “ (John 16:8). I understand this to mean that He awakens within us an awareness of our true sinful condition, an awareness of our own guilt and personal responsibility, and an awareness of our utter helplessness to save ourselves and, therefore, our need for a Savior.
b. The Ministry of Instruction. In John 16:13-15 Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “But when he, the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what He hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”That doesn’t mean we do not need to read the Bible and Study. But it does mean that the Holy Spirit becomes our Instructor and gives us the ability to understand Scriptures in a new and fresh way. Instead of a book of words, the Holy Spirit makes the Bible to be the Living Word that speaks to us from its pages with insight and understanding.
c. The Ministry of Guidance. More than just imparting knowledge of God’s Word to us, the Holy Spirit literally draws us to the path that God has mapped out for us. We read in Psalms 37:23 (KJV) The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and he delighteth in his way.” Paul admonishes us to “Walk in the Spirit,” and to “Keep in step with the Spirit.” The Spirit rebukes us when we go astray or take a wrong path. He reveals to us the Will of God for that moment in time. At every major junction in my life, I’ve learned the necessity of seeking God’s face until the Holy Spirit makes the way clear to me. And I am learning that I need the Holy Spirit to guide me not just at the major junctions, but every step of the way!
d. The Ministry of Empowerment. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Sprit comes on you…” And while in this verse He is speaking specifically of Witnessing Power, from other verses we discover that the power is also for Holy Living, for Specific Tasks, for Effective Praying, and for so much more. In Philippians 2:13 we are told, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” The word in the Greek that is translated in this verse as “works” is the same word from which we get our word “Energizes.” I realize that when humanly I am weak and weary and maybe even faced with temptations to despair, that it is God in me—the Holy Spirit—who literally pumps His energy into my being, energizing me to “will and to act according to his good purpose.” Will L. Thompson wrote these beautiful words:
Jesus is all the world to me;My Life, my Joy, my All. He is my Strength from day to day; Without Him I would fall. When I am sad, to Him I go; No other one can cheer me so. When I am sad, He makes me glad He’s my Friend. (No. 576 in Sing to the Lord Hymnal).
III. PENTECOST WAS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR A NEW DYNAMIC IN OUR PERSONAL WALK WITH GOD.
a. In Peter’s Pentecostal Day Sermon, he concluded with this powerful statement: “…Repent and be baptized everyone 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” (Acts 2:38-39).It is apparent from this that it is not enough that God sent His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. We have a personal responsibility to receive Him into our personal lives. How do we do this?
i. By confessing our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing from those sins.
ii. By surrendering that which has been forgiven and cleansed. Paul described his own personal experience at this point like this: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The Life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
iii. By continuing in that state of total yielded-ness to His Lordship. Jesus said it this way: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
iiii. By continual walking, living, and keeping in step with the Spirit of God! This involves a personal discipline along with the personal yielded-ness.
Yes, this is a great day we celebrate. It is the birthday of the Christian Church. It is one of those defining moments in Salvation History. But as important as all this is, it is all in vain unless we personally receive the Gift God has for us. In Acts 19:2 Paul asked the small group of believers in Ephesus, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” And this becomes a highly personal question for each one of us. Remember Peter’s closing words on the day of Pentecost: “The Promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).Have YOU received the Father’s Promise in your life?