The Church and Pentecost
Ian “Ivan” Hyde
First Southern Baptist
Church of Pasadena, CA
Responsive Reading (The Baptist Hymnal – 691 – God the Holy Spirit – Acts 2:1-4, 14, 17-18, 21, 38)
Traditionally, today marks the celebration of Pentecost in the
. Christian Churches
In the Baptist tradition, we don’t put much emphasis on the liturgical calendar. While this might put us in danger of, on the one hand, losing our sense of connection with our brothers and sisters in other denominations; on the other hand it means we have the freedom to preach any topic on any given Sunday. And it is in this freedom that we look for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we can preach exactly what the People of God need to hear, when they need to hear it.
It is the Holy Spirit that I want to talk about this morning, specifically the beginning work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Life. But to understand the beginning work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, we must look at the story of the beginning work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church: and that is the story of Pentecost.
The Christian holiday of Pentecost is deeply connected to the Jewish holiday, Shavuot or the Festival of Weeks. Throughout the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, God commands the Israelites to keep three majore pilgrimage festivals, or Shalosh Regalim as they are known in Hebrew, when Jews everywhere were expected to come to Jerusalem and worship in the Temple.
There were three of these festivals: Pesach or Passover, Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks, and Sukkoth or the Feast of Booths. Shavuot commemorated both the barley harvest and, according to tradition, the day God gave Moses the Law on
. It was seen as the day Mt. Sinai truly began to be the People of God and it is fitting that God would choose that day to give the Holy Spirit to the Church, marking our beginning as the People of God as well. Israel
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
The events of Pentecost really begin with the Last Supper when Jesus made specific promises to the disciples regarding the coming Holy Spirit.
First, Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:26, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
This meant that all those crazy things Jesus had been saying the last couple of years would finally make sense. The coming Advocate would remove their short-sightedness and lack of understanding, giving them the ability to truly and confidently preach the Good News to all nations.
This is echoed in Acts 1:8 when the risen Jesus has ordered the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father, telling them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
John gives us other details about the coming Advocate or Paraclete as He is called in Greek. In John Jesus calls him “the Spirit of Truth,” testifying on Jesus’ behalf, and in we are promised that the Spirit will be with us forever. Finally, in 16:7 Jesus says that the Advocate will only come if Jesus leaves, in other words, is crucified.
The Day Approaches
So, with the assurance of these promises, the disciples wait. To give you a sense of the time involved, Pentecost means “the fiftieth day” and Shavuot means “weeks”. This refers to the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost itself or for Jews, the seven weeks from Passover to Shavuot. As we are told at the beginning of Acts that Jesus stayed forty days after the Resurrection, this means the disciples waited ten days for the promised Advocate.
To us, this might not seem like a very long time, but the disciples had no idea how long they were to wait. These followers had been through a lot the last couple of months. First, their beloved teacher is betrayed and brutally murdered, then in confusion they abandon him and even deny him. Finally they witness their risen Lord and realize that He is the long awaited Messiah, but then He tells them He must leave again.
And so they wait. For ten days they meet together, waiting, not knowing if it will be minutes, hours, days or even years before they receive the promised Advocate. In fact, they don’t even know what He’ll look like or how they’ll know Him.
The Advocate Arrives
On the 10th day of waiting, it finally happens. And I tell you, God really knows how to make an entrance. A mighty wind rushes through the place and fire rests on each. Then, inexplicably they all begin speaking in different languages. Now some see this as the same “speaking in tongues” experienced in Pentecostal Churches today, who take their name from this event. But while they generally speak in a way no one present understands, on this day, God did something different.
So as this is happening, a crowd begins to gather as Jews from all over the
Roman Empire who have come to celebrate Shavuot hear their native languages. Amidst the mounting confusion, some joke that the disciples must have been kickin’ back some pretty sweet new wine.
At this Peter stands up and preaches the first recorded sermon of the new Church in which he quotes Joel 2:28-32, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
He goes on to convict the crowd of their role in Jesus’ death, but declares it is God’s plan as evidenced by the power of His miracles, His Resurrection and the mighty deed they are witnessing that very moment. At this, Jesus’ promise in the beginning of Acts that the disciples would be His witnesses in
is fulfilled as 3,000 new believers are added to the disciples’ number. Jerusalem
After all, only the Holy Spirit could take the words of a man who denied Jesus three times and use them to fearlessly convince a crowd 3,000 strong of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.
The Church after Pentecost
After this, the fledgling Church is enabled, by the Holy Spirit, to begin living out the teachings of Jesus. In verse 42 we are told “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It is this practice which forms the centerpiece of the Christian life, even today.
But that’s not all. After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit continued to empower the disciples to perform wonders, commune together in brotherly love and preach the Gospel [Acts 2:43-47], and in Peter’s sermon we are told that the comfort of the Holy Spirit in tough times and the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel fearlessly and in truth, to perform wonders in witness to God’s saving power and to commune together in brotherly love is ours to claim even today.
Example: I can attest to this fact by what we experienced in
. In spite of the danger, God gave us the courage to fearlessly distribute bibles and share the Gospel. He enabled us to pray for the sick and gave us the ability to quickly pick up the language (almost all of which I’ve subsequently forgotten). He even healed the back of one of our team members, so that we could continue to carry the bibles wherever they needed to go. It was as if God had chucked the spear of the Gospel into the heart of Taliban country. And this would not have been possible had not the Holy Spirit been with us every step of the way. Pakistan
Not just in Pakistan, but all over the world men and women are hearing the Gospel and being saved, those being tortured in prison for their faith are being comforted, demons are cast out and the sick are healed. I even met a missionary who went into an unreached region to preach the Gospel with a translator and who, in the middle of his sermon, realized his translator wasn’t speaking. When he asked why they weren’t translating, his companion replied, “because you’re already speaking our language.”
These things are happening today, as the Holy Spirit fulfills the words of Joel, cited by Peter and which we heard in the responsive reading before the sermon; and the hope is realized that all would share in the intimacy with God that the prophets experienced.
And so, I fittingly finish with the words of Peter, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” [Acts 2:38-39]
If any of you here haven’t asked Jesus to be the Lord of your life, trusting that He can forgive all your sins and give you the comfort of the Holy Spirit, then I invite you to come up now as the music plays, and do so.
May God bless us and keep us. May God make His face to shine upon us, and be gracious unto us.
May God lift up His countenance upon us, and give us peace. Amen. [c.f. Numbers -26]