Pentecost: a great and unique day
Did you know that 27 May this year will be Pentecost? We all know the date of Christmas, and the date of Easter usually dawns on us some time during April. If someone told us that he didn’t realise that 25 December was Christmas Day, we’d give him rather a funny look.
Why has the church generally made so much of Christmas and of Easter? Because they mark great and unrepeatable events. What if there had been no ‘Christmas story’? There would be no Jesus, no Son of God coming in human flesh to save us. What if there had been no ‘Easter story’? Then Jesus would never have died to shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and He would not have risen again for our justification. There would be no salvation, so no-one could ever be saved from his sins. But what if there had been no ‘Pentecost story’? Would you be able to go on and answer that question? In fact the events of that day are uniquely important. They are essential for our salvation, no less than what happened in Bethlehem, or what took place at Calvary.
A great and unique event
Pentecost has a longer history than either Christmas or Easter, because it was one of the ancient Jewish feasts. It had already been kept for well over a thousand years before we come to the second chapter of Acts. The word ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek word for ‘fifty’ because this feast came on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was the feast when the firstfruits of the grain harvest were offered, a time when every male was to appear before the Lord, and a time of great rejoicing.
But this particular Pentecost in Jerusalem became a great and unique event. Jesus had died, been raised from the dead, and forty days later He ascended into heaven. In Acts 1:4-5 we read: ‘And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”’ Jesus was predicting a great, once-for-all event. The birth of Christ was an event like this, because in it the second Person of the Trinity was made known in human form. In the same way, God the Holy Spirit now came into the world, sent by the Father and the Son. This coming of the Holy Spirit is no less central and important than the coming of Jesus Himself.
Mighty works of God
All sorts of remarkable things happened on this day. Look first at the disciples themselves. They were together in a house when these miracles began to take place. A sound came from heaven like a mighty rushing wind. Not a wind itself, but the sound of a wind. The word for ‘Spirit’ in both Old and New Testaments is the same as the word for ‘wind’. We know that in the OT the Spirit ‘rushed’ upon individuals. This was happening now, but the whole community knew it. Then there was the filling of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak with other languages. And no ordinary speech; rather the disciples were sounding the high praises of God in languages they had never learned, in rich, beautiful, elevated language.
Look then at the devout Jews from other nations who were there in Jerusalem. See the bewilderment and amazement when they heard the disciples telling the mighty works of God in their own languages. This was an astonishing sign from heaven. Like other signs in the Bible, this was pointing to a great and new work that God was doing.
Then look at Peter. Great and powerful preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ began right here. He stood up and preached an amazing Christ-centred sermon with great boldness and eloquence. Can you imagine Peter preaching like this a few weeks earlier? Gone was the blunderer, the coward, the denier of Jesus. He showed the crowds, who had been baying for Jesus’ blood a few weeks earlier, that Jesus is the fulfilment of the OT scriptures. He told them, to their faces, that ‘God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified’ (Acts 2:36).
Finally look at the crowd themselves. When they heard Peter’s preaching ‘they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”’(Acts 2:37). We read of the great events of that day – 3,000 believing and being baptised.
Essential to our salvation?
Pentecost was a life-changing day. All the people mentioned above were involved and caught up in it. What almighty God did on that day affected the way they thought, spoke, felt and lived, for ever. But how are the events of Pentecost essential to our salvation? The whole work of Jesus was geared towards this climactic event of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, having made full payment for the sins of the people the Father has given Him, was raised from the dead, triumphing over death. Then He ascended to the Father’s right hand, receiving authority to pour out the Holy Spirit upon all His people.
The pouring out of the Spirit is a greatly anticipated event throughout the whole Bible. On one occasion, while Israel were in the wilderness, Joshua was upset for Moses’ sake because two other men were prophesying in the camp. ‘My lord Moses, stop them’, he asked. But Moses was indignant: ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!’ (Num. 11:28-29). At Pentecost, Moses’ longing is being answered. The Spirit now comes upon the church – not just upon Israel, but men and women of every nation. The presence of the tongues was to demonstrate the reversal of the judgement of Babel. Whereas once God had scattered people into nations and languages, now He is drawing His people together. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Acts 2:21).
Of course what happened in the birth of Jesus, and what happened in His death and resurrection, are tremendously important. But it is possible to think of them only as experiences that Jesus had as a private individual. There is a wrong way of thinking about them which detaches the real, living Jesus from us. We might just as well remember the birth and death of Sir Winston Churchill. That is not the way it should be. God’s people do not simply look at Jesus’ life and death from a distance. We are caught up in Christ as participants. When we look at Pentecost, we see that the great ‘Immanuel’ principle of the Bible – ‘God with us’ – is not something hypothetical; it is a living, breathing reality. For without the coming of the Spirit there would be no salvation, no faith, no worship, no prayer, no assurance, no worldwide church. Because of Pentecost the gospel comes to us, ‘not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction’ (1 Thess. 1:5), and ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ are our present possession (Rom. 14:17).
So, for all these reasons, remember Pentecost – but you don’t have to mark it on 27 May. Think about it every day if you can.
Paul Yeulett is the pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.