Pentecost is the Greek word for “fifty.” The incomparable outpouring of God’s power called Pentecost took place exactly that many days after Passover. This year it will be celebrated on June 8.
Originally, Pentecost was celebrated as Feast of Weeks. This feast gave thanks at the first ingathering of the grain harvest. On the Pentecost Sunday reported in the Acts of the Apostles, Jerusalem overflowed with pilgrims. There were about 3000 who responded to the message Peter preached, and were baptised and gathered into the young church (Acts 2:41).
Early on that original Pentecost Sunday, as the company of 120 loyal disciples were sitting together, a sound “like the blowing of a violent wind” came unexpectedly from heaven and filled the place (Acts 2:2). There were also what appeared like “tongues of fire” that separated so as to rest on each of them individually.
The scripture account tells us that “All were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). This was obviously the Father’s accommodation to those present who spoke the many different languages represented by the gathered crowd. It was the reversal of the confusion visited in judgment at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9).
What is the symbolism of wind and fire? Wind is invisible and mysterious but it makes itself felt and its existence cannot be denied. In wind’s gentle form it was the breath God breathed into man to make man a living being (Genesis 2:7).
Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones uses the symbolism of wind. When he prophesied to a virtual graveyard, the scattered bones were to come to life. He was prompted in his vision to say, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9).
The sound of a violent wind at Pentecost symbolized the inrushing presence of God who was ordering a new day and offering to all people the new life in the Kingdom of God. In addition, he was empowering them for effective witness to those who did not yet believe.
The tongues of fire at Pentecost symbolized the Lord in his utter holiness. Fire purges and refines — for example, burning up impurities in the making of strong metal. It also represents the great outflow of divine energy. Fire warms, just as the Spirit ignited the devotion of the disciples. Fire ignites — as the speech of Peter and others on that great day became alive and penetrating.
These supernatural phenomena represented the Holy Spirit’s equipping of the disciples for the church’s witnessing task on earth — “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).
In this 50 day interim between Resurrection Sunday, April 20, and Pentecost Sunday, June 8, let us prepare our hearts for a renewal of faith and witness under the impetus of the Holy Spirit — confessing when necessary half heartedness in faith, pockets of unbelief, unconfessed sin, and renewing of broken relationships.
Not least, let us open ourselves to the rekindling of the fires of Pentecost in our hearts for the fulfillment of our Christian task on earth.
Image credit: Waiting for the Word (via flickr.com)