Christians observe the birth of Jesus at Christmas; his resurrection on Easter (which is also the Jewish Passover) and this year, Pentecost Sunday, May 15, 2016. In doing so they will celebrate again the birth of the Christian church.
The New Testament reports on the original day of Christian Pentecost in Acts 2, written for the church by physician and historian, St. Luke.
To set it up, Our Lord’s crucifixion at the time of the Jewish Passover left his followers distraught. They did not yet understand that he had died as the Lamb of God, sacrificed to atone for sinners. The brutal death appeared not only tragic, but also unjust and pointless and it vaporized their hope for themselves and their nation.
Then on the third day after that horror Jesus was resurrected. But at the outset his followers seemed incapable of believing that he had actually come back to life.
So, for 40 days after his resurrection the Lord appeared repeatedly among his followers, restoring their confidence by giving evidences of his living presence. On one occasion he appeared to more than 500 followers at one time. By these appearances his followers came slowly to believe and their joy and worship grew.
Then, when the doubts and uncertainties held by this small circle of believers had been replaced with joyful certainty, Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives. The apostles witnessed this ascension.
After the ascension there were then ten additional days during which Jesus’ convinced and renewed followers were often together in an upper room in Jerusalem or at a gathering place in the outer court of the temple. The major activity of those gatherings was prayer.
Thus 40 plus 10 added up to 50 days. The long celebrated Pentecost of the Jews came 50 days after Passover. Now, the Christian revision was to be celebrated.
Then, on this first Pentecost after Jesus’ sacrificial death, when Jerusalem was filled as usual with visitors from many places in the world, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the gathering of disciples.
This was accompanied by heaven-sent signs – “the sound like the blowing of a violent wind” and tongues of fire (that) “separated and rested on each of them”.
Winds on occasion symbolize the Spirit of God (John 3:8). This demonstration of divine power seized the attention of the gathered throng and signaled God’s purpose: The news of the Gospel would travel across the world (like the blowing wind) by the power of his Spirit.
Fire, like wind, symbolized the divine presence. Recall that God spoke to Moses out of a bush that burned but was not consumed. On that inimitable Pentecost the wind could be heard and felt and the fire seen.
Then came the third miraculous demonstration of God’s power: the apostles and other worshipers began to speak prophetically and those from other nations heard them proclaim in their own languages. This gift of languages perplexed and amazed the worshipers.
Then Peter stepped forward and began to address the crowds. He reviewed the history of Jesus and proclaimed him to be the Messiah. He explained the miraculous events as fulfilling the predictions of the prophet, Joel. Passionately, he called the listeners to repentance.
We can call his address the first Christian sermon. In fact, we can say this miraculous Pentecostal occasion symbolizes the birth of the Christian church.
There can only be one original Christian Pentecost. But God’s power as seen on that day can be tapped into by prayer because the out-poured Spirit is the universal Spirit of Christ promised to live in us and to help us do the work of the church for all time. Wherever the church wholeheartedly seeks the Spirit’s power the church is preserved and renewed.
The mission of the Spirit given to us at Pentecost is unchanging. It is to awaken us to sin, call us to repentance and the fulness of new life in Christ, and to help us serve through the church in her mission to preach the Gospel to every Creature and serve as his gracious hands to a hurting world.