Christians observe the holiday of Pentecost to celebrate and remember the Person and work of God the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost was originally one of the major holidays of ancient Israel. The command to observe Pentecost is found several places in the books of Moses. At first, the holiday was a springtime Thanksgiving festival. Occurring fifty days after the Passover, it was a time for God’s people to gather, take a break from work, bring gifts to God, and eat and celebrate together. Later rabbis noted that Pentecost coincided with the anniversary of the delivery of the Law from Mount Sinai. By the time of Jesus and his apostles, it was common for Jews to come to Jerusalem for Passover and remain the seven weeks to Pentecost.
When Jesus had died and had risen from the dead, he met with his apostles several times, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. On their last meeting, he told them to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed in power from on high. The believers gathered—according to tradition, in the same upper room where the Lord’s Supper had been observed, but more likely in the Temple courts—and were worshiping on the holiday of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit made his presence known with three signature events.
First, his presence was recognized by the sound of a rushing wind. Not only would this sound get the attention of many people; the sound of wind was a signature event because in both Hebrew and Greek the same word is used for “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit.” Second, believers in Jesus were marked with flames above their heads, perhaps calling to mind the fire of Mount Sinai. This time, though, the fire represented grace and not judgment. Third, those same believers began to talk about Jesus in a variety of languages—languages that were understood by visitors from all over western Asia, northern Africa, and southern Europe. This signature event marked the reverse of the curse of Babel, where nations were separated by various languages. Now that Jesus had kept all God’s promises, all curses were being brought to an end and the world was being gathered into the Holy Christian Church.
Some people heard the various languages and assumed that the Christians were drunk. Peter said they were not drunk and pointed out that it was only nine o’clock in the morning. (Clearly, Peter and I did not go to the same college.) Peter then used the opportunity to talk about Jesus. Presumably the other Christians were saying the same things in other languages. Of the people who heard this message, three thousand believed the good news about Jesus, repented, and were baptized, becoming members of the Church.
Why doesn’t every sermon bring thousands of people to faith in the Lord? Peter had the advantage of speaking to people who already knew the Scriptures. They were Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the holidays; they already trusted the promises of God. They only needed to be told that Jesus had fulfilled those promises they believed. Because the Holy Spirit was present, they believed. They brought the message about Jesus home with them; the church that was established at Rome existed long before Paul wrote to the believers there or visited them.
The Holy Spirit is God—all-knowing, all-powerful, present everywhere, eternal and unchanging, holy and righteous, merciful and gracious—just like the Father and the Son. Pentecost was not the first day he visited the earth—as God created, the Spirit of God was moving over the waters. The Spirit of God spoke through the prophets. The Spirit of God gave people saving faith in the coming Savior; and, when Jesus had come, the Spirit of God brought people to him. Paul told the Corinthians that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The apostles already had experienced the work of the Holy Spirit before his signature events on Pentecost. Whenever they read or heard God’s Word, the Holy Spirit was working in them.
The Holy Spirit still works today through the Word of God. The apostles and the prophets wrote the Bible as guided by God’s Spirit, and now God’s Spirit works through those words to bring faith and to strengthen faith. It is still true that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord are being guided by the Holy Spirit. He is very busy this Pentecost, as he always is busy in the lives of God’s people. J.