Today on the church calendar is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. We will look at what Pentecost Sunday used to be remembered for, how the Holy Spirit helped the apostles, and how all this can help us in our Christian walk.
Today's message is based on Acts 2:1-21. To read it now, click here.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. But that wasn’t always the purpose of Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish feast day long before the event we just read about. Pentecost was one of the three great feast day that the Jewish people were to celebrate and make sacrifices on. It was a harvest festival, where they give thanks for the wheat harvest, and it took place fifty days after the Passover week.
The Jewish Pentecost was also called the Festival of Weeks and the Feast of the Harvest. It is talked about, actually commanded, in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. This was a day set aside to make several sacrifices and burnt offerings, including the first fruits of the wheat harvest. Lets take a look at Exodus 23:14:17…
Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. Celebrate the Feast of Unleaven Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. No one is to appear before me empty handed. Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first fruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.
This Pentecost is the Feast of the Harvest mentioned here as the second of the three times in the year when all the men are to appear before the Lord.
What does this mean, to appear before the Lord? It means that the men had to go to the temple. Once the temple was built, all the sacrifices needed to be made at the temple. Therefore, on these three great festival days, the Jewish people, or at least the Jewish men, had to travel to Jerusalem to make the required sacrifices.
It’s fitting that God would use this feast day to deliver the Holy Spirit to the disciples, isn’t it? He used the Passover celebration, when the city was filled, the first great feast or festival where sacrifices were commanded, to be the time when Jesus would be crucified. Now He uses the Pentecost, when the city is again filled people from all over, to bring the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Because of the timing, all of Israel was a witness, all righteous Jews had to be there, it was the law. They all knew what was going on, and they could either accept or reject. No one could plead ignorance, they were there! In our reading this morning, it mentions in verse 5, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” Why were they there? If they were following the law, they had to be there – this was a required day of sacrifice, and you could only sacrifice in Jerusalem!
There are some interesting comparisons that can be made between the Old Testament Pentecost and the New Testament filling of the Spirit, the New Testament Pentecost:
You can see that in many ways, the Old Testament celebration of Pentecost points to the New Testament celebration of the Pentecost.
Jesus promised the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, several times. This was one of the last things he said to the disciples before his ascension, in Luke 24:49, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
In Acts 1 verses 4 and 5, Jesus gives them the command “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” A little later in verse 8, he continues, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
John 14 contains probably the most well known promise from Jesus concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit. John 14:15-17, then 25-26.
Ok, we’ve looked at the Jewish Pentecost celebrations, and we’ve seen that the Old Testament feast was sort of a precursor to the day of Pentecost as we know it. We know that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, and we know of the tremendous power the apostles had after receiving the Spirit. Now I want to look at this to see what we can learn from it for our faith walk today.
One of the first things is that the disciples were told to wait. Jesus was with them on the Mount of Olives and told them they would be his witnesses, not only in Jerusalem, but all over, to the ends of the earth. But first, they would be clothed with the Power of God, Baptized by the Holy Spirit. I bet they were ready.
After his death, they probably weren’t ready for anything. They were scared, they were mourning the death of Jesus, in fact we find them hidden away in the upper room, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They didn’t understand what had happened, but when Jesus appeared to them, and taught them more, and he opened their minds so they understood the scriptures, they could see what had been written about Jesus, and how that was fulfilled, now they understood why it had to happen, and more importantly, what it all meant. So they were ready. They had great news, and I bet they wanted to share it. But Jesus told them to wait.
I’m sure they didn’t like waiting. We don’t like waiting either, do we? In fact today, we like to live life fast, we tend to get bored easily. Life was a lot slower then, but these apostles had a mission, and they were eager to get started. But they were told to wait.
Barbara Brokhoff, in Grapes Of Wrath Or Grace, wrote,
“So, having been told to “tarry,” the disciples went to that upper chamber to wait and to pray. In fact, they devoted themselves to prayer. What must it have been like as they met in that room for the first two or three days? They would be gathered in close physical proximity, but their wills might well have been miles apart. The confinement would lend itself to arguments and dissension.
Remember, these were normal people like you and me. There had been a lot of disagreements among them previously. They had experienced sharp divisions over rank, importance, and who would have the highest seat. They were strong-willed persons with conflicting ideas. But the waiting and the praying began to do something for them, for the scripture says that they (on the tenth day of waiting), when the Spirit came, were of one accord! Imagine that! As they prayed and tarried they became fully open to God and more loving toward each other. Such harmony and peace prepared their hearts to receive the Holy Spirit.”
They waited till God made it clear that they could go… And when God made it clear, when the Spirit came, it was obvious, there was wind and fire, no one could miss it. God isn’t usually so obvious with us, but you can be sure that when you wait on God, He will make sure you know when it is time to proceed. Whatever your mission is, wait for God to let you know when the timing is right. Spend your time waiting in prayer, and don’t rush into it, God will let you know when to proceed. Be patient, and wait on the Lord. And when He says go, make sure you go, but let Him tell you when it’s time.
Next, I think it’s important to note that the apostles spent this time waiting together. Before receiving the Holy Spirit, there were about 120 believers, and they met together daily. Especially the core group, the eleven disciples, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, Jesus’ brothers, they were together constantly in prayer.
This brings up a story…A man tells of being on a bus tour in Rome which was led by a guide who spoke English. Their first stop was a basilica in a piazza, which was surrounded by several lanes of relentless Roman traffic. After they were all safely dropped off, the group climbed the steps for a quick tour of the church. Then they spread out to board the bus, which was now parked across the street from the church. The frantic guide shouted for the group to stay together. He hollered out to them, “You cross one by one, they hit you one by one. But if you cross together, they think you will hurt the car!” They won’t hit you. There is something to be said for unity.
A lot of people today think that coming together as believers is not all that important. Many who do attend church, wouldn’t think twice about missing church if something else came up. But coming together as a body of believers is important. Hebrews tells us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.” We’re a lot closer to that day now then they were then, our coming together is much more important now. The disciples and the followers at that time, never missed an opportunity to come together, they came daily. Let’s make sure we take advantage of every opportunity to come together as well.
Lastly, it’s important for us to realize the incredible power of the Spirit. After this day of Pentecost, the disciples had much of the same power as Jesus had, they were filled with God’s power. Some of them even raised people from death, they restored sight to the blind, they restored the use of legs to the lame. Many of the miracles that Jesus performed on earth, were later performed by the disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Power can be used in two ways: it can be unleashed wildly, with no plan or purpose, or it can be harnessed for great good. The energy in ten gallons of gasoline, for instance, can make a tremendous explosion if you drop a lighted match into the can. Or it can be channeled through the engine of a car in a controlled way and used to transport a person as many as 400 miles.
Explosions are spectacular, but controlled burns have lasting effect, staying power. The Holy Spirit works both ways. At Pentecost, you could say that he exploded on the scene; His presence was like “tongues of fire”. Thousands were affected by this one burst of power. But He also works through us today, day by day. We can tap into this power for the long haul. Through the Holy Spirit, we can persevere. We can run our race to the finish. And remember the Spirit is our Counselor, It enables us to love others, and to be of service to others, and to better understand and discern God’s will for us, and that’s what following Christ is all about.
The Holy Spirit is God’s Power. Great things happen when the Spirit is involved. And that great power is available to us today, just as it was available to the disciples then. Will we seek it? Will we live our lives surrendered to that power?
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