This Sunday, June Ninth, Christians will celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the last major festival of their church calendar. This festival commemorates yet another promise kept by Jesus, the promise to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Since Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter with such gusto, the Day of Pentecost is sometimes overlooked.
Yet in the book of Acts, the Apostle Peter refers to the Day of Pentecost as the beginning. (Acts 11:15, ESV) He does not refer to Christmas or Easter as the beginning but the Day of Pentecost as the beginning. And there are some compelling reasons why the Day of Pentecost could be considered the beginning.
First, there are the words of John the Baptist, the one sent to prepare the way for Jesus. One would expect him to talk about how Jesus would give his life for the world by dying on the cross and rising from the dead three days later. Instead he focused on the Day of Pentecost: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11, ESV) Pentecost was the day that Jesus baptized his disciples with the Holy Spirit as John had predicted.
During the 40 days that Jesus spent with his disciples after he had risen from the dead he told them to, “stay in the city (Jerusalem) until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49, ESV) By Jesus’ own orders, nothing was to happen until the Holy Spirit showed up.
Another reason why the Day of Pentecost could be considered the beginning is that it was the day that the Gentiles were finally welcomed into the church. In his sermon on Pentecost Peter, quotes from the prophet Joel who said, “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” (Acts 2:17, ESV)
Welcoming the Gentiles into the church was epic. For centuries, the Jews had been God’s chosen people while the rest of the world’s people, the Gentiles, were kept on the sidelines. Other than a few isolated incidents, Jesus himself only ministered among the Jewish people. But on the Day of Pentecost, that all changed. By pouring out his Spirit on all flesh on Pentecost and on numerous other occasions, God indicated that the Gentiles would no longer be excluded.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 3:6, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (ESV) And writing in his first epistle Peter says about the Gentiles, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2:10, ESV)
The Day of Pentecost was also clearly the day that the church started reaching out to those around them. Before Pentecost, as far as anyone could tell, the disciples of Jesus were doing nothing to reach out to the world with the Gospel. Even though they had been witnesses to the greatest event in the history of the world, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, they pretty much stayed to themselves.
And we know what happens to churches that do not reach out to others. They die. Right now, thousands of churches in this country are turned inward and are dying. Were it not for the Day of Pentecost, that first assembly of believers would have died off as well.
But thanks to the Holy Spirit they did not keep to themselves. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of Jesus like a mighty, rushing wind and in tongues of fire. The Spirit drove them out of the house where they were gathered, onto the streets of Jerusalem and eventually to the ends of the earth, firmly establishing the Holy Christian Church that still exists today.
So there are some pretty compelling reasons for saying that it all began, not with the birth of Jesus or his resurrection, but with the Day of Pentecost.
I must say there have been times in my ministry where I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a powerful way. It has always happened when the person and work of Jesus were the focus of what was going on. And it has always brought about a new beginning or a new perspective in the lives of those involved; a sort of mini-Pentecost if you will. It’s always the start of something beautiful.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love, Alleluia!” (Liturgical text)