Sunday, May 19th, 2013 is Pentecost Sunday. This may be one of the most ironic days on the calendar for Christians. Pentecost Sunday is one of the most important days for Christians to remember and celebrate, yet this day is not often celebrated by many Protestant evangelicals. In fact, as a Southern Baptist, I had not even heard of Pentecost Sunday until this past year. Though this is a day that is often ignored and neglected by countless churches and Christians, this does nothing to diminish the importance of this historically and theologically monumental day.
Context, Context, Context
Before we begin to see reasons why Pentecost Sunday is important, we must get a glimpse into what we mean by Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost Sunday is the day that we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit upon the first disciples, the inauguration of the age of the Spirit, and the essential “birthday” of the Church.
Remember that Jesus was crucified at Passover, becoming the sacrificial Passover lamb, dying in the place of sinners. After his resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples (Acts 1:3). During this time, Jesus lived life with his disciples and appeared to many other people (1 Cor. 15:6). Jesus appeared, walked, talked, taught, comforted, admonished, blessed, ate, drank, and even gave fishing advice during these forty days (see Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21). The fear, confusion, and sorrow that filled the hearts and minds of the disciples after Jesus’ death were now surpassed by the greatness of the joy of his resurrection. However, Jesus’ mission was not yet complete.
Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (John 20:17).
So, after being with his disciples for forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven to reign in glory until his triumphant return. After Jesus again promises the sending of the Spirit, he ascended into heaven and returned to the immediate presence of his Father.
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ (Acts 1:9-11).
With the instructions from Jesus to remain in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4), his disciples were once again without their Lord, Master, Savior, and Friend. They must have been overcome with another immediate sense of loss. However, their worry was eased with the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:5. This Helper he had promised, would come and they would be baptized with him and this was to their advantage (John 16:7). This day would come ten days after his ascension on the day of Pentecost.
What is Pentecost?
Seven days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). They gathered to pray and wait. They also gathered to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, a festival that was celebrated on the seventh Sabbath after Passover. Now we turn to the book of Deuteronomy. On the fiftieth day after Passover, all of Israel would gather together at the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate in God’s presence. Literally everyone in Israel–fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, servants, sojourners, the fatherless, and widows–were to gather in the presence of God to rejoice and give thanks in memory of God’s deliverance of his people from the bondage of Egypt (Deut. 16:9-11). The disciples were gathering in accordance and obedience to God’s command to observe this festival annually.
New Age Dawns
As the disciples gathered to celebrate this Feast of Weeks, they were given another reason to celebrate–the new age of the Spirit was about to dawn on them in glorious fashion.
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:2-4).
This climactic event in redemptive history marks a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 as well as the Spirit-indwelling age promised in Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:26. The work of Christ in a real sense prepared those whom he redeemed for the indwelling of the Spirit.
Luke tells us that there were Jews from “every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost to celebrate this festival and experienced this coming of the Holy Spirit. After hearing what had happened, a great multitude of international diversity. There was great amazement over the fact that these Galileans were proclaiming the glory of Christ in the gospel in multiple languages. Peter explains this extraordinary and miraculous event by referring back to Joel 2:28-32. Peter later explains that this outpouring of the Spirit was vindication of Jesus’ lordship.
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:33, 36).
This gospel message that was proclaimed in a multitude of languages to a multitude of peoples led to the repentance of three thousand souls. The gospel “cut to the heart[s]” of each of these three thousand in their respective language. This global gospel of God’s glorious and global grace was proclaimed in dramatic fashion on the day of Pentecost and it led to the salvation of thousands as “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Three thousand souls from different tribes and tongues repented, believed, and were baptized (Acts 2:38, 41). And this is only the beginning, as the book of Acts continues to chronicle the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Four Reasons to Celebrate
With all of this background information and biblical truth in mind and saturating in your heart, we can now appropriately approach reasons why we should joyfully celebrate this Pentecost Sunday in a similar way that we celebrate Christmas Sunday and Easter Sunday.
Reason 1: Pentecost sealed the new covenant
The new covenant was brought into realization by the disciples and it was taken to a global scale. This new covenant was inaugurated with the blood of Christ and sealed with the giving of the Spirit. All of the promises of the new covenant, our union with Christ being the most glorious of them all, become ours by the indwelling of the Spirit. This “gift of the Spirit” is therefore experienced by all who repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of his or her sins. This is the new era of the Spirit. If you are a Christian, you have ample reason to celebrate that you are made new by the regenerating work of the Spirit. Thank God for the work of Christ as the new covenant and the work of the Spirit as sealing this new covenant.
Reason 2: Pentecost proved that Jesus will never leave nor forsake his people
In John 16, Jesus promised and assured his disciples that it was to their advantage that he leave them.
I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you…When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:7, 13-14).
Even though this may not have been clear or made much sense to his disciples, Jesus assured them that what he was doing was ultimately for their good. We can always be certain that as children of God, he is always working for our good and for his glory (Rom. 8:28). In fact, God’s working for his glory is always for our good. The mission of Jesus to extend his glory and grace to the ends of the earth did not end with his ascension. The sending/giving of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to never leave us nor forsake us. So, Christian, take a renewed sense of courage in Jesus’ words when he said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Take heart in the fact that the righteous will not be found forsaken (Psalm 37:25). You may be persecuted, but you will never be forsaken (2 Cor. 4:9). By your faith in Christ, you are united with him as a gift of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost and because of his coming, you can be certain that you are loved and in the provision and power of the Spirit of God. Take risks for God and his glory, knowing that he will never leave you and he will never forsake you (Joshua 1:5; Heb. 13:5).
Reason 3: Pentecost demonstrated that God is committed to his glory among the nations
A third reason to celebrate Pentecost Sunday is that Pentecost was evidence of God’s commitment to his glory among the nations. The giving of the Spirit at Pentecost proves that God has a global agenda at hand when it comes to his glory in salvation. It was no mistake that the Spirit came and caused the disciples and men of Galilee to speak in multiple languages. And it was no mistake that of the three thousand that believed on the glorious inauguration of the Church, there were many tribes and tongues represented. What we have at Pentecost is the first glimpse of what the new earth will be like. While the death of Jesus and his resurrection are considered to be the “first fruit” of God’s victory over sin and death, the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost signaled that the greater harvest had officially started. Gospel proclamation was through the heavens and we are still living in this same age. The initial three thousand who repented and believed on the day of Pentecost would take this gospel to the corners of the earth. Therefore, rejoice and celebrate Pentecost Sunday because without it, you would have never heard of the gospel of Christ. Without the Spirit of Pentecost, the Lamb of Passover goes unnamed and his glory goes untold. Our Easter celebrations are the fruits of Pentecost.
Reason 4: Pentecost foreshadows future restoration and even greater joy
I am encouraging you to celebrate Pentecost Sunday today. However, the glory of Pentecost is its glimpse into future complete restoration of all things. Remember Peter’s reference to Joel 2:28-32? Just before this prophecy of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we see another beautiful promise of God:
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame (Joel 2:25-27, emphasis added).
Death has been effectually, yet not finally defeated. Satan has been effectually destroyed, yet not finally destroyed. Sin has been effectually conquered, yet not finally conquered. Jesus is reigning and his reign as King is secure and eternal, yet it has not reached its fullest expression on earth. However, one day it will. Pentecost signals this coming day. Creation groans for this final restoration and so do we (Romans 8:23). While we await final redemption of our bodies, we do so with the confidence that we have in the Spirit that dwells within us. So, rejoice and celebrate Pentecost Sunday with the eschatological hope of a future completed restoration and a day when the glory of God fills the earth–a day where sin and death are no more and we live in uninhibited relationship with our God and King as we sing of his glory and exult in his joy. Pentecost points us to this coming reality. It was in a sense the first fruit of a final and complete new creation. Celebrate today in anticipation of the greatest and fullest celebration of all as the Passover Lamb is exalted and praised among a fully satisfied people from every tribe and every tongue.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready (Revelation 19:6-7).