This year Pentecost Sunday falls on 4th June – 50 days from Easter Sunday (Easter Sunday included). Pentecost is a less celebrated holy-day than Christmas and Easter, but equally as important in the Christian calendar. It is also less celebrated by the world – it hasn’t been captured for its commercial value or by the Pentecost penguin (yet!).
Pentecost (fiftieth day) is the Greek name for the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot. It was a significant day that celebrated the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and also came to be a celebration of God’s provision in the harvest. The celebration was marked by all Jewish people coming to Jerusalem (men, women, children, sojourners, widows, and servants) to give thanks to God.
The Pentecost account that Luke records for us in Acts 2 gives a rich picture of prophetic fulfilment, but also of the initiation of new work of God. There are many layers in this account of God’s work at Pentecost. I would like to focus in on three:
The Spirit fulfils the promise of presence
The Ascension was a painful experience for the disciples. They had lost Jesus at the cross once already and now they were going through the trauma of losing him again at the ascension. What would they do without him? What was this small band without their leader? Would they go back to their old lives, again?
The gift of the Holy Spirit as the empowering presence of God in them answered all those questions. God the Father had sent his own Son to earth in the person of Jesus Christ – that was a miracle of grace, salvation and reconciliation for mankind. But the supernatural did not end there. Now the Father (and the Son) sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers.
The Holy Spirit would be the comforter, counsellor, equipper and guide for the disciples. He would fill their hearts with conviction and endow their words with power. Jesus was alive again and his work was continuing through His Spirit-empowered disciples.
The Spirit starts the church
Pentecost is the start of the gathering of believers. It is the first public worship service. God’s word is read and explained, people are saved, and converts are baptised. What a timeous reminder of the calling of the church and the power of the gospel to bring salvation. These new believers would go on to meet in various places and different times, but their gatherings would focus on God’s Word, sharing in each other’s lives, the Lord’s Supper, prayer and meeting each other’s physical needs (Acts 2:42ff).
Needless to say, it was Peter who opened his mouth first. But he was a changed man – from denial to proclamation, from fear to passion. His first sermon was probably his best (if you judge a sermon by the number of souls saved, of course!). The church would continue to grow and the Spirit would continue to draw men and women to Christ.
The Spirit undoes Babel
Those gathered to celebrate Pentecost were from all over the known world (that is the point of the list of 16 different nations). But they each heard the gospel in their own language. At Babel language had divided but now, through the Spirit, language is no barrier. This is the second corner-piece of the puzzle. The first corner-piece was Jesus’ words to the disciples in Acts 1:8. He had promised that that their witnessing works will take the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The third corner-piece is the salvation of Samaritans (half-Jews) under the ministry of Philip (endorsed by the Apostles Peter and John) in Acts 8. The last corner-piece is Peter’s vision and his meeting with Cornelius in Acts 10 in which God shows him that the gospel is for the Gentiles too.
The rest of the book of Acts and the writings of the New Testament fill in more and more puzzle pieces. With every piece that finds its place the picture becomes clearer and clearer. God is partly fulfilling the promise of Revelation 7:9 right now on earth through the church – worshippers gathering from every race, tribe, nation, language. The church is an outpost of heaven. It is an alternative society from the one we see around us.
Celebrating Pentecost in 2017
The Claremont Ministers’ Fellowship has grown in size and depth of relationship over the last four years. Over these years of sharing we found that the ministers shared two deep concerns (1) the lack of the voice of the church in the public space, and (2) the terrible way that racism rears its head on a regular basis (e.g. in ugly Facebook comments, racially motivated attacks, or incidences of discrimination).
We discussed many different way in which we could respond. One of the suggestions that resonated with the ministers was the idea that all the Claremont churches hang a banner outside their church in the time immediately preceding Pentecost that makes a statement that we stand against the sin of racism and we stand for the beauty of a diverse society. One of the ministers will also write an article to be submitted to the Tatler/People’s Post explaining the motivation for the banners.
The banner will say, “Claremont Churches uniting: rejecting racism, embracing diversity”. The statement is from all the Claremont Churches into the community. The diversity of our churches and the testimony of our actions as Christians will show our commitment to the multiracial call of the gospel.
Our prayer is that, by God’s grace, the Church of Claremont may be an alternative society that demonstrates God’s love for all men and women.