Discover what Pentecost means, why it’s so important, and why it offers us a re-birthday.
A little background
Pentecost means ‘fifty’. It’s celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday and is the fulfilment of earlier promises. John records Jesus’ own words at his ascension: ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.’ (John 14:16-17).
The timing is also significant. In adopting the name, early Christians followed the example of Greek-speaking Jews who used Pentecost as an alternative name for their holiday – the Feast of Weeks. Leviticus 23:16 decreed that this festival be celebrated 50 days from the end of Passover. This Jewish celebration is known by other names too, including: the Feast of Harvest, and the Day of First-fruits. In England, Pentecost is also known as Whitsun and Whitsunday, probably derived from ‘white Sunday’ in recognition of the white baptism clothes worn by the recently baptized.
But what happened?
The Book of Acts tells us: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.’ (Acts 2.1-4).
Both wind and fire are notable symbols of the Holy Spirit. His activity that day transformed those present. To put it mildly, the event caused a stir. The disciples were so overflowing with the Holy Spirit that they attracted a crowd. They began to speak in tongues and, miraculously, people in the crowd understood them, each hearing in their own language. Perhaps, not surprisingly, some said that the disciples were drunk.
Peter spoke. This was the same Peter who had made a catalogue of mistakes before finally denying Jesus three times and running off to weep, then hide. But it was also a vastly changed Peter. He challenged the crowd head on. The power of his message converted 3,000 people that very day.
The church’s birthday
Because of Peter and his powerful message, Pentecost marks the establishment of Christianity for many believers. It’s the birthday of the church. Of course, its foundation stone is Jesus, but this was the day that the baton was passed to his disciples. They became the first apostles, initially carrying the Christian message to the crowd, but then going on as Jesus had ordained: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1.8).
Questions and doubts
Even after Jesus appeared in person following his resurrection there were doubters, and I don’t just mean (doubting) Thomas. When Jesus appeared to him a week after he’d appeared to his other disciples, Thomas saw the crucifixion wounds for himself. It seems more than pure chance that this arch-doubter gave the first recorded declaration of Jesus’ divinity. He said of Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20.28).
Lots of people – including Christians – have doubts and questions they really want explained. Alpha provides a great opportunity – face to face and online – and it’s available worldwide.
Alpha is a series of free sessions that explore the Christian faith in a completely open way. Several sessions explore the role and activities of the Holy Spirit and there’s a special time for renewal and/or inviting him into our lives. It’s a great (re)launching pad – rather like a personal re-birthday – our own mini-Pentecost. For more about Alpha: https://alpha.org.uk/tryalpha.
Pentecost is a time of celebration. Through Jesus, the Holy Spirit is available to all of us all the time. We only need to ask and be open to him. If we are, we too will be empowered and can more fully participate in Jesus’great commission – ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.’ (Matthew 28.19).
We should always remember that our testimony is worth sharing. When we tell others all that God has done for us through Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit, we are not simply sharing our story. We may be setting someone on the pathway that leads to eternal life. And that’s definitely worth doing.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.