WHY DO WE CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF PENTECOST?
SERMON PRESENTED ON 05-14-05
Tomorrow, Sunday the 15th of May, many in the Christian community will be observing Pentecost as a special day of worship. We are doing so in our fellowship today. At first glance, our celebration of Pentecost may appear somewhat incongruous. After all, isn’t Pentecost part of the seven annual Holy Days which were established under the Old Covenant (OC) and hasn’t the OC been replaced by the New Covenant (NC) which doesn’t appear to require the observance of OC Holy Days? If we keep Pentecost, why not observe the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles as well?
The Feast of Pentecost is an Old Covenant observance. It was celebrated in ancient Israel and in first century Israel as well. It was kept by Christ and his disciples who lived under the OC. Even though the death of Christ made the OC obsolete, it continued to be adhered to by most of the Jewish community until the temple was destroyed in AD 70. OC regulations were kept by Christ’s disciples after He ascended to be with the Father. That is why we see them meeting together on Pentecost in AD 31.
But why are we, nearly 2000 years later still celebrating this festival. If the OC with its festivals has been fulfilled in Christ, why does the Christian community hang on to Pentecost as a yearly observance? To be sure, we are not celebrating it as an OC festival. We are not arriving at the date for its celebration by counting 50 days from the Sabbath that occurs during the days of Un-leaven Bread as was done under the OC. If we were, we would be celebrating Pentecost in June. We are not observing Pentecost from sundown to sundown as was done under the OC.
We are not celebrating Pentecost as an OC requirement, nor are we celebrating it as a NC mandate. There is nothing in the NC scriptures that mandates that we observe Pentecost or any other OC Holy Day. In today’s Christian community, we observe Pentecost as an anniversary of a very important event. Just as the Christian community celebrates Christmas to commemorate the great event of the birth of Jesus and Easter to commemorate the great event of the resurrection of Jesus, so the Church celebrates Pentecost to commemorate the great event that made it possible for the Christian Church to develop.
Picture if you will the circumstances extant in AD 31. Jesus had been crucified and resurrected and proceeded to spend 40 days teaching His disciples before visibly ascending to heaven. Just before he ascended, He told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for what the Father had promised. What had the Father promised?
Luke 24:49, 52-53: 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." Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
John 14:16: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.
John 14:26: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 15:26: "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.
We see Christ promising His disciples that they would be gifted by the Father with the Holy Spirit which Christ calls a counselor. The Greek word is paraclete, and is variously translated as counselor, comforter, advocate and helper. This Holy Spirit is seen as coming from the father and defined as power and truth.
This is what the disciples were waiting for as they continued to meet at the temple daily. Whether they knew it was going to happen on Pentecost we don’t know. The Scriptures don’t say. Whether they had any idea as to what was going to happen, we don’t know either. The Scriptures don’t say. Some believe that the OC was established on Pentecost at Mt. Sinai and now the NC was being established with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in AD 31.
In retrospect, we see a very obvious reason for the manifestation of the Spirit on Pentecost in AD 31.
Acts 2:5, 9-11:. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.
There were thousands of people of the Jewish faith in town from all over the world, people of many different ethnic backgrounds, cultures and languages. Ethnic Jews were only a part of this mix of believers in the OC religious system. This was a golden opportunity to present the good news of the Christ event and what that event signified.
So what did God do? He manifested himself as a spirit of power with a sound of a mighty rushing wind.
Acts 2:1-4: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
God made it very evident that something special was happening. In one great act of power, God began the process of preaching the gospel to the world. He gave the apostles the ability to speak in languages that could be understood by the many foreigners in town from all over the world. They were able to understand what the apostles were saying in their native languages. The miracle may have been as much in the hearing as it was in the speaking. We are given limited insight as to what actually transpired relative the tongues event. What we do plainly see is Peter taking the opportunity thrust upon him to preach the gospel of Christ to a diverse audience of adherents to the OC.
Acts 2:22-24: "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Acts 2:36-37: "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
What shall we do? Peter had just powerfully and fearlessly indicted his listeners as being responsible for crucifying Christ. Peter made this indictment and placed the tongues phenomenon within the context of what Joel had prophesied about the last days and it being a time of great judgement as seen in verses 15 to 20. In verse 21, Peter tells them that if they call on the name of Jesus Christ they will be saved. These folks were scared. Peter gave them the solution to their fear.
Acts 2:38-39: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off or all whom the Lord our God will call."
This crowd had just witnessed a manifestation of the Holy Spirit of God. They were able to understand the message about Christ in their native languages. They were given a powerful, no holds barred, straightforward message about the death, resurrection and divinity of Christ. Many were convicted. Those that were convicted asked, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Peter was telling them that the Holy Spirit, which they had just seen manifested through the apostles, was a gift that they too could receive upon repentance and baptism. Some 3000 took Peter up on his offer. They changed their attitude about the Christ event, accepted him as the promised Messiah, were baptized as an outward confirmation of their faith in Christ and were given the Holy Spirit. Thus the NC Church was born. And it is that birth that we celebrate in reflecting upon the events that took place nearly 2000 nears ago on the annual Feast of Pentecost.
Peter said that the gift of the Holy Spirit was a promise to those he was addressing, as well as to their children and to all those far off. We today are in that group defined as “those far off.” We to, upon acceptance of Christ as savior, and our willingness to demonstrate our commitment to Christ through repentance and baptism, are given the Holy Spirit. But what does that mean for us? How does the Holy Spirit make a difference in our lives? What is the Holy Spirit?
Christ identified the Holy Spirit as the paraclete, a counselor, comforter, advocate and helper. Paul told Timothy that God’s Spirit was a spirit of power, love and sound mindedness or self discipline as some translations have it. Peter, in his first letter said it is the Spirit of God that sanctifies us. John said:
I John 3:24: Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
I John 4:13: We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
This same John records the interesting account of Christ’s interaction with Nicodemus in regard to the spirit.
John 3 1-8: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
What is being discussed here is being born of the Spirit and it is discussed in reference to the experience being like the wind. Now the wind is invisible, isn’t it? Being born of the Spirit is an invisible experience. You don’t experience God’s Spirit in you from the standpoint of seeing it, touching it or in some way observing it. And others don’t see God’s Spirit in you in that respect either. But if God’s Spirit is in you, others will see the effects of that Spirit in your behavior, not different from how people see the effects of wind even though the wind itself is invisible. God’s Spirit is not physical; it is spiritual and therefore physically invisible. That’s why Christ compared it to the invisible wind. Paul makes some very profound statements about the Spirit of God in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 8:5-9:. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
2 Timothy 1: 6-7: For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
1 Thessalonians 5:19: Quench not the Spirit.
So what do we have here? We have Christ telling us that the Spirit of God that is given as a gift to us is a counselor, comforter, advocate and helper. Christ also shows the Spirit of God to be the power by which we are ushered into the Kingdom of God and eternal life. Paul says we should allow the Spirit to control us and not our sinful nature and that God’s spirit is a spirit of power, love and sound mindedness. Paul also shows that the Spirit can be stirred up and it can be quenched.
When one looks at the hundreds of references to the Spirit of God in the scriptures, it becomes apparent that God’s spirit is a manifestation of what God is. God is life and imparts life to us through His Spirit. God is love and imparts love and the ability to love through His spirit. God is power and through the manifestation of His Spirit in us, empowers us to express a righteous nature rather then a sinful nature.
Yet God does not control us through His spirit. We have to choose to be controlled by the Spirit. Paul told Timothy to stir up the spirit. We do this by focusing on the law of love. We do this by learning to live our lives as servants of all. We do this by being the Good Samaritan on a daily basis. The Good Samaritan parable is a classic illustration of what it means to have the Spirit of God.
Luke 10:30-35: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
We tend to make Christianity more complicated than what it is. There is an entire industry out there selling books, tapes, videos, CD’s and study courses dealing with how to be a Christian.
Do we really need all of that. We sometimes spend more time in learning how to be a Christian than we do in going out into the community and actually being a Christian. It’s not really all that complicated. In leading up to the parable of the Good Samaritan we see this interchange between Jesus and a teacher of the law.
Luke 10:25-28: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.' "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
The major obstacle we face in being Christian is allowing sinful nature to drive our behavior rather than righteous nature driving our behavior. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Paul told the Romans that they needed the Holy Spirit to control their expression of the sinful nature. That need is still there today for each and every one of us.