This day of Pentecost is a special day like none other. It’s the third biggest celebration of the Christian year, behind Christmas and Easter.
Christmas and Easter have been hijacked by the secular culture. We have reduced Christ’s work of salvation in His birth, death, and resurrection into pagan festivals. In the secularization of Christmas we replaced the shouts of angels in Luke’s Gospel.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Christmas’ blatant consumerism and feel good motto of “buy that something special for the ones you love” has watered down its significance. The message has shifted focus from God’s miracle of the incarnation to trinkets treats and tribal rituals of the season. What gets lost in the commercialism is the Christ of Bethlehem.
Unfortunately, Easter has not escaped a similar fate. Society has turned the shouts of “Christ is Risen. He is Risen, indeed!” and the focus Christ redemption of a world lost in sin to a celebration of the passage of the dreariness of winter and the rite of spring. Lost in that transition is the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. The proclamation from the Savior that, “It is Finished!”, the realization of the soldier, “This truly was the Son of God”, the joy of Easter morning, “the Tomb is Empty. And Christ Is Risen” have been lost.
In the case of secular Christmas and Easter, you’ll have no problem finding decorations and greeting cards. Many of them feature the embodiments of the season, Santa, and the Easter bunny. And symbols of the season, scents of pine trees, or, my favorite, chocolate bunnies (or chocolate of any kind, for that matter). We could celebrate that at least these celebrations have high name-recognition and in the past have lead people who never darken our church doors back to us on these two occasions.
But Pentecost is different. Pentecost still belongs to the church. Pentecost has not gone commercial … yet! You will be hard pressed to find a rack of Pentecost cards in a drugstore. Unfortunately, there are not Holy Spirit dove chocolates. I can’t imagine the Dove ever competing with Santa and the Easter bunny. It is unlikely that we in the church will ever feel the need to remind each other to keep Pentecost in our heart like we usually have to with Christmas. Pentecost is ours alone.
Contained in this Pentecost story are some powerful images:
- The significance of the Holy Spirit as wind. That essential breath that seems to be the very life-force itself. The concept of breath points us back to the first interaction man had with the divine. Let me transport you back to the beginning: Genesis 2. The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. It was there the mighty wind of God gave man life.
- The Holy Spirit as fire. Fire is an essential element in the world’s cultures. It not only provides light and warmth on the cold nights but it has a consuming nature with it that goes viral. As the Holy Spirit is introduced in the narrative of the birth of the church, it does become a transforming force consuming sin and burning down the stronghold of unbelief.
- Speaking in tongues. The strange detail of how, miraculously, the disciples are briefly given the gift of speaking in other languages illustrates that God is breaking down the barriers between nations and cultures. I miss how the readings for the Pentecost in some years would have the bookend accounts of the Tower of Babel (language confused and multiplied) with the parallel account of Acts 2’s Pentecost chronicling languages united around the message of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. It puts on full display the brilliance and completeness of God.
- The Rejection of the Power of God. The resulting scorn sometimes heaped on those who encounter the living God, who are all too often dismissed by those who say of them, “They are filled with new wine!”
Pentecost Is a Community Event
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”
It is no accident that Pentecost is also known as the Jewish holiday “the Feast of Weeks.” It is essentially a harvest festival. The Feast of Weeks was the time in ancient Israel when the first grain harvest came in.
As we examine the significance of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the church, it is this great harvest of new believers. The good news of the gospel brought many to faith and caused them go out into the world bearing these newfound fruits of the Spirit.
The most striking thing about this verse is the phrase, “They were all together in one place.”
So much has happened in a short period to the disciples. They had been all together in the upper room when Jesus broke the bread, shared the cup and gave a new and deeper significance to the Passover Seder meal. We then witness how the news of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion scattered the faithful disciples and all His hundreds of followers.
The disciples’ grief over the loss of their teacher, shepherd, and mentor has now brought them together again.
You have witnessed in your church how funerals often do this. The loss of a loved one connects a once widely dispersed family and gathers them together for mutual support and remembrances.
Then came for the disciples the wonder and comfort of the resurrection. When Mary Magdalene, in John’s gospel, runs back to tell the other disciples the good news notice there’s no mention of her going from house to house in seeking them out. She knows just where to find them. The disheartened group is collected together in one place supporting each other.
They now move from the highs of the resurrection to the uncertain future of Christ ascension into heaven. They may have thought that with that event it was “game over.” Last out of the World Series, time to go home and live in the memory of all we have seen and heard. What more could God possibly have in store for them? It was like the silence following the grand finale of a fireworks display. What could they possibly do at that moment except fold the chairs and go home?
Notice the Optics.
That is most certainly not what the disciples do! “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Why? What were they hoping for?
Maybe the clue is found in the mission Jesus had left with them before He went to assume His rightful place on the throne of heaven. In Matthew 28, also known as the Great Commission, it says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ….” The full weight and meaning of this get lost in the English translations. However, in the original Greek the verb “make disciples” is plural. Jesus isn’t commanding them to go out like marbles and individually witness to everyone they meet.
We are so tempted as churches to send out people out with this charge, “You go and make disciples, and good luck with that!” No, Jesus is commanding them to come together and, as one body, the Church is to devise a strategy for sharing the gospel with the lost and broken world. “Go, make me more disciples, but do it together!” We are not just individual church sites, we are the church universal, over 2 billion strong. Strategically placed around the world, yet called to come together and given a charge by our Risen Lord, “Go, make me more disciples, but here is the key: do it together!”
Hands off world, Pentecost is ours. It is the birth of the church, and you can’t have it. But we will share the saving message of Christ with you. That is our charge after all.