- Describe how the Holy Spirit showed power at Pentecost.
- Wonder at the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Describe ways that the Holy Spirit helps us.
We use the term "Pentecost" so easily that we forget that it was first of all a major Jewish festival, in Hebrew Shavu'ot. It came to have the name Pentecost in Greek because it was held fifty days after the Passover. It was the festival of firstfruits, when the people would bring the firstfruits of the harvest to be dedicated at the temple.
Understanding that, we get a sense of God's timing. Fifty days after the death and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the firstfruits come in. The Holy Spirit descends on the gathered disciples, and the firstfruits of the nations are baptized into the church after Peter's Pentecost sermon. These are the firstfruits of the greater harvest that is to come when the gospel is preached to the ends of the earth.
When we talk about the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, this does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not active in the world before. Already at creation the Spirit of God "was hovering over the waters." That same Spirit filled David and others, and inspired the prophets. What new thing happened, then, at Pentecost? From Pentecost on, everyone who believes and is baptized in Jesus' name personally receives the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit creates the church, bringing people to faith and then incorporating them into the body of Christ.
Remember that Jesus had instructed the disciples to prayerfully wait in Jerusalem for the gift he would give. Early in the morning of that fiftieth day, as pilgrims by the thousands from all over the Mediterranean world were making their way to the temple, the Spirit broke in with wonderful signs:
Wind: In both Hebrew and Greek the word for wind (air, breath) and Spirit is the same. So now the sound of wind/Spirit comes with cyclonic power on the church.
Tongues of fire: As in the burning bush that stopped Moses in his tracks, fire represents the divine presence (resting on each one).
Speech: The disciples were able to speak in the various languages of the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem, so all could fully understand what was happening. Note that the God who had scattered the people with differing languages at Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) now brings them together with the gift of the Spirit.
Then Peter (of course) stood up and addressed the crowd in a powerful sermon that explained these events as fulfillment of prophecy. He declared, "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (2:36). In other words, this is the decisive moment in history when God acted to redeem the world through his Son.
The crowds were moved to faith and repentance, and three thousand were baptized that day alone. Talk about firstfruits---what a harvest would follow!
Until now, this has been the story of God coming to save his rebellious creation. But now, with the gift of the Spirit, it becomes our story. We live out the story in our lives as the Spirit moves us, inspires us, and empowers us to live toward the kingdom of God.
How does aligning Pentecost with the Jewish festival of Shavu’ot deepen your understanding and appreciation of Pentecost?
Does the Spirit sometimes come with “signs and wonders” today? Should we expect it? What is your experience?
What strikes you about Peter’s sermon?
In some ways the Spirit is what someone has called the “shy person” of the Trinity. The Spirit often seems to work behind the scenes, pointing to the Father and the Son. By your own testimony, you can help your group better understand how the Spirit personally operates in our lives.
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