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Pentecost and the Coming of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early followers of Jesus. The first Pentecost come several weeks after His’ death and resurrection. Before that, there were followers of Jesus but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.” From a historical and spiritual perspective, Pentecost is the day on which the church was started since the Spirit brings the church into existence and invigorates it.



The meaning of Pentecost


The English word “Pentecost” is a translation of the Greek word pentekostos, meaning “fifty.” It is derived from the Christian expression pentekoste hemeraor or “fiftieth day.” The term was borrowed from Greek-speaking Jews who used it to reference the Jewish holiday, the Festival of Week (Shavuot in Hebrew). Shavuot was the second great feast in Israel’s holy days. Initially a harvest festival (Exod. 23:16), in time it became a day to commemorate the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. This day became particularly significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon His initial followers, thereby empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.


How Pentecost is celebrated


Some churches don’t even recognize the holiday. Most at least mention it in prayer, song, or sermon while others focus their worship service on remembering the first Pentecost and praying for a similar outpouring of divine power.


Other churches welcome new members to commemorate the first “new members class” that joined the church after Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Centuries ago in Britain, those joining the church wore white for baptism. As a result, the Sunday was called “White Sunday” or “Whitsunday.”


The spiritual significance of Pentecost


There are several ways in which Pentecost still matters.


What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world, albeit not in such a dramatic way. Seldom is there a heavenly wind and tongues of fire. Still, God pours out the Spirit onto everyone who places their faith in Jesus and becomes a disciple (see Rom. 8:1-11).


Christians are intended to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor. 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom. 8:26) and intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom.8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal. 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal. 5:22-23). 


On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’s followers as they congregated in Jerusalem. This assembly became the first Christian church. Supposedly, the Spirit could have been poured out on the followers of Jesus even if they weren’t together. Certainly there are times when the Holy Spirit touches a person while they are along. The fact that the Spirit was given to a gathering of believers, however, is not by accident. It emphasizes the significance of the church in God’s work in the world. This is reinforced by the actions of the first Christians.


On this day, the Holy Spirit also enabled those who believed in Jesus to praise God in numerous languages that they had not mastered in the traditional way (Acts 2:5-13). Symbolically, this miracle supports the church’s multilingual, multicultural, multiracial mission. It is a community where everyone is drawn together by God’s love in Christ. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”


According to the Old Testament, the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests and kings. In contrast, the New Testament claimed the Spirit would be given to “all people.” Everyone would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age or social status.


While this truth didn’t mean that every Christian would be gifted for every kind of ministry, it suggested that all believers would be empowered by the Spirit.


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