Today, we celebrate Pentecost … a very important day for Jews … and a very significant day for Christians
- For Jews, Pentecost (now called Shavuot) was celebrated as the Feast of Weeks, when firstfruits of the grain harvest were offered. (Exodus 23:12-16; 34:22-23; Deuteronomy 26:1-10)
- For Jews, Pentecost (Feast of Weeks) was a time to offer their firstfruits to God.
- According to Jewish tradition … the Law was given to Moses on Pentecost.
- For Christians, Pentecost is a day when we celebrate the birth of the Church, which is made up of persons with the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit (James 1:18; Romans 8:22-23).
- It is the day we celebrate the day God gave His Holy Spirit to the Church … just as God gave His Law to the Israelites.
- It is also the day we celebrate the launch of the Church’s participation in Jesus’ mission to the world.
What we begin to see, then, is that Pentecost, which was started well before the disciples gathered in the upper room … is a very significant day … and full of meaning for us today.
Today, we want to try and understand, a little more deeply, what this day means for us. Let’s begin by reviewing the story in Acts 2:1-21 …
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? 13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: 15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. 16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: 19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come: 21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
~ Acts 2:1-21
There is a lot of symbolism in Pentecost.
- In Old Testament times, it was a day that celebrated bringing in the first harvest of crops.
- Viewed through the historic meaning of Pentecost, what happened in Jerusalem was supposed to spread and signal an abundant harvest of people who are born of the Spirit.
- James 1:18 … that we should be a kind of firstfruits ….
- Revelation 14:4 … the undefiled … were redeemed … being the firstfruits unto God ….
- Romans 8:22-23 … We, as believers have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” ….
- The wind is significant … (from pnoe = gust, breeze, wind … also, breath). The wind is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who hovered over the disciples on this day hovered over the void at the dawn of creation (from ruach = spirit, wind mind … also, breath). In both cases, it was almost like the Holy Spirit was anxiously and joyously anticipating the new thing God was getting ready to do.
- The wind signaled that the Spirit was there, and he was about to bring about a new creation — a new type of human made in the new humanity forged by Jesus Christ.
- The speaking in different languages is also significant. Pentecost was the great undoing of the Tower of Babel. Back then, humans wanted to advance themselves and create a world apart from God (Numbers 11:1-9). If left unchecked, the entire world would be united in evil and determined to reject and ignore the redemptive plans God had for humanity. In his mercy, God confused their languages to disrupt their ill-fated plans.
- At Pentecost, God used languages to bring people to himself. No longer would languages be used to divide people.
- Now, God would use language to bring people together.
- Finally, the fire is of vital significance.
- At the inauguration of both the tabernacle and the temple, fire was a symbol God used to signal his presence.
- The fire that burned on the disciples signaled that the age of God dwelling in a physical location like the tabernacle and the temple was over.
- So, when the tongues of fire settled upon the disciples, God was announcing a new era. No longer would God’s presence rest in a house made of leather or stone.
- Now, God’s dwelling place would be in the hearts of his people.
- We are his temple, now, the place where God interacts with humanity.
To properly address the topic of the fire, we need to go back to the spark that caused the fire.
- Pentecost did not just happen — rather, it was ignited years prior. Before he began his ministry, John the Baptist foretold of a coming Fire Starter, and he told us the kind of ministry he would have.
- Luke 3:16 … John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
- As John predicted, the Fire Starter did come, and his ministry was as John predicted. During his ministry, this Fire Starter spoke of his work and how anxious he was for his fire to be lit. In Luke, he states:
- Luke 12:49 … I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
- As you have likely already guessed, Jesus Christ is the Fire Starter.
- He is the origin of the fire that blazed on the disciples on the day of Pentecost.
- It was Jesus’ fire that burned in the upper room and signaled the beginning of a new age.
- Peter, in his message, echoed the voices of the Old Testament writers and called this new era the Day of the Lord, and this new age was ushered in by wind and fire.
What does this mean? Isn’t fire destructive? Doesn’t Jesus’ fire bring punishment and death?
If you listen to how some portray the gospel today, you might conclude the answer would be “yes.”
- There are some who believe and preach that the gospel is about fear.
- A good example is in how they view John 15:6-8, where some branches are “thrown into the fire” and burned.
- Some read that passage, see the word “fire” … and conclude it must represent punishment and death.
- They portray God as angry and vengeful, and we are to obey him to avoid harsh judgment. They teach we should be afraid to disobey.
- To those with that view, the gospel is not “good news” but rather a warning of impending doom.
- Thankfully, that view of the gospel and the Fire Starter does not line up with what we find in Scripture.
- They don’t realize that God’s punishment is a function of His love.
- They don’t realize that God wants our obedience to be a byproduct of our love for him … not our fear of Him.
We should not assume the purpose of fire is always to destroy.
In the Bible, the qualities of fire are purification, presence, and power. Understanding these three aspects of fire from a biblical perspective will help us understand what the Holy Spirit unleashed on the day of Pentecost.
1. The fire of Jesus is a purifying fire because it cleanses us of sin.
- The cross dealt with humanity’s sin once for all time.
- However, because sin still causes pain, God works in each of us to help us turn away from the things that hurt us or cause us to turn away from him.
- The fire is not violent, burning our sin away and harming us in the process.
- Rather, Jesus is a warm hearth fire inviting us to shed our sin like someone in the Northern Hemisphere would shed a heavy winter coat when sitting in front of a cozy fireplace. We gladly give up the parts of us oriented away from God in response to his goodness. We lose our taste for sin as we experience God’s love, mercy, and grace.
- Hebrews 12:29 … Our God is a consuming fire.
- 1 Corinthians 3:15 … material used to build (not the builder) will be burned.
- Malachi 3:1-3 … The LORD like a refiner’s fire (verse 2) … Why? … to purify (verse 3)
2. The fire of Jesus symbolizes the enduring presence of God.
- From the earliest seeds of our faith, God has used fire to symbolize his presence.
- When God called Moses to shepherd his people out of Egyptian slavery, he appeared to him as a burning bush.
- Later, when the Israelites were leaving Egypt and did not know where to go, God appeared in a cloud by day and fire in the sky at night.
- When they arrived at the place in the desert where God wanted to interact with them, God revealed himself as a mountain on fire.
- The fire that appeared on Pentecost signaled that God was with his disciples now and forever. Every flickering flame declared God’s words captured in the book of Hebrews …
- Hebrews 13:5 … “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”
3. Finally, the fire of Christ represents the power of God to save and restore.
- Those on whom Jesus’ fire fell were not the ones a respectable rabbi would choose. At best, they were unremarkable. But something happened to them after they encountered Christ. They were not the same.
- Jesus made them new — not just cleaned-up versions of their old selves, but something entirely different. God equipped them with power to be his witnesses throughout the world. They boldly preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and their words were confirmed by awesome miracles.
- These formerly mediocre men defied the greatest empire the world had ever seen. These unnoticed and underestimated men confronted the spiritual forces of darkness without flinching.
- The sign God gave that he was going to use these men to turn the world upside down was the fire of Pentecost.
The qualities of Jesus’ fire work together in everyone who follows Christ.
- When God gives us faith in Jesus, he purifies and burns away the things that are not him so we can see him clearly.
- Then, he kindles the fire of his enduring presence, drawing us nearer to him and reminding us continually that we are children of light.
- Finally, he uses his power to make us new — to refine us into who we are supposed to be — and empower us with gifts to participate in his work. Each believer has had his/her own personal Pentecost experience and Jesus’ fire burns in us.
The fire of Pentecost was not just an individual experience, it was also communal.
- Jesus started a fire that has been spreading, since Pentecost … because fire spreads.
- What started in the upper room on Pentecost continues to this very day.
- Jesus shared His fire with the disciples and the early church …
- Those on whom the fire fell immediately went out and boldly proclaimed who Jesus was in various languages
- That same fire, which fell on the disciples, has been kindled in today’s church as well …
- and, just as the early church shared that fire, the church of today must work to share that fire with others.
We have been invited to participate in Jesus’ work of spreading His fire to all humanity.
- We should carry the fire of Jesus into every corner of our society so it can burn away injustice, prejudice, oppression, despair, and unbelief.
May God bless us to burn as brightly. May he cause us to spread that fire in our communities.
May that fire purify us … remind us of his presence … and fill us with his power … all for his glory.