A Pentecost Primer

By Jason Elwell

This month we can all wish the “Big C” Church a happy birthday! Pentecost Sunday is the day we commemorate the Spirit of God falling on those who were gathered in the upper room in Acts chapter 2. This miraculous event brought together people from many different nations for the purpose of living out the kingdom vision set forth by Jesus. From that moment on, salvation was no longer reserved for the Jews. Now every tribe and every tongue that would call upon the name of the Lord could be saved. 

The name Pentecost means “fiftieth,” and represents the fiftieth day after Easter, or Christ’s resurrection. It was originally an Old Testament agricultural festival called Shavuot or Day of First Fruits, and landed fifty days after the Jewish feast of Passover. Israel’s calendar was driven by the seasons — when they would plant and harvest. The Great Fifty Days, starting at Passover (Easter) and ending on Pentecost, coincided with the spring harvest of barley and wheat. In the Levitical law, Israelites were commanded to bring the first fruits of this harvest together for a feast to celebrate and give thanks to God for his hand of blessing on their labor. 

Over time, though, this festival gradually lost its emphasis on agriculture and focused more on the creation of God’s people, Israel, and their religious history. By A.D. 70, Shavuot had evolved into a celebration of God’s gracious gift of Torah (Law) on Mount Sinai. This was when God revealed practical ways for Israel to live out the implications of being his chosen people.

But once God’s Spirit fell in Acts 2, the landscape of the religious world changed and the Feast Day of Pentecost evolved yet again. Now there were Jews and gentiles worshiping and living life together. It’s likely these new believers kept similar traditions as in the Old Testament version of Shavuot, but now they had a new reason to celebrate. Of course, agriculture was still part of their lives; certainly the Torah played an integral role in how they lived; but neither of these could take precedence over the reality of God’s redemptive plan through the death and resurrection of his one and only Son.

As the church developed through the centuries, the liturgies of Pentecost developed with it. Today, many liturgical churches celebrate Pentecost as a second baptismal feast, Easter being the first. Many of these congregations refer to Pentecost Sunday as “Whitsunday” or “White Sunday” because those who were newly baptized were adorned in white baptismal robes. 

As IBC has joined with the ancient church in celebrating Pentecost Sunday, we have found our worship experience greatly enriched. Pentecost Sunday has been an opportunity to embrace Paul’s words in Romans 10:12-13: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.” It was God giving Moses the Torah that solidified Israel as a nation, and now it is God through the Holy Spirit that has assembled a new nation — a Holy nation — a people of diverse tongue, age, and gender, united together to sing his praise. 

The fact is, God did not ask us to go into the all the world and build siloed communities of people that look and act the same. When the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost, there were people present from ten different nations. Could it be that God is painting for us a picture here, a beautiful color-filled picture of what he intends his Bride to look like? Mark Demaz, author of Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, certainly thinks so:

In the twenty-first century it will be the unity of diverse believers walking as one…that will proclaim the fact of God’s love for all people more profoundly than any one sermon, book, or evangelistic crusade. And I believe the coming integration of the local church will lead to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, to people of every nation, tribe, and tongue, coming to know Him as we do. For IBC, Pentecost Sunday is an opportunity to celebrate those whom God has brought together to fulfill his kingdom call.

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