Our church, Grace Lutheran, is wonderful at educating its members on the Biblical narrative and therefore enriching our understanding of why we believe what we believe. This Sunday, our celebration of the Feast of Pentecost was another example where my faith was deepened through a clear portrayal of what occurred on the first Pentecost.
Honestly, until recently I tended to confuse the feasts of Epiphany and Pentecost. I knew one of them had to do with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – but couldn’t clearly tell you which.
This article helped me with the basics. The word “Pentecost” is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty”. In Jesus’ day, this word referred to a Jewish holiday that was celebrated fifty days after Passover. This day became especially 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 first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.
The biblical account of Pentecost is found in Acts, chapter 2:
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there come from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2: 1-4
As the multitude began to question what they were witnessing and some speculated that they were intoxicated, Peter stood up and gave a sermon, citing the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” (Acts 2:17). Peter goes on to make several references to David’s prophesies and reminds the crowd that they have all been witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, “who was raised by God.” Peter declares that Jesus “…being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33).
When the multitude responded to Peter’s sermon, they asked what they should do. “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).
There are many theological implications of these verses and this post isn’t going to do them justice. But, I wanted to share my personal and fairly unsophisticated thoughts on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
I think a lot of people, both Christians and non-Christians, sometimes feel or think that Jesus ascended into Heaven and that was it. They wonder where he is when they look around this fallen world and see all the pain and suffering. But, in fact, after Jesus was resurrected and returned to Heaven, he quickly sent his Holy Spirit to bless and empower his church.
It also occurred to me that these verses clearly describe the Lutheran (and other liturgical churches) theology of baptism. Through baptism we are imbued with the Holy Spirit and it is promised to children as well as adults. The reason Lutherans focus so intently on baptism is because that’s the event that creates Christians. When someone is baptized into the name of the Triune God, their sins are forgiven and they are given faith through grace from the Holy Spirit.
While running this afternoon, I listened to yesterday’s sermon again. Upon a second listen, I was struck by the historical aspect of these verses of scripture. Again, it occurred to me how powerful it is to believe in a faith that’s firmly rooted in the historical record. These events were witnessed and accounted to by hundreds of people. Christianity is not about believing the feelings in my heart, instead it believes in the Gospel (“good news”) that has been passed down from those who saw the resurrected Christ and received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Of course, thinking more deeply about the Holy Spirit has to make one ponder the Holy Trinity. It’s awesome that God the Father begot his Son to come to earth and be the sacrifice for sinful humanity. Through the incarnation God took on human form to uphold the Law and die as a substitute for us. Then, before leaving us, Christ gave us his Holy Spirit to carry on the work of establishing God’s Kingdom. Where the Spirit is, so is the Son, and so is the Father.
Immanuel: God is with us.