The Season of Pentecost
During the Church Year, we celebrate several “seasons.” After Easter, the next commemorated holy day is Pentecost, which means “fiftieth day” in Ancient Greek and is celebrated fifty days after Easter.
Pentecost is historically and symbolically related to the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot. Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. Similarly, 50 days after Easter, Christians anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit. On Passover, God’s people marked the entries to their homes with the blood of the sacrified lamb and were saved from death and eventually freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh. On Easter, God freed his people from eternal death and enslavement to sin by the blood of the sacrificial lamb – his son, Jesus. On Shavot, the Hebrews were given the Torah as a symbol of God’s constant presence and covenant with them as a his people. On Pentecost, they were given the Holy Spirit as a symbol of his constant presence and covenant with them as his people, expanding their understanding of who his “people” are.
With this tangible symbol of God’s constant presence and covenant with them, God blessed his faithful to be a blessing to the world, to be living examples of this “gospel” (good news) of God’s presence shown by the giving of his word to them. Then at Pentecost God gave his people his Spirit to enable them to share this great news by speaking his word in many languages they had not learned beforehand.
Interestingly, Shavuot was at harvest time and the Torah also refers to it as the Festival of Reaping. The Festival of Harvest began with the Day of First Fruits. In the same way, Pentecost begins the time of harvest of souls from among all nations. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” He asks them to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers. Jesus could see what needed to be done and that it would take an act of God. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (languages) as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!'”
Not only did the disciples preach with boldness and enthusiasm, but by a miracle of the Holy Spirit they spoke in the native languages of the people present, many who had come from all corners of the Roman Empire.
Just as the Torah, given at Shavout, has united the Jewish nation as God’s people for centuries, the Holy Spirit is foundational to the Christian church. Those present on Pentecost would become the “first fruits” of those converted to Christianity from all the nations of the world. This beginning of the powerful, global spread of the Gospel, is thus known as the Birthday of the Church. This act of God at Shavout and at Pentecost shows His intent that his people unite in faith centered on His word and that His word is to be made known to all peoples. The Church as the living Body of Christ is complete when all the nations of the world have heard and received the gospel, the good news of His love and constant presence with us. The church’s true identity and power lies in communion with God’s word, and one another, regardless of ethnic origin.