Pentecost is 50 days after Easter in the Christian calendar, and for us Pentecostals we remember the time the Holy Spirit was poured out on mankind, with a rushing wind, tongues of fire and speaking in other languages.
But what you may not realise is that Pentecost has far deeper roots many centuries before the one we remember in Acts 2, and is one of the 7 feasts in the Jewish calendar. Today I want to take you on a journey from the ancient Jewish Pentecost right through Acts to today and ask, what does it all mean for us?
WHY SO MANY FEASTS?
Why so many feasts in the Jewish culture? God instituted these for several reasons:
(1) Festivals required the people to assemble together. Our slogan is real people, real community, real God, and God is all about all of these things too. He wants us to be a real community, one body, one in unity, so right back in the Exodus, God was about community.
(2) Festivals focused on the past acts of God. This tied the faith of one generation to the next, giving hope for the future, and as I said last week, it builds our faith. We see Him answering prayer and performing miracles and we can believe Him for the same and more in our generation.
(3) Festivals bridged the gap between religious obligation and joyful celebration. Holy days were commanded, but they were intended to be joyous. And PENTECOST is about joy, it’s not about fear or religion, it’s about joy, unity and it’s about life!
Leviticus 23 outlines many of the Jewish feasts, and like most of the Jewish celebrations, they actually point to Christ. Passover, as we have seen, points to the death of Jesus, and it was closely followed by the Feast of First fruits, which indicates His resurrection. Then they counted 7 Sabbaths. The day after the 7th Sabbath, which is a Sunday, is 50 days after First fruits, hence the Greek word Pentecost, meaning 50. To the Jew it is SHAVUOT, the feast of weeks, of feast of the harvest.
Now at first fruits, the priest waved sheaths of wheat as an offering (the first of the fruit offered to the Lord), but at Pentecost he offered 2 loaves of bread baked with leaven, it’s the harvest. So the grain of before was ground down and baked, no longer individual sheafs of separate growths loosely bound together, but a real union of particles making one homogeneous body. And leaven was added, which usually signifies sin. This was a figure of mankind, sin, warts and all. Interestingly 2 loaves were offered, and this signified 2 types of man being offered to God, Jew and Gentile.
2 Chronicles 30:25 (ESV)
The whole assembly of Judah, and the priests and the Levites, and the whole assembly that came out of Israel, and the sojourners who came out of the land of Israel, and the sojourners who lived in Judah, rejoiced.
God’s intention from the start was that all men would come to Him, hence 2 loaves.
Galatians 3:28 (ESV)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
So from the start, Pentecost was for all, not just for the Jews.
A TIME OF GENEROSITY
Behind all of this ritual was a basic truth… Pentecost was a time of generosity. It was about giving. God gave harvest to the people, and the people back to the Lord and gave to each other. It wasn’t a time of grasping and getting, but of giving.
Leviticus 23:22 (ESV)
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”
The people were commanded to be generous to the poor and outcasts, and God was also exceedingly abundantly generous! Look at the miracles we see all around us at Ignite. Hear the testimony of miracles in people’s lives. I am not rich, but I stand as a testimony to the Lord’s blessing and faithfulness.
Luke 6:38 (ESV)
give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
The more generous we are, the more blessing God pours upon us. I am not advocating the give to get prosperity doctrine at all, but a giving lifestyle and a generous heart. My experience is not give to get, but give to trust. The more generous I am, the more God just blesses.
THE FIRST PENTECOST
The first Pentecost came 50 days after the first Passover, the miracle protection from the plagues, the miracle of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies and the salvation of the nation. And there were the people with Moses 50 days later at Mt Sinai.
Exodus 19:5-6 (ESV)
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
Holiness. An often overlooked part of God’s character, but absolutely essential. Be holy because God is holy! So the people were getting ready to receive the law in Ch 20.
Moses head up the mountain, God writes the 10 commandments on 2 tablets of stone, and Moses delivers then to the people. You need to understand that the law was not just rules to be obeyed, it was a marriage covenant between God and man.
Exodus 20:18-21 (ESV)
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Right then at that first Pentecost God offered Himself to the people, as a husband might offer himself to his bride, but the people chose to stand afar off. They rejected relationship and chose rules instead. It seemed the safer option, the more tangible and logical option, but in doing so they missed the chance to truly be in love with God.
They blew it that first Pentecost, and history bears witness to the consequences. But let’s track forward to a later Pentecost and see the parallels.
PENTECOST, THE BIRTH OF THE CHURCH
Jesus had died, been resurrected, appeared to many and had ascended. He had said
John 16:7-8 (ESV)
it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
John 16:13-14 (ESV)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
So the disciples were huddled together in the upper room in Jerusalem, fearful, confused, wondering, but still keeping the traditions of the day, the Pentecost feast.
Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)
When the day of Pentecost arrived (was fully come, meaning the fulfilment of Leviticus 23), they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came 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.
God was still being generous and giving, because He gave His Holy Spirit to mankind, and the church was born.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit baptised believers into the body of Christ, which is the beginning of the church. Pentecost is the birthday of the church. It was fifty days after the Passover Sabbath that the Holy Spirit came. God was running according to His calendar and on time. And he wasn’t patching up the old garment of a Jewish feasts and traditions, He was giving us a new and glorious robe of righteousness.
We need to note the time sequence. After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, He showed Himself alive for forty days. Then, just before He ascended into heaven, He said
Luke 24:49 (ESV)
And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God came upon them.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
At the first Pentecost, Moses descended the mountain to find Aaron and the people had made a golden calf idol, and 3,000 people died. At the first Christian Pentecost, Peter preached and 3,000 were saved.
So many people, pentecostals and evangelicals, get hung up on certain aspects of Pentecost but miss the point. The point is relationship, it always was right back in Exodus. All through the OT men and women of God experienced encounters with God’s Spirit, but after until this Pentecost we, you and I, have an amazing and unique opportunity. Centuries before Ezekiel had prophesied
Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
And this is what happened that Pentecost. Joel had predicted
Joel 2:28 (ESV)
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
From the birth of the church that day, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, we now have the relationship mankind rejected so long ago. When you ask Jesus into your heart, you have God’s Spirit living within.
WHOLE NEW CONCEPT
This was a whole new concept, unheard of before. That God Himself lives within us, a deposit, a slice of heaven if you will, so that every day we can live in close fellowship with Him.
2 Corinthians 1:22 (ESV)
and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
But how would anybody know that God’s Spirit dwelt within? There had to be a way, some tangible evidence that this transformation had occurred. There was, the gift of tongues was that initial proof of God’s Spirit actually dwelling within.
The Spirit was poured out on Jews at Pentecost, but the real jump for Jewish believers was to occur some 8 chapters later. Would God also accept non Jews? A centurion called Cornelius was seeking God. Peter had to be coaxed by a vision to even go and see him, but then this great truth was made evident.
Acts 10:45-46 (ESV)
And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
WHO’S AFRAID OF THE HOLY GHOST?
For many years, I was afraid of being filled with the Holy Spirit. I knew the Spirit lived in me when I asked Jesus into my life, and that was enough for me. I recognised I didn’t have victory in many areas of my life, but I was resigned to the fact that I was a sinner. Truth is, I was simply afraid that if I yielded totally to God, He might make me do something weird, like speak in tongues.
It’s like learning to drive. Driving is scary, people die on the roads, people get booked, people spend money on cars and fuel. But if you don’t drive, you miss out on incredible experiences and conveniences. I didn’t let fear stop me driving, and I decided not to let fear stop me going deeper with God.
Romans 8:15 (ESV)
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Don’t be a slave to fear, and don’t be afraid of the good things God wants to give you. If you can trust Him for salvation, if you can call Him Abba Father, then you can trust Him if you yield your life fully to Him that He will give the gifts He wants for you.
I can’t live the victorious Christian life by myself, and either can you. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you can live in victory every day. That’s what Pentecost is about. The birth of the church, the filling or baptism of the Holy Spirit, God living within us and if we yield to Him, power and victory in our lives.
Pentecost was good news for the Jews as a time of blessing, but awesome news for the Christian, because it is God living within us. But you cannot have Pentecost without plenty cost. To yield to the Holy Spirit is to confess your sin, ask Him for forgiveness, lay aside your will and your agenda and simply say, with the Psalmist
Psalms 86:11-12 (NIV)
Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
It is simply saying, Lord have your way. I want more of You in my life, I give my life totally to You.
THE GIFTS AND THE FRUIT
This morning I’m going to ask you to yield to God. At that first Feast of First fruits the people could choose to get closer to God, or to reject Him, and that is our choice today. If you are worried that God might give you the gift of tongues, just yield to Him and let Him sort it. Remember, the gift of tongues might be the initial evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit, but the true evidence of a Spirit filled life is the fruit of the Spirit.
Wouldn’t you love more of God? Yield to the Holy Spirit, and you will receive gifts of the Holy Spirit, and also the true measure of fullness, the fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
YIELD TO THE HOLY SPIRIT NOW
I believe we should all yield to the Holy Spirit this morning. If you are not a Christian, or if you have wandered far from Him, this is the greatest opportunity to get your heart right, and ask Jesus into your life as your Lord and Saviour.
If you are a believer, as most of us are, I believe this is a moment when we can all respond to the Spirit of God, say Lord I want more of You, and all be filled with the Holy Spirit.
God won’t push Himself on you, or give you anything He doesn’t want you to have, just yield and trust Him. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t desire to love God more, so let’s take this special Sunday to yield totally to Him, and let His Spirit fill us.
WHY IS PENTECOST IMPORTANT TO JEWS?
WHAT MADE THE PENTECOST OF ACTS 2 DIFFERENT?
ARE YOU FEARFUL OF YIELDING FULLY TO THE HOLY SPIRIT?