Faith & Insight: The day of Pentecost

Micheal Hurlbert

Micheal Hurlbert

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This Sunday is an important day for millions of Christians worldwide. It is the day of Pentecost, also known as the feast of weeks. The title Pentecost is derived from the Greek word for 50th and is celebrated 50 days after the Passover.

While celebrating Pentecost, Christians reflect on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. The events of the first Pentecost, after the resurrection, set the stage for Peter to preach the gospel message, establishing the pattern for people's response and showing the church's daily life in the first century.

We can read about these events in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts. There we learn that before his ascension, Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift the father had promised. The disciples waited together, praying in an upstairs room.

When the day Pentecost arrived, the house was filled with the sound of a violent wind and tongues of fire rested on each of them. Jesus fulfilled his promise and generously poured the gift of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.

The outpouring of the spirit is a sign pointing to the age we now live. This is shown by what happens next. Filled with the spirit, the disciples began speaking in various languages. The people visiting Jerusalem were shocked to hear them in their native tongues. Those speaking declared God's wonders to the diverse group of Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. No longer was God's message centered on one people group but accessible to all.

The crowd was confused. Some believed the men may have been drunk, but Peter stood, united with the other disciples, and told them that the signs they witnessed fulfilled the Israelite hope. He quotes Joel saying, "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people."

The outpouring of the spirit ushered in the age of the church we now live in. It is a time when God's spirit is given to everyone regardless of race, gender, or social class.

The quote from Joel goes on to say that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." With the birth of the church, God's spirit signaled a new age in which everyone has access to salvation through the name of the Lord. After hearing Peter's words, the people may have been left with two questions. What is the name of the Lord, and how do they call it?

Peter answers the first question. Surrounded by the disciples, he preaches about Jesus and tells how he was sent by God and performed signs and wonders which testified to his divine identity. Next, Peter spoke of his rejection and crucifixion. Then he talked about his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God, where he rules today.

To make this point clear, Peter gives us a founding principle regarding the identity of Jesus. He says, "Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah." By calling Jesus Lord, Peter is circling back to the prophecy of Joel and providing the name on which all people must call on. By placing the title Messiah on him, Peter shows that Jesus is Israel’s long-awaited deliverer.

After Peter answered the first question, the people still had one more. They may have wondered how to call on the name of the Lord or what they must do to be saved. The text tells us they were cut to the heart when they heard they had crucified the Messiah.

From the time of the very first sin, the people of Israel had looked forward to God's deliverer—a snake crusher from the root of David who would save them and restore Israel. Now that he had come, they had crucified him.

The news caused the crowd to ask the one question every person should. "What shall we do?" Those who asked the question must have accepted Peter's message as true and wondered how to respond. Peter tells them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The two imperatives are followed by two promises. They will receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. This is a promise to every generation, including our own.

Over 3,000 people responded to Peter's message and were baptized on that Pentecost. They took the first step in their new lives as Christians. Next, we learn how they continued to walk as disciples of Christ.

The new believers lived a transformed life characterized by devotion. They committed themselves to learning, sharing, communion, and prayer. They met daily in the temple courts, where they could share their faith with others, and in their homes, where they could encourage one another. They lived a lifestyle of worship, and God caused the church to grow.

Today Christians celebrate Pentecost because of the blessing of God's spirit and what it means for the age we live. As we consider the day, we should contemplate our faith journey as we celebrate. First, we ask ourselves if we live a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. Next, consider whether the message we preach is as inclusive as the one Peter preached that day.

Third, we might reflect on the person of Jesus and his role as Lord and Messiah and the implications this has on us as his disciples. Finally, it is important to think about our obedience and devotion to his church.

Much of what Christians believe and practice began on Pentecost. I praise God for his many blessings and am compelled to return and do what they did at first. The day reminds me that God is working powerfully in the life of the church and drives me to be a tool he uses for his glory. I pray it challenges every Christian to do the same.

Michael Hurlbert is associate pastor at First Christian Church in Carson City. 


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