Jesus and Pentecost
Of all the Holy Days, Pentecost might be the easiest to explain, since most Christian churches observe Pentecost, if in only a minor way. Still there is a lot to think about when we answer the questions of those who ask.
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Let’s turn to Deuteronomy 6:20.
Deuteronomy 6:20 – When your son asks you in times to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your son, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
What does this have to do with Pentecost? Well, this series is about talking to people about what we believe. And this scripture is a really clear indicator that one of the times when people are open to learn from us is when they ask us questions. I mean, God designed His religion so there would be things that we have to do that people can see. And when they see us doing them, they want to know why we do what we do. So this is a good opportunity to be able to explain the meaning to people. When people ask us about why we keep the holy days, we ought to have a good answer.
So today we’re going to talk about having a good answer when they ask us, “Why do you keep Pentecost?” Maybe they wouldn’t be as inclined to do this, because it’s the only day of the year we go to church on Sunday, as a regular thing, right?
One of the principles that we want to employ here is that we have to connect with what people understand. If we say that the Law of God was given on Pentecost and that’s why we keep it, they say, “So what?” because they don’t really care that much about the Law of God in modern Christianity today. If we say, “Jesus sent His Spirit to start the New Testament church on that day, that might get a little closer to being helpful to them, because they believe in the church and they believe in the Holy Spirit. But if we say that Jesus could have picked any day as the anniversary of the church, but He didn’t, He picked Pentecost, since they’re familiar with the church, it’s more likely that that might spark some more curiosity. So we have to connect to their experience if we’re going to help them understand what we believe. And we have to explain so they can understand it. They don’t think much about the Law, but they do believe in Jesus Christ and they do believe in the church. So that’s why this series is called Jesus and the Holy Days, because that’s the connecting point. And those two points are our emphasis – at least, mine – when I explain to people, who are unfamiliar with the holy days, why I observe them. We have to start where they can get a grip on it.
There was a saying – a slogan – that was popular a few years ago – What Would Jesus Do? – WWJD, right? That was big for awhile. That resonated with people. People know their supposed to follow the example of Jesus Christ. That’s a Christian principle.
Let’s go to 1 John 2:6, just so we make sure that we know that that’s in the Bible.
1 John 2:6 – Whoever says that he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked – not rocket science, right? – 1 John 2:6.
So it’s commonly accepted that we’re to walk as He walked. What would Jesus do? What we need to do, though, is take it a step further, back to the core: What did Jesus do? If you’re going to walk as He walked, you need to know what He did before you can walk like He did, right? So that’s something that we can think about.
The other thing I wanted to bring up is that we also need to follow the example of the New Testament church. Now that’s difficult for folks – at least, at some point. But let’s go to Jude :3. This is one of the core verses for this series. Jude :3, where Jude says:
Jude :3 – Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
So the biblical idea here is that the New Testament church was under siege. Before the apostles were even gone, there were others trying to change the church away from the example set by Christ and followed by the apostles. The idea here that he’s talking about is that Jesus delivered to the church a set of beliefs and practices that, today, are called Christianity. And his point is that the church needs to hold to them and to protect them, and any deviation from those beliefs is a weakening of the original perfect faith. “Give me that old time religion.” Remember that old song? That was a good message.
Contrary to that idea however, even though that scripture is as plain as it can possibly be, most people today believe that the church should evolve. And I agree with that in one sense. There are always new things to contend with – stem cell research, abortion, kids doing inappropriate things on cell phones – or even senators – the computer and what it can do. How do we deal with those things? But while there are always new things to struggle with, the core beliefs and practices are to remain the same, according to this scripture, throughout time. “I change not,” says God.
So let’s look at the practice of the New Testament church. It doesn’t have anything to do with all the changes that have gone on since then, but are just a part of the core of religion. Let’s go to Acts 20, and verse 16.
Acts 20:16 – For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost. And talking about it later, in 1 Corinthians 16…. By the way, if you’ll look at the chapters of both of these scriptures, they’re deep into the books. Acts is a chronology of the New Testament history. And it’s fairly deep into the chronology. This didn’t happen two years after Christ died. This happened many years after He died. And we see Paul still keeping Pentecost. Now, some people say he did just because he was a Jew. Well, let’s think about that some more as we go along.
1 Corinthians 16:8 says:
1 Corinthians 16:8 – I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost. So there’s another reference to it. At the very least, it shows us that it was a day that everybody knew about and that it was a part of that faith, once and for all time, delivered to the saints, including the observance of this day. That’s what they did.
Now, I’m not sure I would say what I’m going say next if I were in a discussion with somebody. It just depends on how far along they are in understanding, but isn’t it just so strange – isn’t it odd – have you ever wondered why, although there is no biblical requirement to keep Christmas, and we don’t even know when Jesus was born, we keep it every year on December 25, and anybody that doesn’t is a no-good, dirty dog? We celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter, with no command to do so. And He wasn’t even resurrected on Sunday morning, as we will see today! But we will not observe a specific day each year that is the anniversary of the church – the body of Christ – observed by the New Testament church and stamped by Jesus Christ Himself, as He delivered to the church on that day the Holy Spirit. You know, the church is the group of people who have the Spirit. So there was no church until that happened. That was the beginning of it.
So how did it happen that we do things that we don’t have to do and we don’t do things that we should – especially when we read what Jude wrote about retaining the faith – contending for it, standing up for it? How did we depart from the original faith and practice delivered in person by Jesus Christ? It’s so easy to see that they kept this day. We’re going to read some more about it.
Let’s think about how to, now, deepen our reasons for observing it. We, I think, shown that we’re supposed to and we’ll do some more of that, too. But let’s look at why the New Testament church worshipped on this day. Let’s go to John 14:26 and read something that Jesus said to the disciples the night that He died – that was the eve of the beginning of Passover, right? Jesus died on Passover. Did you know that? He did. Verse 26:
John 14:26 – But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. When was the Holy Spirit going to be given? Well, He said that He would be resurrected and then they would receive it. So they knew it was coming soon. And what happens after Passover? Well, fifty days after the Sabbath of Unleavened Bread, there is Pentecost. So, I’m sure they were kind of thinking that might be when it comes.
Matthew 28:16 – Now the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” And listen to this: “Behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
So, before He died and after He was resurrected, He told them two very interesting things. He told them that He would give them the Holy Spirit and, in that way, He would be with them always – to the end of the age – and that He was going to bind them altogether through that Spirit for a great purpose. And that purpose is to make disciples – to grow the number of believers – commonly called the great commission. So this group, with the Spirit in common, had a purpose – a great purpose – that God had given them. And that also united them.
Now let’s go to Acts 2 and let’s look at the first church service.
Acts 2:1 – When the Day of Pentecost had arrived – they’d heard these things already by Christ – it’s now seven weeks after the Sabbath during Unleavened Bread – they were altogether in one place. That’s what they did. Why did they do that? Well, we think it was because Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, and the next big time they would all be together was Pentecost. So, because that’s what they did. And suddenly – verse 2 – there came from heaven a sound like a mighty, rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting, and divided as tongues 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. So their supposition was correct. On Pentecost, it came.
So what is the Holy Spirit? Well, in the King James, it was translated holy ghost. So when I was a little kid, I always thought of it as Casper. Right? And a lot of people still think of it that way. Although, the Bible translators have now realized that that is not an appropriate translation, because that word is pneuma, and it means wind. So people are confused about what the Holy Spirit does and what it is. So it’s good to make a few points, if we can, about that.
Let’s read some scriptures about the Holy Spirit that aren’t generally read by most folks when they’re trying to understand what it is and what it does. 1 Corinthians 2:16 – Paul said to the Corinthian church:
1 Corinthians 2:16 – For who has understood the mind of the LORD so as to instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. Remember, He said there would be a Comforter with them that would never leave them. It was going to be in their mind. It would be His mind – the mind of Christ. We have it.
Now, if Christ sent His mind to the church on Pentecost, and made Pentecost the birthday of the church, if He’d already told them to observe it, what do you think Christians, who have the mind of Christ, would do on that day? The Holy Spirit is the mind of Christ and it is the power to do what Jesus did. And He did that. And so do we.
Let’s look at another scripture – Colossians 1:27.
Colossians 1:27 – To them, God chose to make known how great, among the Gentiles, are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you – there it is again – the hope of glory.
So, again, what is your hope of eternal life with God? What is your hope of glory? Well, it is the retention of the Holy Spirit until Christ returns – a Spirit given to you by God when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master, and promised to walk as He walked the rest of your life, and your repentance of the violations to the Law of God , and your willingness to undergo the rite of baptism as a symbol of a transformation that takes place in you when you receive the mind of Christ in you, so you can think like He does, which gives you the power to do as He did. And that is your only hope of glory and eternal life with God – the retention of that Spirit. You let that go, there’s no getting it back.
So that’s nothing to be trifled with, is it? This thinking like Christ thinks and doing as He does, that’s important stuff! But trifle with it, we do, to the point that the church today is so different from the one Jesus delivered to the apostles, it’s almost unrecognizable in practice as the same organization – and with many doctrinal changes, as well.
As we move on, let’s answer the question: Why would Jesus make an Old Testament holy day the birthday of the church? Was it a random choice? Did He and God the Father think like the apostles, “Maybe it’s going to be Pentecost, because that’s the next one?” “Let’s see, what’s the next one on the calendar? Oh, it’s Pentecost. Let’s do it then.” No, I don’t think so. If fact, I know He didn’t do that. We might function in that random and chaotic way, but God does not. Everything God does is planned and it’s meaningful. It’s so meaningful that meaning, piled upon meaning, and intertwined with meaning, and folded into meaning, that we can’t take in all the richness of meaning.
Let’s look at the brilliance of God. We saw in the first sermon in this series, called Jesus and the Passover, that the first festival of the seven that God gave to ancient Israel was the Passover. And on that day, among other things, a perfectly-formed male lamb was sacrificed to celebrate their extraction from slavery in Egypt. And you’ll remember the story: they had to kill a lamb like that and put the blood on the doorposts so that the death angel, when it came, didn’t kill all the firstborn in the house. So all the people, that were covered by the blood of the lamb, lived. Does that sound familiar at all? It does, doesn’t it? And we read the scriptures where, in the New Testament, they talked about Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb of God. And so we saw that the Jewish Passover – it’s the Jewish Passover now, but back then, it was the Passover of Moses – was all about what Jesus Christ was going to do. That’s what we’re told in the New Testament. The Passover pictured that step of God’s salvation plan, where Jesus Christ died to save us – not from Egypt, but from our sins. And we see the apostles in the New Testament church observing the Passover with Christ as a celebration of His sacrifice – blood and body, right? – wine and bread. And He told them that that’s what those things meant.
Then, the day after the Passover, was the first day of a seven-day festival called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the first and the last days were celebratory Sabbaths. In the Old Testament, unleavened bread pictured the rapid departure from Egypt. You’ll remember we talked about how they didn’t have time to let the bread rise, so they had to eat it without that – unleavened. And in the New Testament, Paul said that unleavened bread stood for freedom from sin, because Egypt was a type of sin. So when they were freed from Egypt, the hallmark of that was the unleavened bread that they had to eat, so he said that we should celebrate the feast – and he said that he got those instructions directly from Jesus Christ – with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Okay? I’m not reading those scriptures, because I’ve already read them in this series, but they’re in there.
Now, in Jesus’ time, during the Days of Unleavened Bread, in keeping these holy days, at sundown on Saturday, which is the weekly Sabbath – not necessarily the First Day of Unleavened Bread, which is a festival Sabbath, or the last one, which is a celebratory Sabbath, as well – but at sundown on the Saturday – the Sabbath during Unleavened Bread, no matter which one of those seven days it was – the priest, at great fanfare, went to the field and harvested a single sheaf of first ripe grain. And the next Sunday morning – also with great ceremony – that sheaf was called the firstfruits and was waved before God. And in their minds, and in the minds of the Israelites who worshipped with Moses, that was to symbolize the first ripe grain of the new harvest. And they couldn’t eat any of that grain, according to their law, until that waving had taken place. It was called the firstfruits and it was part of a harvest festival season.
But let’s take that into the future, to the time of Christ, like we did Passover and Unleavened Bread. Passover was on Wednesday the year Christ died. How do we know that? Well, we know that Daniel said that the Messiah would be cut off in the midst of the week. So what’s the midst of the week? It’s Wednesday. So we have seen that He was the Passover Lamb sacrificed this year – and that’s a huge paradigm shift for some folks, but it’s there in the Bible. We know that He died late in the afternoon on Wednesday, which that year was Passover. And then we know that Joseph came and took His body and, as the sun was setting – off of the Passover day, toward the First Day of Unleavened Bread – they put Him in a tomb after hastily preparing His body for burial. And they rolled a great stone over the door, so that the Jews couldn’t come and steal it, because they thought they might try. They were in a huge rush, because the sun was setting toward the First Day of Unleavened Bread, which is one of those celebratory Sabbaths and no work was to be done. So He was put in the grave Wednesday evening about sunset.
How long was He in there? Well, Jesus told the Pharisees that the only sign He would give them that He was the Messiah was that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. Now how important is that? How important is that to retain that and not let that slip? It’s the only sign that He would be the Messiah. Okay. So He went in Wednesday evening at sundown. When is He coming out? Count it with me – Wednesday sunset to Thursday sunset, Thursday sunset to Friday sunset, Friday sunset to Saturday sunset – three days and three nights. Jesus came out of the grave at sunset Saturday, during Unleavened Bread. And Sunday morning He was presented to the Father in heaven. How do we know that? Because in John 20, it says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb very early in the morning and saw Jesus there. And He said, “Don’t cling to Me, because I’ve not yet ascended to My God and your God.” Well, doesn’t that mean that He was resurrected Sunday morning? No, it just means that He was there Sunday morning.
So, when you think about that – that biblical series of events – and then you think about what happened after Passover in the ceremony, we know that, on the Sabbath, just as Sabbath was ending, a wave sheaf was cut. And that was when Jesus Christ, who was the Firstfruits of God came out of the tomb. And that was the first ripened grain. He was the Firstborn. It was harvested then and then waved Sunday morning. And that’s when He was harvested, right? He was resurrected. And then He went to the Father – to be received – Sunday morning. And that’s when the sheaf was waved before the people. And it was called the firstfruits.
Let’s go to 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 24.
1 Corinthians 15:20 – But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead – the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. So there’s the picture. This stuff didn’t happen by accident, but was all designed by a Mastermind ages and ages before it ever occurred. Everything that happened in the Old Testament is a picture of what is to come.
Let’s notice something else. There is a linkage between this ceremony, that took place during Unleavened Bread, and the next festival, which is Pentecost. It’s rich with meaning from God for us today. Of course, you have to observe the day to understand the meaning. You can read the commentaries and you can see how hard it is for people to understand all this if they don’t observe them.
Leviticus 23:15 – You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath – from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. Well, that pretty well nails it down, doesn’t it? It doesn’t say it here, but the Sabbath to start the countdown was the weekly Sabbath during Unleavened Bread. We know that’s true from a reference in the book of Joshua, where they observed it, and it tells what day. So that’s the same Sabbath on which, at sundown, the priest harvested the grain, which we saw pictured as the risen Christ. Then they counted seven weeks. That’s why this festival was called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament – because it was seven weeks from the day after the Sabbath. Seven times seven is forty-nine, plus one, is fifty. And it was called Count Fifty in the New Testament. And that’s why – because it was called Weeks – forty-nine, plus one – Count Fifty.
So what happened on this day in the Old Testament? Well, verse 16:
V-16 – You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. And then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwelling place two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two-tenths of an ephah, and they shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven for the firstfruits of the LORD. So the rest of the grain – after that initial first sheaf was harvested – for this early harvest. And what would that picture? Same harvest, just some first. Well, Romans 8:29:
Romans 8:29 – For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, He also called. And those whom He called, He also justified. And those whom He justified, He also glorified. So that’s pretty clear – who that group of people is. They were pictured in the Old Testament as two loaves of bread made from the grain of that first harvest – the same harvest that Christ came from – the Firstborn of many brethren.
So let’s get the picture. The harvest festivals of Israel picture the harvests of the plan of God. It’s not about harvesting grain as much as it is about harvesting people – His children – immortal – the church. As Jesus was the first ripe grain, Pentecost was the harvest of the church. And that’s why He picked that day to give the Holy Spirit, because it is the beginning of the Church of God. Pentecost has always been, in the mind of God, about the church – not the great harvest in the fall, but spring harvest.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 15:21. We don’t want to leave important scriptures out.
1 Corinthians 15:21 – For as by man came death – what man brought death to the world? Adam – by a Man has also come the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam, all die. So also in Christ shall all be made alive, but each in his own order – Christ, the Firstfruits, then at His coming, those who belong to Christ. So there you have it.
Who again – those people who belong to Christ? What group are they in? Well, it’s so interesting. In Hebrews 12:23, that group is called the church of the firstborn. It was all planned out way ahead of time. Pentecost – from the time it was first kept – has always pictured the Church of God – that much-loved body of Christ. Jesus kept it. He sent the Holy Spirit on it. The New Testament church kept it. And the ancient holy day – all of them – have Jesus Christ at their center. They are all about Him and what He is doing on the earth. They are not only Old Testament holy days. They are New Testament holy days filled with the meaning of salvation. And just as God gave them to Israel to remember something, He gives them to us so that we will stay, or get in touch with, His salvation plan for us through Jesus Christ. If we keep them, we’ll know the plan. If we don’t, we won’t.
Let’s recap a bit. In both the Old and New Testaments we see Jesus Christ as the center of the holy day. We read scriptures about it. We see the New Testament church observing Pentecost – not as Jews and not with Old Testament meaning, but as Christians, because they followed the example of Jesus Christ and because the day is about a major step in God’s plan to save us all from our sins through Jesus Christ. What was it John said? Whoever says that he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked. So happy Pentecost, everybody! We hope you have a great festival, knowing that you are not only doing what Jesus would do, but what Jesus did! And that is the only appropriate response to Christ’s death. We walk with Him as He walks.