Summary: At Pentecost we celebrate the love and faithfulness of our sovereign God, and we also celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to share the good news of God's love with others!
Pentecost is a kind of funny word. And when we hear this word, there’s probably a variety of different images that come to mind. Our eyes fill with the red blaze of fire. We might think of a crowd of people packed together like sardines. Or maybe what we see is the image of flames falling from the sky. Perhaps we can hear in our mind’s ear the sound of a heavy wind. Or maybe what we hear is the cacophony of hundreds of people speaking in various languages as wind and fire rush in the background. Today, when we think about Pentecost, we remember the beginning of the Christian church, its birthday. But for the Jews living just after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, Pentecost meant something entirely different.
Pentecost literally means, “the fiftieth,” and it marked the fiftieth day after the Passover. In Jesus’ time, Pentecost was an agricultural festival. It was the day when the farmer’s brought the first sheaf of wheat from the crop, and offered it to God, partly as a sign of gratitude and partly as a prayer that all the rest of the crop, too, would be safely gathered in. But, like Passover, Pentecost was also a reminder of God’s fulfillment of promises as the people were delivered from exile and slavery in Egypt. It was 50 days after God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt that they arrived at Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments. In other words, Pentecost, the fiftieth day, isn’t just about the “first fruits,” the sheaf which says the harvest has begun. It’s all about God fulfilling God’s promises, and it’s about God giving to his redeemed people the way of life, the Holy Spirit, by which they must now carry out God’s purposes.
If you all are like me, then you love a good trip or vacation. Sometimes we just say, “I’m going to take a week off and go to the beach.” Then, we rent a house, or a condo, or a hotel room, and we hop in the car and take off for a week of relaxation – no schedule, no deadlines, nothing that has to be done; just relaxing on the beach, or next to the pool, or at the local coffeehouse. There are other vacations of course which require more in depth planning: plane tickets, rental cars, an in-depth itinerary for taking in all the great sights. And of course, once you set off on a journey involving planes, trains, buses, cars, and detailed itineraries, something is bound to go wrong. We’ve all experienced it at some point!
A few years ago, my Mom was returning from a mission trip to Sudan. The team’s flight was delayed out of Uganda, which means they missed their connection in Dubai. Several hours later, the team made it out of Dubai, only to get to New York, where flights were delayed because of bad winter weather. From New York, my Mom called me in Washington D.C., where I was in seminary at the time. She told me the team was catching a train to D.C., and she needed me to rent two vans at the airport and meet them at Union Station so they could drive the rest of the way home. I did as asked with the help of a friend, and we picked up a travel-weary team at Washington’s Union Station at 2 o’clock in the morning. By then, they had already been traveling for two days and they were beginning to lose hope that they would ever get back to East Tennessee.
But then, about five hours later, around seven or eight in the morning, I got a text from my Mom; they had crossed into the bounds of the Holston Conference and were getting ready to drop off some of the members of the team who lived in Southern Virginia. They would be in Knoxville before lunch time! They had arrived. It was the end of the journey; the promises had come true; a successful mission trip was complete, they were back home, and everyone could relax for a few days.
Now, let’s think about such a journey on a larger scale, 2,000 years ago. And instead of a mission trip, imagine a moment, long promised, dreamed of, planned for, prayed for, even ached for and agonized over: a moment when things would work out right at last, when hopes would be realized and good times would begin; when suddenly, a huge sigh of relief would give way to a huge sense of new possibilities. At last, things could really start. This was what Peter was trying to explain to the crowd gathered around for the festival in Jerusalem. These things that are happening are all signs; all that they had been hoping for, all that they had been looking for and waiting for was at last starting to come true! And the new creation, which began with Jesus Christ himself, would continue with God’s own people! Through the community of believers, the whole human race is going to be addressed with the good news of all that has happened in and through Jesus Christ!