Summary: The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and to all believers in all times gives us the power to share the gospel of Christ with all people, so there is no reason to fear our commission.
For good or bad, we in the church have sort of disconnected from the meaning and significance of the liturgical seasons; so much so that many don’t even know what liturgical seasons are! As an example, consider this: most people have heard of and celebrate Christmas, but few are familiar with Advent, the liturgical season leading up to Christmas. Many people are familiar with Easter and it’s significance in the life of faith, but few understand the season of Lent. Most people observe Christmas and Easter, but forget that the Christmas and Easter seasons extend for weeks beyond the holiday itself. And then there’s this day called Pentecost, which we celebrate this morning. Of course, compared with Christmas and Easter in our modern culture, Pentecost is “small-potatoes.” Many people who have heard the word do not even associate it with a particular celebration of the church, but instead think it refers to a certain, rather wild “brand” of Christianity. You know, Pentecostalism—which is known for a lot of noise, arm-waving, and of course speaking in tongues.
What we often forget, though, is that all Christians (not only Pentecostals), derive their meaning from the first Pentecost, which we celebrate today. Pentecost began as a Jewish celebration called Shavuot, which was the celebration of the giving of the Torah, and in particular the Ten Commandments. We lose much of the meaning and significance of our Christian Pentecost celebration when we do not make this connection. Just as for the Jews, the Exodus and giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai signals the birth of the chosen people of God, for Christians the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost signals the birth of the church. Indeed, this is a new beginning for God’s people. Whereas, the Law was the source of guidance for the Jewish people in the first covenant, now the Holy Spirit will be the guiding force for God’s people as they begin to live under the new covenant.
And so today, we come to this celebration of what is often referred to as the birthday of the church. As the Day of Pentecost dawns, it seems that Jesus’ twelve disciples, including the newly appointed Matthias, are gathered with many other close followers of Jesus; about 120 in all, we are told. Jesus had given them final instructions and ascended into heaven just a few days before, and we sense that perhaps his followers have come together to try and figure out their next steps, to try and understand how to live out Christ’s commission now that he is gone. We can only imagine the sense of fear that must have engulfed these disciples. They were probably still grieving Jesus’ final departure, and they were likely overwhelmed by the task now before them. Their gathering must have provided some comfort as they shared their experiences and ideas, and offered words of encouragement to one another. Though Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit, they likely weren’t really expecting anything, much less the events that happened next.