While it isn’t as well known and understood as some others, Pentecost is one of the most important holidays in the Christian year. Why, if it weren’t for the events of one particular Pentecost a couple of thousand years ago, our individual lives would be forever changed.
To some, Pentecost is simply the “Birthday of the Church.” Yes, it is, but this isn’t just like the anniversary of the founding of a company or something – it’s much more. To say it’s the birthday and stop at that leaves out the reason and the impact on our lives!
But the amazing thing is that it wasn’t even “supposed to be” a Christian celebration at all! The Jewish people observe Pentecost, remembering the time when Moses was given the 10 Commandments, 50 days after the original Passover. There were about 120 people gathered in an Upper Room to celebrate this traditional celebration. Scripture tells us that this included the disciples and many women. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was specifically listed as being there. As you recall, Jesus had appeared to them after the Resurrection. He was with them for 40 days but had recently gone up into heaven, so was not there.
Did you notice a connection to another important milestone in our Christian experience? On the night before He was betrayed, Jesus met with His disciples to celebrate another Jewish tradition, a Passover meal. It was held in an Upper Room. (Some sources say it was the same place as their Pentecost observance!) It was a traditional Jewish celebration, one they didn’t expect to be any different than the many they had celebrated in their lives. Yet, during this Passover meal, Jesus spoke of being betrayed and reminded us to love one another. He compared the bread to His body and the wine to His blood, paving the way for the communion we celebrate today. As recorded in John 14:26, Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit would come. Of course, this meant nothing to them at the time.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you
So what happened that made this Pentecost celebration different and important to Christians?
As the worshippers gathered in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit came to them. It was described as a rushing wind sound that could be heard throughout the city! At the same time, there were flames on their heads. They began speaking in other languages that they didn’t even know! But the amazing thing was that others could understand it as if it had been in their own language! We call this speaking in tongues.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
Crowds of people from the city of Jerusalem heard the commotion and came to see what it was. Peter spoke to them about Jesus and the need to repent of sins. He said it was for Gentiles and Jews alike. 3,000 people became followers of Jesus right then and were baptized. They then went out and shared with others and the number of believers grew.
Many call this the birth of the Christian Church. It’s certainly worth celebrating! We often decorate the church and wear red to remind us of the flames shown. Others also use the symbol of a dove.
The Holy Spirit wasn’t just there for a day and then moved on. It is here, for each of us, if we take the time to look and listen, bringing peace and comfort, encouragement, and guidance. Today, we celebrate the birth of the church and especially, the Holy Spirit in our lives.