The Church's Birthday

The Church’s Birthday

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Many Christians are unaware of this and what it means. After all, it does not appear on most calendars, there are no “Happy Pentecost” cards in the store, and no commercials encouraging us to buy something for Pentecost. So, it must not be important, right? Wrong. If what began on Pentecost had not occurred, we would still be living under the Old Covenant as Jews or as Gentile pagans.

Christians did not invent the phrase Pentecost, which means “fifty”. It came from Greek-speaking Jews referring to the Feast of Weeks, which is the second great feast in Israel’s yearly cycle of holy days. It occurs fifty days after Passover.

Deuteronomy 16:9-12 You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

On the first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the Church.” There were only 120 fearful people huddled in a room for prayer. They had no power to affect anyone or anything. The last thing Jesus told them to do was to wait for the promise from the Father. They were waiting. They didn’t know what to expect, so they reminded each other what Jesus had said while He was with them. They remembered He said it was good that He was going away, but it didn’t seem that way.

Jesus said in John 16:5-15 “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Imagine what it was like for the disciples to hear this from Jesus. If I were one of the Twelve, I would have said, “No way, Jesus! It can’t be better for you to go away. You’re my life, my reason for being.” Anyone living today would have said the same thing back then—every lost, confused soul who hungers for purpose and meaning; every person tormented by an addiction; every person who doesn’t know where to turn for hope. How could the world be better for anyone if Jesus weren’t in it?

“The Helper” and “the Spirit of Truth” Jesus refers to are the Holy Spirit, who is the power and presence of God all over the world. What Jesus did in one location when He walked the earth, the Holy Spirit does everywhere today. The Spirit heals the sick, casts out demons, and saves the lost in every part of the world.

So, yes, it is good that Jesus left the earth, ascending to the right hand of the heavenly Father, from where He sends us His Spirit, who give us grace to believe in Jesus and empowers us to live in obedience to His Word. It is the Holy Spirit who first compelled us to give our life to Jesus Christ, and we need His power every day to live the life of promise, righteousness, and service He has purposed for us.

Pentecost is the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the first followers of Jesus. Thus, we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. Listen to what happened that day:

Acts 2:1-6 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as 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. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

The unlearned foreign languages spoken by this group of believers were intelligible and were heard by thousands of Jewish pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem from other countries to celebrate the Festival of Weeks. Many who heard them prophesy in their own native language were amazed and bewildered by this miracle and the message they heard.

There are many recorded miracles in the Bible, so what is the significance of this miracle that began on Pentecost two thousand years ago? I will mention four.

1. The Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit is now with us.

What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though usually not in such a dramatic fashion. Nevertheless, God pours out His Spirit upon all who have faith in Jesus Christ and are born again.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to reconsider how we are living. Are we relying on the power of God’s Spirit or on our natural abilities? Are we open to the Spirit’s gifts or do we consider His gifts as for the Apostles only? Are we attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit or are we operating according to our fleshly desires? Is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) produced in our lives or do we exhibit the fruit of the flesh?

Most Christians I know, including me, live in the presence and power of the Spirit, but only to an extent. We are limited by our fear, our sin, and our low expectations, not to mention our tendency to be distracted from God’s Spirit in us. Pentecost reminds us to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask God to fill us afresh with His power.

Luke 11:13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

2. The Church becomes the Body of Christ in the world.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian Church. New believers in Jesus were baptized and they, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Today, many Christians live as if the Church is nice but unnecessary. They seem to believe that as long as they believe in Jesus, everything else is secondary. But Pentecost is a vivid illustration of the truth that is found throughout Scripture: the Body of Christ is central to God’s witness and work in the world.

Therefore, Pentecost reminds us to consider our own participation in the fellowship, worship, and mission of the Church. Do we care enough for one another to make sure no one is hungry or needy in the Church or are we only concerned with our own needs?

Pentecost is a time to renew our commitment to live as an essential member of the Body of Christ, using our gifts to build up others in the Body, so that together, we can share the love and Word of Christ with the world.

3. The Inclusive Character of the Church is demonstrated.

Jesus said in John 10:16, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered believers in Jesus to praise God in many languages that they had not learned in the ordinary manner (Acts 2:5-13). Symbolically, this miracle shows the inclusive character of the Church. The Gospel is for everyone. Regardless of our culture or language, every person born again of the Holy Spirit is a child of the same Father in Heaven. We are brothers and sisters of Christ and of one another. We are the family of God and heirs of the same things as Christ.

Galatians 3:27-28 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Pentecost gives us an opportunity to reflect on the brotherhood of the Church all over the world. It encourages us to accept every person who is born again of the Holy Spirit as a brother or sister in Christ.

4. Every Spirit-filled believer in the Church is empowered to minister.

After the Holy Spirit fell upon the first followers of Jesus, Peter, a simple fisherman, preached a sermon to explain what had just happened. In this sermon, he cited a portion of a prophecy from Joel 2:28-29 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants–men and women alike–and they will prophesy.’

This was a momentous event! For the first time in history, God began to do what He had promised through Joel, empowering all different sorts of people for ministry. Whereas in the era of the Old Testament, the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings, in the age of the New Testament, the Spirit would be given to “all people.” All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social status.

Although this truth would not mean that every Christian would be gifted for every kind of ministry, it did imply that all believers would be born again and empowered by the Spirit. The Church of Jesus Christ would be a place where every single person matters and where every member contributes to the health and mission of the Church.

Ephesians 4:11-16 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Are you doing your part in the Body of Christ, not just in this building, but in your world? Pentecost is a time to ask God to fill us afresh with the Spirit so that we might join in the ministry of the Gospel to those around us.

So, how does the Holy Spirit help us minister the Gospel? Remember, Jesus said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Jesus isn’t talking about Christians here; he’s talking about people who don’t know Him—unbelievers—who don’t know to repent and be saved. In order for people to believe the Gospel, the first work of the Holy Spirit is to convict them of sin and the coming judgment. This is a great act of mercy even though it greatly disturbs the person. If you’re lost—living for yourself, unable to see your sin—you are unaware of the deadly path you are on. It is not judgment—it is mercy—to tell someone they are headed for destruction and show them the escape route through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement for sin.

So, in His mercy, the Holy Spirit begins to convict. He takes a person, full of pride and arrogant belief that he can find fulfillment on his own—and reveals to him his emptiness, brokenness, futility, and eternal destiny. Then He shows that person the Savior, who died so that he might have life and eternal hope. The Holy Spirit gives that person grace to believe the Gospel and accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing. But, during Peter’s simple sermon on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit convicted thousands who heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Acts 2:37-41 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

The Holy Spirit may be convicting one of you this morning of your sin and its judgment. Only faith in Jesus can save you from that judgment. Today, you have a choice. If you reject Jesus as your Savior, you bring that judgment on yourself, the same judgment that will fall on all evil that stands apart from God’s righteousness.

However, if you believe Jesus is the Son of God whose blood atoned for sin on the cross, then public confession of your faith will save you from that judgment when you repent of your sin and put your old life to death in baptism. Then you will be raised to a new life, born again of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make you a new creation, give you the character of Jesus, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and lead you daily until you are called to your home in Heaven.