Blow the party whistles. Put on the party hats. It’s the church’s birthday. Why are we throwing a party? The disciples were joyous on the day of Pentecost, but it’s more than that. Pentecost is really the anniversary of the church’s birth.
The Church is Born
John the Baptist had foreseen this day. In Luke 3:16, John told the people: “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” On Pentecost, both wind and fire were present.
The fire is reminiscent of the stories of God’s presence in the book of Exodus. There’s the burning bush (3:2), the pillar of fire that leads the assembly (13:21-22) and throws the Egyptians into a panic (14:24). God is present in the form of fire at Mt Sinai (19:18, 24:17) and also in the in the tabernacle (40:38). The fire of Pentecost represents the presence of God, leading, teaching and protecting his church.
But why do I say that that Pentecost is the birthday of the church? Because the spirit gives life.
That’s true for our physical bodies.
Genesis 2:7 ESV then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.- God breathed into Adam the breath of life. (Note: the same word can mean wind, spirit or breath in both Hebrew and Greek.)
It’s also true for our spiritual lives.
John 3:3-8 ESV Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (4) Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (5) Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (8) The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
At Pentecost, however, we observe the spiritual birth of a community, not just an individual. Ezekiel knew that the community of God also needed God’s spirit to live.
Ezekiel 37:9-12 HCSB He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord GOD says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” (10) So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army. (11) Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off. (12) Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord GOD says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel.
On Pentecost, God breathed into his church the breath of life, and the church was born.
The Church stands Up
A baby is born screaming, sleeping, eating and filling its diaper. It needs to grow for several years to do much of anything. A baby horse, on the other hand, needs to stand up just as soon as it is born. Like a newborn colt, the baby church stood on its feet right away as it proclaimed the word of God and began to build the community of faith.
The spirit-filled believers proclaimed the word of God in “other languages” in something of a reversal of Genesis 11 (the confusion of tongues at Babel) and in fulfillment of God’s many promises to gather the exiles from every land. The people of God had been scattered (“tafutzah”) or dispersed (“diaspora”) into exile (“galut”) all over the world for centuries. Now, the word of God was going forth in all of the known world’s languages. A new, soon-to-be worldwide community of faith was coming into existence. That’s what the language miracle of Pentecost means.
Notice how Peter began his proclamation of the gospel. He interpreted current events. The people wanted to know, “What does this mean?” (2:12). How are these uneducated Galileans doing this. Peter’s answer: it’s God’s work. God told you through the prophet Joel that an outpouring of God’s prophetic spirit would come. This is the fulfillment of that prophetic word. This is why all the members of the community – young and old, men and women – are involved in proclaiming God’s word. This has pretty big implications for what it means to be a member of Christ’s church.
Peter went on to proclaim Jesus’ life, death and – mostly – resurrection (and authority and pouring out of his spirit on the church) (2:22-36). He called the people to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. (2:38). The people dedicated themselves to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship (koinonia), breaking of bread, and prayers. They experienced wonders. They shared their possessions. The spent time together in the temple and in their homes, praising God, experiencing joy, practicing generosity and growing in number. (2:42-47).
The book of Acts goes on to show us the church growing and evolving as it took its message to the world, but the foundation of Acts chapter two remained the bedrock of the church’s existence. Acts chapter two shows us the standard model from which everything else must be built. If the church of Acts 2 is not recognizable in our church, we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.
The second chapter of Acts portrays the church being born and immediately standing up. Immediately, the church began to be the church.The church continued to grow, but it was pretty effective even on the day that it was born. Three thousand were added to their number that day.
It’s interesting to note that the Pentecost holiday was in Jesus’ day a harvest festival. With the giving of the Spirit, a different kind of harvest has begun.
How does such a thing happen? It’s the power of God.
The spirit empowers believers for their work in the world, just as it empowered Jesus. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Just as God’s Spirit empowered Jesus, he also empowers the church today. Jesus’ mission is our mission. When Jesus walked upon the earth, he sent out his disciples in pairs to the places he was himself about to go. He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Luke 10:2 HCSB). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are the answer to that prayer.