Sermon

Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2)

photograph of a burning fire
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Today is Pentecost Sunday in which the Church celebrates the giving (indwelling) of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples of the Church. The disciples were all together on the day of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks) when:

Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven and it filled the whole house where they were staying. And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech…speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages. (Acts 2:2-3,11)

After this supernatural event, the Holy Spirit began to be permanently present in all Christians when they believe and are saved. This morning we will discuss the setting and significance of Pentecost.

The Setting of Pentecost

Pentecost is a Jewish feast. Before we discuss it, let’s find out more about the other Jewish feasts that precede it.

The Passover

The Passover is a 1-day Jewish festival celebrated on the 14th day of the 1st month (Nisan) on the Jewish calendar. It serves as a reminder of God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt. It specifically commemorates the final plague when the destroying angel passed over the Jewish houses (that had blood on the mantle) but came upon the firstborn son in the Egyptian houses. Passover is a feast of salvation in which a sacrifice was made that satisfied the wrath of God.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread

The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a 7-day Jewish festival celebrated in conjunction with Passover. Officially, it begins the day after Passover (15th of Nisan Lev 23:6) but over time it came to start on the day of Passover (Mark 14:12) and the whole week would be referred to as “the Passover Festival “(John 13:1). It reminded the Jewish people of the Exodus out of Egypt. The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to be eaten “dressed for travel, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You are to eat it in a hurry; it is the Lord’s Passover.”

The Feast of Firstfruits (Easter)

The Feast of Firstfruits is a 1-day Jewish festival celebrating the beginning of the harvest (“first fruits”). After the Jews entered the Promised Land, they were to have a feast “on the day after the Sabbath” of the first month (Nisan) during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Priest would wave a sheaf of grain before the Lord and sacrifice a 1-year old lamb without blemish.

The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost)

The Feast of Weeks is a 1 Day Jewish festival celebrating the summer wheat harvest. The Lord was very specific that this feast must occur “seven complete weeks, starting from the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the presentation offering. You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” It is called the Feast of Weeks because it is a “week of weeks” (seven weeks) after the Feast of Firstfruits. It is called Pentecost in the New Testament because penta in Greek means 50. Two loaves baked with leaven are brought from each house and presented with burnt offerings to the Lord. It also came to be a time of celebrating the giving of the Law of Moses to Israel (Ex 19) on Mount Sinai. The Feast of Weeks is referenced in Exodus 34:22, Leviticus 23:15-22, Numbers 28, and Deuteronomy 16:9-11.

The Significance of Pentecost

The Blessing of the New Covenant

As we learned earlier, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) commemorated the day when God gave the Law of Moses on Mt Sinai. The Lord chose this day to pour out His Spirit upon His people and empower them for His gospel mission in the New Covenant. Jesus “has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises” (Hebrew 8:6). One of the better promises of the New Covenant is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

It is worthy of note that the disciples did not immediately obey Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations. This was not because of their failure to obey, but because Jesus told them to “stay in the city [Jerusalem] until you are empowered from on high” (Luke 24:49). In Acts 1:4, “He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise.” He continued, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). After the Spirit filled the disciples, Peter stood up and proclaimed to the crowd “this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel.” In Joel 2:2:28-32, God promised to send His Spirit and everyone who called upon the name of the Lord would be saved. The Prophet Ezekiel prophesied from the Lord, “I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances” (Ez 36:27).

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor (John 14:16) after He went away. The Holy Spirit empowers, preserves, convicts, guarantees, guides, testifies, unifies, matures, and reconciles. Praise the Lord for the Holy Spirit. The ESV Systematic Theology Study Bibles notes:

Because Jesus poured out the Spirit at Pentecost, we receive the benefits of His death and resurrection, including the new birth. Moreover, the Spirit unites us to Christ and His church.