Celebrating the Difference of Pentecost
Today is Pentecost, the day the church remembers the coming of the Holy Spirit. Did you remember? Honest confession: I didn’t. And I know I’m not the only one who wasn’t planning to celebrate.
A lot of us are kind of like a spouse who does something special on your anniversary, but manages to completely space your birthday. Here in the West, we’re pretty good at making a big deal out of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. Some of us make an even bigger deal out of Easter, the resurrection of a Savior and the day that marked complete victory over sin and death. But many of us, myself included, tend to completely overlook and underemphasize an event that is arguably just as central to our existence as a people connected to God.
Why is Pentecost such a big deal?>
God doesn’t do anything by accident, and when it comes to the timing of certain things, there is a ton of significance. Looking at the timing of Pentecost, and what this day stood for even before the Holy Spirit made his grand entrance, sheds a lot of light on why this is a day worth remembering.
In Jewish culture, this day, called Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, takes place seven full weeks after Passover. It was the harvest festival, a celebration of the completion of the harvest. It also became a holy day to reflect on the giving of the Ten Commandments, the event that definitively set Israel apart as God’s own people and showed them the way they should live in relationship to him. It’s traditional, if you’re Jewish, to spend the time leading up to Shavuot studying the Torah (Scripture), sometimes even in an all-night vigil. It’s also traditional to read the story of Ruth, which took place during harvest and represented the coming of someone outside of the Jewish family into acceptance of the Torah and into relationship with God.
So, in summary, Pentecost was a day of celebrating being set apart as the people of God, being given the means to live in relationship with God in daily life, the joy of people of other nations coming to God, and the completion of harvest, a time of abundant provision.
So what does this say about Pentecost?
I think it says that something big happened when the Holy Spirit came on the scene. Did you catch these powerful parallels?
- Israel celebrates her birth as a nation; followers of Jesus over the centuries have celebrated this day as the birth of the church.
- Israel remembers their gift of guidelines for how to live in right relationship with God; followers of Jesus remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, the counselor, who was the promised law inside of them, the law written on their hearts.
- Israel rejoices in people outside of God’s family becoming part of the family in the story of Ruth; Christians remember how the Holy Spirit empowered people to share the gospel in everyone’s language, and how more than 3000 people from many nations joined the church that first day.
- Israel celebrates the completion of the harvest; the church celebrates being sent into the harvest with a message that can bring abundant life to everyone who responds.
I’d say this is a birthday worth celebrating.
The Difference of Pentecost
The early church experienced this day as a game changer, a dramatic before-and-after. Life would never be the same again. Jesus knew it. He planned it. Christmas and Easter had happened, but the story wasn’t complete. When the Holy Spirit came, the disciples were changed from the inside out. They had the fullness of God dwelling within them. It was time for the harvest.
It’s sad how much the significance of this day is often forgotten in the modern church. The Holy Spirit is easily ignored. We have Jesus, we have salvation, and we are satisfied with that. Sometimes we appear more like disciples still awaiting Pentecost, praying together in the upper room, waiting for God to do something.
Well, I have news for you. Pentecost has already happened! The Holy Spirit has come. We are already sent out in power to turn the world upside down with the story of redemption.
This is a day to remember the Holy Spirit, and not just to remember, but to walk in the reality of the Holy Spirit’s power living in us and through us. Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer once posed the question, “If you woke up tomorrow and everything about the Holy Spirit was no longer part of the Bible, would it make any practical, noticeable difference in the way you lived your life?”* For too many of us, there would be no noticeable change. We are living like Pentecost never really happened.
Don’t you think it’s time to live a different way? It’s time to let our lives be radically changed by the reality of God’s Spirit in our midst. It’s time to celebrate our birthday — the day we were born in power into the family of God - and to live fully into our radical, miraculous, God-given birthright.
Living Like Pentecost Matters
The under-emphasis of the Holy Spirit is common in many churches. If you come from a background where this is the case, it might benefit you to intentionally fill in the gap. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Beef Up Your Theology. There are many voices emerging to call us back to a complete understanding of God, where the Holy Spirit is recognized as an equal member of the trinity, having as much importance as Jesus and the Father. It’s time to recognize the personhood of the Holy Spirit (i.e. stop calling the Holy Spirit an “it”) and access resources that give us a deeper appreciation for the role of the Holy Spirit.
Start with your Bible. Over the next few days I encourage you to read through the book of Acts and soak up the story of our beginnings, largely led and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit. You might also check out True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer, Forgotten God by Francis Chan, or I Give You Authority by Charles Craft. If you’re more of an auditory learner, try these podcasts on the Holy Spirit by pastor Craig Groeschel.
2. Celebrate. Many of us have family traditions for Christmas and Easter. If done well, these rhythms help us engage our lives and hearts in the spiritual significance of these events. In the early centuries of the Western church, Pentecost was the second most celebrated holiday, only surpassed by Easter. In some countries it is traditional to bring greenery into homes and churches, a symbol of new life from the Holy Spirit. In early Jewish traditions greenery was used to decorate for Shavuot because the Scripture was celebrated as a “tree of life.” Not a bad parallel to what the Holy Spirit means in our lives today.
What would it look like to start a tradition with your family or close community around Pentecost, the completion of the gospel story?
3. Live the Difference. There was a marked difference between the church pre- and post-Pentecost. The former kept to themselves and stayed hidden; the latter was audaciously outward-focused, characterized by boldness, miracles, and sharing the gospel with others. In a word, the difference was power. Make acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in your life a normal part of your Christian walk. Ask God to continually fill you with the power of the Holy Spirit and give you boldness to live into your identity as one of his sent people.
“If you woke up tomorrow and everything about the Holy Spirit was no longer part of the Bible, would it make any practical, noticeable difference in the way you lived your life?” Start living like it would!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Megan Beehler lives in Long Beach, California, where she recently completed an apprenticeship with :Beta: Communities.
*Schaeffer, F. (1971). True spirituality. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House. pg 171