These verses have to do with the festival of Pentecost. Pentecost means simply, “fiftieth”. It gains this name because it falls on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was a one-day celebration and it was a thanksgiving for God’s gracious provision. It came at the end of the harvest season. It gave thanks to God for His providence. And there was an offering to God of animal sacrifices, cereal gifts and drink offerings. Our modern Thanksgiving is modeled after Pentecost.
When Jesus ascended into heaven He instructed his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they should receive power from on high. As a group of 120 were praying in an upper room in Jerusalem fifty days after his death, the Holy Spirit descended upon them with the sound of a great wind and with tongues of fire which settled upon each one of them. They began to speak with other languages and to preach boldly in the name of Christ, with the result that three thousand were converted. In rebuttal to criticism by devout Jews, Peter stood up and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave a wonderful sermon. After the sermon Luke wrote in verses 41 and 42. Then read Acts 2:41-42
This incredible manifestation of divine power marked the beginning of the church which has ever since regarded Pentecost as its birthday.
Pentecost, then, is the anniversary of the coming of the Holy Spirit in order to give birth to the Church come of age.
This day was not the beginning of a denomination. It was the beginning of the one church: The One True Church.
The Church that is bought with the blood of Christ.
The Church that is united by the indwelling Spirit.
The Church that is taught with the inspired Word.
The world did not know what happened at Pentecost.
The world did not know that God had come to live with His people forever.
I.) Pentecost as God’s Harvest
It was the culmination of the “feast of weeks” (Ex. 24:22; Deut. 16:10), which began on the third day after the Passover with the presentation of the first harvest sheaves to God, and which concluded with the offering of two loaves of unleavened bread, representing the first products of the harvest (Lev. 23:17, 20; Deut. 16:9-10).
Of course the Parallel on the Day of Pentecost is that God is Harvesting His elect into the Church. They are rightly seen as the first produce of the Harvest. The book of Acts then records this continued Harvesting of the Church.
Note here that this Pentecost is a single event in God’s Redemptive work. In Pentecost God was putting His imprimatur upon the work of Christ. We should no more look for more Pentecosts today in terms of all the Phenomena then we would look for more Crucifixions, more Resurrections, or more Ascensions. These are all one time Redemptive Historical events. We certainly look forward to the continued Harvest of God as He gathers in His elect from every tribe, tongue, and nation, but we do not demand that every convert has to have this same Pentecost experience of speaking in tongues.
In as much as God is Harvesting a New Church this is testimony that He is done with the nation-State Israel as an entity tied to His Redemptive-Historical outworking in History. Naturally, Hebrews are included into the Church as they look to Christ but the idea that Israel, as a collective Nation State, is still important to God’s macro Redemptive time-table is seen as void by the fact that He creates this New Israel of God.
II.) Pentecost as God’s doing something New
Rabbinic scholars believe that it was on this day that God visited His people after their exodus from Egypt and through Moses, brought the Law down from Mount Sinai. This earthshaking day of visitation, trembling, and betrothal is the birthday of the nation of Israel. Moses brings down the Torah or Law for the nation.
God has made it clear that He is done with disobedient Israel. He is finished with that Nation that He had created at Mt. Sinai.
40 When therefore the Lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those husbandmen?
41 They said unto him, He will [aa]cruelly destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall deliver him the fruits in their seasons.
42 Jesus said unto them, Read ye never in the Scriptures, The stone which the [ab]builders refused, the same is [ac]made the [ad]head of the corner? [ae]This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation, which shall bring forth the [af]fruits thereof.
On this greater Pentecost He creates a New Royal People and Holy Nation. Now there are many many continuities between the Old and the New but the Scripture can even call what is happening a “New and Better” covenant. We would say that it is New in the Sense that it is the fulfillment of all that was promissory before. The Old Israel was promissory of the New Israel. And on the Pentecost following Christ’s death, God creates a New and Improved Israel comprised of Jew and Gentile as one Spiritual Nation.
Of course what we need to see here is the continuity in Scripture. It is true that God is fulfilling all His promises so that a New and Better covenant is coming to the fore, but note the continuities with the Old Covenant. God does this New and Better covenant in the context of the previous covenant. The creation of His Old Covenant people was on Pentecost. The creation of His New Covenant people is on Pentecost. The Creation of His Old Covenant people was for the purpose that they might be a light to the Nations. The creation of the His New Covenant people is that they might be His witnesses to all the Nations. The creation of the Old Covenant people was attended by Fire. The Creation of the Church is attended by cloven tongues of fire. On the First Pentecost 3000 people die because of their sin of rejecting God. On The Pentecost 3000 are saved because of their God given acceptance of their sin covering who is Christ. On the Sinai Pentecost children are part of the Covenant. In the fulfillment Pentecost it is communicated that children are part of the covenant (Acts 2:38)
In the Old Testament (Lev. 23:15-23), Pentecost was considered the primary harvest celebration. In the OT economy Firstfruits celebrated the barley harvest (3 days after Passover), but Pentecost celebrated the wheat harvest—the main staple. In the New and Better Covenant Christ is crucified on the Passover, resurrected on the festival of first fruits (Barley) and then on Pentecost the Church is resurrected from dead Israel.
III.) Pentecost as Revelatory of God’s Intent
God’s intent was to build His Church. Pentecost was revelatory of that purpose.
1.) God would build His Church as a Nation of Nations.
The dividing wall that kept the Gentile from all the spiritual promises would be torn down (Eph. 2:14) All men from every tribe tongue and Nation are now commanded to Repent. And when they are given repentance they are placed into the one body of Christ the Church.
As we see at Pentecost though that Church is comprised of Nations. At Pentecost God baptizes Babel, which is to say that God still insists upon distinct Nations just as He did at Babel but now He calls all those Nations to bow to Christ. We know this because, as the text teaches, all those present heard the Gospel in their own ethnic tongues,
8 [f]How then hear we every man our own language, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and of Judea, and of Cappadocia, of Pontus, and Asia, 10 And of Phrygia, and Pamphylia, of Egypt, and of the parts of Libya, which is beside Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, and [g]Jews, and Proselytes,11 Cretes, and Arabians: we heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.
If God intended to build a Church that was not diverse all would have heard the Gospel in one language. This is why we can say that at Pentecost God Baptized Babel. His intent is to provide a Spiritual unity in the context of diversity thus reinforcing the idea of the One and the Many as found in the Trinity.
So God intends to build a Universal Church that is a Nation of Nations. All the ends of the earth would see the salvation of God” was seen on the day of Pentecost and in the book of Acts as the Gospel comes upon people of diverse tongues and then covers the known world via the Missionary effort.
Unity in diversity. The Unity seen in that all in the Church can call one another “Brothers.” Diversity seen in the promise that it is people from every “Tribe, tongue, and Nation” in their Tribes, Tongues, and Nations, that make up the Church (Rev. 21:24f).
This is what Calvin Seminary Scholar of yesteryear Wyngaarden was getting at when he wrote in another context,
“Thus the highest description of Jehovah’s covenant people is applied to Egypt, — “my people,” — showing that the Gentiles will share the covenant blessings, not less than Israel. Yet the several nationalities are here kept distinct, even when Gentiles share, in the covenant blessing, on a level of equality with Israel. Egypt, Assyria and Israel are not nationally merged. And the same principles, that nationalities are not obliterated, by membership in the covenant, applies, of course, also in the New Testament dispensation.”
Wyngaarden, pp. 101-102.
2.) God would build His Church by the Power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of His Witnesses
Ten days after the Ascension of the Lord Christ, He, with the Father, sent forth the Holy Spirit as the Agent to empower the Church to accomplish what in His Authority had deigned and ordained to be accomplished. That which He has ordained is the triumph of the Gospel over all the Earth. Over the lands of the Usurper Allah. Over the lands of the Usurper Jew god, over the lands of the Usurper Hindu gods. Over all lands. The Holy Spirit empowers us to the end of working towards triumph in light of the Triumph of the Lord Christ over all the Kings who would put off His chains.
Immediately upon Pentecost the Spirit filled Church fans out, eventually across the known world, to take the Gospel outwards. It is one of the most fascinating aspects of History that a tiny tiny oppressed minority ended up conquering the World. And yet that is exactly what happened.
We need to be reminded of this today when we are increasingly becoming an oppressed minority. Numbers are irrelevant if the Church is operates in terms of being filled by the Spirit of Christ. We shall continue to be His witnesses and He will express the Dominion He currently has through His Spirit filled, Gospel wielding Church.
IV.) Pentecost as God’s Methodology (Word & Sacrament)
Notice that the really big news of Pentecost is not so much the attendant display of Phenomena as it is the fact that a Sermon is preached and a Sacrament distributed. The sermon was focused on Christ. It recited the Historical facts. It was hardly a “wowzer” in terms of pulpiteering ability but it was Spirit filled and it found its target.
“Take me, for example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble…. I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.”
One of the major problems with the current Church is that it has lost its ability to
1.) Know the Word
2.) Trust the Word to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
Instead we try to jazz things up. But like Luther we need to “leave it to the Word.”
The Word creates what it calls for. The Spirit filled Word is God’s agency to overcome the hardest hearts. We spend time planning, marketing, polling, but if we would just trust the Word God would do it all.