Why Pentecost Sunday Matters

May 19, 2013

Pentecost Sunday marks the day when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on some of His followers after His ascension back into the heavens. The church celebrates Pentecost 10 days after the ascension and 50 days after Easter. Some call this day "the birthday of the church" because over 3,000 souls in Jerusalem put their faith in Jesus (Acts 2:41).

The two major events of Pentecost as recorded by Luke in Acts 2 are:

  1. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on 120 Jews in the upper room
  2. Peter's sermon to the inhabitants of Jerusalem

If we are to rightly understand the significance of Pentecost, we must do more than acknowledge the giving of the Holy Spirit - we must understand why He was poured out. This is what Peter explains in his sermon. The sign of tongues was meant to do much more than spice up their prayer meeting - it was to confirm the truth about Jesus. Therefore Pentecost has everything to do with who Jesus is.

The prophet Joel said that the Lord was going to pour out His Spirit on everyone in Israel (Joel 2:28-29; Ezekiel 39:29), but on the Day of Pentecost, only 120 Jewish believers received it. This would have been profoundly offensive to the rest of Jerusalem. If the Holy Spirit had indeed been poured out, why did all the children of Abraham not receive it as was promised? "What does this mean?", they asked (Acts 2:12).

The Apostle Peter stands up and boldly begins answering their question by quoting Joel 2 (Acts 2:17-21), confirming what had happened to the 120 believers. The rest had not received the Spirit because of the way they had responded to Jesus of Nazareth. They condemned and killed him (Acts 2:23), but God had raised Him from the dead (Acts 2:24, 32) and seated Him at His right hand (Acts 2:33-34). If they wanted to receive the Holy Spirit, they would have to repent and acknowledge that Jesus was the their Messiah and their God (Acts 2:36-38). In doing so, they would be saved from the wrath of the Day of the LORD.

This is what thousands of them would do in the subsequent days and weeks ahead, recognizing that their ethnicity was not sufficient to qualify them to inherit the promises. It was not until later (Acts 10) that a Gentile named Cornelius would also receive the Spirit as a sign that all the nations could, by faith in Jesus, participate in the coming restoration of all things on the Day of the LORD (Acts 3:21).

As we remember Pentecost today, let us earnestly cry out for the Jewish people's acknowledgement of Jesus as their Lord and Christ, and thank Him that even Gentiles far from the covenants of promise can now be brought into the hope of restoration through His blood.

For more on Peter's sermon in Acts 2 and its importance, check out this teaching.

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