Pentecost is the red-headed stepchild of Christian observances. Think about it: we get prepped up for Lent and Advent, buying devotional books and planning our spiritual disciplines. At Easter and Christmas, we deck ourselves out in holiday finery, sing triumphant hymns and prepare big family meals.
The preacher wears a red stole and, hey, Memorial Day weekend is coming up!
But Pentecost should hold great significance for Christians. It’s a Greek word meaning “fiftieth day,” and — surprise! — it’s celebrated fifty days after Easter. Pentecost has its roots in the ancient Hebrew festival of Shauvot, or Weeks, which marked the giving of God’s Law to Moses. Agriculturally, Weeks commemorates the first harvest of the year and also became known as the Festival of the First Fruits.
For the church, Pentecost marks the time when the promise of Christ concerning the Holy Spirit was fulfilled. One hundred twenty people were gathered in an upstairs room in Jerusalem during Shauvot. Peter and the disciples were there, along with Mary, the mother of the Lord. They were fervently praying when whoosh! a strong wind blew through the room, flickers of flame danced above everyone’s heads and they began to speak in languages unknown to them. Passers-by on the street heard the babbling and thought that maybe the believers had dipped into the Mogen David a little early, but Peter explained that this was the fulfillment of the prophecy that Joel made long ago.
In the Old Testament era, God had put His Spirit on select individuals to do a specific task. Samson, for instance, was empowered by the Spirit to tear a lion apart with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-6). Saul and his men had the Spirit put on them to temporarily prophesy (I Samuel 19:19-24). In these examples, the Holy Spirit was given to one person at one time to do one thing.
But Pentecost tells us that the Spirit is now available to everyone – young and old, men and women, anyone who calls on the name of the Lord. Jesus said that the Spirit brings with Him power. Governments, businesses and even churches can be exercised with earthly power, but the Kingdom of God manifests only through spiritual power.
The New Testament word for “power” is dunamis, which gave us the English words for dynamo and dynamite. Think about a dynamo: it generates power. When we flip a switch, we are not creating the power; we are simply accessing it. Think about dynamite: it blows things up. The Holy Spirit is the power source for the church, and time and time again the Spirit blows up our human, worldly methods until we are driven back to the power of God.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the church doesn’t get into Pentecost much — we are afraid of it. God the Father and God the Son are easily relegated to the past. We lock them in a bygone era where strange men prophesied and people practiced primitive rituals.
But the Holy Spirit is the “here-and-now” presence of God, convicting us of sin, calling us to righteousness, compelling us to step out of our bland existences into the brave new world of the Kingdom. While we should remember the great deeds of the Lord, we should also do the great deeds of the Lord — right now, right where we are — energized by the Holy Spirit. This is Pentecost.