“PENTECOST IS…” – Acts 2:1-21 MAY 27-28, 2023, PENTECOST SUNDAY
We are celebrating Pentecost today. I’d like for us to look at its beginnings, and its meaning, and its importance for us now. Let’s start with color. We use red paraments. The only times we use red paraments are for Ordination, Installation, Confirmation and Reformation Sunday, because these are all Holy Spirit driven. I know of one congregation in Minnesota where everyone wears red to Church on Pentecost. Our Scripture readings focus on the Holy Spirit. The sermon and the entire service centers on the Holy Spirit. These are all givens. But why, why was this particular day chosen for this celebration? Let’s get into the history to answer that.
GOD GAVE ISRAEL 3 FESTIVALS TO OBSERVE.
There is the Feast of Tabernacles, to remember the 40 years the Israelites lived in tents in the wilderness with God leading them and taking care of their needs all along the way. There is the Passover, when the angel of death passed over each home where their doorway had been painted with the blood of a lamb. But where there was no blood the firstborn male died. And there is Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after the Passover, Pentecost meaning 50th. It was celebrated for the 1st time when the Israelites were at Mount Sinai. They’d been released from slavery after the 10 plagues had ravaged Egypt and at last the Pharaoh told them to LEAVE. They had miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and after 40 days of traveling they were now at Mount Sinai on their way to the Promised Land. When 50 days had passed they were given the 10 commandments by God through Moses. It was God’s call to holiness, and for good reason. They had been living in Egypt where the language was different, the culture was different, they had been surrounded and certainly influenced by the worship of false gods, and this had been going on for hundreds of years. God knew they all needed a restart, so the Lord made sure He got everyone’s attention. Before He gave them the Commandments He first gave special instructions to encircle Mount Sinai with boundary stones so that everyone knew not to cross that line. If anyone did so while Moses was with God on the mountain they would die. Those boundary stones are still there today, still in place. The Lord also created a huge spectacle of lightning and thunder and wind and smoke and fire from Heaven, literally scorching the top of the mountain black. You can still clearly see the burned, blackened top of Mount Sinai, and not because there’s a layer of a different kind of stone there. All you have to do is flip over a hunk of that blackened rock and you see it’s simply been burned black, only on top. God also commanded them to build a giant altar to make an offering of many young bulls they had brought with them from Egypt. Again, still to this day, you can see drawings of bulls inside the caves where the Israelites stayed during their time at Mount Sinai. The reason I mention this is because this part of the world has always been sheep country. They don’t have bulls or cattle, except for that one brief time when Israel passed through this region. God got their attention in a big way. They received His Commandments and they vowed to follow Him and to live as God’s chosen people, following His will in all things.
WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME?
How’d they do? Their intentions were good, but they went the other way so quickly. Moses went back up onto the mountain to receive more instructions from God, and they got restless. After all these miracles and instructions and promises, they literally started worshipping the false gods of Egypt and their idols, the very same powerless gods that had brought the Egyptians nothing but grief. They had a lot to learn.
3,000 of the Israelites died that day because of their sin. Not only that, they spent not 40 days on a slow walk from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land, as it should have been, but 40 years of living in the wilderness to give them time to learn dependence on the only true God, and what it means to be His people. What an event God made out of that 1st Pentecost. Pentecost is supposed to be about bringing your first-fruits of harvest as an offering to the Lord, a time of thanksgiving and joy. But it became a dark tragedy instead. Let’s fast-forward about 1,500 years to the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
THERE ARE STRIKING PARALLELS BETWEEN THESE TWO EVENTS.
Prophecies and promises from God were fulfilled in some amazing ways. Listen to two of those prophecies given by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. First Jeremiah 31 —
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Wow, God knew how flawed and sinful we are, how we will foul things up every time. So He took matters into His own hands. God also spoke through the prophet Ezekiel in 36:24-27, “24 For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes.”
He knows we can’t do it, so He does it for us. There are many comparisons to be noticed between the 1st Pentecost and the one in Acts 2. Here are a few.
- Featured in the 1st Pentecost: Slavery to the Egyptians was ended for God’s people after the sacrifice of an unblemished Passover lamb. Featured in the Pentecost of Acts 2: The slavery to sin of God’s people was ended after the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus.
- The 1st Pentecost included the gift of the knowledge and instruction of God’s Law, taught to the people by Moses and written on tablets of stone. In Acts 2 the knowledge and instruction of God’s Law was taught to us by God Himself and written on our hearts of stone.
- At the time of the 1st Pentecost 3,000 people died in one day because of their embrace and worship of false gods as they rejected the Lord who gave them everything. In Acts 2 in one day 3,000 people also died, but in such a different way. They died to their sin and were given faith and eternal life by the true and living God.
- In the Exodus God gave them His commands, and they declared they would be holy. But in Acts 2 God gave them the Holy Spirit and He declared them holy. Where we fail, He succeeds. Our failures become His glory! Praise God!!!
The original question was why did God give His church His Holy Spirit on THIS day? The answer is it could have been no other day. 50 days after the Passover of the Exodus, the Israelites received a covenant from God. 15 centuries later, 50 days after Easter, we received a new covenant from God. Both days had such similar circumstances: fire from God above, powerful winds, and many voices. The voices at the first Pentecost may not be so obvious at first. If you’re thinking there weren’t any voices, we need to look at the Hebrew word translated as “thunderings” in Exodus 19:16. The word is “kolot” — which actually means “voices.”
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN FOR US TODAY?
God isn’t P. T. Barnum, He’s not an entertainer, He does things with holy purpose behind them. In the last verse of our text Peter said, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He empowers us to believe, to know our Savior, to receive Him into our hearts. That’s what the giving of the Holy Spirit means for us today. Hundreds of thousands of people came to Jerusalem from all over the world to observe Pentecost in Acts 2. Boy did they get an unexpected bonus when by a miracle of God they heard the Gospel in their own language. The devil had to try to mock this mighty work of the Holy Spirit, so the devil moved people to say this was just a bunch of drunks speaking gibberish. They’re just a bunch of losers, don’t listen to them. But Peter stepped up and spoke as the Holy Spirit moved him. What you are witnessing is a fulfillment of prophecy. The first celebration had been about the people of God being called to holiness. But on this day people were not only called to holiness, they were given holiness, as the Holy Spirit filled each of them to live in them. To believe on the name of the Lord Jesus is always a mighty work of God. Too often we think it’s up to us, but it’s not. When it’s up to us, we see what happens. I’d like to close our message today by asking you to take a moment to thank God for the gifts He has given to you. Even in their stubbornness and sinful behaviors, the Lord led Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land. He’s doing the same for you. He’s given you a great gift. He’s always known how stubborn you can be, how sinful, and He still says, “I CHOOSE YOU.” Give Him thanks right now, in your heart.
He loves you, amen.