Reading: What Does Pentecost Mean? (Ray Pritchard)
From Keep Believing Ministries
I don’t know what image comes into your mind when you hear the word Pentecostal. When I hear the word, my mind always goes back to the small town in Alabama where I grew up. Back then, there were only four churches you could belong to—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Church of Christ. You were either one of the Big Four or you weren’t anything at all. Pentecostal was something they did way out in the country.
All that changed one day when a man came to our small town and set up a tent to have a revival meeting. He put a hand lettered sign outside the tent which said “Holy Ghost, Pentecostal Revival.” I don’t know what made me attend that meeting. I guess it was just uncontrollable curiosity. I must have been in about the eighth or ninth grade when I slipped out of the house one night and went over to that tent revival.
I saw things that night that I had never seen before.
What I saw made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Everything that I had heard was true and a whole lot more. They spoke in tongues. They shouted. They prophesied. They danced in the aisles. They were slain in the Spirit. I remember one night the preacher stood up and said, “They call us holy rollers so we might as well prove it.” So down they went. I liked it. It was great. It was the most exciting service I had ever been to in my whole life. It was so much better than that old stuffy First Baptist Church where I had been raised. These were people who really knew how to enjoy their religion. I loved it. It was wonderful. I was so fascinated by what I saw that I went back again and again.
The highlight of the revival for me came the night the preacher looked at me and said, “Young man, why don’t you come up here and help us lead the singing?” And so for two nights this proper Baptist boy climbed up on that old wooden platform and with those dear country Pentecostal folks we sang together “Are you Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” to the accompaniment of honky tonk piano, tambourines, drums and the wildest guitar playing you have ever heard in your whole life. I cherish the memory of that revival meeting and my time with those dear people. That was my first introduction to Pentecostalism.
Pentecost Is a Biblical Word
Most of us probably have a similar image in our mind when we hear that word. We think of a certain church where certain out-of-the-ordinary things happen. And we think that that doesn’t have much to do with us who are gathered here today at Calvary Memorial Church. For that reason many people are surprised to find out that the word Pentecostal has deep roots in the Bible. In fact, the biblical term is Pentecost.
It’s found several places in the New Testament, most notably and most importantly in Acts 2:1 which reads, “Now when the day of Pentecost had come.” If you think about it, to speak of a day of Pentecost makes it sound like a holiday, which is exactly what it was.
Pentecost is a Greek word which means “50th.”
If you go back and read the Old Testament, you will discover that Pentecost was one of the Jewish feast days. Only they didn’t call it Pentecost. That’s the Greek name.
The Jews called it the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks.
It is mentioned five places in the first five books—in Exodus 23, Exodus 24, Leviticus 16, Numbers 28 and Deuteronomy 16. It was the celebration of the beginning of the early weeks of harvest. In Palestine there were two harvests each year. The early harvest came during the months of May and June; the final harvest came in the Fall. Pentecost was the celebration of the beginning of the early wheat harvest which meant that Pentecost always fell sometime during the middle of the month of May or sometimes in early June.
There were several festivals, celebrations, or observances which took place before Pentecost. There was Passover. There was Unleavened Bread and there was the Feast of Firstfruits. The Feast of Firstfruits was the celebration of the beginning of the barley harvest. Here’s the way you figured out the date of Pentecost. According to the Old Testament, you would go to the day of the celebration of Firstfruits and beginning with that day, you would count off 50 days. The fiftieth day would be the Day of Pentecost. So Firstfruits is the beginning of the barley harvest and Pentecost the celebration of the beginning of the wheat harvest. Since it was always 50 days after Firstfruits, and since 50 days equals seven weeks, it always came a “week of weeks” later. Therefore they either called it the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks.
There are three things you need to know about Pentecost that will help you understand our text.
Further Facts About Pentecost
1. Pentecost was a pilgrim festival.That meant that according to Jewish Law, all the adult Jewish men would come from wherever they were living to Jerusalem and personally be in attendance during this celebration.
2. Pentecost was a holiday.No servile work was to be done. School was out. The shops were closed. It was party time.
3. There were certain celebrations and sacrifices and offerings which were prescribed in the Law for the day of Pentecost.On Pentecost, the High Priest was to take two loaves of freshly baked wheat bread and offer them before the Lord. The wheat bread was made from the newly harvested wheat.
In short, Pentecost in the time of the Apostles was a great and grand harvest celebration. The streets of Jerusalem were clogged with thousands of pilgrims who had come from every point of the compass to celebrate the goodness of God and the bringing in of the wheat harvest.
“When the Day Had Fully Come”
It is with that background that we turn to Acts 2:1, which reads “Now when the day of Pentecost had come.” That’s how the New American Standard Bible puts it. That’s a perfectly good translation, but it’s not completely accurate. Luke is telling us something crucial in the very words that he uses. He uses a Greek word which means “to completely fulfill.” When he wrote the text, he also arranged his articles in a certain way to stress a point. You could legitimately translate this verse this way, “Now when the day of Pentecost had been completely fulfilled,” or, if you like it better, the King James reading is very good, “Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come.
In case you are wondering, all this background is not beside the point.
Luke is telling us that this background is the point.
He is telling us in Acts 2 that what happened on the Day of Pentecost is a fulfillment of what the Old Testament harvest celebration was all about. He’s telling us that the Old Testament celebration in connection with the wheat harvest was the foreshadowing of the events of Acts 2. Which means that Acts 2 is the most important chapter in the Book of Acts and that what happens here simply cannot be overestimated in terms of its importance for the church of Jesus Christ and for you and for me.
Will the True Pentecostals Please Stand Up?
I’m suggesting to you that there is a direct line backwards from 1989 to A. D. 33 and from Oak Park to Jerusalem. Pentecost is the birthday of the church. In that sense what happened on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 is an unrepeatable event in exactly the same sense that your birthday is unrepeatable. But just as there is the resemblance, however faint, between the way you looked when you were born and the way you look now, there is a resemblance between the churches of today and the church that was founded on the day of Pentecost.
I’m suggesting to you this morning that the true Pentecostal church is not necessarily the church with the name Pentecostal in its title. The true Pentecostal church is the one which reflects the marks of the church which was born that day. That’s why the lessons of Pentecost are lessons for us today.
What are the marks of a truly Pentecostal church?
1. The truly Pentecostal church is a united church.
2. The truly Pentecostal church is a praying church.
3. A truly Pentecostal church is a Spirit-filled church.
4. The truly Pentecostal church is a gospel-preaching church.
5. The Pentecostal church is a harvesting church.
“And when the day of Pentecost had been fulfilled they were all together in one place.” Acts 2:1. Luke actually uses a word which means to be of unanimous purpose. It was his favorite word to describe the early church. It means to have your hearts and minds joined together. The King James says, “They were all together with one accord.” We’re being told that the first mark of the Pentecostal church is unity—physical unity, spiritual unity, emotional unity and doctrinal unity. “With one accord” means they were all singing the same chord together. They were all hitting the same notes. They were all singing the same tune. It means that there were no private harmonies. No off-the-wall lyrics. It means that they were like one mighty chorus all together.In case we miss it, he explains that unity in Acts 2:44-46:
1. The truly Pentecostal church is a united church.
"And the believers were together and had all things in common. Selling their possessions and their goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts."
This is a wonderful picture of what the early church was like. They were together so much that they took their money and brought it together. They sold their possessions and brought the money and put it together. They took the things they owned and everybody had things jointly owned together. It’s an amazing picture. But did you notice what else they did? In the early church the mark of their unity was that they ate together. They cooked their meals together.
Pass the Tuna Fish, Please
This is no small point. Eating together is one mark of a truly united church. Sometimes we who are in the ministry like to joke that if you want to get a group out you have to have pie and coffee. We joke if you really want to get a crowd you have to have a meal or at least you have to have refreshments. Sometimes people grumble about it. But it’s not just a psychological fact that people like to eat together. It’s not just a gastronomic reality. It is also a biblical truth. Right here in the earliest days of the church the church ate together. Let me tell you what I believe. I believe that the church that eats together will stay together, will play together, will pray together, will grow together in every sense of the word.
God’s Melting Pot
Did you notice verse 47? It shows what happens when the people of God live this way. “The Lord was adding to their number day by day people who were being saved.” So great was the unity of the early church that when people looked at them they were amazed and astounded.
Yesterday, when I got in to O’Hare airport, Paul Lavenau picked me up. Coming to Chicago is like entering a new world. Chicago is an amazing place for a boy from Texas. There’s a lot of stuff you have we don’t have in Texas. We were driving and he was showing me all the neighborhoods—Czechoslavakian, Ukrainian, Greek, Italian, Lithuanian, and every other nationality. He said, “Ray, Chicago is like a great melting pot of America.” When he said that I could feel the juices start to flow. What a great picture of the church of Jesus Christ as the great melting pot of humanity.
The church should be a place where Democrats and Republicans can come together. A place where the rich and the poor can come together. A place where blacks and whites can come together. A place where cowboys and accountants can come together. A place where the left-brained people and the right-brained people can come together. A place where people who like Beethoven can get together with people who like Amy Grant. A place where God’s children can come together and they don’t lose their uniqueness, they don’t lose their individuality, but they joined together in an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
We are dealing here with something very crucial. Outside these doors is a world full of hurting people. They are living in a fractured, fragmented society. There are people who stay by themselves and to themselves and lock their doors seventeen different ways at night. If they can ever find a place where they can come in and be themselves and be loved and accepted, they will go there and stay forever.
Any church that really knows the secret of deep biblical unity will grow and grow and grow.
The church in the beginning grew because all kinds of people were together. It’s a wonderful secret of church growth.
By the way, I think that the formation of the Christian church is probably the fulfillment of the offering of those two loaves in the Old Testament. I think those loaves represented the two great divisions of the human race—Jew and Gentile. Now in the church, they are brought together into one great union of body and soul and spirit. They are brought together into the family of God.
We’re not talking about small issues. We are talking about what the church is all about. It’s to be a place where God’s people can come in and in spite of all their differences have a basic ground of unity. That’s the first mark of the Pentecostal church.
Lloyd Ogilvie hits the nail on the head when he says,
I have never known a contentious group to receive the Holy Spirit. Nor have I ever seen a church in which division and disunity prevail receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit. If we want power from the Holy Spirit as individuals, we need to do a relational inventory: Everyone forgiven? Any restitutions to be done? Any need to communicate healing to anyone? As congregations we cannot be empowered until we are of one mind and heart, until we love each other as Christ has loved us, and until we heal all broken relationships. The price seems high! But it’s a bargain price for what can happen through Pentecost power. (Drumbeat of Love, p. 20)Before I move on, let me share a second quote, this one from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Imprisoned by the Nazis, he reflected on how much he missed the fellowship of believers:
It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.We need to take this word from the Lord seriously. All our plans will come to nothing if we are not all together in one accord. Without unity there is no church at all, just another religious social club.
I want to go back to Acts 1 to pick up this point because it explains why the believers were united. Acts 1:14 says that “they all joined together constantly in prayer,” “they” being the apostles plus the women plus Mary the mother of Jesus and Jesus’ brothers. This prayer meeting comes after the Ascension and before the descent of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. They prayed together for 10 days, and it was out of that prayer meeting that unity came.
2. The truly Pentecostal church is a praying church.
That, of course, is the point.
They prayed and prayer created the unity.
It’s an odd thing, isn’t it? It’s hard to pray for people you don’t like and don’t trust. And it’s also hard to pray for people and still not like them. Either you’ll stop hating them and start loving them or you’ll keep hating and stop praying.
Prayer and love just seem to go together. One leads to the other. And praying together for mutual concerns brings a church together like nothing else can. The glue of the church is not its pastor, its program, its buildings or its doctrine. The real glue that makes a church stick together is united prayer.
Got somebody you don’t like?
Start praying for them. Is there an “irregular person” in your life? Start praying for them. Pretty soon the dislikes will disappear and the differences won’t seem so great. That’s why Jesus said, “Pray for your enemies.” He wasn’t talking about the people in Iran. He was talking about the people all around you. Pray for them and before too long your enemies will become your friends.
It is a great point, and not original with me, that the church was born in a prayer meeting. And those who study the great spiritual awakenings tell us that without exception all of them have been preceded by times of united prayer. It’s a good sign in any church when believers make prayer a priority.
3. A truly Pentecostal church is a Spirit-filled church.
This is the part we all know about. The third mark of the Pentecostal church is that it is spirit-filled. Acts 2:4 reads this way, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Underline that phrase “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” I take it that the word “them” refers not just to the apostles but to all the disciples who were there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
Here is the secret of the power of the early church: They were all filled with the Holy Spirt.
It is so easy to go to extremes on this. It’s easy to get all wrapped up in the outward signs; it’s also easy to ignore the Holy Spirit altogether. One extreme is to look at the spectacular phenomena that happened that day and to focus on them—on the sound of the mighty rushing wind, on the cloven tongues of fire, on the speaking in tongues. Some people even build an entire theology around those things. But it is just as dangerous on the other extreme. We may easily ignore the work of the Holy Spirit. That is a true danger in a Bible church. I know many people who come to churches just like this one because they fear certain strange things that happen in other churches. They think if they come to Calvary they will be safe.
They want to ignore or downplay the work of the Holy Spirit. What a tremendous, tragic mistake.I might as well give you my theology while I’m at it so you’ll know what I believe. Here’s my theology. I think when we come to a passage like Acts 2 we have to make a clear distinction between the signs and the event itself. The sound and the fire and the tongues were signs which pointed to an event.
What was the event? The event was the descent of the Holy Spirit to the earth to enter the lives of men and women. That was the great event. The signs are God’s way of announcing the great event. The signs just point to the event. They are a means to an end, not the end itself. For that reason, I think it is very dangerous to build your theology around the signs. There is a difference between that which is essential and that which is incidental.
Tongues are incidental but the coming of the Holy Spirit is essential.
We read this story about speaking in tongues and we say, WOW! We see tongues and that’s all we see. We think speaking in tongues is what this story is all about. But we need to distinguish between the event and signs of the event. Three unusual things happened on the day of Pentecost—the rushing wind, the tongues of fire and the actual speaking in tongues. Those three things are rightly seen as “signs.” They draw our attention to something else—the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. If you focus on the signs, you miss the whole point.
They went from cowards to missionaries.
The coming of the Spirit was the important event.
It was the coming of the Holy Spirit that transformed Peter the denier, into Peter the preacher.
It was the coming of the Holy Spirit that took Thomas the doubter and turned him into Thomas the missionary.
It was the coming of God’s mighty Holy Spirit which took those cowardly, fearful, doubting, hesitant disciples and made them flaming evangelists for Jesus Christ who were ready to lay down their lives for him.
It was that and nothing else.
It was the work of the Holy Spirit coming into ordinary men and women who transformed them from ordinary men and women into evangelists for Jesus Christ.You say, Pastor Ray, are you sure that’s what this passage is talking about? Yes, I’m very sure. Just drop down with me to verse 16. Peter is preaching now and he says, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. ’In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’” What follows is the first great sermon of the Christian era. But the first phrase is the key. He’s saying, Don’t you understand? Joel is talking about this day. This is the day in which the Holy Spirit would come down and mighty things would happen. Peter is saying, “This is it, folks. This is the Age of the Spirit.”
We need this truth in our churches today. In the Old Testament, God sent rain from heaven to bring in the wheat harvest. In the New Testament God sends the Holy Spirit from heaven to bring in the human harvest of men and women into his kingdom. That’s the biblical significance of Pentecost.
A miracle in the land of Chairman Mao.
By the way, do you know the place in the world where the church is growing the fastest today? I found that out recently and it blew my mind. I didn’t know. The church is growing the fastest in China. China of all places.
About 25 years ago Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four tried to stamp out all vestiges of traditional Chinese religion and any kind of Chinese Christian religion. For twenty years they thought they were very successful. The church went underground. Even the missions specialists really didn’t know what the situation was in China.
Then in 1980 the ban was lifted and Westerners began to return to China.
What they saw was astounding.
They found that not only had the church survived, but it had thrived. From a very small beginning, through the years of persecution hundreds and thousands of house churches had formed. Now they tell us that in China there may be as many as 50 million believers. They also tell us that the growth of the church in China in just this decade is not only the fastest in the world, it’s the fastest in the history of the Christian church.
When I heard this report it astounded me. The man who gave it also shared with us a list of the characteristics of Chinese Christians. Two of them are very germane to our subject today. Number one, Chinese Christians put a great emphasis on prayer. Number two, they put a great emphasis on the Holy Spirit. That shouldn’t surprise us because wherever you see revival breaking out, there you will see truly Spirit-filled churches.
That raises a further point.
How do you get Spirit-filled churches?
It’s not as hard as you think. You fill them up with Spirit-filled Christians. And how do you get to be a Spirit-filled Christian? I don’t have any formulas to give you but I will tell you this. It’s been my experience that whenever you get really hungry for the genuine work of God in your life, you will be filled with his Spirit and God will empower you to serve him. Our greatest need is to know how great our need really is. Those people who have no need of the Holy Spirit will find a way to live without him. Those Christians who are really hungry for his reality will be filled.
So, I commend to you personally and I commend to this church, not just the study of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit but I commend to you a determined seeking to know His infilling. It’s the third mark of the truly Pentecostal church.
4. The truly Pentecostal church is a gospel-preaching church.
Notice how Luke puts the matter in verse 11. The disciples were proclaiming “the wonders of God.” And in verse 22 Peter begins to preach the first great gospel sermon, at the end of which 3000 people were saved. Here is the great question:
What happens in your life when the Holy Spirit takes control?How will you know you are truly Spirit-filled? Will you speak in tongues? Will you be healed? What will happen? The New Testament suggests a number of answers to that question. But one answer stands out above all the rest. It is the great evidence that you have truly been filled with the Holy Spirit.When you are truly filled with the Spirit, you will have boldness to preach the gospel.
Look at Acts 4:31. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” That’s a pattern you find repeated throughout the book of Acts. As the believers are filled with the Spirit, they begin to share Christ openly. It happens in Acts 2, in Acts 4, it happens to Stephen in Acts 6, and to Paul in Acts 13.
When He Fills Your Life, He Also Opens Your Mouth!
Let me state it very clearly: When the Holy Spirit fills your life, he also opens your mouth!
Sometimes we get it all backwards. We talk as if the filling of the Holy Spirit is primarily to help us feel better about ourselves. And we pray to be filled so that we will live more obediently or walk with God more closely. Those things are noble and good, but they are by-products of the Spirit-filled life. God fills you with the Holy Spirit so that you will open your mouth and say a good word for him! The Holy Spirit gives holy boldness so that God’s holy people will take the holy Word of God and speak it boldly to an unholy generation.
The Holy Spirit is given to the church to empower it to preach the gospel. A truly Pentecostal church is not one that majors on speaking in tongues. That’s a side issue. A truly Pentecostal church is one that majors on preaching the gospel. That’s what the believers did in Acts 2.
5. The Pentecostal church is a harvesting church.
Look with me at Acts 2:9-11. These are the verses that you probably skipped in your quiet time. They tell us who showed up in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Meso-potamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Luke makes a circular list starting from the east and going north, then west, then southwest, then southeast. He is trying to show us that on the Day of Pentecost people were in Jerusalem from everywhere. Why? Because it was a pilgrim feast. Jewish men came from everywhere.
What happened in Acts 2 was not a coincidence. It happened on the Day of Pentecost for a purpose. What happened on the Day of Pentecost? We read in verse 41, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand people were added to their number that day.” On the birthday of the church, on the day the church was formed, 3000 people joined. How would you like that? A church membership class of 3000. Then notice verse 47, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Who were the first missionaries in the Christian church? They were those people I just talked about a second ago. Those Parthians, those Medes, those Cappadocians, those Romans, those Cretans, those Arabs, those Mesopo-tamians, those men who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost. They were the ones who heard the preaching of the gospel by Peter. They were the 3000 who got saved. After they got saved, they went back to Crete, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Rome, and all points of the compass, and through them the seeds of Pentecost were sewn all over the Roman Empire so that within one generation the early church had evangelized the whole Roman Empire.
These are the seeds of Pentecost.
This is not a coincidence. The church was born in a worldwide harvest. But it wasn’t a harvest of wheat. What started on the day of Pentecost was a worldwide harvest of people. Those brand-new believers were lay missionaries and as they went back to their home countries, they spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
If you look at church history, that’s exactly what happened. Within one generation, the church exploded throughout the Roman Empire. The seed from Pentecost was sown in thousands of cities, towns and villages as men and women moved from place to place.
It all fits perfectly. Pentecost was originally a harvest festival. It was the beginning of the harvest of grain.
It is no coincidence that the church was born on Pentecost—in the midst of a worldwide harvest.
There is a harvest that is yet to come.That’s the way the story begins. Revelation 7 tells us how it ends. The events of this chapter, though prophesied 2000 years ago, are yet future to us today.
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and they were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ’Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" Revelation 7:9-10Here we see a great, vast multitude which no man can number. In that day as you look out over this vast plain, people will be there from everywhere. Latvians, Lithuanians, Albanians, Guatemalans, Thai, Burmese, Japanese, Navajo, Jew, Northerners, Southerners, people from everywhere standing before the throne of God—from every tribe and tongue and kindred—and that is yet future to us.