Jesus said to them, “I’ve told you what the Father promises: John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 1:4b-5 (GW)]
After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples and then told them to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. On the fortieth day, with his followers watching, Jesus was taken up in a cloud and ascended into heaven. Bewildered, the disciples stood there, mouths agape, until two angels promised that someday Jesus would return. We know the disciples then attended to business and chose a replacement for Judas, but how else did they spend the next ten days? There were twelve apostles and about 120 believers. How difficult was it for this diverse group of people to keep the faith and wait for something which seemed so perplexing? Where was this Holy Spirit promised to them? When would Jesus return? Did they grow impatient or begin to doubt what they’d seen with their eyes?
Yesterday was Pentecost (meaning fiftieth). At that first Pentecost, all of Jesus’ followers were gathered together. Because the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot was being observed, Jerusalem was teeming with people from far and wide. One of three pilgrimage festivals, all able-bodied Jewish men were required to visit the temple and offer sacrifices. Called the Feast of Weeks, Shavu’ot occurred seven weeks after Passover and celebrated both the first harvest and Moses being given the law at Mt. Sinai. It was on this day, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, that the Holy Spirit, accompanied by high winds and tongues of fire, descended upon Jesus’ followers. As every believer was filled with the Spirit’s power, he or she began to speak in other languages. Shavu’ot had brought together Jews from fifteen or more different regions, each with its own language, and yet everyone was able to understand the Spirit-filled Christians as they spoke. The Holy Spirit had empowered them to bring Christ’s message of salvation to all people.
It hardly seems an accident that God chose this specific day, the Jewish celebration of Shavu’ot when the city would be packed with people, for such a miraculous event to occur. On a day when people went to the temple to be in God’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s arrival meant that God could always be present in His people. On a day that commemorated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai—an external means of keeping Israel from sin—the Holy Spirit descended and believers no longer had to adhere to laws carved on stone. By His power, the law was now written on their hearts and, through Him, believers could live righteously. On a day that celebrated the first harvest, 3,000 people were baptized. That incredible first harvest of souls marked the beginning of the New Testament church. So, in a way, while Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Christian church.
Since the days of Pentecost, has the whole church ever put aside every other work and waited upon Him for ten days, that the Spirit’s power might be manifested? We give too much attention to method and machinery and resources, and too little to the source of power. [J. Hudson Taylor]