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Happy birthday, Church!

Dove and fire, symbols of Pentecost

Pentecost is this Sunday, May 19. Rev. Faith Timmons reviews the history behind this annual celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit following Jesus’ ascension. She then encourages us to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit as we trust God and spread the good news.

Michigan Conference Communications

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4, NRSV).

On Sunday, we celebrate the birth of the Church with Christ-followers around the world. Fiery red will adorn our pulpits and sanctuaries, symbolizing the fire of the Spirit of God descending upon the early disciples of Christ. We commemorate that day when the first believers received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, as it is known, occurred 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was no longer present on earth, in bodily form, having ascended. However, the promised gift he called “the Helper” had arrived!

Acts 4 describes this day when thousands heard the good news preached for the first time. What amazed the crowd was the eloquent preaching by people considered common and uneducated and the fact that they heard the same message in their own language. That’s what made the day miraculous and marvelous.

The apostles were saying the same thing in different ways — and everyone present understood. Christians tend to think of this as the first Pentecost. Yet, it is not. Pentecost had long been a holiday. This ancient festival is why so many Jews were gathered in Jerusalem that day. They had come from far and wide to celebrate the giving of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and the spring harvest when the first fruits of the land came in.

For hundreds of years before the existence of the Church, Pentecost had been a holy day. For many years before this day of powerful preaching, Jews had celebrated Pentecost, also called Shavuot. Acts 2 describes what made this gathering historic and amazing — everyone heard one message they could all understand. They were all Jews in Jerusalem at the same time. And yes, they were all there to celebrate Pentecost, but they had little else in common.

They were from different backgrounds, countries, and cultures. However, the disciples there that day did have something in common, something well worth noting: They had been sitting together “with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1, NKJV). That means that they were unified. They were of one heart and one mind, and then the Holy Spirit came rushing in like a mighty wind and filled the place.

The Holy Spirit enabled them to effectively speak to others in a way that each one could individually understand. Being filled with the same Spirit empowered 120 different people to share the same message. The result was a new harvest. Their efforts brought over three thousand new believers into the Church.

How often are we in one accord — not necessarily believing all the same things but operating in the same spirit? Here is an important way of assessing when we are: Operating in the same spirit should enable us to exhibit the same fruit, that is, the fruit of the Spirit:

love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control.

We don’t have to have the same convictions to operate in the same spirit of love. We don’t even have to “talk the language,” so to speak.

With God’s help, it is possible to have differing opinions while exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. Yes, it is a tall order, but it is entirely possible when we share the ultimate goal — spreading the good news and offering the peace it brings to more people. The Holy Spirit is called the Helper for good reason. Let’s look to God for that help.

Furthermore, Pentecost is about even more than that. It was an ancient harvest festival and a celebration of giving the gift of the Torah, the word of God, to Moses on Mount Sinai. It celebrated tangible gifts and presents. It was a time of commemoration as well as a season of giving thanks for both the word and the works of God, that remains a time of thanksgiving in Judaism to this day.

When three thousand people came to Christ due to the bold preaching of the apostles, they represented a type of harvest. Their introduction to Jesus as Lord directly resulted from the apostles’ sharing the word of God. That powerful event gave birth to the Church. Together, we are the body of Christ, born to bear witness to God’s works, the greatest being saving grace through Jesus Christ.

I hope that we embody all the elements at work in Acts 2. However:

    • Where there is little harvest, perhaps there needs to be more focus.
    • When there is a lack of unity, maybe a true spirit of thanksgiving has also been lost.
    • We often fail to realize that the Holy Spirit’s first work was to enable early believers to spread the same message in different languages.
    • They had the same intent, which yielded the same result.
    • We must ensure we have kept sight of our true call when and if there are few results.

Before the Holy Spirit arrived in Acts 2, it says they were together “with one accord in one place.” When we desire to have the same impact as the first believers, hopefully, we will seek to imitate the spirit of their personal interactions. They were on the same page and had the same goal: bringing new believers to Christ. It all started with a relatively small group of 120, filled with the same Spirit, testifying to the same message — God’s love is for all and is demonstrated through the loving sacrifice of Jesus and his victory over death.

That message makes our celebration of Pentecost unique as the Church. After Pentecost, the Church began to break bread together. This sign of unity and living in community gave others the desire to join. Their demonstration of genuine love dramatically added to their number. Yet, it was a church of different people from varying backgrounds and a vast multitude of cultures, and they made history by having only one thing in common: their love for Jesus and love for one another. That, coupled with the sharing of the good news, is why their Pentecost observance remains a historic harvest festival to this very day, and it can be for us if we maintain the same focus — sharing the love of Jesus among ourselves and others. Happy birthday, Church!

Last Updated on May 16, 2024

The Michigan Conference