Though sometimes overlooked, the season of Pentecost is rich with lessons for our daily walks as Christians.
Pentecost, for some strange reason, is often overlooked in our Nazarene churches, and yet it is among the most significant events in the Church year. What many Nazarenes know about Pentecost is that it is the birthday of the Church. Indeed, this is a significant thing to know about Pentecost! But as we dive deeper into the Scriptures, there is so much more to this event and season than just marking the beginning of the Church.
Old and New Testament Connections
One thing we learn as we begin to study Pentecost is the fact that our Christian Pentecost happened on the Jewish festival of Pentecost, usually referred to as Shavuot. Shavuot comes fifty days after the second day of Passover and celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the written covenant with Israel. What an amazing thing that God poured out His Spirit and initiated His Church on the anniversary of His giving of the Torah! We see the fulfillment of His promise in Jeremiah 31:33: "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
This happens on the anniversary of the same day the Jews were celebrating the written law and is thus one more example of the wonderful connections between the Old and New Testaments.
The second significant point we learn when we look deeper into Pentecost is embedded in the Jeremiah prophecy: God’s people will have His law in their minds and hearts. We learn in Acts that this is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Transformation takes place when we allow the Holy Spirit to write God’s law on our lives. Living the Christian life and being the Church is not just about getting our theology right; it is also about living out God’s justice and mercy in our everyday words and actions. This is more than obedience to a written set of laws. It is purposefully acting in response to what God has done and is doing in our lives.
We are becoming Christlike as the Holy Spirit is creating a new person in us by “writing” God’s ways on our minds and hearts.
Taking the Message to the World
A third very significant point is that Pentecost shows us that the Gospel was meant to be spread and communicated to all people in their own language. Significantly, there were people in Jerusalem who heard Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 from all over the known world. The Scriptures say they were asking each other, “How is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Acts 2:8). So, while we often think of the birthday of the Church in terms of our own local and maybe national church, the missioning nature of the Church to bring the gospel to every person in their own language was there from the very beginning.
Hearing the gospel in one’s own language is very significant to evangelism and communication of the gospel. And yet, a person needs to go beyond just hearing to understanding the gospel, and sometimes that means seeing the gospel lived out in the life of a person they can relate to.
A Ministry for Everyone
This brings us to a fourth significant aspect of Pentecost: the inclusive nature of both those who communicate the gospel and those who hear and understand the gospel. We have already seen that the gospel was meant to be preached in the whole world, and Peter addresses the fact that this would happen by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on “all people” (Acts 2:17). Peter goes on to say that this was prophesied by the prophet Joel: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy . . . Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
The term “prophesy” in the Bible is closely associated with the idea of proclaiming God’s word—what we would call preaching. This preaching of the gospel to the whole world was a job that would first of all require empowerment by the Holy Spirit, but secondly—and quite importantly—would be carried out by God’s servants, both men, and women. P
entecost reminds us that the calling of both men and women to full-time ministry and to the preaching vocation is not just a “Nazarene” thing, but was God’s plan from the beginning. When we model the preaching of both men and women in our churches, we not only help our young people see the full picture of what God had in mind for His Church, but we also allow God to awaken the call to ministry in our young men and women who are needed if the Church is to proclaim the gospel to the whole world.
A Reminder of Our Purpose
Highlighting Pentecost at least once a year reminds us to recognize not only the birthday or beginning of the Church but also to affirm some of the most important aspects of the work of the Church. The laws of God were not meant to be forgotten with the coming of Christ and His death and resurrection but were meant to become a part of the being of each Christian.
One of the most important functions of the Church is the teaching and discipline of its people so that they can become ministers who reproduce themselves. The Church is also called to bring the gospel to the whole world. That may manifest as finding those in our neighborhoods who need to understand Christ in their own context, going across town, across the country, or around the world to bring the gospel to all people.
Pentecost reminds us that we need everyone to accomplish the tasks God has given His Church!
C. Jeanne Serrão is the Dean of the School of Theology and Philosophy at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio, USA.
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2018