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“Repent . . . and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38)
Today we celebrate Pentecost. On Pentecost we remember the birth of the Church, a birth that was the work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost takes place 50 days after a Jewish festival called the Passover. Pentecost falls on a day when the Jewish people celebrate the barley harvest.
Let’s begin by reading in the Bible about the first Pentecost. In the book of Acts of the Apostles, 2:1-4, the Holy Spirit came upon a group of Jesus’s followers, filling them and causing them to speak in foreign languages. It was a miracle in which they praised God in languages they didn’t know. At that time, many devout Jews had come to Jerusalem from other lands, in order to celebrate the harvest festival. They heard a loud commotion and were surprised when they heard Jesus’s disciples praising God in their languages.
Verses 11 to 13 say, “‘we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” The disciples of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit were speaking in foreign languages, and as a result many people would hear an astonishing message.
Then Peter, recognizing that God was bringing a prophecy into fulfillment, quoted the prophet Joel, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Peter understood that what the Holy Spirit was doing at that moment fulfilled Joel’s prophecy. Peter spoke boldly about Jesus, who had done miracles and wonders with great power (Acts 2:22).
Then in verse 23, Peter pointed out how his people had sinned, saying, “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross”. Peter’s message pierced the hearts of his audience, and the crowd asked, “What shall we do?” (v37)
In verse 38, Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Many desired salvation that day and were baptized, about 3,000 people. Verse 42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” That is what the Church looked like at its very beginning. These were the events of the first Pentecost. It was the birth of the Church.
Now, let us go back to some things Jesus said before all these events took place. We will read several verses from the Gospel of John on three different themes.
For the first theme, let’s look at Jesus’ statements that the work he does is the work of his Father. Jesus spoke to his disciples about this many times.
In John 5:19 he says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” In John 6:38-39: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” John 10:30: “I and the Father are one.” Furthermore, in John 8:58 Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” Here we see clearly that Christ the Son is, and has always been, with God the Father.
For the second theme, let’s look at Jesus calling himself the Good Shepherd. This is in John 10, where he says the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:15, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus Christ came to do a work of redemption on the Cross. He gives us the hope of resurrection; in John 11:25 he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” And John 12:47: “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” Our salvation is accomplished through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection.
For the third theme, let’s look at what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit, of whom he told his disciples many things.
John 14:16 says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” 16:8: “When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” 16:13: “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” 16:14: “He will glorify me.”
Let’s summarize everything that Jesus has said here. First: Jesus was born on this earth to carry out the will of God the Father; and his Father’s will was for Jesus to redeem us from sin by his death on the Cross. Second: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lives on and gives eternal life to those who believe in the redemption he achieved on the Cross. Third, the Holy Spirit is sent to be with those who believe—helping, teaching, and empowering them.
It is within this larger plan of God that Pentecost took place. We see the Holy Spirit poured out, filling the disciples with power, working through Peter’s message to the crowd, moving people’s hearts to repent, giving birth to a body of believers. This was all the work of the Holy Spirit. We can also say that the one who led the first church was the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:42 says that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” It was the Holy Spirit who brought the first church to life.
So today we have read about the very first church. I believe the same Spirit is with us today, in our church. Even now, the Holy Spirit works in us and with us. Ephesians 4:30 says, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”. So let us continue to remain in his will and grow with the help of his Spirit.