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The Power and Purpose of Pentecost

By Marvin A. McMickle | Recently left the pastorate of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, to become president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

Pentecost began as and remains one of the major holidays on the Jewish calendar that occurs 50 days after Passover. The word Pentecost literally means "50th or 50th day." For Jews, Pentecost was the time when they celebrated the first harvest of the agricultural year. It was a time when they gave thanks to God for what the land had produced and for what their labor had yielded.

For Christians, Pentecost marks the birthday of the Christian church, the day when Peter preached and in response to that sermon there was also a harvest of 3,000 souls converted.

Remember I said Peter preached the first sermon about Jesus as recorded in Acts 2. This is the same Peter who 53 days earlier had said about Jesus; "I never knew Him." This is the same Peter who had nothing to say about Jesus when someone asked him directly if he was one of the followers of Jesus. Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, stood before a crowd of the same people he once feared, yet he boldly declared the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Going further, Peter stood before many of the same people who had shouted, "Crucify Him," on the day Jesus stood trial before Pontius Pilate in the city of Jerusalem. Now Peter declared in no uncertain terms the Man they had ordered to be crucified was, in fact, the Son of God. How did Peter go from being frightened to being fearless? How did Peter go from being cowardly to being courageous? How did Peter go from denying Jesus to defending Jesus before the very same people in the very same place?

Peter did not simply change his mind; Peter himself was changed. Something happened to Peter and to the other 10 apostles, as well to set them on fire for Jesus Christ to such a degree that it was soon said about them, "Here are those who are turning the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). What happened to them, and what needs to happen to everyone who calls him or herself a disciple of Jesus Christ is what Pentecost is all about.

Pentecost marks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by which human beings are equipped to do the work of God. We are not by our own natural resources going to save the world, establish God's kingdom or usher in what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often referred to as "the beloved community." If any of these things does happen, it will be because we have acknowledged, embraced and moved under the power and conviction of Pentecost and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Consider these three events this way: If Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, Pentecost marks the birth of the church; if Easter marks the day when Jesus was raised from the dead, Pentecost marks the day when that message about Jesus began to make its way to people and places all over the world. Of course, the church and the world do not treat Pentecost as they do Christmas and Easter. For instance, there are no Pentecost sales, no Pentecost tree, no Pentecost pageant; and I have never heard of the Pentecost Bunny.

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