Pentecost is the birthday of the Christian Church, but it has longer and deeper roots than the first century. Because Christianity was an outgrowth of Judaism, many of the holidays are parallel to Jewish ones or are Jewish holy days that have been reinterpreted by the Christian community.
Pentecost originated as a Jewish festival commemorating the conclusion of the harvest season. Passover, originally a springtime festival, coincided with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, marking the beginning of the harvest season. During biblical times these two festivals became fused into a single festival commemorating the exodus of the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt.
Pentecost was a special Sabbath for celebrating the conclusion of the grain harvest scheduled fifty days after Passover to give thanks to God for the bounty of the crops. Often it is referred to as the Week of Weeks because Pentecost was the Sabbath that followed a week of weeks — seven weeks of seven days equalled forty-nine.
Because of the events that transpired on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ, His followers pointed to that day as a significant time in their lives. They had remained in contact with each other, apparently in the vicinity of Jerusalem if not within the city proper. According to Luke’s account in Acts, a most unusual phenomenon occurred resulting in a renewing awareness and response to the presence of God.
In the Christian community, Pentecost has become associated with the new awareness of God’s presence that many people experienced that day. According to Luke, Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after His resurrection. Pentecost was ten days later and has been identified as the day when the disciples were empowered by the presence of God, causing them to move out from Jerusalem to become involved in mission and ministry in Jerusalem, Judea, and the uttermost parts of the world.
Pentecost marks the beginning of the second half of the Christian calendar. The first half is devoted to the events of the life of Jesus on earth. Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the church, and the Sundays after Pentecost are concerned with the practical life of those who believe in Christ and seek to have the mind of Christ in them.
Exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost cannot be reconstructed. The way Luke described the events is like telling the story of Babel in reverse. He went to extraordinary efforts to point out that people from all parts of the world — who spoke languages from all over the world — were present and understood what the disciples said.
Some have identified the event as a miracle of speaking and others as miracle of hearing. The text is unclear as to whether the miracle was in the speaking of the disciples or the hearing of the people in the audience or both.
Inspired listening is at least as important as inspired speaking when attempting to understand the signs and wonders of God. Luke described a situation where both speakers and listeners were inspired. The word inspire means to breath into. When God created human beings, He breathed into them the breath of life. At Pentecost God breathed into the disciples and their lives were re-created.
As a result of the resurrection of Christ the disciples became aware of a new inner power that transformed their entire outlook and energized them to share the significance and impact this transformation had on them.
Pentecost was a time when the disciples felt a new sense of power. It was not the first time they had felt the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, but this experience did mark the beginning of their active missionary work. The Pentecostal phenomenon gave courage to a community of believers who were destined to break through social, racial, and religious barriers with a message of light and life for all people. Clearly this experience on the day of Pentecost illustrated the universality of the Gospel.
The story of Pentecost is a story of people being drawn together voluntarily in a unity that empowered them. The presence of God unleashed power and enthusiasm in the people who were gathered, and there was a tremendous outpouring of energy channeled toward serving as disciples of Christ.
What happened to those people is similar to what happens when lightning strikes a tree. Actually, it is an illusion that lightning strikes a tree. What happens is that a tiny leader bolt of energy makes contact with a tree. The charge that lights up the sky is the great voltage of the earth’s mass flowing up the tiny bolt. At Pentecost, the awareness of God’s presence unleashed energy in the disciples as they allowed God’s presence to flow through time.
Pentecost actually was a conspiracy. The disciples were inspired because God breathed life into them. Having encountered the risen Christ, they found their devotion to Christ to be a unifying factor in their relationships. Conspiracy means to breathe together. Pentecost was a conspiracy in that the disciples were unified in their endeavor, breaking down barriers that had separated and divided people.
We need to breathe together in drawing from God energy for our service as disciples of Christ. We could learn from Brahms, the great composer, at this point. As he prepared to compose, Brahms said, “I always contemplate my oneness with the Creator before commencing to compose. I immediately feel vibrations that thrill my whole being …. I see clearly what is obscure in my ordinary moods …. Straightway the idea flows in upon me. Measure by measure the finished product is revealed.”1
By contemplating our oneness with God we allow Him to breathe into us and recreate us. Then we are able to breathe together, unleashing power and energy. John Masefield has said, “Man’s body is faulty, his mind is untrustworthy, but his imagination — his capacity to be inspired — has made him remarkable.”
Some of the glimpses of truth for us are similar to the experiences of the disciples on the day of Pentecost that Luke describes in Acts. The barriers that separate people began to come down. They saw and sought to carry out the universal application of the Gospel. They accepted people with vast differences and sought to breathe with them because they had felt God breathing into them the breath of life. Being inspired by God, they conspired together, and the church was born.
Let your imagination run free as you search for ways to help your congregation celebrate the birth of the Church. Pentecost may be a time when you want to plan a church renewal emphasis or to begin the process of unfolding dreams and visions people have for your congregation.
We collected dreams several weeks prior to Pentecost. On Pentecost Sunday we displayed in the narthex the dreams and who dreamed them. The worship emphasis on Pentecost was encouragement for us as individuals and as a congregation to dream again about our ministry.
We formed a Dream Team consisting of the pastor and seven members of the congregation. Through prayer, reading, discussion and listening, the Dream Team was to seek what God’s dream was for our congregation. Members of the congregation were urged to dream along with the Dream Team and share their dreams with the team.
All of this evolved under the theme “Catch the Vision … Live the Dream …” This theme was based on Acts 2:17. A series of worship services were designed to focus on the purpose and mission of the church and how each member is a vital part of the body of Christ.
While there are twenty-four Sundays after Pentecost, it is probably unwise to develop a twenty-four sermon series on the life and ministry of the church. However, a series like I mentioned above — that begins on Pentecost and continues for three or four Sundays — can be valuable for the life and energy of a congregation.
For Pentecost you might use Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-13 as worship texts and develop a sermon called “Reverse Stories.” Pentecost also has become a time for a peace emphasis. You might explore the chaos described in the Tower of Babel story and the order and unity that people experienced at Pentecost. Then you could draw parallels to the contemporary situation both personally and corporately.
“God’s World View” could be the title of the second sermon, based on Luke 22:14-30. This passage tells about the Last Supper and the debate the disciples had about greatness. Emphasis could be given to getting above the world and seeing the world as one entity as the astronauts have done.
In God’s view the road to greatness is paved with service. As we learn the role of servant from Jesus as our model, we begin to envision and then to live in one world as servants of the one true and living God. Then we are able to think God’s thoughts after Him and to claim God’s world view as our own.
Once we begin to catch a glimpse of God’s world view we need to start “Telling God’s Story.” This sermon could be developed from Ephesians 2:11-22. God’s story is an inclusive one and those who respond to God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy become the chosen people of God. We are chosen, not choosey people. We are the redeeming people of God rather than the redeemed of God and our mission is to tell God’s story in a redeeming, inviting, inclusive manner.
We are on a life-long journey, and we need a community of support, understanding, and encouragement in order to tell God’s story, the fourth sermon in this series could be based on Acts 4:32-37 and focus on the church as ‘Community of Fellow Strugglers.’ This sermon could deal with our nature and need for relationships with God and each other.
As relationships develop and trust deepens we are able to share our deepest needs and struggles in common and discover renewal and strength coming from our bond with fellow strugglers and pilgrims who are part of the community of faith.
The last sermon in this series could deal with the value and need for diversity in the life of the church. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 is an excellent text that uses the human body as an analogy for the church. As the human body is a single body with many parts, the church is the body of Christ that has many parts. This sermon could be titled “Church: The Body of Christ.”
Illustrations could note the function of different body parts — how when one body part becomes dysfunctional, another part of the body often picks up the load. This is how we are to function in the church. Each member of the body of Christ has unique gifts, and they need to be channeled for the best benefit of the cause of Christ. It is the bond of the love of Christ that holds all of these parts together and unites them into a functioning body, the church.
Pentecost is an excellent time to celebrate the birthday of the church and to focus on the life and ministry of the part of the church where you are. This is a time in the Christian year to make practical application of what has been highlighted about the life and ministry of Jesus during the first half of the year.
May your preaching throughout the Christian year have pentecostal power as you seek to develop disciples and to energize your congregation.
1. Arthur Abell, Talks With Great Composers (G. E. Schroeder) p. 21.

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