Pentecost: Birthday Party or Memorial Service?
Today is Pentecost Sunday on the church calendar. In it we remember the birth of the church when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and came upon the believers in Jerusalem. In many Schools today, children will cut out tongues of fire from red construction paper. We might even look at the United Methodist flag in the church and notice the cross and flame. Exactly what is Pentecost and why is it important? Let us see.
Exposition of the Text
The selected text this morning is a long one, so I will just be bringing up the highlights of the passage we just read. In the previous chapter of Acts, we remembers that Jesus commanded the disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit before He ascended back to heaven from where He came. The text says that they were exited. Besides taking care of church business and electing another apostle in the place of Judas, they spent the time wondering what this “power from on high” would be like. I suppose that they would have studied the Scriptures for manifestations of the Spirit as well as reflected upon Jesus and the miracles He performed in the power of the Holy Spirit. And what could be more spectacular than the Ascension they had just witnessed? They were united in their expectant hope.
Luke began Acts as a continuation of the Gospel of Luke and wrote it to the same Theophilus. Luke referred to the Gospel as the “things which Jesus began to do and teach.” This implies that the church was to continue in the mission Jesus had started with them. For this, they would need the same power of the Spirit that Jesus had. They were going to go out into a world that was corrupt and wicked, a world that Jesus had come to save. There would be dangers, and many of the 120 in the upper room that morning would die a martyr’s death.
Chapter 2 begins with the note that the 120 in the upper room were in an upper room, which was probably the upper porch in one of the Temple buildings called Solomon’s Porch. They were all united together at 9:00 AM, the time of the morning prayer and sacrifice at the Temple. As Pentecost was one of the important Jewish holidays in which the Jewish males were required to attend, there would have been a large crowd to witness the first Christian Pentecost. In fact, even those who were afar off from Jerusalem mad it a point of pilgrimage. They were too far off to attend every Pentecost, as travel was slow, expensive, and dangerous. But some from the 120 or so nations and tongues were represented there that day, one for each of those who would speak the Gospel in their language.
The Holy Spirit had been manifested in the Old Testament in a mighty display of glory and power before. In the days of the Tabernacle, the power of the Spirit as a fire went forth to the point that the priests were unable to minister. The same thing happened at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and recorded in 2 Chronicles 7:14. But today, the powerful demonstration would not hinder the service of God’s priests. In fact, it would enable them to proclaim the gospel in as many as 120 native tongues, declaring the great work of God in Jesus Christ. I would suppose the disturbance would have distracted considerably from the regular work and worship of the priests. Their work would be hindered. But that was all right because Jesus had already finished their work. The old priesthood was no longer needed and neither was the Temple of Herod. God had a new priesthood of believers and a new Temple. The fire would come out from them and not the old Temple. This was a priesthood open to all believers. Instead of offering a bloody sacrifice, they would offer a sacrifice of praise. They would proclaim the sacrifice of Christ as being the last and only sacrifice needed for forgiveness of sin.
Some of the crowd which may have included some from the old priesthood were not happy with this new development. They accused the 120 of being drunk. It is certainly a fact that drunkenness can have an adverse effect on behavior and make people act in bizarre ways. But I have never experienced a drunk speaking in a known language which he had not learned. Certainly the scoffers knew better and did not need Peter’s sermon to explain to them that they were not drunks.
Peter reminds them that drunks are usually sober by nine in the morning. He then goes on to preach the inaugural sermon of the church. He explains this phenomena which they had experienced from the Scripture. The accounts says that Peter said much more than is recorded here in the text and that it went along the same line as what we read this morning. We know he quoted from Psalm 16 and the prophecy of Joel about the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh. He may well have reminded them about the previous outpourings of the Spirit in the Temple.
The power of doubt is indeed great. The events recorded in the Old Testament were so long ago. To many, they seemed as idle tales. Before the coming of John the Baptist, the work of the Spirit had ceased as far as human perception is concerned for 400 years. Many considered God to be dead and were continuing in the ritual as a memorial to God who was dead to them. It was really they who were dead, dead in trespasses and sin, dead in unbelief. God was not dead, and Pentecost proved it to the crowd this day.
We don’t know how many experienced Pentecost that day. We do know that 3000 believed and were baptized. In all probability, these were but a small fraction of the tens of thousands who had come to the memorial service for the God who once spoke to Moses. God had opened their eyes. Pentecost had become a birthday party to the new believers on Christ instead of a memorial service.
So what do we make of Pentecost in the church today? Are we celebrating the living God who gave birth to His church on Pentecost Sunday some 2000 years ago? Is there life in the church here? Are we excited about what God is doing? Or are we remembering what God once did a long time ago? Do we have a living faith or a dead one?
If we were half as excited about our faith as the militant atheists who are trying to crucify Christ all over again, then the church would come back to life. We would be opening new churches instead of combining them and closing them. The church is not an extension of the cemetery. We need to hear the cry of new life in the church today. A living church is proof to the world that God is not dead.
I have no interest at being the activities director in a funeral home. I am here this morning to proclaim that Christ lives. We need to proclaim that Christ is alive and not the negative “God’s not dead”. We need to stop going through the motions of being a church. What are we doing to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world? Your faces and your attitudes in worship tell me whether you have come to remember the Holy Spirit or to experience the Holy Spirit. It tells me whether your faith is alive or dead.
This is a time for the church to go back to the upper room, to study the Scripture and pray. We no longer have the power from on high. Without it, we cannot witness to a hostile and unbelieving world. We need to wait on the Lord for the life and strength we need. We need revival. We must remember the words of Paul: “Arise thou that sleepest, and Christ will give thee life.” This is resurrection talk, a rising from the dead. This is what we so desperately need. The militants who oppose us feel no threat from a dead church but dread the power of the living God manifested in His church.
“Arise thou man of God. Be done with lesser things.” Amen