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Pentecost: The Lost Holiday

Written by Gregg Strawbridge

When I was five years old my best friend was Deborah. She was my age and visited her grandmother on weekends. Mrs. McCallister lived next to us. I still remember an aroma of strangeness about Deborah's family. They had peculiar religious views as Jehovah's Witnesses. At the time, this didn't come up much in our playing. But I did learn from her that there was no Santa Claus. The JW's are down on Christmas celebrations and Christian holidays, generally. But even Trinitarian Christians neglect the holiday of Pentecost. Pentecost is lost on most evangelical Christians today.


Should Trinitarian Christians celebrate Pentecost? Sometimes we talk about C & E Christians—those who go to church only on Christmas and Easter. We have a cultural momentum to mix Christmas with a secular “holiday season.” We have a precedent to converge bunnies and new clothes with the Resurrection at Easter. But there is no secular reason to celebrate Pentecost. If Christians celebrate that the risen Jesus ascended to the Father and at Pentecost empowered the Church with the Spirit, there will be no government school days off associated with it. It is an article of faith in “another King, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7).


As those committed to Christian education, we make no water-tight distinctions between learning and life (Deut. 6:6-7). Learning and commitment to Christ are inter-dependent. But in Deuteronomy 6, that most well-known of Christian education proof-texts, we also integrate time into our training. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” In fact, the most repeated word in these verses is a time word—when. The when’s of life mark that which we believe to be important.


So do we have a Christian view of time, or is our calendar just Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Presidents Day. (Government holidays.) Do we know “IRS day” (April 15) better than Pentecost? Do dates set by our tax-men loom larger than Jesus pouring out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Church so that all the nations would be discipledProbably so. This is an indication that we are toddlers in Christian thinking.


Remember the calendar has world-shaping significance. Think of the French Revolution. What did they do (beyond thrusting upon us the devilish Metric System)? They tried to undo the seven- day Christian Calendar. The Bolshevik Revolution forming the USSR required atheistic, political holidays. The Christian Holy Days or a Church Calendar includes Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. It organizes and directs our Scripture readings, prayers, hymns, and sermons according to the life of Christ. It gives us celebrations of redemptive and not just nationalistic significance. By this we enjoy a redemptive calendar which marks time under the Lordship of Christ. Jesus is Lord of Time!


In the New Testament, Pentecost is of monumental significance. After Christ ascended into heaven His disciples returned to Jerusalem. Jesus told His disciples to wait for Pentecost (Acts 1:8-9). Ten days after the Ascension Pentecost arrived. While the disciples were gathered in the upper room on Pentecost there came a sound of a rushing, mighty wind. It was then that the Holy Spirit came upon them as tongues of fire. Filled with the Holy Spirit they began to speak in other languages.


What is the biblical background to Pentecost? The Feast of Weeks in Exodus 34:22 was 50 days after Passover [“Pente” or 50]. It is also called the “first fruits” in Numbers 28:26. Pentecost became the celebrated anniversary of the giving of the Law by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai.


Jerusalem was filled at this time with Jews who had come for the Jewish festival of Pentecost. (If you have Journey Through the Bible see pages 344–345 for further information.) Jews had come from surrounding nations and were amazed to hear the disciples of Jesus speaking in many languages—most notably the listener’s own language. Many believed and were baptized as Peter stood and explained these events, about 3,000 we learn from Acts 2. Many Christians note this as the beginning of the Christian church. Some even hold a birthday party to celebrate it.


As you can see we have a tremendous theological basis for celebrating Pentecost, just as much as Christmas and Easter. The apostle Paul even adjusted missionary travels around Pentecost—“Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16). He even marked time with it, saying to the Corinthians that he would “tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost” (1 Cor. 16:17). 


What faithful Jews recognized as the anniversary of the giving of the Law on two tablets of stone at Mt. Sinai is the very day that God chose to pour out his Holy Spirit, turning sinful hearts of stone into living hearts of flesh (Ez. 36:26). From the Flood to Babel the division of peoples was made, separating language and religious culture. But from Pentecost on, the gospel advances with the power to undo the confusion of the nations by the Spirit's power through unity of faith in Christ’s gospel.


It is a powerful image of Pentecost to remember that Moses saw the glory of the Holy Spirit over the earthly tabernacle in the pillar of fire. How much more is God's glory evident, though it is now invisible, that the temple made without hands of “living stones” is indwelt by the Spirit of God. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit visibly descended on the Church. He indwelt the new temple, the Church of the living God. Just as the Shekinah glory came down in the original temple of Solomon, now the Shekinah was poured out by our enthroned King at Pentecost.


Pentecost certainly is something to celebrate!