The Promise of Pentecost

by Victor Knowles

Does it seem strange to you that those of us who claim to be a New Testament church do not celebrate the birthday of the church? We celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas Day but not the birth of His church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1ff).

The Greek word for Pentecost (pentekosté) means "the 50th day." In the Old Testament, the Jewish Feast of Weeks (or Feast of Harvest) fell on the 50th day after the Feast of Passover. It was also called Day of the First Fruits (Num. 28:26). The amazing events of Pentecost in AD 30 saw the "first fruits" of a spiritual harvest-3,000 baptized penitents added to the church. The post-apostolic church called Pentecost "Whit Sunday" or "White Sunday" after the white garments that candidates for Christian baptism would wear on the 50th Sunday after Resurrection Day. (This year Pentecost Sunday falls on May 27.)

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared, "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:39). What promise? His listeners had just interrupted his message on the crucifixion of Christ, saying, "What shall we do?" He replied, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). The promise was twofold: pardon for the past and power for the present. Guilt was gone and a gift was given-the Holy Spirit. This priceless promise was for them (those who had crucified Christ), their children (subsequent generations), to those afar off (Gentiles), indeed, for all who hear and respond to the call of God.

Samuel Chadwick (1832-1917) said, "To the church, Pentecost brought light, power, joy. There came to each illumination of mind, assurance of heart, intensity of love, fullness of power, exuberance of joy. No one needed to ask if they had received the Holy Spirit." From that day forward, the church lived in the fullness of power of the Holy Spirit. "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31).

The church should always live in the power of the promise of Pentecost. This is by God's design. "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). Human might and personal power are no substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians are followers of Christ and should live as He lived-in the power of the Spirit. After His baptism Jesus was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1). After His temptation He returned to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14). So should we.

The apostles of Christ were empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Their Spirit-inspired teaching became the mainstay of the church (Acts 2:42). In this day when the undiscerning are swept away by fables like The DaVinci Codeor the spurious Gospel of Judaswe must continue to devote ourselves to the "apostles' teaching" so that we may be able to discern between truth and falsehood (1 John 4:6).

Are today's programs of the church empowered by the Spirit or overpowered by human ingenuity? Samuel M. Shoemaker (1893-1963) observed, "It would take a theologian with a fine-toothed comb to find the Holy Spirit recognizably present with power in much of our ecclesiastical routine." From her oldest members to her youngest converts, the church should be living daily in the promised power of Pentecost.

The church should not be market-driven but Spirit-driven. All the self-help programs in the world cannot match the beautiful and powerful work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of penitent, baptized believers, for only the Holy Spirit can transform us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), strengthen our inner life (Eph. 3:16), shed abroad God's love (Rom. 5:5), produce a lovely cluster of nine-fold fruit (Gal. 5:22,23), assist us in our understanding of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:14), aid us in our prayer life (Rom. 8:26), and grant assurance of our right relationship with God (1 John 4:13).

Make sure the promised power of Pentecost is yours today!

From The Knowlesletter; May/June 2006; reprinted with permission.

Victor Knowles is executive director of Peace on Earth Ministries (POEM), Joplin, Missouri.
The Knowlesletter is a monthly publication of this ministry.

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