When the children of Israel were safely across the Red Sea and Moses was on Mount Sinai , God instructed him about the holy days that he wanted Israel to celebrate. These times were “the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.” That feast of weeks becomes known as Pentecost, a week of weeks or seven weeks after the celebration of the Passover, which they had witnessed and partaken of before leaving Egypt. Evidence in the Old Testament before the time of Ezra and Nehemiah indicates that these feasts were not regularly observed as God intended. In a renewed zeal for God, after the return of the Exiles from Babylon, they seem to become regular festivals as God intended, but still without the genuine gratitude of Israel toward God.
The significance of this Feast of Pentecost, for the Church, rests in the fact that the Church, a purposeful group of Messianic believers gathered for the purposes of worship, prayer, and evangelism did not exist until this last day of the festival. It is then that the Holy Spirit manifests himself to believers gathered in that upper room in prayer, as tongues of fire over each person in that room. It is then that the wind, the “pneuma”, or Spirit, blows freshly on each believer. It is then that the Gospel message is proclaimed in fourteen different languages or tongues to all the Jews who gather in Jerusalem for that feast. Indeed Jesus injunction to the disciples in Acts 1:4-8 was to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, and then, beginning in that holy city, preach the Gospel and baptize in the name of Jesus. In obedience to Jesus, the disciples now witness something that can only be a miracle. Thousands hear and believe on the name of Jesus as the long awaited Messiah on that day.
The event is a fulfillment, according to Peter, of the prophecy of Joel, chapter 2:28-32. This prophecy deals with the promise of the Holy Spirit and the deliverance brought to Israel through the Messiah. Peter quotes Joel about the pouring out of the Spirit on the people and that the young, the daughters and sons will prophesy, and the old men will have dreams while the young men will have visions in Joel 2:28 and 29.
However, Peter had even more to say; and with that he begins to preach one of the most convicting messages the people had heard pointing out that the Pharisaical sect of the Jewish leaders had conspired to have Jesus killed, and that this Jesus was indeed the Anointed One of God, the Messiah. Many in the crowd ask what is necessary to remove their own guilt and be delivered from condemnation and even wrath from God in verse 37 of Acts 2. Peter tells them “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ . . .” (Acts 2.38a). It is not enough to just hear this amazing sermon; the crowd must act, on an individual level, and decide to believe or not to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One of God, and the Messiah. According to Acts 2:41, about three thousand believe and the Church begins her mission.
It would be easy to go on and write a glorious history of our Savior’s Church, but because she was sometimes led by corrupt men, who sometimes forgot her mission, that cannot be done. The greatest advancements of the Church, in terms of being obedient to her call to teach and baptize follow immediately on the heels of this miraculous beginning. It spread rapidly due to missionaries, like the people converted that Pentecost day who then return to their homes in all of those lands listed in Acts. Then Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Silas and a host of others begin their own missionary efforts and grow these small home churches, and soon spread into Europe. Some churches in the region of modern day Turkey, like Ephesus, were large even by our own modern day standards. There were thousands of believers and tens of thousands by the end of the first century. Many see the Church not getting back to her purpose until after the Reformation, but that is another story for next time. Yet for me, the wonder of the Church exists in how she begins with a few believers in a time of fervent prayer answered by God in a promised outpouring of his Holy Spirit. Imagine what the Church can do today if we agree to gather in prayer in upper rooms around the world, to ask God to awaken the world to the need it has for this kind of deliverance from the bondage of sin.