Pentecost is here

Pentecost Sunday is always forty days after Easter. This year it fell on the 28th May. This is when Christians celebrate the events described in the second chapter of the Book of Acts in the Bible.

Pentecost was an amazing event

In Acts Chapter 2 we read that Jesus’s disciples experienced the Holy Spirit enabling them to speak in languages they had not learnt. They saw what looked like tongues of fire on each other’s heads yet nobody was burned. People’s reactions varied from awe to scepticism. Then Peter got up and explained what it all meant.

Llandaff Cathedral, a watercolour by George Dolman. Pentecost was not a typical church service!

Llandaff Cathedral, a watercolour by George Dolman. Pentecost was not a typical church service!


What did Pentecost mean?

Has anyone ever said you’re all talk? Me? Never! People often say that about the Church. It’s nothing but words. Nobody said that on the day of Pentecost. There were lots of words, but something else, something amazing. All too often, when the Church tries to get away from being all talk it tries being active. Helping people in practical ways. That’s good. There are certainly great needs around us today, but if we’re not careful we become an extension of or alternative to the social services. OK – if they’re not doing it, or not enough, it might be God’s Will for us to give them a hand. But that means we’ll only do what others do also, whereas what happened on that Day of Pentecost was not something anyone could have done without God. People need the Holy Spirit to let God do things in and through them that go beyond their abilities.

What did this phenomenon at Pentecost mean? One thing stands out to me. Whatever God was doing was for everyone, not just the Jews. It was a glimpse of what was to come. In Revelation Chapter 7 verse 9 we see a vision of Heaven, where all nations will worship God together:

After these things I looked and behold a great multitude which no one could count from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues standing before the throne of the Lamb.

That’s bad news for people who don’t like foreigners. Heaven’s going to be full of them.

Another meaning of this is on the face of it the opposite but it’s just another aspect of it. Each one heard in his/her own language. It was personal. The Bible Society has often reported that when people get the Bible in their own language for the first time, some say, “It’s as if God is speaking direct to me,” or “I used to think of God as a foreigner, but now I know he’s one of us.” Do you ever hear a sermon and say or think that other people needed it? Do you ever try to avoid what God is saying to you? It’s easily done, but He wants to speak to you – and me!

What did Peter say the events of Pentecost meant?

Peter began by saying it was all foretold by the prophet Joel. He was reassuring people that this was not a new religion, a rejection of Judaism. Nobody was saying, “Forget everything you thought you knew.”

Should Christians always quote the Old Testament ? No! Most people have probably never heard of Joel and don’t care. The point is to begin where people are. Show that you are on the same planet. Show that Christians share their experiences, feelings, concerns: rising prices, NHS waiting lists, global warming. Then show the difference God makes. But quoting scripture can be powerful if you do it at the right moment and if you let God guide you.

Peter’s main theme was Jesus

Peter spoke of Jesus’s and especially his death and resurrection. Pentecost makes no sense without Easter. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. God does not want anyone to seek the Holy Spirit without first seeking Jesus. Of course, once you have accepted Jesus as Lord, you need the Holy Spirit in order to be any use to Him.

Peter shows, again from the Old Testament, that Jesus was and is the Son of God. He himself had realised this some time before when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered, “The Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus’s resurrection shows that Peter was right. That is the most important part of Peter’s message – and mine. If Jesus is not the Son of God, his death means no more than that of anyone who was executed unjustly. I became a Christian when I first had to confront the question “Who is or was Jesus? A phoney? Deluded? Or the Son of God?” I realised that the answer to that question would have huge implications for me. Whichever answer I came to!

You might like to think about the points I raise about the historicity of the gospels in another post.

“The man YOU crucified!” Who? Me? The people Peter was speaking to were not all responsible for Jesus’s death, were they? Many were probably still in their own countries at the time. Do you know the song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Did you ever reject Jesus or ignore Him? He died for the sins of the whole world. Your every sin, and mine, helped put Him on the cross.

Jesus was rejected and condemned by the Roman governor, the Jewish religious leaders and the mob. But God showed what he thought when he brought him back to life. So be careful not to think a thing is right because it’s what the government wants, what the public wants or even what the Church wants. They can all be wrong. What does God say? This does not mean we should disobey the law or our church leaders every time we disagree or even that we should be too quick to reject public opinion, but we should test all things against scripture.

What was the reaction to Peter’s sermon?

Nobody said, “Thank you, Peter, what a lovely sermon.” They knew they needed to act on what they had heard.

How? Repent and be baptised! Repent means turn around. You are going the wrong way. Like getting on a motorway the wrong way at the roundabout. You won’t get to your destination by slowing down or by apologising to your passengers. You need to get off at the next exit and get back on in the right direction. Trust me!

Repentance can be a problem for people who have been going to Church for years, especially if they come from a Christian family. Perhaps there was never a time when you were not a Christian, when you didn’t believe. Even so, there comes a time to make your mind up. Being a Christian has to be a positive choice, not just something you drift into.

What’s next after repentance?

Peter says you WILL receive the Holy Spirit. It is for everyone who turns to Jesus. What if you haven’t received? ASK! Who me? Yes! God is speaking to you. And don’t miss out on something God has for you just because you can’t decide what to call it: the baptism in the Spirit, receiving the Spirit, the fulness of the Spirit, or whatever.

What will happen to me? Will I act foolishly? Will I become an extremist? If you’re afraid of the Holy Spirit, remember He is the Spirit is God and the Spirit of Jesus. You need not be afraid of Him any more than of God or Jesus. Does He want to make a fool of you? As for extremism, John Stott said the trouble with extremists is they’re always extreme about the wrong things. Be extreme about praise, about serving, about love.

Will I speak in tongues? What gift you receive or how the Holy Spirit will use you is up to Him. In my case the main result of receiving the Spirit was that I found it easier to believe the Bible and I gained a new love for God’s Word. I also stopped trying to force myself to do what I thought God wanted. I could relax and let Him work in and through me. I could be myself. The self He always intended me to be.

What about you?

Yes but I’m not religious!

You might find something to help you in my book How to Cope with the Church. It is intended to help people who are not quite atheists but don’t think they’ll fit into a church.

How to cope with Church: Practical advice for would-be Christians