The Gift of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)

 

Leviticus 23:15-22; Joel 2:28-32 (text); Acts 2:1-24, 36-41

© October 27, 2013 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Introduction

Beloved congregation of Christ: All true Christians are Pentecostals and Charismatics! We will look at this astonishing statement later in this sermon.

These last two weeks, the Christian social media was filled with blogs and discussions of the Strange Fire Conference sponsored by John MacArthur’s church in L.A., California. MacArthur condemned the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement as unbiblical and opens the way to excesses such as the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen and the Word-Faith movement of Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and other televangelists.

Charismatics pushed back, saying that their movement has given new life to dead orthodoxy. They also claim to have enriched the worship of the church by giving it new music and contemporary worship. And they always place the guilt trip on those who criticize Pentecostals as quenching the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, there are two main sides in this controversy: cessationists and continuationists. Cessationists affirm that the extraordinary gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecies and healings have ceased with the passing of the apostles. In contrast, continuationists argue that these extraordinary gifts can still be possessed by believers today as manifestations of the Spirit.

One of the major texts in this debate is Acts 2, where the Lord Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples on Pentecost Sunday. The disciples started preaching the gospel in the languages that were spoken by Jews dispersed throughout the world but who were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. Peter preached the first written sermon after the Spirit was poured out on that Pentecost Sunday, and 3,000 believed! It is this event that Pentecostals and Charismatics desire to experience repeatedly. But are milestones in redemptive history—the Fall, the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus and Mount Sinai, and the Babylonian exile—repeatable events? Certainly not! Therefore, like all of these redemptive-historical events, Pentecost is a one-time event.

Right: "Pentecost" by El Greco, ca. 1600

Right: “Pentecost” by El Greco, ca. 1600 (click image to enlarge)

Why did Jews gather in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost? In the Old Testament, Pentecost was known as the Feast of Weeks, one of the seven annual feasts that God appointed for Israel. God commanded Israel to count 7 weeks plus 1 day—a total of 50 days—after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and celebrate this feast.

While the Feast of Firstfruits was celebrated at the beginning of harvest, the Feast of Weeks commemorated the end of harvest. This is why it is also called “the Feast of the Harvest” (Ex 23:16), and also “the day of the firstfruits” (Nu 28:26; see also Lv 23:17). In the New Testament it is called “Pentecost” (Acts 2:1, from the Gk. word for “fiftieth”). The LORD commanded this celebration so they would demonstrate their gratitude to him for the harvest by giving back the firstfruits of the season.

Before we proceed, it would be useful to distinguish terms used in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit is usually referred to as “the gift” (singular), while “gifts” (plural) usually referred to spiritual gifts.

So our theme this Lord’s Day is “The Gift of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)” under three headings: (1) Waiting for the Gift; (2) The Gift Poured Out; and (3) The Gift Completes His Work.

Waiting for the Gift

The Israelites celebrated the beginning and the end of harvest season. The Feast of Firstfruits began the harvest, and the Feast of Weeks ended it. They would patiently count the 7 weeks and 1 day, waiting for this great day of celebrating the bountiful harvest that the LORD had given them.

During this Feast, the people of Israel brought all the offerings that were commanded in Leviticus 9: a grain offering and drink offerings for thanksgiving; a burnt offering as a symbol of the dedication of their whole harvest to God; a sin offering to atone for their sin; and finally, peace offerings as a joyous fellowship meal in the presence of God. This feast day was also a rest day highlighted by a holy assembly.

Near the end of the Old Testament period, the Feast of Weeks had undergone a transformation in its name and significance. Since it was celebrated 50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it became known as Pentecost, the Greek word for “fiftieth.” Also, it was not only a day of thanksgiving, but it became linked by Jewish rabbis to the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai.

How did it become linked to Mount Sinai? From their departure in Egypt, the people arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai on the 50th day (Ex 19:1). The covenant LORD appeared to them before the mountain with smoke and a storm of lightning and thunder, and with an earthquake. The sinful people trembled with fear before a holy God. Only after offering animal sacrifices was Moses able to go up the mountain to receive the Law.

Jewish rabbis therefore began treating the 50-day period as a period of repentance before a holy and awesome God as they remembered Mount Sinai. So this period became known as the time of “waiting for the gift,” the gift of the Torah, the Law. They read the whole Law of Moses and memorized Psalm 119, a song of thanksgiving and praising the Law of the LORD.

After his resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city [of Jerusalem] until you ware clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). They were “to wait for the promise of the Father… for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Ac 1:4-5). And he promised them that with the power of the Spirit, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Ac 1:8).

This promise of the Father is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ac 2:38). The apostles and other believers were not to count 50 days to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, but to receive the gift of the Spirit whom Jesus had promised before he was crucified. He told them, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you”(Jn 14:26).

Jesus promised that the Spirit will come and give them power to preach and teach all that Jesus had taught them for three years. They will remember all his teachings, and be able to understand the meaning of all that he taught. For example, John says that they understood that he was talking about his death and resurrection when he said he would raise up the Temple in three days only after his resurrection (Jn 2:21-22). Again, John comments, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (Jn 12:16). And, after the angel told them that Jesus rose from the grave, Luke said, “And they remembered his words” (Lk 24:8).

Are you still waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit? If you’re a believer, wait no more. Because the moment the Spirit gives you a new heart, he indwells you (Ezk 36:26). This is why all true Christians are “Pentecostals”—they all have the Spirit of Pentecost!  Don’t wait for a second blessing, with its speaking in tongues, new revelations, and healings. How do you know the Spirit indwells you? “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Ro 8:16). Christ guarantees his promises to us through the sealing of the Spirit: he “has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2Co 1:22; see also 2Co 5:5; Ep 1:13).

How else do you know you’re indwelt by the Spirit? “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1Jn 3:24). Note that it is not by signs and wonders, but by keeping God’s law. John also says that the Spirit-indwelt Christian bears much fruit, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Believers evidence the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gl 5:22-23). This is why all true believers are also “Charismatics”—all are given spiritual gifts (Gr. charismata) by the Spirit!

The Christian still struggles against his sinful nature, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gl 5:17). But because of the Spirit, your desire is to keep God’s Word, even though the sinful nature in you always tries to prevent you from doing them.

If you have no sure knowledge of the Gospel, no hearty trust and faith in Christ alone, have not repented of being a sinner, then you are not a Christian and do not have the Spirit of God (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 21). You need to ask God to give you repentance and faith in Christ alone. Your greatest need now is for Christ to pour out the gift of his Spirit on you.

The Gift Poured Out

Luke’s description of the pouring out of the Spirit on that Pentecost Sunday was vivid:

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Ac 2:2-4).

The sound of a mighty rushing wind was so loud and thunderous (God’s voice is always described as thunder) that the crowd in Jerusalem was amazed, maybe even frightened. Because of the Feast of Pentecost, devout Jews from “every nation under heaven,” which means all the nations around the New Testament Roman world were in Jerusalem. Not only were they amazed, they were “bewildered” and “perplexed,” “because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” without the aid of interpreters (Ac 2:6). The preachers “hear[d] them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Ac 2:11).

With this event, one might wonder why God caused the people of the world to have many languages. Wouldn’t it be so much better and easier for him to accomplish the salvation of sinners if there was one language? There would be one Bible, and the greatest preachers can preach anywhere in the world without interpreters.

The answer lies in the events in the plains of Shinar (Babel) in Genesis 11:1-9. From Adam and Eve up to that time, “the whole earth had one language and the same words” (verse 1). The people of the earth dwelt in one area of the world, and they started migrating from the east and found a fertile plain in Shinar where they settled. Because they so trusted in their own knowledge and skills, they said, “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (verse 4). This thinking is in violation of God’s command to multiply and fill the whole earth (Gn 1:28; 9:7). And their self-confidence and independence violated God’s desire for the whole earth to worship him.

So God intervened by making them speak many different languages so they could not understand one another. The result was what the people did not want: every language group settled together in one place, so that the people were dispersed throughout the whole world (verses 8-9).

From this development, God started his redemption plan small, beginning with one family, Abraham’s family. His family became a tribe, and in Egypt, this one tribe became a whole nation. After escaping from Egypt and settling in Canaan, the nation spoke the Hebrew language. Still, God’s plan always included the blessing of all the nations speaking multitudes of tongues through Abraham and his Seed. So the psalmists looked forward to that day, “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!” (Ps 117:1) The prophets also looked forward to the day when Gentile nations, personified by Egypt and Assyria, will worship God together with Jews (Is 19:23).

In the fullness of time, God again intervened, but this time it was not in Babylon where all the inhabitants of the earth dwelt. It was in Jerusalem, where thousands of Jews from all the nations of the known world then were gathered for the Feast of Pentecost. So when the preachers proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, people from all the nations heard one message in their own various tongues. Cretans heard the gospel in Cretan language; Arabians heard Arabic; Parthians heard Farsi; Egyptians heard Egyptian; Libyans heard Libyan; and Romans heard Latin.

This gospel united all those 3,000 who believed into one “body and one Spirit… one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ep 4:4-6). They started speaking one language, as it were, the language of salvation in Christ Jesus alone. Babel, the confusion of tongues, is now reversed into one tongue of redemption!

Joel says this outpouring would happen “afterward,” which for him meant that it would happen during the time of Israel’s restoration as God’s people. Peter interpreted Joel’s prophecy in light of its fulfillment on that Pentecost Sunday, and for him it ushered the “last days.” This means that for the New Testament writers, “the last days” started when Christ first came.

Who will receive this outpouring? It is “all flesh”: men and women, young and old, masters and servants. During the apostolic era, some of these men and women received extraordinary gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. This is to show the world that they were sent by the true God, and their gospel is the truth. These signs and wonders authenticated their divine origin (Hb 2:4). They were foundational to the church, at its very beginnings, and by the time the apostles and their associates were gone, the foundation was already established (Ep 2:20), and the succeeding generations of believers started building the church over the foundation (1Co 3:10-11).

John the Baptizer also prophesied that Jesus will baptize his disciples with “fire.” And something like fire came down from heaven, “divided tongues as of fire” and they “rested on each one of them” (Ac 2:3). In the Old Testament, fire demonstrated God’s holy presence, as in the burning bush that appeared to Moses, the fire that came down from heaven to consume the people’s sacrificial offerings, or even the fire of judgment that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah. At Pentecost, these “tongues as of fire” did not consume, but instead signified the power and purity of the gospel that the disciples would preach to the people in their own tongues.

Pentecost Sunday was a once-for-all event in redemptive history, along with the first coming of Christ (Ac 2:32, 33). The four different Pentecost events in the Book of Acts unfolded the structure of the book that follows Jesus’ Great Commission in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So Luke traces in the Acts the salvation of four distinct people groups: Jews (Ac 2:1-41), God-fearers (Ac 10:44-48), the Samaritans (Ac 8:14-17), and the Gentiles (Ac 19:1-7), fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy in Acts 1:8.

And this outpouring of the Spirit will continue until the last day of the “last days.”.

The Gift Completes His Work

In Joel 2:30-31, we read about cosmic phenomenon that has never happened in the history of the world since Pentecost, “wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood.” And these wonders will be shown “before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes”(Jl 2:30-31). So Joel is prophesying cosmic wonders that will occur before the return of Jesus, just as Peter also prophesied, “the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2Pt 3:12)

Jesus says that these cosmic signs will appear at his coming, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man…” (Mt 24:29-30a). These signs clearly point to the end of the world.

Joel says that during this time of great harvest, “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Jl 2:32). God’s chosen people have always called upon the name of the LORD, starting with Adam’s son Seth, when “people began to call upon the name of the LORD” (Gn 4:26). But by the time of Noah, “when man began to multiply on the face of the land… the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Gn 6:1, 5). Only Noah found favor with God, so he and his family alone were saved from the great flood.

But when God pours out his Spirit on his people, he “will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD …” (Zp 3:9). Their speech will be the pure gospel of Christ that they would believe and preach. The inhabitants of the earth will go through God’s testing by fire, but God’s people will be saved, “They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God’” (Zc 13:9). They will be saved because they are God’s covenant nation.

Paul quotes this verse in Joel when he says in Rom. 10:13, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Rm 10:13). “Everyone” includes Jews and Gentiles alike from all nations. These are those survivors who will escape God’s wrath when they seek refuge and salvation in Mount Zion in the heavenly city (J1 2:32).

Today, the outpouring of God’s Spirit continues, saving multitudes of people throughout the nations. They are now citizens of one holy nation, God’s own treasured possession. When the Spirit’s work of changing hearts and souls is completed, the elect from every nation will gather before God’s heavenly throne to worship him.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rv 7:9-10)

As we wait for that day, remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2). Pray, because there is much gospel work to be done while we await the final Feast of Weeks, the final harvest.

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