Jesus promised his disciples: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Luke repeats the promise in his introduction to Acts: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).
We see in Acts 2 that the disciples received the promised gift on the Day of Pentecost — they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, which clothed them with power from God. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).
We therefore focus on the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost season. Jews traditionally connect Pentecost with the giving of the law and the covenant made at Mt. Sinai. Today we have a fuller understanding, based on the New Testament. We connect it with the Holy Spirit and the covenant God has made with people from all nations who are in his church.
Called to testify
On Pentecost, we remember that God has called us as the new people of God: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
What is the purpose of our calling? Why does God call us to be his people? To declare his praises. Why does he give us the Holy Spirit? To be witnesses to Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit empowers us to preach the gospel, to announce the good news that humans are in God’s kingdom through his grace and mercy, and through what Christ has done for us.
God has made a covenant, an agreement, with us. God promises us eternal life, and the Holy Spirit is an advance payment of our salvation. God’s promises (his part of the agreement) are characterized by grace and mercy and the Holy Spirit. We have been called and given the Spirit — now here’s where we come in — so that we might be witnesses to the mercy of God as shown in our Savior, Jesus Christ. That’s the mission of the church, the reason for the church’s existence and the reason each member is called into the church, the body of Christ.
The church is commissioned to preach the gospel, to tell people about the salvation purchased for us through the sacrifice of Christ (Luke 24:46-48). The Holy Spirit was given to the apostles on Pentecost so they would be bold witnesses for Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). The commission of the church is part of the picture given to us by the day of Pentecost.
The Day of Pentecost commemorates the dramatic birth of the New Testament church, and it can also remind us of our spiritual birth into the family of God and the continual renewal, power and courage God gives us through the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is a reminder that the Holy Spirit leads the church into truth, and guides, inspires and empowers God’s people, transforming us toward the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and interceding for us (verse 26). Pentecost can also remind us that the church consists of all people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. Pentecost is an annual reminder to strive for the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Most of the Christian world observes this day in commemoration of the Spirit we have in common.
Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is given to us not to exalt ourselves but that we might be witnesses of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). The church is not simply a place to be taught principles of sound and virtuous living; it exists for the purpose of proclaiming the praises of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9). Although we all want to become better persons, more like Jesus, this is not the only goal we have. Christians have a mission — a mission empowered by the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to declare the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring the message of reconciliation through faith in his name to the whole world.
Pentecost pictures a result of a life led by the Holy Spirit — a life that testifies to the righteousness, power and mercy of Jesus Christ. A faithful Christian life gives witness to the gospel. Such a life gives evidence, it reveals the truth, that God is working in us. It is a walking, talking advertisement of the gospel.
A spiritual harvest
Pentecost was originally a harvest festival. But the church is involved in a spiritual harvest — the fruit or result of the church’s commission to spread the gospel. “Open your eyes and look at the fields,” Jesus told his disciples while they were in Samaria. “They are ripe for harvest.” Jesus was talking about a spiritual harvest, in which people are given eternal life: “Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together” (John 4:35-36).
On another occasion, Jesus saw the crowd and said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:36-38). That is what Pentecost should inspire us to do. We should ask God to help us see the people around us who are ready for spiritual harvest. We should pray for more laborers, because we eagerly desire for more people to share in God’s spiritual blessings. We should desire for the people of God to be declaring the praises of him who saved us.
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). That was his life, his nourishment, his energy. He, in turn, is the source of our life. He is our bread, the bread of eternal life. Our spiritual food is to do his will, to do his work, which is the gospel. We are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, in his way of life, as he lives in us. We should allow him to transform our goals in life. We should live for him and his purposes and his glory.
Message of the early church
Pentecost points us to the book of Acts, and the book of Acts points us to evangelism. The book is full of evangelistic speeches. The message is given again and again, and the message centers on Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, Judge and King. Even a Gentile like Cornelius knew the message. Peter told him, “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). Peter summarized the message that was already so famous that Cornelius knew it:
You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. (verses 37-39)
Peter continued to preach the gospel by noting Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and then he summarized the church’s commission: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (verses 42-43).
So, we preach about salvation and grace and Jesus Christ. Of course! He has been the greatest blessing we will ever know. The truth about our salvation is exciting, and we want to share it so that others might rejoice in the same blessing! This is why the church is given the Holy Spirit; this is why we are called together and told to work together in harmony so the church may grow.
When the church was persecuted for preaching the message about Jesus, they prayed for boldness so they could preach even more! “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly…. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:31, 33). The Holy Spirit was given to them so that they might preach Christ.
For every Christian
The Spirit was not given to the apostles alone, or simply to the church as a whole. The Holy Spirit is given to each Christian. Each of us can be a living witness to Jesus Christ; each of us has hope in Christ, and each of us can give an answer for our hope. After Stephen was stoned for preaching about Jesus Christ, a great persecution came on the early church, and all except the apostles fled from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). As they scattered, they spoke the word, proclaiming the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:19-20).
Luke paints a picture of perhaps hundreds of Christian men and women fleeing from Jerusalem because of their belief in Jesus Christ. They could not be silenced, even at threat of their lives! It did not matter whether they were elders or laypersons — each of them gave testimony to Jesus Christ. As they traveled, they would be asked why they were moving away from Jerusalem. No doubt they told all who asked.
This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit; this is the spiritual harvest pictured by Pentecost. These people were ready to give an answer! It was an exciting time, and that same excitement should be in the church today. The same Holy Spirit is energizing us; the same Jesus Christ is leading the church today. We can pray for the same boldness today!