Pentecost kinda sneaked up on me this year. This is the only one of God’s holy days where we’re not given a specific date to observe it on (like the 14th of Nissan or the 1st of the 7th month). It moves around a little each year, always 50 days after the wave offering on the Sunday following Passover. This year, Pentecost is happening tomorrow, on June 5th.
Many Messianics and Jews count the omer each evening as a new day begins, praying a specific blessing. In Leviticus, God told His people through Moses, “You must count for yourselves seven weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day you bring the wave offering sheaf; they must be complete weeks. You must count fifty days—until the day after the seventh Sabbath” (Lev. 23:15-16, NET). That’s what the word “Pentecost” means–it’s transliterated from the Greek word pentēkostē, or “fiftieth” (as in we’ve counted up to the fiftieth day).
Much like Passover, Pentecost takes on additional significance for the New Testament church. After Jesus’s resurrection and His ascension to the Father on the Sunday when priests in the temple did the wave sheaf offering, He remained here on earth with His disciples for 40 days. Then, He told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait (Acts 1:1-5). They did as they were told, no doubt expecting something to happen at Pentecost since it was coming up just 10 days from when they last saw Jesus. “Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place,” and the Holy Spirit came on them in a powerful way (Acts 2:1-4).
What about us today? We have instructions from the Old Testament about Pentecost, traditions that tell us God established his Sinai covenant with Israel on this day, and the story of the New Testament era of the church getting its start on Pentecost in the first century. Clearly this day is important and God tells us to keep observing it, but what is the significance for believers today?
A Time of Hope and Sharing
When I’ve written about Pentecost before on this blog, I usually focus on the book of Ruth. It’s traditionally read on Pentecost because of the connection with gleaning. In Leviticus 23, God included these instructions when He told us how to keep Pentecost, which coincided with the wheat harvest:
When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. You must leave them for the poor and the resident foreigner. I am the Lord your God.’”Leviticus 23:22, NET
It’s this instruction to landowners that allowed Ruth to glean for grain in Boaz’s field to keep herself and Naomi alive (Ruth 2). She started gleaning during the barley harvest (around Passover time) and continued on through the wheat harvest (around Pentecost time). This is one of the social safety nets God built into ancient Israel. He cares deeply about the poor, widow, and orphan–the people who struggle most to provide for themselves. A good man like Boaz would even order his workers to drop extra grain for someone like Ruth (2:16).
Ideally, harvest isn’t a time for hoarding your new wealth into a barn. It’s a time for sharing your bounty and offering hope for a brighter future. This principle works on a spiritual level as well. If we sow “in righteousness” and “reap according to kindness” while seeking the Lord and doing good, we will “from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Hos. 10:12-13; Gal. 6:7-10, WEB). Pentecost is a joyous festival day where we remember all the good Lord has given us to “harvest” in our lives and gather with others who are also doing their best to sow good things.
Gifts from the Lord
When we look at the book of Exodus, keeping in mind that the Israelites left Egypt right after Passover and it took about two months to travel all the way to Mount Sinai on foot, it seems reasonable to accept the Jewish tradition that says God gave the 10 commandments on Pentecost. That would place the establishment of one of the most important covenants in scripture on this holy day.
At Sinai, Yahweh set Israel apart to Himself as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” He warned them to purify themselves and respect His holiness, then presented the terms of the covenant starting with the 10 commandments (Ex. 19-24). Finally, the people said, “We will do all that Yahweh has said, and be obedient” (Ex. 24:7, WEB). This covenant was an incredible gift–the only fault with it was in the people who couldn’t keep the covenant as perfectly as God did. That’s why we needed a New Covenant established on better promises (Heb. 8).
Jesus enacted this New Covenant on Passover when He shared bread and wine with His disciples (Luke 22:19-20), outlined the terms of the new covenant (John 13-17), and died to end the old covenant and establish the new (Heb. 9:11-28). Then on Pentecost, He started giving His New Covenant church the gifts involved in these better promises.
Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. …
Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice, and addressed them… “this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'”Acts 2:1-4, 14, 16-18, NET
Life in the Spirit
There is a beautiful symmetry to think that on the same day, centuries apart, God gave His people the Law and the Spirit. For us today who “serve in the new life of the Spirit,” we get to keep the law on a spiritual level as God always intended. Because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, “the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 7:5-6; 8:3-5).
Pentecost helps remind us to rejoice in the abundant gifts God gives us, particularly the gift of His Spirit. God Himself is dwelling in us. That’s a wonderful thing. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Paul writes about the “joy that comes from the Holy Spirit” (1 Thes. 1:6, NET) and says joy is part of the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22). Even after being thrown out of a city for preaching God’s word, “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52, NET). The joy of the Lord is a persistent, irrepressible thing.
We can also have this same joy when we follow God in the spirit and intent of the law. We know that God’s kingdom consists of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people” (Rom. 8:17-18, NET). As we use the gifts God gives us and cultivate spiritual lives, God’s holy days remind us to also embrace the joy that comes along with being a child of the living God.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13, NET
Featured image by J F from Pixabay
Song Recommendation: “Joyful, Joyful” by Casting Crowns