Today is Pentecost Sunday – the birthday of the church. Fifty days after the resurrection we find Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem to commemorate the Jewish agricultural feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out on them and they responded to the gospel message of salvation through Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2). How does this event shape our understanding of our mission as the church?
First, we are reminded of the human impossibility of our mission. Jesus gave his followers the great commission but then told them not to attempt it until they received the Holy Spirit. We have been given a solemn charge to take the gospel to every nook and cranny on the planet. We feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the mission and our own inadequacy – and we should! But we should be encouraged to know that the Spirit is at work to change the human heart and to do what we cannot do.
Second, we are reminded of the scope of the mission. The Jewish feast of Pentecost was an agricultural feast. It marked the initial ingathering of the harvest. The first sheaves were brought to the temple courts and offered in praise to God – in anticipation that he would provide the rest of the harvest. When we read the account in Acts 2, we are struck with the sheer volume – 3,000 people responded to the gospel! But the imagery is such that those converts were just the very first sheaves of wheat in a great unfolding harvest.
Third, we are reminded of the nature of the mission. The Holy Spirit appeared as flames of fire – symbolizing purification and judgment. The Holy Spirit has come to purge and sanctify God’s people. When asked how they should respond, Peter urged them to repent (Acts 2:38)! John the Baptist baptized them with water. But Jesus came and baptized them with fire (Matthew 3:11). Jesus is not looking for people who will pray a prayer or engage in some mediocre intellectual assent to the gospel. He is calling people to die to themselves and live for him.
Photo credit: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stooks_near_South_Molton.jpg