Today is Pentecost Sunday—the birthday of the church. Forty-nine days after the resurrection of Jesus, God poured out his Spirit on those followers of Jesus (Acts 2). In an extraordinary and undeniable way, God affirmed that he was doing something new. He was calling out a people for his name (1 Peter 2:9). What does this event teach us about the mission of the church?
First, we are reminded of the difficulty of the mission. This work is impossible apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave his followers the Great Commission but then told them not to attempt it until they received the Holy Spirit. We often feel overwhelmed and inadequate when it comes to sharing our faith – and we should! Even the most gifted people cannot change the human heart. We need to get back to a radical dependence on God and a commitment to prayer.
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 of grain 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 point is that was only the first handful of a vast harvest.
Third, we are reminded of the diversity of the mission. All of those present were Jews—but they were Jews who had gathered from all over the known world to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem. And they would be taking the good news of Jesus back to their countries of residence! The early church was serious about taking the gospel to every tongue and tribe.
Fourth, we are reminded of the nature of the mission. The Holy Spirit appeared as flames of fire. In the Scriptures, fire is associated with purification and judgment. The Holy Spirit has come as a consuming fire to purge and sanctify God’s people. Fire knows no bounds. 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 simply pray a prayer, observe a ritual or engage in some mediocre intellectual assent to the gospel. He is calling for a complete and total surrender.
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