I’ve probably heard it shared a thousand times: Jesus died for your sins so you can go to heaven when you die.
And while this really is wonderful news, you know what I see a lot of? Young people growing up in the church with nothing significant to do. Aimless. Directionless. Purposeless. Bored. Going to be with Jesus when we die is certainly something to look forward to, but does being a Christian have anything to do with here and now? Is there anything significant to do? (Some communities have plenty to say about what not to do, but that doesn’t quite satisfy our desire for an important purpose.)
And herein lies the problem. We haven’t been telling the whole story! I believe that we’re robbing the cross of its purpose and effectiveness by leaving out the story of Pentecost.
What is Pentecost? Well, many people miss the fact that the one we read about at the beginning of Acts wasn’t the original. This day was already a very old Jewish holiday during the time of the disciples. Here are some basic facts:
- 50 days after Passover (the Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus from Egypt–This celebration is the backdrop of Jesus’ Passion Week) is the “Feast of Weeks”, or “Pentecost” (from the Greek word that means 50).
- The Feast of Weeks is about Two Things: 1) Celebrating the harvest. 2) Celebrating the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Remember, when God gave the Law at Sinai, Moses went up (to the mountain), the Law came down, and “about 3000” were killed for worshipping a golden calf while Moses was away (Exo. 32:28).
- On this special Pentecost celebration we read about in Acts 2, Jesus goes up (the ascension happens ten days before), the Holy Spirit comes down, and “about 3000” were added to the number of believers (Acts 2:41). How cool is that!
But what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that the Gospel is incomplete without Pentecost. After all, we profess that the death and resurrection of Jesus was about uniting God and people. Well, the message of Pentecost is that while this “uniting” is in one sense still to come, in another very real, very powerful way, the union between God and people has begun! On Pentecost the Holy Spirit enters human beings!
Pentecost means that the Spirit of Jesus now animates the “Body” of Jesus.
Remember the story of Elijah? He ascended into heaven, too, and even gave his disciple Elisha his spirit to continue his ministry in Israel with his same power and authority after he’d gone up. And as Elisha the disciple performed miracles the people said, “Look! The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha!”
Pentecost means that Jesus’ ministry isn’t over, it’s just beginning.
Pentecost means we have something to do! Like Elisha, we’ve been given the Spirit of our Lord and amazingly “will do even greater things than these,” so that people say, “Look! The Spirit of Jesus is resting on the Church!”
This MAJOR event is like pistol shot that begins a race—And the Church is off! It’s called the book of Acts. But the movement of Acts doesn’t conclude with the end of Luke’s letter. Not at all. The end of the book isn’t the end of the story.
Joining this movement isn’t as much about passively waiting for heaven as it is about actively continuing Jesus’ ministry of restoration and reconciliation in the world. Pentecost means that we’re invited into the most significant purpose on earth by submitting to the Spirit, asking “What do You care about, God?”, and then moving to new rhythms as the Spirit teaches us the dance of the Kingdom of God.