The Holy Spirit at Pentecost
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within the first members of Jesus’ new family, the Church (“ekklesia” in Greek, meaning “assembly” or “congregation”). The Spirit was sent by Jesus to empower them and guide them as they lived in covenant with God.
Luke, the author of Acts 2 (our first reading this week), describes in vivid detail how this momentous event took place. But behind the scenes of Luke’s account lies much of the depth and breadth of the significance of Pentecost in the whole story of Jesus that his original readers would have naturally understood.
We can still understand the significance of Pentecost in the same way Luke’s first-century readers understood it, but for us, it will require a bit more “excavation” of the context and history surrounding this event. That’s why days two through five in this week’s reading plan will help us 21stcentury readers reconstruct the background Luke’s readers and the people present at Pentecost would have known.
In addition to understanding the events of Acts 2 much more like the original readers, we will also gain a renewed and expanded vision of Jesus’s mission for the early church –– to participate in God’s mission to reconcile his human family to himself. But that power was not limited to the early church. It is still made available today in the lives of God’s people.
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DAY 1 - 6/10
The Holy Spirit is Poured Out
In the opening of the book of Acts, Luke describes to us Jesus’ final recorded words to his disciples before he ascended to heaven. He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem and, by doing so, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would empower them to be witnesses to the good news of the reign of King Jesus throughout the world (Acts 1:8).
Acts 2 picks up in the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. His new family (ekklesia) were all gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost, worshipping and praying to God, when the very Spirit promised by Jesus came upon them, clothing them with power.
Justo González,Essential Theological Terms(Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2005), 164.
Acts 2:1-47 (ESV)
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?
9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.
32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
To read more about the reversal at Pentecost, see Acts 1; 3; also Gen. 11; Deut. 32.
DAY 2 - 6/11
The First Covenant is Given Through Moses
Christians have long believed that there are dramatic parallels between the giving of the Law at Sinai and the events which occurred at Pentecost. As the Holy Spirit fell upon his people in the upper room, we read how the divine presence manifested in similar physical ways, both in God’s people and in the natural world around them (Acts 2:2-4). But rather than the Spirit’s divine presence encountering only Moses as it had on Sinai, the presence of the Spirit was poured out to all of God’s people, so that we might be empowered as his sacred space.
In both instances we see how the response of God’s human family to his presence is not simply a reaction to the miraculous, but also an instinctual response to the holiness of the presence and power of the Spirit.
In the passages from Exodus, below, we read a number of moments which call to mind our reading from yesterday in Acts 2 and the events surrounding it. Prior to receiving the law, Moses ascended to the top of the mountain, Jesus ascended to heaven. At Sinai, fire covered the mountain and the people heard the thunder and lightning. At Pentecost, fire appeared over each head and there was a sound like a rushing wind.
There are also noteworthy fulfillment points as well. For instance, at Sinai only Moses was permitted to encounter the presence of God. But beginning at Pentecost, every believer is admitted access to his presence. Moses descended from Sinai with the Law written on tablets of stone, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven to write the law on their hearts (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26; Jer. 31:10; Heb. 8:10). The covenant given to Moses inaugurated the nation of Israel while the covenant given by the Spirit inaugurated the Church.
 Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary(Nashville: B&H Publishers, 2006), 429.
Exodus 19:1-20:21 (ESV)
On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
9 The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.
10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.”
14 After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him
20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”
23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”
24 The Lord replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.”
25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
1And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
To read more about the Holy Spirit and the Law, see Exod. 21.
DAY 3 - 6/12
The New Covenant Promised through Jeremiah
In Jer. 31, the prophet prophecies about a time in the future in which God would initiate a new covenant with humankind. No longer would the covenant be written on tablets of stone, like the commandments given to Moses (Exod. 19-20). Instead this new covenant would be written on the hearts of all people who would come and be reconciled to YHWH. This was foretold by the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah centuries before Pentecost (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26; Jer. 31:10; Heb. 8:10). Luke’s Jewish readers would have undoubtedly recalled this promise, taught to them from previous generations.
The coming of the Holy Spirit would have meant to Luke’s audience an uninhibited access to God’s presence. No longer was the temple the place of God’s dwelling, but rather it was the hearts of God’s people (Acts 3; cf. 1 Cor 6:19). They would have recalled the promise you will read from Jeremiah that all would know the Lord (Jer. 31:34; cf. Acts 2:21,39) when God inaugurated his new covenant.
It’s important that we look at the whole story of King Jesus for what it is –– an unfolding revolution where God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, has brought about new time in history where every person is granted the opportunity to be reconciled into YHWH’s family. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, sent from Jesus, that empowers the church to participate in God’s reconciliatory work.
It is also the ministry of the Spirit that comforts and guides the Church in the face of trial and persecution. Finally, it is the ministry of the Spirit that will strengthen the Church to remain faithful to YHWH as we await the return of King Jesus and the consummation of new creation.
Jeremiah 31:31-40 (ESV)
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.
33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
35 Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
36 “If this fixed order departs
from before me, declares the Lord,
then shall the offspring of Israel cease
from being a nation before me forever.”
37 Thus says the Lord:
“If the heavens above can be measured,
and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel
for all that they have done,
declares the Lord.”
38 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. 40 The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”
To read more about the foretelling of the new covenant, see Deut. 29-30; Ezek. 36.
DAY 4 - 6/13
The Holy Spirit is Promised by Jesus
During the Last Supper, the apostle John records the lengthy conversation Jesus had with his disciples as he prepared them for his death. From their vantage point, Jesus’ talk of going away must have been disorienting and even frightening. But Jesus was encouraged them saying, “It is better for you that I go away…” (John 16:7).
Jesus promised that upon his departure, he would send the Holy Spirit to come upon his people so they would be empowered for mission, guided in truth, instructed in the ways of righteousness, and comforted amidst trials. The same Holy Spirit who commissioned Jesus himself for public ministry, commissions and empowers the people of Jesus today. This promise was initially fulfilled at Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on the believers in the upper room. It continues to be fulfilled today as the Spirit empowers his people for ministry in the world.
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Way: Revised Edition(Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Press, 1979), 92.
John 14:1-31 (ESV)
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
5 but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:
9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
To read more about the foretelling of the new covenant, see John 15-16.
DAY 5 - 6/14
Following Pentecost, the Holy Spirit began to go to work through the early church as the gospel of the kingdom spread throughout the Roman world. The book of Acts describes many of the challenges that faced the first Christians as Christ’s ekklesia(church) began to form. Acts 6 details how the Holy Spirit gave his people wisdom in how to delegate responsibility for the care of the most vulnerable memebers in the new Christian community. It also begins the story of Stephen (which continues through Acts 7), Christianity’s first martyr, and how the Spirit of God both emboldened and comforted Stephen in the face of death.
Throughout Acts we read of men and women who were filled with the Spirit to carry on the gospel message. It is the Holy Spirit alive and active in God’s people who “meets, nourishes, transforms, and empowers us,” particularly as we worship and demonstrate our loyalty to Christ.The Spirit responds to our worship and loyalty by empowering us to live faithful lives and participate in God’s reconciliatory work throughout the world.
James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.), 150.
Acts 6:1-7 (ESV)
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jewsamong them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
To read more about the Holy Spirit at work in the early church, see Acts 3:1-11; 5:1-16; 8:14-17; 9:1-9; 28:3-9. Or to read the conclusion of Stephen’s story and the persecution of early Christians, read Acts 7-8.
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