George Bowers Sr.: Happy birthday to the church
Sunday is a very special day for the church. Not Antioch nor any other particular congregation, nor even any denomination, but all denominations and all congregations of true Christians. This Sunday is the birthday of THE church universal.
Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, God the Father gave his Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples. When he arrived, he immediately began helping those first followers tell others about Jesus in powerful and convincing ways. These ways were so powerful and convincing that about 3,000 people believed and were baptized that same day and the Christian Church was off and running.
Acts 2 gives the details of that exciting day and how the Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned so that people from all over the world who were present could understand and believe. The rest of the book of Acts goes on to describe the growth, persecution, and excitement of those early years and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through Christians.
It’s easy looking back for us to only think of Pentecost as the church’s birthday and to believe that is its sole significance. The reality, however, is that Pentecost was a Jewish holy day that had been observed for thousands of years prior to that event. God prescribed for the Jews to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, 50 days after the Day of Firstfruits, and it was one of the three times each year when all Jews were to assemble before him in Jerusalem.
They had been doing this for centuries in obedience to the Old Testament commands and this was the reason for the international multi-lingual audience of Acts 2. God chose a date beforehand to deliver this most special gift to those who were seeking him. Just as Jesus was crucified on Passover as the sacrificial lamb, and just as he rose again on the Day of Firstfruits as the first of those who will be resurrected, the Spirit came on the feast of the harvest when many would come into the protective barn of God’s church.
There is another significance, however, that the Jews also attached to this 50th day. They understood that Pentecost was the very day that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai during their desert sojourn. These commands, along with the rest of the law, represented God’s expectations for his people. Unfortunately no one then or since, except Jesus, has been able to fully keep every letter of that law and this has created a need for forgiveness, as well as for a mechanism whereby humans can please their creator.
Jesus came and kept the righteous requirements of the law for us and became our sacrifice to provide forgiveness and atonement which paved the way for the Spirit to come. Since God doesn’t do anything coincidentally, he chose the same day he gave the law to give his Holy Spirit. On the very day God revealed his standards, he also gave us a way, years later, to keep those standards by personally coming to dwell within every believer. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, this was impossible, but because of what Christ accomplished, God could once again dwell with humans.
Paul fully understood this as did his Jewish readers to whom he wrote in Romans 8, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” That entire chapter describes the new life we have through the Holy Spirit who enables us to live holy lives if we yield to his leading. In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul also declares, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
In The Book of Mysteries, Johnathan Cahn has astutely observed that about 3,000 people perished on the day the law was given in Exodus 32 due to their disobedience, but the exact same number were added to the church by the work of the Holy Spirit some 1,500 years later on the same Hebrew holiday.
And so, on this Pentecost Sunday, let us praise the God who does nothing by accident but who has arranged history to tell his story. Let us recognize the great gift of the Holy Spirit and the day on which he was given and let us seek to follow his leading each day.
In the Spirit, George.
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored nine books including his latest, “Valley Verses, Volume III.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.