Pentecost is also called “Whitsunday.” The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekoste, which means “the fiftieth day.” It was one of the three pilgrimage festivals which were observed by the Jews. It was observed 50 days after the Passover. It was also called the Feast of Weeks. According to Leviticus 23:15-22, it is linked to the Festival of First Fruits, which was celebrated at the beginning of the harvest; Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after the First Fruits. Hence it was thanksgiving for the first fruits of the harvest. Pentecost was also associated with the remembrance of the giving of the law by God to the Israelites, through Moses, at Mount Sinai. In the Christian church it is celebrated 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus and celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts chapter 2. It is a significant festival in the Christian church, as it marks the birth of Christianity and the beginning of the Christian mission to the world. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit represented the inauguration of the new age in which the law was fulfilled and salvation was open to gentiles. It received the name “Whitsunday” because in the early church, persons were baptized at Pentecost and were given white garments following the baptism.
Bible passage: Acts 2:1-47
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts chapter 2 records the events that took place with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This coming of the Holy Spirit was promised to the disciples by Jesus. In John 14:15-27, as Jesus was preparing the disciples for his departure from the world, he promised them the Holy Spirit. He said to them, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever” (John 14:16-17). Also, after his resurrection and before his ascension to heaven, Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:4-5 reads, “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” Then, in Acts 1:8, Jesus said to the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So, from these various promises and instructions from Jesus about the Holy Spirit, we can see that the Holy Spirit is God with us. We refer to the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time when we decide to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and leads us to repentance, cleanses us from sin and makes us new persons. The Spirit then dwells within each believer of Christ. When the Holy Spirit dwells within believers, the Spirit works in their lives and brings about transformation. These are three of the ways that the Spirit works within the life of the believer: the Spirit empowers, the Spirit unifies, and the Spirit produces fruit. All of these ways that the Holy Spirit works in the life of believers are demonstrated in the text from Acts 2.
First, the Holy Spirit empowers. In Acts 2:2, the image of the wind was used to describe the Holy Spirit. Wind refers to power, movement, uncontrollability. Just as the wind moves with power, so the Holy Spirit moved the lives of believers to move the world. Movement means to make a change, so to move the world means to make a change or to make an impact in the world. This impact was demonstrated as the disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit. One of the first manifestations of this empowerment by the Spirit was the ability given to the disciples to speak in tongues. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Then verse 6 says, “And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” The disciples received power to speak in languages that were not known to them, which enabled the persons gathered to hear the message of the gospel. Peter then preached, and three thousand persons were converted on that day. The disciples were transformed from being timid to being bold. This power that the disciples received resulted in the spreading of the gospel and the beginning of early Christianity. Jesus had promised the disciples that when they received the Holy Spirt, they would receive power and would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This was fulfilled for, throughout the book of Acts, the disciples went about preaching the gospel of Christ with boldness, and many persons were converted. The presence of the Holy Spirit brought about a movement in the world as many were converted and their lives were transformed.
Second, the Holy Spirit unifies. Not only does the Holy Spirit empower, but the Holy Spirit unifies. The Holy Spirit moves persons to unite. The community of believers that was created as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a community of unity. The activities of this community are reported in Acts 2:43-47. The unity that was demonstrated in this community is reflected in the way they lived their lives. This was communal living at its best. Acts 2:46a says, “Day by day, … they spent much time together in the temple.” The literal translation of this part of the verse is “day by day they were steadfastly continuing with one accord.” “With one accord” means “with one mind” or “with the same passion of purpose.” This means that there was unity among these early Christians. They were working together in building up themselves and sharing the gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit enabled them to be unified. Unity results in strength. Unity does not mean uniformity, but rather it is each person using his or her gift to work together to build up the body of Christ and to make a difference. This can be seen with what happened as a result of the unity demonstrated by these early Christians. Verse 47b says, “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” So as a result of the unity and love demonstrated among them, many more persons were brought into the kingdom of God.
Third, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in the believers, one of which is love. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Love is listed as a fruit of the Spirit; therefore, when the Holy Spirit dwells in believers, it enables them to love. This love is agapelove, which is a love that requires the highest good for others. The early Christian community in Acts 2, in addition to being a unified community, was a community of love. Verses 44 and 45 say, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” The phrase “all things in common” means “shared by all.” The love they had as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit within their lives moved them to action, which caused them to care for the needs of those among them. So they ensured that there was no lack among them. This is a demonstration of love for neighbour, as Jesus said we should have. When the Holy Spirit dwells within us and we are transformed, it enables us to demonstrate neighbourly love, which will enable us to care for the daily needs of those around us. For the salvation we receive through faith in Jesus Christ is one that is not only spiritual, but is wholeness. Therefore, the love of Christ that the Holy Spirit enables us to demonstrate must cause us to care for the economic, social, and physical needs of the people we witness to, in addition to their spiritual needs. So we must not only know the needs but we must develop programmes to meet those needs – compassionate ministries.
Therefore, from the account of what happened after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and afterward, we see that the Spirit transforms the lives of believers and moves believers to be united and to show love and care for one another, which makes an impact in the world. Today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world needs to see a demonstration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as was experienced in Acts 2. The world needs to see a movement that would result in the demonstration of neighbourly love that would lead to a response of care for those who are suffering around us. The world needs to see a movement of unity in which we can work together for the common good, even though we are different.
Questions for further reflection
1. In what ways do we need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit today?
2. In what areas of your life do you need the Holy Spirit to empower you?
3. Identify some situations of need that exist in your community.
4. What kind of response can you as believers of Christ make in these situations?
5. What kind of movement of the world is needed today? How can believers of Christ contribute to this movement?
Transforming God, who sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples with a sound from heaven and in tongues of flame, filling them with joy and boldness to preach the everlasting Gospel; send us out in the power of the same Spirit to witness to your truth and to draw all peoples to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (adapted from a collect for Pentecost from the Prayer Book of the Methodist Church)
Hymn: “O Let the Power Fall on Me”
O let the power fall on me, my Lord
Let the power fall on me;
O let the power from heaven fall on me,
Let the power fall on me.
For we want power to live as one, yes Lord,
We want power to live as one;
So as we pray and intercede for some,
May the Spirit make us one.
Send us the promised Comforter, O Christ,
Send us the promised Comforter;
And let our hearts be filled with love, O Christ
When the Spirit come like a dove.
Give us the power here and now, O Christ,
Please for the power here and now;
Send us the power of grace and peace and love,
Send us the power of peace and love.
Birchfield Aymer, (1944–)
Sing a New Song No. 3, Caribbean Conference of Churches, 1981
About the author
Karen Durant-McSweeney is from Friendship Methodist Church, Friendship Circuit, Guyana. She is a medical doctor and a Methodist deacon. After her graduation from United Theological College of the West Indies (UTCWI) in 1998, she served as a deacon in the Belize/Honduras District, where she was involved in children’s, youth, women’s. and medical ministry. She subsequently pursued a PhD in Old Testament studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. She is presently a Methodist tutor at the UTCWI, where she lectures in biblical studies and biblical languages and is the coordinator for graduate studies. She is married to Victor McSweeney.