1. This year [again] we celebrated Pentecost [on] the Lord's Day. It may be the first time [some of you] have heard the word "Pentecost;" this is a Greek word that stands for fiftieth (or the fiftieth day). According to this title, it is a festival celebrated fifty days after Passover [and] it is one of the Jewish festivals of pilgrimage. In the scripture passage I read today this is translated as "The Fifty Day Festival, or Pentecost."
2. Why does the Christian church celebrate Pentecost, one of the Jewish pilgrimage festivals? The circumstances as to the reason for this are recorded in Acts chapter two which we read today. A particular event took place at a Pentecost Festival about two thousand years ago. Please look from verse one to verse four.
3. "When the day of the Pentecost Festival came and they all were one and assembled together, all of a sudden, a sound like a severe wind was blowing was audible from heaven and reverberated in the house where they were sitting. Then, tongues like flames individually appeared and rested on each person. Thereupon, all present was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in words of other nations as "the Spirit" made them talk," (Acts 2:1-4).
4. In the church this event is generally called "The Coming Of The Holy Spirit." So, in our bulletin we no longer write it as "The Fifty Day Festival Of Pentecost." It is written [in the bulletin] as "The Festival Of The Coming Of The Holy Spirit." This shows that even though it is the same festival the meaning of it has clearly been changed. What in the world does this really mean, that we celebrate this day each year as the festival of the coming of the Holy Spirit? Today I would like for us to consider this matter anew.
The Church Born Of God
5. First off, what everyone keeps in mind as they read this passage is probably the mysterious and mystical aspect of the circumstances depicted therein. What was it that really happened? What kind of phenomenon was this? There is no way for us to know. Also, it wouldn't do much good to inquire into the event itself. Because the important thing is the contents themselves of what the Bible is telling us with this particular mystical depiction.
6. What does the Bible say? The text reads that it happened "all of a sudden." In other words, it means that it was not humanly contrived. The text also says that "a sound" was audible "like a severe wind was blowing." However, though it was a sound "like" that, it was clearly something different from the severe winds we ordinarily experience. It is also recorded that it was heard "from heaven." It was not just giving us the direction. It means that it clearly did not come from inside this world, but came from God. Also it is recorded that "tongues like flames" had appeared. If these are not "flames" which lie within the experience of human beings, they are not "tongues" either. It said in the text that these [things] were resting on top of each person and all were "filled with the Holy Spirit." What we have then is that the church had its birth and church history got started.
7. The whole depiction of these things in itself is showing that humanity did not produce the church. The initiative for producing the church was in God. It was not that a person who was efficient and capable or a character with strong leadership ability appeared and brought together the disciples of the Lord Jesus who had been left behind. They did not unite under one ideology, neither did they reach any agreement as one regarding any common theme or [against] any common rival. As we have already seen, both the severe winds and the flames which are written about in this passage did not originate from this world but are from God. Neither the flames nor the wind have any connection to some psychological frenzy or some zeal which are humanly fabricated. The church was not produced in such a way as that.
8. People often look for the wind and flames of this world. They hope for something to come from this temporary world and put their future in something to come from this passing world. The church is even liable to do the same thing. But, those who assembled there on that day were those who prayed in hope and expectancy. That there were people praying in hope and expectancy means that there were people waiting and hoping for the One who would come not from this world but from a place beyond this world. Church history began with Him. We, too, should not forget that we have been made alive within such a history of the church.
The New Passover And Pentecost
9. So, as for the miracle [or work] of God, what in the world was it that really happened here? What did he begin? I would like us to give some more consideration to these [questions].
10. In verse one it says "when the day of Pentecost festival came." But, if we translate this literally it would read "the days of Pentecost were about to be fulfilled." What the expression "days are fulfilled, days are expired" means is this is a time set by God and it refers to the fact that the time has come and a new period has begun. In other words, it meant that it was not by accident the day of "Pentecost" but it was a set day by God as an inauguration of a new period of time. So, why in the world did it have to be on the day of Pentecost?
11. As I stated before, Pentecost is the festival counting fifty days after Passover. I think there were many who knew about Passover; it is connected to the exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament. It was made into a festival to commemorate the event in which the Israelites, who were slaves of Egypt, had escaped from Egypt being delivered by God and under Moses' command.
12. So, what is this Pentecost festival of fifty days afterwards about? This was from ancient times called "the Harvest Festival," (Exodus 23:16). Thus, it originally had a relationship to harvesting the wheat crop. However, later this festival came to be connected with the event of Moses' being given the law at Mt. Sinai. In other words, those who had left Egypt experienced the miracle of crossing the Red Sea, journeyed while being lead through the wilderness and arrived at Sinai, but that which they were commemorating in the event going on there was believed to be the festival pertaining to the fifty days afterwards, [that is, the harvest festival].
13. When they came to Sinai, God said the following to Moses: "... You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians and that I have made you ride on eagle's wings and brought you to me. Now, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my treasure among all the people. All the world belongs to me. You will become for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation of people. ...," (Exodus 19:3-6). What was given in this covenant was the Mosaic ten commandments. In short, the birth of the people of God based on God's deliverance and covenant was commemorated by the two festivals of Passover and Pentecost.
14. Well, as we move our attention over into the New Testament, there [we find] that the passion and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus are linked together with the Passover. In The Gospel According To Luke, it informs us that what we call "The Last Supper" was "The Passover Meal" eaten during the Passover. In other words, the Passover lamb slain at the time of the exodus was overlapping with the Lord Jesus as he went on to die on the cross. At the time of the exodus judgment passed over the houses where the blood of the lamb was smeared and those who were Egyptian slaves were delivered. Likewise, by the sacrifice of Christ judgment will passover and those who were slaves of sin and death will be delivered and will be set free. This is what you might call the new exodus.
15. So, as the people who were once set free from Egypt were lead by a covenant with God based on the law, those who have gone through the new exodus through the blood of the cross of the Lord Jesus are lead to the new covenant. During the supper [that night] what he said went like this, "This cup is the new covenant based on my blood which is shed for you," (Luke 22:20).
16. This phrase "new covenant" is found in the book of Jeremiah. It is a bit long, but let's read this passage.
17. "'Look, the day is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, [and] the house of Judah,' says the Lord. 'This covenant will not be the one I made when I took the hands of their forefathers and lead them out of the land of Egypt. In spite of the fact I have been their master, they broke this covenant,' says the Lord. 'Yet, on the day that is to come, the covenant I will make with the house of Israel is this,' says the Lord: 'That is, I will place my laws into their bosoms and will record them on their hearts. I will become their God and they will become my people. At that time, people will not have to teach their neighbors or their brothers, saying Know the Lord; for, they will all know me both small and great,' says the Lord. 'I will forgive their evil and will no longer hold their sin in my remembrance,'" (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
18. The important phrase here are the words "I will place my laws into their bosoms and will record them on their hearts." The law will no longer be given as letters and characters [on a page]. The will of God does not come to realization by humans obeying the letter of the law external to humanity. A person does not change by the letter of the law or the words in commandments. A person must change from the inside, not from the outside. The law of God is not to be given from the outside, but should be written inside on the heart. Only God's Spirit can do this. By the work of the Holy Spirit the promise first given to Jeremiah comes to fulfillment.
19. When the time had been fulfilled it was the day of Pentecost. On the day of commemorating when the law and the covenant were given to those who went through the exodus from Egypt and the people of God were born, the Holy Spirit came down on those who went through the new exodus and the new people of God were born. Thus, the new meaning of commemorating the advent of the Holy Spirit is given to the old Pentecost festival.
Filled With The Holy Spirit
20. From the [things said] above, we understand that the focus of what is written in Acts chapter two is not the mystical phenomenon itself. It is not [an emphasis on the mystical element], but [on] the event of the law being written upon the heart. To put it another way, the focus of this scene is actually on the inner control from the Holy Spirit given by God. The Bible uses the expression for this as "being filled with the Holy Spirit." One is not to be filled with the wishes and cravings humans have by nature which are controlled by sin but rather [a person] is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes hold of and rules the heart.
21. I am sure that in the event depicted here there is significance in the birth of the church as a decisive event which happened only once in history. It will never be repeated. But, the words "filled with the Holy Spirit" appear repeatedly through out The Book Of Acts. This is written down as a situation that clearly ought to be repeated. It is written down as what must take place in each period [of church history]. Of course, ours is no exception.
22. While "be filled" is written in the passive voice, the subject [doing the action] is the Holy Spirit himself. All that people are able to do is seek in prayer, and wait in hope. Being filled with the Spirit is not a person trying to reach God's will with his or her own power and righteousness, but in knowing one's own powerlessness and sinfulness one earnestly waits in prayer and expectancy for the control of the Holy Spirit.
23. Well, those filled by the Holy Spirit like that began to speak as the Holy Spirit made them. I would suppose we might do better to take notice of the contents of what is being said here rather than at the strangeness of the situation. What in the world were they saying [in the foreign languages]? Please look at verse eleven. They were speaking of "the great miracle of God." This ["great miracle of God"] clearly points to the work of salvation which appeared and was accomplished in Christ. That is, while it was a word of praise in which they gave glory for God's salvation, it was also a word of proclamation in which they told forth of God's salvation. The words from the flesh were earnestly pointing to the great work from the people and the great miracle among humans. But, the words from the Spirit became what earnestly pointed to Christ and what pointed to the work of God.
24. So, those filled with the Holy Spirit began to speak words which told of the great work of God "in words of other nations." This was certainly a miracle of God. But, the important part in miracles is not the miracle itself, but what the miracle means. This miracle pointed to what would soon happen in the church that was henceforth given birth. That is, it meant that beginning from the first festival of the coming of the Holy Spirit the work of God's salvation would soon be preached in the whole world. It would come to be preached in the languages of many nations. Also, it meant that not only were the Jews invited [to be] the people of the new covenant but so were people from all over the world. In truth, The Book Of Acts is also a record in which the gospel suddenly appears to the world's Gentiles. You might say what is being depicted here is a foreshadowing of the future church. You might say it was one big demonstration [of how things are going to be done] given by God.
25. So, the miracle that happened at that time is now happening here, too. Actually, we have heard in Japanese here in this nation God's great work of salvation. And, we have been invited also to the people of the new covenant where the Holy Spirit is in control. And, we too are made as those who speak this work of salvation by this same "Spirit." This very truth is surely the foundation and the meaning of our still celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit festival even today here in this place.