Pentecost is the day we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers. He came on the fiftieth day following the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The eternal Spirit of God has been present in the world since creation. In Genesis, we read that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (1:2) and we hear God say, “Let US make mankind in OUR image, in OUR likeness” (1:26). In the Old Testament we read how God’s Spirit also came upon people like Samson, Elijah, and Elisha to empower them for special deeds and for the leading of God’s people. The Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot, or Feast of Weeks) was and still is celebrated by the Jewish people in remembrance of God giving the Law through Moses on Mt. Sinai. They believed this occurred about seven weeks after the slaying of the Passover Lamb and the departure from Egypt. Not coincidentally, God chose the celebration of Pentecost, about seven weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, to send his Holy Spirit to personally live within each believer in Jesus Christ.
Israel’s Old Testament celebration of Pentecost was clearly looking forward to its fulfillment in the new celebration of Pentecost. On that first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus, God would transform the Feast commemorating the giving of the Law into the Feast celebrating the giving of the Holy Spirit!
In the time of Nehemiah, a remnant of the Jewish nation was permitted to return from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild and resettle the city from which—as God’s judgment on their sin—they had been taken 70 years before. Listen to what the people prayed to God on that occasion:
“…Our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them… The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing…” (Nehemiah 9:16-21, ESV).
Just as God sustained the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years and they lacked nothing, so the Holy Spirit sustains us while we await that glorious entry into the eternal Promised Land… and we lack nothing. And, just as God had mercy and grace on the Israelites, so God has mercy and gives grace for those who repent and look to Jesus as their only source of life and hope, for this life and the life to come.
May our hope of the resurrection and the life to come fill us with compassion for those who have no hope. May we speak the gospel to our neighbors at every opportunity. May we give our gifts generously so that the gospel can be brought to those in our dying world who have never heard this Good News.
Roy Heggland is Associate for Biblical Stewardship for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.