Of all the days in the year, why does the Holy Spirit come at Pentecost?

Jason Micheli —  June 5, 2019 — 1 Comment

Here’s my question for you for Pentecost, for it’s a question that clues you into the meaning of Pentecost for Christians and the chief role of the Holy Spirit for us.

Of the other 364 days of the year upon which Christ could have poured out His Holy Spirit, why did He do so on Pentecost? Why did it have to be the fiftieth day after Easter?

Shavu’ot, the Festival of Weeks, five weeks, Penta-cost, after Passover.

Shavu’ot is the Jewish holiday that brings Peter and the disciples and a crowd of thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem to celebrate.

They’re not there waiting for the Holy Spirit. They’re gathered to celebrate Pentecost, the holy day when they remember God giving to them on Mt. Sinai the Torah, the Law.

If Shavu’ot is the day when the Spirit descends upon the disciples, then Shavu’ot is the day by which we should interpret the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.

As a Gentile, I’ve always preached Pentecost straight up and simply as the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or, to be more exact, as the arrival of a previously not present Holy Spirit- as though, ascending in to heaven, the Risen Christ, like Jon Cena, tags in and the Holy Spirit takes over.

But that’s not accurate because the Spirit is everywhere all over the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, doing and moving.

Not to mention, Luke- the author of Acts- has already told us that the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, compelled Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth, and baptized Jesus into his baptism of vicarious repentance.

So if the arrival of the Holy Spirit is not the point of this Pentecost passage in Acts 2, then what is?

When the Holy Spirit descends upon the Pentecost pilgrims, the crowd becomes bewildered.

But Peter, Luke says, stands up and proclaims the Gospel to them. And that phrasing, that odd way of beginning a sentence “But Peter…” is Luke’s clue for you that Peter is not deciding on his own to stand up and preach, that an unseen agency is working upon him, that he is being compelled by God, by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim what God has done in Jesus Christ.

Then Luke concludes by telling us that on that Pentecost 3,000 were added to the People of God.

In the Bible numbers are always important. Numbers are always the clue to unlocking the story’s meaning.

It’s not incidental that Luke ends his story of this Shavu’ot with the number 3,000 being added to God’s People because on the first Shavu’ot 3,000 were subtracted from God’s People.

On the first Shavu’ot, while Moses is on top of Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God, the Torah which begins “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” the Israelites were busy down below making God into an idol- which is but a form of making God into our own image.

When Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai, he sees them worshipping a golden calf, and Moses responds by ordering the Levites to draw their swords and kill 3,000 of the idolators.

So when Luke tells you that 3,000 were added to God’s People on that Pentecost day he wants you to remember the 3,000 subtracted from God’s People that Pentecost day.

Where 3,000 committed idolatry, 3,000 now believe.

Those in the crowd, listening to Peter, they’re no different than the crowd at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

They’re every bit as susceptible to worship any god but God, every bit as prone to unbelief and unfaithfulness. They crucified God just over a month ago.

They’re no different than the crowd at the foot of Sinai that first Shavu’ot.

What Luke wants you to see in this Pentecost story is the undoing of that Pentecost story, and he wants you to see that it’s God’s doing not our own— God’s faithfulness to us despite our unfaithfulness, God graciously overcoming our unbelief, our proclivity to idolatry and sin.

Luke wants you to see that this new 3,000– it’s the Living God’s doing. The Holy Spirit’s doing. The Spirit of the Crucified and Risen Christ’s doing, compelling Peter— who before could never get his foot out of his mouth— to proclaim that the Law that first was given at Pentecost to Israel has been fulfilled perfectly in Jesus Christ.

Repent at this news and trust in Christ and be baptized, Peter tells his hearers.

This is the Spirit’s primary work in us and for us through word, water, wine and bread— to convict and convince us of Christ’s sufficiency for salvation. This, of course, is exactly what Jesus promises the Spirit will do. “The work of the Spirit will be to convict you of your sin, convince you of my perfect righteousness, and to judge the world for they did not believe into me,” Jesus says in the Gospel of John just before we betray him.

Jason Micheli

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One response to Of all the days in the year, why does the Holy Spirit come at Pentecost?

  1. Wonderful as always, Jason. This was a fantastic article. I love your writing.

    I do think you have a typo in paragraph three, however. I believe Shavu’ot is forty-nine days after Pentecost, not five weeks, as you say, as it is a “week of weeks” after Passover, since Shavuot is the plural for the Hebrew word “week” or “seven.”

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