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Pentecost


PENTECOST

Pentecost, a significant feast day, commemorates the birth of the Church and concludes the Easter season. It takes place 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection and 10 days after His ascension to heaven. “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek word “pentecoste,” which signifies 50th. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles is connected to the feast of Pentecost, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. While in Jerusalem, the disciples saw flames hovering above them and felt a roaring wind. They were then filled with the Holy Spirit and started speaking in different tongues, allowing them to share the message of Jesus with people from different nations who had come to Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost.

Pentecost is commonly called the birthday of the Church since it symbolizes the apostles’ empowerment by the Holy Spirit to evangelize across the globe. It is viewed as the realization of Jesus’ pledge to send the Holy Spirit to guide and empower his disciples after he went up to heaven. The date of Pentecost fluctuates yearly due to its dependence on Easter, a movable holiday.

The scholars and preachers differ in opinion about who all were present when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Some believe the twelve apostles were present, including Matthias, whom the early Christian community had selected before Pentecost. That is clear from Acts 2:14: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven and, with a loud voice, addressed them.” Others differ based on Acts 1:15 that 120 people were present to select a substitute for Judas Iscariot. “It was during those days that Peter stood up in the community’s midst (about one hundred and twenty in all).” However, the Bible does not specify whether all of them received the Holy Spirit. All agree that Jesus selected the 12 apostles as the pillars of the Church.

PENTECOST EXPERIENCE

“And suddenly from heaven came a sound like a strong rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). The “sudden” noise, like a powerful rushing wind, implies an unusual phenomenon because, in all probability, not even a normal wind was expected. That the rushing wind came from the sky is indicative of divine intervention. The sky has long been symbolic of heaven and so this phrase reveals that the Holy Spirit came from heaven.

The “sudden”, “rushing” noise was reminiscent of the blast of the shofar that grew louder and louder when God appeared on Mount Sinai to Moses and the people (Ex 19:19). The wind stands for the Holy Spirit. At the time of creation, a mighty wind was sweeping over the waters (Gen 1:2). “Then the LORD God formed man, of dust drawn from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). During the Pentecost event, God the Holy Spirit breathed on the disciples of Jesus to give new life. According to John, Jesus breathed on the apostles and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). Hence, the breath or wind of God gave the apostles a new and empowered Christian life.

Like the Shekinah cloud in the Holy of Holies, God’s Spirit filled the entire house, and all who were present there. Instead of the Temple, it was in a house that the Holy Spirit came down. God’s presence manifested itself in them as a community of Christian believers. Though the apostles and their successors received the Holy Spirit, especially as servants of the Word of God, all the baptized received the Holy Spirit and all have the responsibility to defend and propagate the Christian faith.

“There appeared tongues as of fire which parted and came to rest upon each one of them” (Acts 2:3). God appeared in the form of fire several times in the Bible. For example, He appeared to Moses at Mount Horeb in a burning bush while he was tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro (Ex 3:2). The Lord preceded the Israelites in the desert in the form of a column of fire at night (Ex 13:21). He came down upon Mount Sinai in fire (Ex 19:18). So also, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in the form of fire.

At Mount Sinai, the fire appeared as one body. The fire that descended at Pentecost rested as individual pieces of flame on each of the disciples. While people kept away from the fire at Mount Sinai, at Pentecost, the disciples received the tongues of fire directly upon them.

Fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit because fire per se has purity, light, and heat. It can purify metal by burning away the impurities in it. Fire can also melt metal to mold it into the desired shape. Thus, the Holy Spirit can purify us from sin and mold us as God’s instruments. The Spirit can enlighten our minds with the truths of Jesus’ gospel. It can also fill us with zeal to work for the Kingdom of God and to defend the Christian faith. Fire destroys the old and causes to rebuild a city or regenerate a forest in a better form. The Holy Spirit is so powerful that it can renew a person. “Then the spirit of the LORD will seize you. You shall prophesy with them and will be changed into another man” (1 Sam 10:6). The Holy Spirit reformatted the mind and the spirit of the apostles.

“All were filled with Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:4). The Holy Spirit’s presence was not just a scene of flames resting on the apostles, but it filled their entire body. The Spirit transformed them and enabled them to speak in different languages. In Mark 16:17, Jesus had foretold the disciples, “Signs like these will accompany those who believe: in my Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages.” The Holy Spirit enabled them to proclaim the Word of God with boldness, conviction, and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.

PENTECOST OLD AND NEW

There is a parallelism between the 50th-day event at Mount Sinai and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles on the 50th day after the Passover sacrifice of Jesus:

1. Both the giving of the commandment on Mount Sinai and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the feast of Pentecost happened on the 50th day after Passover. The Israelites traveled around 40 days to reach from Egypt to Mount Sinai. They left Egypt on the 15th day of the first month and arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai on the first day of the third month (Ex 19:1). Moses went up to Mount Sinai on the 40th day to meet with God and God came down on the mountain to meet the Israelites and gave them Ten Commandments on the 50th day after Passover. Similarly, Jesus ascended to heaven on the 40th day to join with the Father, and the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles on the 50th day.

2. The extraordinary signs on Mount Sinai and Mount Zion (Jerusalem) at the time of Pentecost were similar. Both happened on holy mountains God had selected. At Mount Sinai, there was thunder and lightning, a heavy cloud and a loud blast of the shofar (Ex 19:16). “Mount Sinai was completely covered with smoke because the LORD had come down upon it in a fire, and the smoke rose as from a furnace. The whole mountain shook violently” (Ex 19:18). During Pentecost, a sudden noise came from the sky like a powerful driving wind. Tongues of fire rested on the apostles, and they received the gift of speaking in unfamiliar languages (Acts 2:2-4).

3. God gave the Torah on Mount Sinai as teachings for His chosen people. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came as the Teacher of believers. “From now on the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of all that I have told you” (Jn 14:26).

4. God wrote the laws He gave Moses atop Mount Sinai on two stone tablets. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit wrote the New Law that Jesus placed on the human hearts of Christians. On Pentecost day, when people heard the preaching of Peter, “they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).

5. At Mount Sinai, God came down to dwell among the people of Israel. He led them in the form of a column of cloud during the day and a column of fire at night (Ex 13:21-22). God dwelt with them in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple of Jerusalem. The Israelites lost God’s presence in the Temple before the Babylonian exile, because of their sinfulness. However, the Lord’s dwelling came back through Jesus when he was born in Bethlehem and later into Christian hearts since Pentecost. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit abides within you?” (1 Cor 3:16)

6. Both events led to the formation of a newly redeemed community of God’s chosen people. The Exodus gave birth to the Israelite nation while the Pentecost inaugurated the formation of the Christian community.

7. God gave the Torah to Moses on the mountain, but down below, the people were worshipping a golden calf. Because of this sin, the Levites killed 3,000 people as God’s punishment (Ex 32:25-28). On the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people gained faith in Jesus and received baptism at the preaching of Peter (Acts 2:41).

FIRE AND GOD / HOLY SPIRIT

“There appeared tongues as of fire which parted and came to rest upon each one of them” (Acts 2:3). God appeared in the form of fire several times in the Bible. For example, He appeared to Moses at Mount Horeb in a burning bush while he was tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro (Ex 3:2). The Lord preceded the Israelites in the desert in the form of a column of fire at night (Ex 13:21). He came down upon Mount Sinai in fire (Ex 19:18). So also, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in the form of fire.

At Mount Sinai, the fire appeared as one body. The fire that descended at Pentecost rested as individual pieces of flame on each of the disciples. While people kept away from the fire at Mount Sinai, at Pentecost, the disciples received the tongues of fire directly upon them.

Fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit because fire per se has purity, light, and heat. It can purify metal by burning away the impurities in it. Fire can also melt metal to mold it into the desired shape. Thus, the Holy Spirit can purify us from sin and mold us as God’s instruments. The Spirit can enlighten our minds with the truths of Jesus’ gospel. It can also fill us with zeal to work for the Kingdom of God and to defend the Christian faith. Fire destroys the old and causes to rebuild a city or regenerate a forest in a better form. The Holy Spirit is so powerful that it can renew a person. “Then the spirit of the LORD will seize you. You shall prophesy with them and will be changed into another man” (1 Sam 10:6). The Holy Spirit reformatted the mind and the spirit of the apostles.

WIND AND HOLY SPIRIT

“And suddenly from heaven came a sound like a strong rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). The “sudden” noise, like a powerful rushing wind, implies an unusual phenomenon because, in all probability, not even a normal wind was expected. That the rushing wind came from the sky is indicative of divine intervention. The sky has long been symbolic of heaven and so this phrase reveals that the Holy Spirit came from heaven.

The “sudden”, “rushing” noise was reminiscent of the blast of the shofar that grew louder and louder when God appeared on Mount Sinai to Moses and the people (Ex 19:19). The wind stands for the Holy Spirit. At the time of creation, a mighty wind was sweeping over the waters (Gen 1:2). “Then the LORD God formed man, of dust drawn from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). During the Pentecost event, God the Holy Spirit breathed on the disciples of Jesus to give new life. According to John, Jesus breathed on the apostles and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). Hence, the breath or wind of God gave the apostles a new and empowered Christian life.

PENTECOST: GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

The coming of the Holy Spirit gifted the apostles with unfamiliar languages (Acts 2:6-13). We can understand this in diverse ways: (1) They could speak with a better understanding of scripture. (2) They could speak different languages that they had not learned before. (3) The people who did not know their language could follow what they spoke.

The people in Jerusalem rushed to see what was going on. They were of different nationalities who spoke diverse languages and could not understand one another. However, they willy-nilly experienced a miracle whereby they all could understand what the disciples spoke in a language foreign to them. So, the miracle involved even the listeners, who could understand the foreign language of the spirit-filled Christians.

This miracle was a reversal of what happened when God destroyed the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9). The people of Babel were unified and spoke a common language. When they tried to build the tower to compete with God, He summarily scattered them all over the world in diverse languages. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought together people from all nations and languages in the name of Christ. This unification of people of all nationalities and languages in the universal language of Christian love has been continuing since then as one body under Saint Peter and his successors.

REFLECTION

Jesus did not contradict the teachings of Moses. He corrected the misinterpretation of the false leaders of the Jews and introduced the genuine spirit behind the Law. When the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, they got an excellent understanding of Christ’s teachings, and were bold to preach all over the world and face persecution and martyrdom. We also received the Holy Spirit during our baptism and confirmation. Let us be conscious of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us and keep the sanctity of our lives as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

 

 


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