That’s the Spirit! How Pentecost Transforms our Lives and Speech

As the church calendar rolls around to Pentecost it is good to take a moment to consider the significance of the events of that day.

Pentecost was a Jewish pilgrim harvest festival that saw crowds flocking to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s goodness towards them in the present harvest. It also looked back as they recalled the blessing of God in granting the people of Israel entry to the Promised Land. It fell seven weeks after Passover, hence the alternative name, “Feast of Weeks” and it was also known by the Greek name “Pentecost”, signifying the 50 days that had elapsed since Passover. 

The account in Acts 2 comes with a sense of expectation. At the end of Luke, the disciples are told to wait in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high in order that they might proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins amongst all nations (Luke 24:46-49). Then in Acts 1:8, this promise and commission is reiterated in the more specific terms of the Holy Spirit coming upon them.

The account of the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-13) is full of drama and a touch of humour: a gathered group from many nations … a great wind, tongues of flame … a cacophony of speech … surprised onlookers hearing a message about God in their heart language … an accusation of drunkenness, quickly refuted. What more could you want?

An explanation would be good, and sure enough, we get one as Peter stands to speak. He tells the crowd what has happened and, in the power of the Spirit, declares to them that what they are seeing is the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy concerning the last days. God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh; on men and women, young and old, slave and free. 

Peter reminds the crowds through Joel’s prophecy that, while they know that the day of the Lord is a day of judgement, there is also a wonderful opportunity for salvation—that this is a day when all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. He goes on to explain that Jesus, whom they crucified, is the Lord to call upon, and then follows it up with a final appeal to repent and be baptised into the name of Jesus Christ to receive forgiveness and the Spirit. 

No doubt we are familiar with this, but let’s ponder some aspects of its significance.

One Foot in the Future

This is an eschatological event; an event that indicates, in some sense, the end times have begun in the midst of history. It thus follows naturally upon the resurrection of Jesus, which was another end-times event pulled forward into time. This places the believer in the curious position of participating in two ages—with all the associated joys and tensions. Pentecost is therefore a day that signifies the comfort and blessing that comes from the abiding presence of God through his Spirit. Jesus foreshadowed this in his farewell address to his disciples when he said in the context of his speaking about the Spirit’s coming that he and the Father will come and make their home with the believer (John 14:23). 

Pentecost reminds us that the promises and presence of God through the Spirit are good for both today and tomorrow. 

The coming of the Spirit also represents hope, in that his indwelling presence is a downpayment guaranteeing the believer’s inheritance still to come (Eph 1:13-14). 

Pentecost reminds us that the promises and presence of God through the Spirit are good for both today and tomorrow. 

Knowing God

The presence of the Spirit received by all flesh means all can prophesy. In the immediate context of Acts 2, this is a reference to the restored people of Israel but, as Acts proceeds, we see successive receptions of the Spirit by Samaritans and then Gentiles as the program of Acts 1:8 is fulfilled. Prophesying here is to be understood in the general sense of possessing the knowledge of God and being able to communicate it. Under the old covenant, this was the responsibility of certain Spirit-empowered individuals. In the new covenant, it is the privilege of all: knowledge of God, now concentrated in Jesus and his gospel, is given to (and grows in) believers so that all can prophesy and share this knowledge with others—all empowered by the Spirit.

Pentecost reminds us that the promises and presence of God through the Spirit mean we can share the knowledge of God with one another and with those who do not yet know Jesus.

Redeeming Speech

Pentecost, therefore, challenges our speech. James urges us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19) and warns of the dangers of the tongue (James 3:1-12). Our calamitous fall into sin was precipitated by deceptive speech in the garden; the Lord judged the people for their boastful speech in Gen 11 by confounding their speech; Paul describes the corruption wrought by sin in terms of our speech (Rom 3:13-14). 

Pentecost points a way forward to the redemption of our speech.

Pentecost points a way forward to the redemption of our speech (as well as the redemption of the nations) as the initial receivers of the Spirit are empowered to declare the wonders of God to their multilingual audience. The Spirit empowers the original witnesses to Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection—and also we, who now bear witness to their witness. Joining in the spirit of Pentecost will mean playing our part in the ongoing harvest through the proclamation of the gospel of forgiveness of sins through Jesus, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8).

Declaring the wonders of God also constitutes our speech to one another in the new communities the Spirit creates where, 

‘all who believed were together and had all things in common…. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)

These are communities where the truth is spoken in love to one another (Eph 4:15) in order to build and not destroy (Eph 4:29). ). 

So as we mark Pentecost, let’s thank the Lord for the gift of his Spirit. May the result of his living among us continue to bear fruit in lips that testify to his wondrous deeds.