Friday, my boys and I traveled to Frenchburg, Kentucky, to spend the weekend with my parents. On Friday night, much to my Dad’s chagrin (fake chagrin, I should add), we watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. I love the opening ceremony (not the dancing and all that interpretative stuff that I don’t understand). I love to see the nations enter the stadium, and my heart always beats a little more proudly when I see the American flag carried by one of “our” athletes (and this year, a swimmer carried the flag!). I love seeing the torch enter the stadium and the caldron lit. I love seeing the Olympic flag being hoisted high. There’s something about the nations of the world—friend and foe alike—coming together for a couple weeks of athletic competition that warms my heart. The Opening Ceremonies mark the start of a couple weeks of superb competition.
The church, too, had opening ceremonies. The Day of Pentecost ushered in the era of the church. As Peter recounts to Jewish Christians the conversion of Cornelius and his household, he said, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). What began at the Day of Pentecost? Several things—
Pentecost was the Beginning of the Age of the Holy Spirit
I believe that Peter specifically had this aspect of Pentecost in mind when he spoke of Pentecost as the beginning in Acts 11. That interpretation seems particularly fitting with what Peter said in the next verse–Acts 11:16: “I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Before Jesus ascended back to the Father, He promised His disciples that they would receive power from on high. “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). “John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).
In Acts 2, the Spirit is a central figure. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
Peter’s message discusses the Holy Spirit at the beginning, middle, and end. As Peter began his address, he quotes from Joel, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh” (v 17). Peter also said: “Being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (v 33). At the conclusion of his lesson, Peter told the crowd, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v 38).
Therefore, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in a big way, and He operated in a way He had not before and has not since.
Pentecost was the Beginning of the Proclamation of Jesus as the Christ
Throughout the Gospels, we find Jesus consistently telling people not to reveal that He is the Christ. When Jesus encountered an evil spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum, the spirit said to him, “I know who You are–the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24). When Jesus raised a dead girl, “He commanded them strictly that no one should know it” (Mark 5:43). When Jesus healed a deaf-mute, “He commanded them that they should tell no one” (Mark 7:36). When Peter, James, and John were with Jesus at the Transfiguration, “He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).
Part of the commission Jesus gave His disciples included the proclamation of His Messiahship in terms of suffering and death: “Thus it is written,that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48). Now the disciples, who were already witnesses in that they saw the events in question, became witnesses in that they proclaimed what they had seen. “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Peter concluded his sermon with this climax: “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
Pentecost was the Beginning of the Preaching of the Gospel
The gospel had been preached beforehand to Abraham: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed’” (Galatians 3:8). Jesus had also preached the gospel of the kingdom in preparation of the church’s establishment (Mark 1:14-15).
C. Now, at Pentecost, the gospel is preached in its fullness as an accomplished fact. Paul outlined the central facts of the gospel as Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances (1 Cor 15:1-5). That is the message of Peter at Pentecost–he declares how Jesus died, was buried, was raised, and appeared to him and the other apostles.
Pentecost was the Beginning of the Offer of Forgiveness in Jesus’ Name
There had been forgiveness of sins prior to the day of Pentecost. “He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, And did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, And did not stir up all His wrath” (Psalm 78:38). In His earthly ministry, Jesus had the power to forgive sins (Mark 1:1-12).
What made Pentecost different from the previous offers of forgiveness was that it was in the name of Jesus. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Two characteristics differentiate the offer of forgiveness in Acts 2 from offers of forgiveness earlier.
Before Pentecost when forgiveness was given Jesus had not yet been crucified and raised from the dead, the basis of all forgiveness, prior to the cross or after it.
The terms of forgiveness were different–never before had baptism for the forgiveness of sins been in the name of Jesus. Indeed, John preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Yet, that baptism was not in the name of Jesus (Acts 19:1-5).
Pentecost was the Beginning of the New Covenant
Some of you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, Justin. The new covenant began when Jesus died, not at Pentecost.” You are correct–the Scriptures teach that the old covenant ended and the new covenant began with Jesus’ death:
“He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:14-15).
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
“For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive” (Hebrews 9:16-17).
While the New Testament began around 50 days prior to Pentecost, the terms of that new covenant were not revealed until Pentecost. Only at Pentecost did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit who would guide them into all the truth of the New Testament.
Pentecost was the Beginning of a Gathered Church
In the Great Commission, as recorded by Matthew, Jesus told the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In Acts 2, we find the same sequence of making disciples, baptizing them, and continued teaching of them. “Those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). In Acts 11:26, the church and disciples are one and the same: “It was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).
Pentecost was the Beginning of Corporate Worship
As soon as the church came into existence, the brethren began to worship God together. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). “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 favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).
Pentecost served as the church’s opening ceremonies. What a privilege to be a part of the Lord’s church!