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The Gift of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)

 

Leviticus 23:15-22; Joel 2:28-32 (text); Acts 2:1-24, 36-41
© May 20, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)Beloved congregation of Christ: Here are some quotes about the Holy Spirit from a church not far from us: [1]

Since early in 1998, we have had feathers fall in our meetings. At first I thought birds were getting into our air conditioning ducts, but then they started falling in other rooms of the church not connected with the same ductwork. They now fall most anywhere we go – airports, homes, restaurants, offices and the like.

Then there is the infamous gold dust…  You didn’t have to try hard to see it; tiny flakes of something resembling gold glitter were everywhere… I have personally witnessed this hundreds of times… the dust usually only appears on people’s hands and faces.”

Feathers and gold dust. People “being slain in the Spirit,” falling down on the floor; “holy laughter” or “laughing in the Spirit”; healing, raising the dead, speaking in tongues, and other “miracles.” But these “signs and wonders” are not the only mindless, creepy things happening in this church. The senior pastor also teaches many heresies. One of them is this:

While Jesus is eternally God, He emptied Himself of His divinity and became a man … it’s vital to note that He did all His miracles as a man, not as God … But because He did them as a man yielded to God, I am now unsatisfied with my life, being compelled to follow the example He has given us. Jesus is the only model for us to follow.[2]

Today is Pentecost Sunday, on which Charismatic-Pentecostals glory in their signs and wonders as manifestations of the Holy Spirit, like Bethel Church in Redding, whose leaders I quoted above. When a church or a pastor who has new insight on God that all Christians missed over 2,000 years of church history; or when a church experiences strange things such as those at Bethel Church that are nowhere found in the Bible and that the great majority of churches and Christians have never experienced: Beware, this is the stuff of cults like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Bethel Church.

There are two main views about Pentecost: continuationism and cessationism. Continuationists argue that extraordinary gifts can still be possessed by believers today. In contrast, cessationists like our church affirm that the extraordinary gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecies and healings have ceased with the passing of the 12 apostles. That our spiritual gifts today consist of those gifts we read in Galatians 5:22-24. That the gifts Christ gave to the church are “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (Eph 4:11). The apostles and prophets were only foundational to the church (Eph 2:20).

One of the major texts in this debate is Acts 2, where the Lord Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples on Pentecost Sunday. The disciples started preaching the gospel in the languages that were spoken by Jews dispersed throughout the world but who were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. Peter preached the first written sermon on that Pentecost Sunday, and 3,000 believed! Pentecostals and Charismatics desire this experience repeatedly. But are milestones in redemptive history—the Fall, the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus and Mount Sinai, and the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ—repeatable events? Certainly not! Therefore, like these redemptive-historical events, Pentecost is a one-time event.

Why did Jews gather in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost? In the Old Testament, Pentecost was known as the Feast of Weeks, one of the seven annual feasts that God appointed for Israel. God commanded Israel to count 7 weeks plus 1 day—a total of 50 days—after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and celebrate this feast.

While the Feast of Firstfruits was celebrated at the beginning of harvest, the Feast of Weeks commemorated the end of harvest. This is why it is also called “the Feast of the Harvest” (Ex 23:16), and also “the day of the firstfruits” (Nu 28:26; see also Lv 23:17). God commanded this festival as the people’s demonstration of gratitude to him by giving him the firstfruits of their harvest. In the New Testament, it is called “Pentecost.”

So our theme this Lord’s Day is “The Gift of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)” under three points: (1) Waiting for the Gift; (2) The Gift Poured Out; and (3) The Gift Completes His Work.

Waiting for the Gift

The Israelites celebrated the beginning and the end of harvest season. The Feast of Firstfruits began the harvest, and the Feast of Weeks ended it. They would patiently count the 50 days, waiting for this great day to celebrate the bountiful harvest the LORD had given them. During this Feast, the people of Israel brought all the offerings that were commanded in Leviticus 9: a grain offering and drink offerings for thanksgiving; a burnt offering as a symbol of the dedication of their whole harvest to God; a sin offering to atone for their sin; and finally, peace offerings as a joyous fellowship meal in the presence of God. This feast day was also a rest day ending in a holy assembly.

Near the end of the Old Testament period, the Feast of Weeks went through a transformation in its name and significance. Since it was celebrated 50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it became known as Pentecost, the Greek word for “fiftieth.” Also, it was not only a day of thanksgiving, but it became linked by Jewish rabbis to the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Why? From their departure in Egypt, the people arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai on the 50th day (Ex 19:1). Jewish rabbis therefore began treating the 50-day period as a period of repentance before God as they remembered Mount Sinai. So this period became known as a time of “waiting for the gift,” the gift of the Law.

But Jesus’ disciples were waiting for something different. After his resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to stay in Jerusalem “to wait for the promise of the Father … the Holy Spirit” (Ac 1:4-5; Lk 24:49). This promise of the Father is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ac 2:38). Incidentally, the Holy Spirit is usually referred to as “the gift” (singular), while “gifts” (plural) usually referred to spiritual gifts. Jesus promised that the Spirit will come and give them power to preach and teach all that Jesus had taught them for three years. They will remember all his teachings and be able to understand the meaning of all that he taught (Jn 14:26; Lk 24:8; Jn 2:22).

Are you still waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit? If you’re a believer, wait no more. Because the moment the Spirit gives you a new heart to save you, he indwells you (Ezk 36:26). Don’t wait for a second blessing, with its speaking in tongues, new revelations, and healings. How do you know the Spirit indwells you? “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Ro 8:16). Christ guarantees his promises to us through the sealing of the Spirit: he “has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2Co 1:22; see also 2Co 5:5; Ep 1:13).

How else do you know you’re indwelt by the Spirit? “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him… by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1Jn 3:24). Note that it is not by signs and wonders, but in being able to keep God’s law. John also says that the Spirit-indwelt Christian bears much fruit (Jn 15:5). True believers evidence the fruits of the Spirit (charismata in Greek): “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gl 5:22-23).

The Gift Poured Out

Luke’s description of the pouring out of the Spirit on that Pentecost Sunday was vivid. The sound of a mighty rushing wind was so loud and thunderous (God’s voice is always described as thunder, not a whisper) that the crowd in Jerusalem was amazed, maybe even frightened. Because of the Feast of Pentecost, devout Jews from “every nation under heaven,” which means all the nations around the New Testament Roman world, were in Jerusalem. Not only were they amazed, they were “bewildered” and “perplexed,” “because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” without the aid of interpreters (Ac 2:6, 11).

With this event, one might wonder why God caused the people of the world to have many languages. Wouldn’t it be so much better and easier for him to accomplish the salvation of sinners if there was one language? There would be one Bible, and the greatest preachers can preach anywhere in the world without interpreters.

The answer lies in the events in the plains of Shinar (Babel) in Genesis 11:1-9. From Adam and Eve up to that time, “the whole earth had one language and the same words” (verse 1). The people of the earth dwelt in one area of the world, and they started migrating from the east and found a fertile plain in Shinar where they settled. Because they so trusted in their own knowledge and skills, they started to build a city and a high tower to make a name for themselves (verse 4). This thinking is in violation of God’s command to multiply and fill the whole earth (Gn 1:28; 9:7), and be dependent on God alone, not on their own abilities.

God intervened by making them speak many different languages, so they could not understand one another. So then every language group settled together in one place, so that the human race was dispersed throughout the whole world (verses 8-9). In the fullness of time, God again intervened, this time in Jerusalem, where thousands of Jews from many nations where they were dispersed, were gathered for the Feast of Pentecost. So when the preachers proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, people from all the nations heard one message in their own various tongues.

This gospel united all those 3,000 who believed into one “body and one Spirit… one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ep 4:4-6). They started speaking one language, as it were, the language of salvation in Christ Jesus alone. Babel, the confusion of tongues, is now reversed into one tongue of redemption!

Joel says this outpouring would happen “afterward,” which for him meant that it would happen during the time of Israel’s restoration as God’s people. Peter interpreted Joel’s prophecy in light of its fulfillment on that Pentecost Sunday, and for him it ushered the “last days.” This means that the “the last days” started when Christ first came 2,000 years ago.

Who will receive this outpouring? It is “all flesh”: men and women, young and old, masters and servants. During the apostolic era, some of these men and women received extraordinary gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. This was to show the world that they were sent by the true God, and their gospel is the truth. These signs and wonders authenticated their divine origin (Hb 2:4). They were foundational to the church at its very beginnings. By the time the apostles and their associates were gone, the foundation was already established (Ep 2:20), and the signs and wonders ceased. The succeeding generations of believers are now building the church over this foundation (1Co 3:10-11).

John the Baptizer also prophesied that Jesus will baptize his disciples with “fire” (Mt 3:11). At Pentecost, “divided tongues as of fire” came down from heaven and “rested on each one of them” (Ac 2:3). In the Old Testament, fire demonstrated God’s holy presence, as in the burning bush that appeared to Moses, the fire that came down from heaven to consume the people’s sacrificial offerings, or even the fire of judgment that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah. At Pentecost, these “tongues as of fire” did not consume, but instead signified the power of the Holy Spirit and the purity of the gospel that the disciples would preach to the people in their own tongues.

The Gift Completes His Work

In Joel 2:30-31, we read about cosmic phenomenon, “wonders in the heavens and on earth,” that has never happened in the history of the world since Pentecost. These wonders will be shown to all mankind before the coming great day of the LORD. This is also what Peter prophesied, “the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2Pt 3:12) Jesus says that these same cosmic signs will appear at his coming, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man…” (Mt 24:29-30a).

Joel says that during this time of great harvest before Jesus returns, “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Jl 2:32). God’s chosen people have always called upon the name of the LORD (Gn 4:26). But when God pours out his Spirit on his people, he “will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD …” (Zp 3:9; Zc 13:9). Their speech will be the pure gospel of Christ that they would believe and preach. The inhabitants of the earth will go through God’s testing by fire, but God’s people will be saved.

Paul quotes this verse in Joel when he says, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Rm 10:13). “Everyone” includes Jews and Gentiles alike from all nations. These are those survivors who will escape God’s wrath when they seek refuge and salvation in the church, called Mount Zion, the heavenly city of God (Jl 2:32; Hb 12:22).

Today, the outpouring of God’s Spirit continues, saving multitudes of people throughout the nations. They are now citizens of one holy nation, God’s own treasured possession. When the Spirit’s work of changing hearts and souls is completed, the elect from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will gather before God’s heavenly throne to worship him (Rv 7:9-10).

As we wait for that day, remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2). Pray, because there is much gospel work to be done while we await the final Feast of Weeks, the final harvest of souls.


[1] Kris Vallotton, “Bethel Church: God, The Bad, and The Ugly,” Charisma Magazine, 2/27/2012, https://www.charismamag.com/site-archives/1490-online-exclusives/march/14956-bethel-church-god-the-bad-and-the-ugly. Accessed 05/17/2018.

[2] Kenoticism, an early church heresy, is only one of the many heresies that Bethel Church teaches. In “What are Bill Johnson’s Heresies?”, Brandon Hines lists the other major heresies taught by Johnson: prosperity gospel; Jesus was born again in his resurrection; word-faith doctrine, words have inherent power; and false prophecies. http://pulpitandpen.org/2016/11/14/what-are-bill-johnsons-heresies/. Accessed 5/17/2018.

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