Every generation has its watershed moments, events that divide time and make the “after” somehow different than the “before.”
For millennials, 9/11 stands out as the prime example. For Gen Xers, perhaps it is the fall of the Berlin Wall or the O.J. Simpson trial, and for baby boomers, maybe the assassination of JFK. But did you know that many churches this weekend will recognize a more impactful era-defining watershed moment than all of the aforementioned events combined?
According to the Church’s storied liturgical calendar (or Christian year), this Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, a day where Christians for nearly two millennia have celebrated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people. However, when people hear the word “Pentecost” these days, they may be more likely to think about a particular denomination, sprightly choir robes, tambourines and ecstatic glossolalia (i.e., speaking in tongues).
A denomination alone, though, is not what Christians should associate primarily with Pentecost and its ongoing significance. Instead, when it comes to Pentecost, we should think new creation. We should shout, “The dead now live.” We should declare, “The King is on His throne”—and we’re not talking about the potential of LeBron’s playoff run this postseason.
Pentecost is the watershed moment for all who confess the name of Christ, since “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Nothing more important has happened since then. No world wars, no technological inventions, no sporting events, nothing—no, not even one.
More than sorting us according to millennial, Gen X, or baby boomer, the Spirit’s advent tells Christians that we belong to an eternal order, not a by-gone era or a fleeting phase. We are citizens of a coming kingdom with no expiration date and no geopolitical boundaries, but nevertheless, we at present groan to go home as exiles living in a foreign but fading empire (Romans 8:22-23).
The Spirit who hovered over the chaos at the outset of creation is the same Spirit who brings forth new creation order out of our chaotic rebellion against our Creator (Genesis 1:2; Titus 3:3-7).
Pentecost is as every bit of a gospel event as Jesus’ ministry and miracles, death and resurrection. The Spirit’s coming grants us assurance, hope and identity as much as a bloody cross or an empty tomb. The gift of the Holy Spirit is part and parcel of Christ’s work on behalf of His people. To glory in our Redeemer without also glorying in the Spirit is akin to enjoying a bacon cheeseburger without bacon. It’s just impossible!
The New Era
Pentecost is important because the Spirit’s arrival is important—what some might call the birth of the new-covenant church. But there’s a history that precedes even this.
The name comes from the Greek word Pentekostos, meaning “50.” The day marks that 50 days have passed since the Passover Sabbath, and in the Old Testament this date on the agricultural calendar is called the Feast of Weeks (see Leviticus 23:15). This feast expressed that Israel’s God was responsible for providing them with crops and thus worthy of the first fruits of the harvest.
The agricultural metaphor extends further (lest you farmers were worried). Christ’s resurrection is the first fruits of the final resurrection—our resurrection—the dawn of the new creation (1 Corinthians 15:20).
If Jesus’ rising from the dead is the first fruits of the harvest, then the Spirit’s coming is the taste of the first harvest meal. To taste of the Spirit is to taste and see that the Lord is good because Jesus and the Spirit are of the same quality crop (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:45; John 14:16; 16:7).
Like a king showering his loyal subjects with precious bounty, the ascended Lord Jesus shares the revitalizing gift of the Spirit with His people (Acts 2:32-33). To belong to Jesus is to possess the Spirit; to be of the Spirit is to be in Christ (Romans 8:9).
Thus, as those who partake of the same Holy Spirit who made a memorable entrance inside the Jerusalem upper room, Pentecost becomes our event when we come to faith in Christ.
Part of Something Bigger
Whenever we are crucified with Christ, we are also baptized into the Spirit (see Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Each time a sinner once dead in sins and trespasses is born again, another soul joins the party—a party that began with 120 people, quickly expanded to 3,000, and later swelled to billions and counting (see Acts 1:15; 2:41). All political rallies Democrat and Republican fall desperately short in comparison.
So, whether we are concerned about those promising to “make America great again” or the consequences of bathroom policies, the Spirit’s presence in our lives reminds us that these things will one day pass away and only a new heavens and new earth will remain. The flesh is weak and failing; the Spirit is willing and omnipotent.
Because of Pentecost, we defy and transcend whatever identities and labels our present world might try to shackle us with and seek to confine us to.
There is one Pentecost, for in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether baby boomer, Gen Xer or millennial. And no political election, sporting event, celebrity scandal or major terrorist attack will provide a greater source of unity and identity.
Pentecost has changed history and made the “after” like nothing “before.”
Josh Hayes is an editor for 'The Gospel Project' and a Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He lives in the Nashville area with his wife, Sara, and their two children.