The Great Commission and Pentecost
‘Observe the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest…
‘I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.’
John 14.25, 26
‘For I want very much to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.’
June 4th is Pentecost Sunday. In the Old Testament, this is the festival of the harvesting of the wheat and the barley. In the New Testament, it is prominent because it is the day the Holy Spirit descended on the church. In other words, this is the beginning of the spread of the gospel to all the nations. Thus, we have set apart Pentecost Sunday as a missions Sunday where we hear about the spread of the gospel in our community and in the world.
Let’s reflect on Pentecost starting in Exodus. It was one of the three pilgrimage feasts in ancient Israel (Exodus 34). What does this festival mean or why did they celebrate it? There is one biblical reason and one traditional reason. The biblical reason is that they were gave offerings of their wheat and barley harvest to Yahweh. In other words, Yahweh had provided the rains during the winter to provide enough grain for them to live another year in the Promised Land, and now they were giving back the first and best fruit to him in thanksgiving and trust that he would continue to provide. The second reason is a tradition that Yahweh gave the Israelites the 10 commandments from Mount Sinai. In other words, 50 days after the Passover when they left Egypt, they got the 10 commandments, the summary of God’s law (Exodus 19.1). This seems possible based on the order of events in Exodus.
Both reasons for the festival can guide our thoughts about Pentecost in the New Testament. First, it is significant the Spirit descends on the church at Pentecost because it is the beginning of a new harvest. The people of God begin to expand beyond the border of Israel. You don’t have to become a Jew anymore. So in many ways, it mirrors and expands the significance of this pilgrimage holiday. This is the point of Acts: Luke describes the harvest of the church from Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Our age is the age of God’s harvest. Jesus tells his disciples in John 4.35, ‘Look I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.’ And the fields are still ripe for the harvest until men and women from every tribe tongue and nation repent and believe. Second, it seems like the Ten Commandments were given around the time of Pentecost. In the same way we see in the sending and sealing of the Holy Spirit a similar purpose. God has sent his church the Holy Spirit in order to instruct it. This seems to be the spiritual gift that Paul wants to leave with the Romans. He wants to give them a spiritual teaching which is derived from the work of the Spirit in the Church. Jesus ascends, but then the Father sends the Spirit at Pentecost to instruct the church and remind it everything Jesus taught. This explains in part the way in which God gave us the New Testament. It is Jesus’ teaching brought to remembrance in the apostles. And this word is given for our edification and is the foundation from which we share the gospel to all nations. This is why Bible translation and training pastors is so important. Because the word of God and the right use of it is instrumental in the great commission.
So we celebrate Pentecost Sunday as we remember the initial spread of the gospel and as we look forward to the continual spread of the gospel to All Nations.