Pentecost and the birthday of the church of Christ

Pentecost occupies a special place in the cycle of religious holidays. Why do we refer to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as the “birthday of the church of Christ”? The answer follows in the second part of our reflections on Pentecost.

Already at the time of Jesus, Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival, a kind of Thanksgiving—an aspect we covered in the first part of this article. The festival was firmly established in the Jewish calendar and was an important part of Jewish religious observance. God, however, gave Pentecost further significance with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is recorded in the second chapter of Acts.

Jesus, the focal point of the sermon at Pentecost

Peter, the Apostle of the Lord, conducted a powerful sermon following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He referred to the prophecies of Joel, who foretold that God would pour out His Spirit on everyone, and went on to say that this prophecy had just been fulfilled with the miracle that had just occurred before their very eyes. Peter testified further that Jesus Christ is the Messiah promised by God, something already mentioned by King David in his psalms. Peter went on to quote verses 8 to 11 from the 16th Psalm, interpreting them as a reference to the resurrection of the Christ. Peter also referred to the first verse of Psalm 110 and interpreted it as a foretelling of the ascension of Christ.

Jesus Christ, who was handed over by the Jews and was crucified by the Gentiles, was therefore the focal point of this first surviving apostolic sermon. “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore 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” (Acts 2: 32–33).

When the people heard this they were deeply troubled and asked the Apostles what they should do. Peter, as mouthpiece for the Lord, answered, “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.” Three thousand people were added to the church that day. Pentecost is therefore also a model for the penetrating power that sermons have when they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost and its significance for us

We celebrate Pentecost in commemoration of the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out. We also refer to Pentecost as “the birthday of the church of Christ”. It is a festival of joy that celebrates the fact that the Holy Spirit shapes the church of Christ also today.

In the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church it says: “On Pentecost we commemorate the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out. We also speak of Pentecost as the day when the Holy Spirit was revealed and as the ‘birthday of the church of Christ’. The sending of the Holy Spirit—fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection—had been promised by the Son of God to His Apostles in His farewell discourses. A large number of believing men and women had contact with the Apostles in Jerusalem. The miracle of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is recorded in Acts 2: 1 et seq. The Apostles and the believers gathered with them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

“After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Apostle Peter, the rock appointed by Jesus Christ, preached a powerful sermon which centred on the crucified and risen Christ, who had ascended into heaven. Thereupon some 3,000 people were added to the church. Thus Pentecost is also a model for sermons inspired by the Spirit and for the growth of the church through the activity of the Apostles. Moreover, Pentecost is a feast of joy over the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity in the church” (Catechism 12.5.6).

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Peter Johanning
Christian holidays, Pentecost