Pentecost, which we celebrate today, is sometimes called the birthday of the church. I’m never sure whether that’s quite right – though it was certainly the day when the church received an amazing gift. Coming, as it does, fifty days after Easter, Pentecost also marks the beginning of the church’s mission to the world.
Jerusalem was thronged with people who had come to celebrate the harvest thanksgiving festival. As the Holy Spirit settled on the disciples, the onlookers thought they were drunk. But the crowds were ‘cut to the heart’ by Peter’s stirring speech and three thousand believers were baptised and came to faith that day.
As we continue our whistle-stop tour through the New Testament, we see that the early church faced many of the same questions and challenges which we wrestle with today. Time has moved on and the culture was very different, but people are essentially the same. As the writer of Ecclesiastes observed about a thousand years earlier (Eccles 1:9) – What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
I don’t know whether that’s comforting or just plain terrifying. It certainly bears out the old adage that ‘History repeats itself. Has to. No-one listens.’
The crowds who thronged Jerusalem for the harvest thanksgiving festival may have received more than they bargained for. But we can also see that disciples and new believers alike were fired up (sorry!) to go out and share the gift they had been given.
Are we ready and willing to play our part in the history of God’s church by doing the same – receiving God’s gift and then giving it away?