Sunday, May 23, 2021 may say Pentecost or Whit Sunday on your calendar. Seven Sundays or 50 days after Easter (pentēkostē means fiftieth in Greek), Pentecost (the Festival of Weeks) is the festival commemorating the arrival of the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples following His ascension to heaven

Jesus Taken Up to Heaven

Have you ever stood staring up at the vast, blue sky for a few moments just feeling small, maybe a little lonely, and pondering your purpose in life? The first chapter of the book of Acts tells us that Jesus’ disciples did that exact thing. Earlier that same day, they had been standing on the Mount of Olives talking with Jesus and then, when He had finished talking with them, His feet left the ground and He just kept going, up above their heads, into the sky beyond the clouds!

And they stood there, utterly amazed, just staring at the sky, probably with their mouths open, speechless. He had left them, actually left them and returned to heaven. And this was only 40 days after they had thought they’d lost him to death. It was a confusing, and possibly disappointing, time for Jesus’ friends and followers. 

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11).

Jesus’ disciples, male and female, including eleven of the original twelve, (very possibly their wives) plus Jesus’ mother, Mary and his half brothers, gathered in Jerusalem after that to wait and to pray. All in all, the Bible tells us there were around 120 people who gathered together for days after Jesus was taken up to heaven (Acts 1:12-26). It was the beginning of a good-sized house church, if you will, and the very first church ever! They stayed together, ate together, worshipped, prayed around the clock, and Peter led the group like an elder or pastor: it was like an intense, early church “retreat.” They also prayed and cast lots to choose a new disciple named Matthias to replace Judas.

The Birth of the Church

While they were all meeting together, an astounding and supernatural event occurred: the entire house was filled with the sound of a violent wind followed by the appearance of fiery tongues that rested on each one of them. And the Holy Spirit arrived accompanied by wind and fire, and filled each one of them, enabling them to do supernatural things like speak languages they didn’t speak. Jesus was gone, but He had left them the Holy Spirit.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).

“And the church of Christ was born
Then the Spirit lit the flame
- King of Kings, Hillsong 

Because that day was a Jewish festival, Jerusalem was filled to the brim with Jewish pilgrims from every nation on earth. Jesus’ disciples, now filled with the Spirit of God, began loudly proclaiming the wonders of God in a variety of languages, and a large crowd gathered, amazed at what they were hearing (Acts 2:5-13)! 

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Then Peter stood and began preaching, and when he finished, some 3,000 Jews repented, believed in Jesus the Messiah, and were baptized (Acts 2:14-41). Talk about an awesome day! That day, known as Pentecost, was the birthday of the Church. That day, the Church grew from 120 to over 3,000 and continued to grow . . . And grow . . . And grow!

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

A Church That Is Always Growing

And it’s still growing! Even though we can’t possibly count the exact number of sincere followers of Christ, Christians currently make up over 2 billion of the world’s population, according to the World Population Review. And that number will grow until the population of heaven is uncountable!

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

So this year, on Pentecost, take time to worship, to rejoice, and thank God for Jesus, for the Church, and for the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit!

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Photo credit: Unsplash/Mike Labrum

Kristi Walker has been a missionary in Berlin, Germany for over 15 years working with an international church as the Director of Student Ministries. She is the author of two books - Disappointment: A Subtle Path Away from Christ and Convinced. Applying Biblical Principles to Life’s Choices.