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The Christian Pentecost

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit”  (Acts 2:4). 

An expression I remember from my childhood is Emma go ‘het. It didn’t make much sense, but I knew what it meant. Forward with zeal and determination! I suppose the words were a rendering of a German-English phrase Immer go ahead! Always forward!

The Jewish festival of Pentecost was named Shavuot in Hebrew—meaning weeks. It fell seven weeks, or a “week of weeks,” after the Passover Sabbath. The festival, by count, was on the 50th day after the Passover Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15-16). The Feast of Weeks marked the end of the grain harvest and was the time to offer the first fruits (Leviticus 23:20). The name Shavuot later became Pentecost—Greek for fiftieth.

On the first Christian Pentecost, the one after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the promise Jesus had given to His disciples was fulfilled. He had said, before ascending, “Tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49), and “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, was poured out upon the disciples on Pentecost (Acts 2). The Holy Spirit had already brought the disciples to faith in Christ. Now the Holy Spirit was giving them special blessings to proclaim the saving Name of Jesus—courage, zeal, wisdom, understanding of the Scriptures, ability to speak other languages, power to work miracles—all to further their witness that the crucified and risen Jesus was the Savior from sin.

Luke wrote in his Gospel that the Holy Spirit was specifically involved in Jesus’ work as Redeemer. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the virgin Mary was with child; at Jesus’ baptism at age thirty, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove; Jesus, filled by the Holy Spirit, was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil; Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (Luke 1-4). When the seventy returned from their mission to proclaim Christ, Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit (Luke 10). Jesus was opposed by Satan, demons, and hate-filled men continually. The Holy Spirit gave Jesus the needed strength and counsel to carry on.

The Holy Spirit had already brought the disciples to faith in Christ. Now the Holy Spirit was giving them special blessings to proclaim the saving Name.

Likewise, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples would need counsel and strength from the Holy Spirit to preach Christ, the Savior from sin! Satan, demons, and hate-filled men would oppose them. Luke specifically relates in Acts how the Holy Spirit continued to work after Pentecost: Peter and John spoke boldly to the Jewish leaders after being jailed, Peter confronted the lies of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter boldly spoke to the angry Sanhedrin in behalf of all the apostles, Stephen presented a staunch witness to his enemies prior to being stoned, Saul the persecutor was filled with the Holy Spirit upon his conversion (Acts 3 – 11), and so on! God the Holy Spirit kept the preaching of the Gospel from being squelched.

Does the Christian church today—including our synod, congregations, members, and you and I—need the Holy Spirit? Satan and his forces oppose us! Why is it difficult to talk to others about Jesus? Lack of confidence? Lack of courage? Lack of knowledge? Why is it difficult to talk to a congregation member about being more devoted to the Savior? Lack of zeal? Lack of conviction? Why is it difficult to talk to a family member enmeshed in a grievous sin? Fear of being despised? Fear of fracturing the family? We and the church today need the blessings of the Holy Spirit! We need His individual assurance that, sinners though we are, we are forgiven through Jesus’ blood and righteousness, we are graciously pardoned for Jesus’ sake. We need His blessings so that we may proclaim Christ—against all forces! Pray for His help.

With the Holy Spirit at our side, it will be Emma go ‘het ! 

Richard Kanzenbach is pastor of Morning Star Lutheran Church in Fairchild, Wisconsin, and Peace with God Ev. Lutheran Church in Onalaska, Wisconsin.