The Feast of Pentecost: Sowing the First Fruits
Pentecost (or First Fruits) is one of the three major Jewish feasts established in the Torah (Leviticus 23:15-16). It was celebrated fifty days after Passover when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to God and it commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai. All Jewish males were expected to be present for these feasts in Jerusalem every year (Exodus 34:23), but Jews who lived outside of Judea might be able to come only once or twice in their lifetime. Thus it was that fifty days after the Passover death and resurrection of Jesus, there were in Jerusalem many devout Jews who had come from “every nation under heaven” that year to be present for the feasts. These Jews were the ones who came together on the morning of Pentecost and heard the good news of “the mighty deeds of God,” each in his own language (Acts 2:7-11).
Peter then proclaimed to them the death and resurrection of Jesus for their salvation and the forgiveness of sins. For just as the sacrifice of the Passover lamb in Exodus had freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and the tyranny of Pharaoh and had preserved them from death, so now Jesus, the Lamb of God sacrificed on the cross and raised by God from the dead, frees us forever from the slavery of sin and the tyranny of evil and preserves us in Christ from everlasting death. The physical salvation of the Jews in Exodus through Moses was but a foreshadowing of the far greater eternal salvation now extended to the whole world, both Jew and Gentile, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ disciples were empowered and equipped on Pentecost by the Holy Spirit and sent out as apostles bearing the good news of Jesus to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost ends of the earth.”
Likewise, the Jewish feast of Pentecost and the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai was a foreshadowing of an even greater gift of God for the life of the world. The Law given at Sinai was written on two tablets of stone and placed in the Ark of the Covenant as a continual witness to the law of Moses. But as Paul later points out, the Law of the old Covenant could not itself give life because it brought with it the guilt of sin (Romans 7:4-8:4). Through the new Covenant of Jesus’ blood, God would write his commandments not on tablets of stone but in living human hearts by the power of his Holy Spirit, just as Ezekiel had prophesied:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you,
and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
And I will give you a new heart,
and a new spirit I will put within you.
And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh
and give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put my Spirit within you,
and cause you to walk in my statutes
and be careful to obey my rules.”
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus promised to his disciples the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would abide in them and be with them forever, to guide them into all truth, to teach them and to help them keep his commandment to love one another (John 14:15-17). At his ascension he told them to stay in Jerusalem and they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:4-8). The Spirit came down upon them on the morning of Pentecost just as Joel had prophesied and Peter proclaimed:
“And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit….
who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
(Joel 2:28-29, 32)
On the very day commemorating the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the law of Christ’s new Covenant was poured, through the power of the Holy Spirit, into the hearts of all believers for all time.
Pentecost was also the feast of bringing to God the first fruits of the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22). Jesus alludes to this feast on entering Jerusalem for the last time: “Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.'” (John 12:23-24)
The glory of God was revealed and made manifest through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (John 17:1-11, 22-26). Just as a the grain of wheat dies when it is sown in the earth and bears much fruit, so also Jesus’ sacrifice, his death and resurrection, brought forth its first fruit on the day of Pentecost. The promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, remained with them and bestowed upon them the gifts of evangelizing, preaching, healing and proclaiming to the world the power of the risen Christ to save, to heal, to forgive and to bless. Thus, when Peter preached his first sermon on Pentecost morning, 3000 received the good news of salvation in Christ, believed, and were baptized as the first fruits of Jesus’ death and resurrection, presented to God on Pentecost.
We sow the seed of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit confirms the word by his working, God gives the growth, and the harvest that began with the first fruits of Pentecost continues now in our midst and through us until the end of the age.”
Jesus’ disciples were empowered and equipped on Pentecost by the Holy Spirit and sent out as apostles bearing the good news of Jesus to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). They continued to work alongside the Lord, reaping the fields white with harvest, preaching Christ boldly while the Holy Spirit confirmed their words with signs and wonders (Mark 16:20). To these first fruits gathered on Pentecost would be added a multitude of believers, both Jews (Acts 4:4) and Gentiles (Acts 10:27, 44-48), stretching out from Jerusalem and Judea to the ends of the earth. We sow the seed of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit confirms the word by his working, God gives the growth, and the harvest that began with the first fruits of Pentecost continues now in our midst and through us until the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
Barbara Gauthier and her husband Stephen bring a wealth of liturgical and church history knowledge to the Greenhouse Movement. We are excited to have her sharing more about the Feast of Pentecost and other important liturgical traditions.