As the fledgling Christian church set about preparing itself for its role and mission, the power of Pentecost burst into the lives of those early believers, with a mighty rushing wind and tongues as of fire…
It happened that before the church even knew itself to be a church, the members had received specific instructions from the risen Lord. That motley band of believers, comprised of “the eleven” and other believers—possibly their friends and relatives, and friends and relatives of Jesus, including his mother, Mary—had received, and were awaiting, further instructions given by Jesus, prior to his Ascension. All four gospel accounts record these instructions in differing levels of detail: Matthew 28: 16-20, Mark 16:15-20, Luke 24:47-53, and John 21: 15-22. Verses 2 to 10 of Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles also corroborate these accounts.
If we categorize the events that mark the genesis of the Christian faith, we discover that these unequivocal instructions, together with the actual experience of witnessing the ascension, with the further instructions of the “two men in white” (Acts 1:10) played an important role. These experiences prepared the individual men and women, as well as the group as a whole, the frontline leaders of this new movement, that would itself become the Christian church. In Acts Chapter 1 we find a summary of these instructions:
“(Jesus) commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which said He, you have heard of Me./..you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.../...you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” —Acts 1: 4,5,7,8 (KJV)
The response of the followers to these instructions, grounded as it was in their experience of having witnessed the glory of God in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, was a key contributing factor to their preparedness for the glory of God as it came to be revealed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: They followed the instructions they had received. They returned to Jerusalem, and waited. They gathered in community, both men and women. They were unified. They surrendered themselves to prayer. They listened to the Word of God proclaimed amongst themselves, and they did what today we call “succession planning,” while acknowledging the leadership and guidance of one of their number, and acting upon that selfsame guidance to the benefit and strengthening of the unit (Acts 1:13-26). What an amazing example for the church of today to emulate!
And so it was that these original founders of our Christian church, were “all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1), when the power of the Holy Spirit came, as a mighty sound from heaven, filling the place where they had gathered, and cloven tongues, as of fire, the actual manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence and gift, rested upon them. Most glorious of all was that these visionary cloven tongues engendered what would be the first miracle of the church: the awesome unprecedented ability of the empowered ones to preach the word to all those in the multitude that had gathered to behold the event.
The stunning truth of that first Pentecost was that the Word proclaimed was received in the listeners' own languages...even without the speakers being intellectually able on their own to speak the dialects of the more than fifteen named groups (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, men of Mesopotamia, Judaea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia) that had assembled in that place! It was an event of literal miraculous proportions. It was, too, a foreshadowing of how the gospel message would come to penetrate “all the world/earth” (Matthew 28:20, Acts 1:8).
Further, in the harmony that reigns within all of Scripture, it was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel: 2:28. And further yet, in a blessed reversal of the dreadful event of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), human beings were no longer separated by language. Instead, as they placed reliance on God, He, himself, in His mercy, through the glory of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit, presided over a newly-born, unified church, empowering God’s witnesses and His people to speak, to listen, and to receive His one true message of love and salvation.
In this we too can rejoice, for even now in these trying times, because of the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the Christian church continues to receive the promise, the presence, and the power of Pentecost.
Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago
Jesslyn is an elder and lay preacher of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago. She is also the Clerk of Session of her pastoral region, the secretary of her local board, the president of the women’s group, a choir member, and a Sunday School Teacher.