A Forgotten Memorial Day: The Feast of Pentecost
Monday was Memorial Day in the U.S. But there is another memorial day this weekend that commemorates one of the most momentous days in all of history.
On Monday, May 25, most schools, federal offices and some businesses in the United States closed to observe Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a U.S. holiday remembering the Americans who died in all the wars fought throughout American history.
But there is another memorial day approaching this coming weekend. Sunday, May 31, is a day even more important than Memorial Day— the biblical Feast of Pentecost (or Feast of Weeks).
The unique feast of counting
In Leviticus 23 God gave Israel a list of special observances that He declared “the feasts of the LORD” (verse 2). These festivals were to be observed by God’s people as “holy convocations” (verse 2). This meant that God expected His people to assemble together on these days to worship and learn about Him.
The third festival in this list was unique. Instead of having a fixed date, the date of its observance is based on counting: “You shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath [during the Days of Unleavened Bread], from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath” (verses 15-16).
Counting 50 days from “the day after the Sabbath” (Sunday) during the Days of Unleavened Bread always brings you to the Sunday that falls seven weeks later.
In fact, the name Pentecost is simply the Greek term for “fiftieth.”
Pentecost in the New Testament
Many, unfortunately, make the mistake of thinking that this day was just an Old Testament Jewish observance.
But the Bible paints a very different picture!
Every year when Christians gather to celebrate this day, they remember the events of the Pentecost that began the New Testament Church.This special day is featured prominently in the New Testament. In fact, one of the most important events in the history of Christianity took place on this day. And that is no coincidence. Acts 2 tells the story of the beginning of the New Testament Church. You may have heard about some of the events of that day—tongues of fire, speaking in different languages, Peter’s powerful sermon, baptisms, etc. But have you paid close attention to why all these people were together in the first place?
Notice Acts 2:1: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”
Yes, the first Christians were assembled to observe Pentecost! What happened on this day would change history forever. On that day, God began the Church of God—a group of people called out of the world and together to be “His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9). No longer would God work only with the nation of Israel. Through the Church, He would now begin calling people of all ethnicities, races and nationalities into a relationship with Him (Romans 9:24; 11:11; Galatians 3:14).
The Bible shows that the Church continued to observe the Feast of Pentecost after this day (Acts 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:8).
Pentecost as a memorial day
In a way, it is interesting that Pentecost and Memorial Day fall around the same time. The word memorial means “serving to preserve remembrance.”
The Feast of Pentecost is also a memorial day.
Every year when Christians gather to celebrate this day, they remember the events of the Pentecost that began the New Testament Church (recorded in Acts 2). But it is a different kind of remembering. Instead of just remembering the past, the events of that Pentecost continue to live as a reality today. On Pentecost, Christians will memorialize:
1. The giving of the Holy Spirit.
One of the most significant “firsts” of that Pentecost was when those assembled “were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). Before this, the Holy Spirit was “with” Christ’s disciples; but now they were filled with it—it was now in them (John 14:17).
It is not a coincidence that the Holy Spirit was given on the same day the Church began. In one sense, it couldn’t have been any other way. The giving of the Holy Spirit—the very power of God—to a human being is what makes the person a member of the Church (Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
To learn more about the Holy Spirit, read “What Is the Holy Spirit?”
2. Peter’s powerful Pentecost sermon.
In one way, Peter’s powerful preaching recorded in Acts 2 could be considered the inaugural address for the Church of God. It not only identified the incredible prophetic significance of that day, but it declared who Jesus Christ was, where He now was, what He was doing—and how those truths tied together to affect the life of every individual hearing the message.
Peter concluded that sermon with one of the most powerful calls to action ever spoken: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (verse 38).
This isn’t just a memorial message, though, because the message and work that Peter’s sermon described are still being proclaimed by God’s people today.
To learn more about the content of Peter’s amazing Pentecost sermon, read “The Sermon That Launched the Church.”
3. The growth of the New Testament Church.
Acts 2 records that 3,000 people were baptized and added to the Church on that miraculous day. The early Church was described as continuing “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (verse 42).
The rest of the New Testament records the progression of that Church—how it went forward and grew beyond the confines of Jerusalem through the work of men like Peter, Stephen, James, John, Paul, Timothy and many others. But when we come to the later books of the New Testament, we find a Church regressing—being attacked on many fronts, with many losing the doctrinal purity and spirit of the Pentecost of Acts 2 (Galatians 1:6; 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 1:3-4).
When God’s people review what the Church was like on that very special Feast of Pentecost, they recommit themselves to try to recapture the same zeal, purity, unity and power today.
The Feast of Pentecost is a memorial that Jesus Christ did build a Church, just as He said He would (Matthew 16:18). That Church exists today; and this weekend it will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, just as it did exactly 1,989 years ago.
To learn more about the biblical festivals the early Church observed, download our free booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.