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Apostles First Sunday

Season of Apostles

First Sunday: The Feast of Pentecost. Acts 2:1-13.
THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES DOWN ON THE APOSTLES

INTRODUCTION

The Feast of Pentecost is the annual celebration of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles and the Church’s inauguration. God selected the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, the agricultural feast of the weeks, to start the harvest of Jesus’s ministry by converting 3,000 people from various nations to the church that already had 120 Christians gathered in Jerusalem. This feast also reminds us of the Old Testament covenant God made with Israel on Mount Sinai on the 50th day after the original Passover in Egypt. The coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of the Christian believers confirmed the new covenant Jesus instituted at the Last Supper. When we received baptism and confirmation (chrismation) we have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We must continue Jesus’ mission in this world with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

BIBLE TEXT

The Coming of the Spirit

(Acts 2:1) When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. (2) And suddenly from heaven came a sound like a strong rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. (3) There appeared tongues as of fire which parted and came to rest upon each one of them. (4) All were filled with Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (5) Now there were staying in Jerusalem devout Jews from every nation under heaven. (6) When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered, all excited because each one heard them speaking in his own native language. (7) Full of amazement and wonder, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? (8) How is it that we hear them in our own native language? (9) Here are Parthians, Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, (10) Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, (11) both Jews and foreigners who accept Jewish beliefs, Cretans and Arabians; and all of us hear them speaking in our own language the marvelous deeds of God. (12) They were amazed and greatly confused, and they kept asking one another, “What does this mean?” (13) But others mocked and said, “These people are drunk with new wine.”

INTERPRETATION 

(Acts 2:1) When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

When the day of Pentecost came
The Israelites had seven main feasts which according to the calendar order were: The Passover, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the Feast of the First-fruits, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). Jews added more feasts after the Babylonian exile. These feasts were communal in the sense that they brought the nation together for worship, and they helped to commemorate their common origin and memorable experiences in relation to God.

Out of these seven pre-exile feasts originated from God, three were pilgrimage feasts: Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks) and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). According to Deuteronomy 16:16-17, “Three times a year all your men shall present themselves before the LORD, your God, in the place that will be chosen by him: on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Tabernacles. You shall not present yourselves empty-handed; each one will bring his gifts in proportion to what he has, according to the blessing that the LORD, your God, has bestowed upon you.” Since they traveled to Jerusalem for these feasts, they called them “Pilgrimage Feasts.”

There is an interrelation between the first four of the seven feasts:

(1) The Passover
“Between dusk and dawn on the fourteenth day of the first month is the LORD’s Passover.” (Leviticus 23:5). Passover commemorated the marking with the blood of a slaughtered lamb on the door posts of the houses of Israelites to save them from the angel of death. In the New Testament, this Passover became the slaughter of Jesus, the true Lamb of God who marked his blood on the cross for our redemption from the bondage of sin.

(2) The Feast of the Unleavened Bread
After the Passover, the Israelites had to leave Egypt in a hurry and could not wait to leaven the bread. So, God asked Israel to celebrate the feast of the Unleavened Bread for one week to remember this historical event. “And on the fifteenth day of this month it is the LORD’s feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you shall eat bread without leaven.” (Leviticus 23:6). Leaven was a symbol of sin. Israel had to give up all their sinful ways in Egypt and follow the Lord to the promised land.

(3) The feast of the “First Fruits”
The Israelites celebrated this feast on the day after Sabbath during the one-week feast of the Unleavened Bread. “When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you will bring to the priest a sheaf, the first fruits of your harvest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Lev. 23:10-11). This offering was the first ripe barley in the field and each Israelite presented it as a bundle to the priest who would wave it in front of the altar of the Lord. Farmers harvested barley first and then only wheat and other agricultural products. Along with a sheaf of barley, they offered a one-year-old lamb and a grain offering. According to Deuteronomy 26:1-11, this offering was to acknowledge that God had delivered them from Egypt and had given them the fertile land that He had promised to the forefathers. They had to depend on manna for 40 years and now they could cultivate and eat fresh agricultural products. The Israelites did not eat of the new harvest until they offered the first fruits offering (Lev. 23:14)

Jesus rose from the dead on the feast day of the “First Fruit” because he was the first fruit of the redemptive activity of God. The day of Easter was the day after the Sabbath during the one-week feast of the Unleavened Bread after Passover. Jesus then went to heaven, the Holy of Holies, on the 40th day after his resurrection to present his sacrificial offering as the High Priest used to do on the Day to Atonement. His Son’s offering pleased the Father who accepted it. God then sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles to establish the church on the 50th day after the Passover sacrifice of Jesus. This fiftieth day coincided with the 50th day celebration (Pentecost) of the Old Testament.

(4). The Feast of Pentecost
The Israelites celebrated the Pentecost, also known as the Feast of the Weeks, according to God’s directive given in Leviticus 23:15-22. From the feast of the first fruits, the Israelites must count seven full weeks and the day after that, or on the 50th day, they shall observe Pentecost by wheat grain offering. It included two loaves of leavened bread representing Israelites and Gentiles, a burnt offering of seven one-year-old lambs, one bull and two rams followed by a sin offering of one goat and a fellowship offering of two lambs (Lev. 23: 18). Though this 50th day observance was a harvest feast of thanksgiving, the Israelites associated it with God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai on the 50th day after the Passover in Egypt.

There is a parallelism between the 50th day event at Mount Sinai and the descendent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles on the 50th day after the Passover sacrifice of Jesus:

1. God giving the commandment on Mount Sinai and the Holy Spirt descending on the feast of Pentecost happened on the 50th day after Passover. Israelites traveled around 40 days to reach from Egypt to Mount Sinai. They left Egypt on the 15th day of the first month and arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai on the first day of the third month (Exodus 19:1). Moses went up to Mount Sinai on the 40th day to meet with God and God came down on the mountain to meet the Israelites and gave them the Torah on the 50th day after Passover. Jesus ascended to heaven on the 40th day to join with the Father, and the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles on the 50th day.

2. The extraordinary signs at Mount Sinai and Mount Zion (Jerusalem) at the time of Pentecost were similar. Both happened on holy mountains God selected. At Mount Sinai there were thunder and lightning, heavy cloud, and a loud blast of the shofar (Exodus 19:16). “Mount Sinai was completely covered with smoke because the LORD had come down upon it in fire, and the smoke rose as from a furnace. The whole mountain shook violently.” (Exodus 19:18). During the Pentecost, a sudden noise came from the sky like a powerful driving wind, tongues of fire rested on the apostles, and they received the gift of speaking in unfamiliar languages (Acts 2: 2-4).

3. God gave the Torah on Mount Sinai as teachings for God’s chosen people. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came as the Teacher of believers. “From now on the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of all that I have told you.” (John 14:26).

4. God wrote the laws He gave at Mount Sinai on two stone tablets. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit wrote the New Law that Jesus gave on the human hearts of Christians. On the Pentecost day, when people heard the preaching of Peter, “they were cut to the heart.” (Acts 2:37).

5. At Mount Sinai, God came down to dwell among the people of Israel. He led them in the form of a column of cloud during the day and a column of fire at night (Exodus 13:21-22). God dwelt with them in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple of Jerusalem. Israelites lost God’s presence in the Temple before the Babylonian exile, because of their sins. However, the Lord’s dwelling came back through Jesus when he was born in Bethlehem and later to the Christian hearts from the time of Pentecost. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit abides within you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).

6. Both events formed a redeemed community of God’s chosen people. The Exodus gave birth to the Israelite nation while the Pentecost inaugurated the church.

7. When God gave Torah to Moses on the mountain, the people were worshiping a golden calf. Because of this sin, Levites killed 3,000 people as God’s punishment (Exodus 32:25-28). On the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people gained faith in Jesus and received baptism at the preaching of Peter (Acts 2:41).

They were all together in one place.
The scholars and preachers differ in opinion on who were present when the Holy Spirit came on the Pentecost. Some believe the twelve apostles, including Mathias whom the early Christian community selected before the Pentecost, were present. That is clear from Acts 2:14: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven and, with a loud voice, addressed them.” Others differ based on Acts 1:15 that 120 people were present to select a substitute for Judas Iscariot. “It was during those days that Peter stood up in the community's midst (about one hundred and twenty in all).” However, the Bible does not specify whether all of them received the Holy Spirit. All agree that Jesus selected the 12 apostles as the pillars of the church.

(2) And suddenly from heaven came a sound like a strong rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 

Suddenly from heaven came a sound like a strong rushing wind.
The “sudden” noise like a powerful rushing wind implies unusual phenomenon because they did not expect even a normal wind. The rushing wind came from the sky shows a divine intervention. Sky stands for heaven and so this phrase reveals the Holy Spirit coming from heaven.

This noise reminds us of the blast of shofar that grew louder and louder when God appeared on Mount Sinai to Moses and to the people (Exodus 19:19). The wind stands for the Holy Spirit. At the time of creation, mighty wind was sweeping over the waters (Genesis 1:2). “Then the LORD God formed man, of dust drawn from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7). During the feast of Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit breathed on the disciples of Jesus to give a new life. According to John, Jesus breathed on the apostles and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.” (John 20:22). Hence the breath or wind of God gave the apostles a new and empowered Christian life.

It filled the whole house where they were sitting.
God’s Spirit filled like the Shekinah cloud in the Holy of Holies on the entire house and all who were present there. Instead of the Temple, it was in a house that the Holy Spirit came. God’s presence manifested on them as a community of Christian believers. Though the apostles and their successors received the Holy Spirit specially as servants of the Word of God, all the baptized received the Holy Spirit and all have the responsibility to defend and propagate the Christian faith.

(3) There appeared tongues as of fire which parted and came to rest upon each one of them.

Tongues as of fire
God appeared in the form of fire several times in the Bible. For example, He appeared to Moses at Mount Horeb in a burning bush while he was tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro (Exodus 3:2). The Lord preceded the Israelites in the desert in the form of a column of fire at night (Exodus 13:21). He came down upon Mount Sinai in fire (Exodus 19:18). So also, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in the form of fire.

At Mount Sinai, the fire appeared as one body. The fire at Pentecost was individual pieces that rested on each of the disciples. While people kept away from the fire at Mount Sinai, at Pentecost the disciples received the tongues of fire upon them.

Fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit because fire has purity, light, and heat. It can purify a metal by burning away the impurities on it. The fire can also melt the metal to mold it in a desired shape. Thus, the Holy Spirit can purify us from sin and mold us as God’s instruments. The Spirit can enlighten our minds with the truths of Jesus’ gospel. It can also make us zealous to work for the Kingdom of God and to defend the Christian faith. Fire destroys the old and causes to rebuild a city or regenerate a forest in a better form. The Holy Spirit is so powerful that it can renew a person. “Then the spirit of the LORD will seize you. You shall prophesy with them and will be changed into another man.” (1 Samuel 10:6). The Holy Spirit reformatted the mind and the spirit of the apostles.

(4) All were filled with Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

All were filled with Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s presence was not just a scene of flames on the apostles, but it filled their entire body. The Spirit transformed them.

They began to speak different languages.
In Mark 16:17, Jesus had foretold the disciples, “Signs like these will accompany those who believe: in my Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages.” The coming of the Holy Spirit gifted them with unfamiliar languages. We can understand this in diverse ways: (1) They could speak with a better understanding of the scripture. (2) They could speak different languages that they had not learned before. (3) The people who did not know their language could follow what they spoke.

As the Spirit enabled them to proclaim
The Holy Spirit was enabling them to proclaim the Word of God with boldness, conviction, and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.

(5) Now there were staying in Jerusalem devout Jews from every nation under heaven.

The pilgrimage feast of Pentecost brought to the Jerusalem Temple all Jews who observe the commandments of the Lord from all over the known world. So, the crowd gathered at the Pentecost was representing people of all nations. According to the Biblical concept, there were 70 nations in the world deriving from the three sons of Noah. The children of Israel had scattered all over the world because of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles.

(6) When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered, all excited because each one heard them speaking in his own native language.

The public came to know the mysterious happening in the room where Jesus’ disciples gathered because they heard an unusual sound. It could be the strange and strong wind or the loud noise the Christians made when the Holy Spirit filled them.

The people in Jerusalem rushed to see what was going on. They were of different nationalities who spoke diverse languages and could not understand one another. However, they felt the miracle that they all could understand what the disciples spoke in a language foreign to them. So, the miracle was happening even to the listeners, who could understand the foreign language of the spirit-filled Christians.

This miracle was a reversal of what happened when God destroyed the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). The people at Babel had unity and a common language. When they tried to build the tower to compete with God, He scattered them all over the world with diverse languages. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought together people from all nations and languages in the name of Christ. This unification of people of all nationalities and languages in the universal language of Christian love has been continuing since then as one body under St. Peter and his successors.

(7) They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?”

The apostles were Galileans. They like other Galileans were less literate compared to the people in Jerusalem. However, the apostles spoke wonders of God interpreting the Holy Scripture with exceptional ability and linguistic skills. That amazed the Jewish elite in Jerusalem and the pilgrims from foreign lands.

(8) How is it that we hear them in our own native language? (9) Here are Parthians, Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, (10) Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, (11) both Jews and foreigners who accept Jewish beliefs, Cretans and Arabians; and all of us hear them speaking in our own language the marvelous deeds of God. (12) They were amazed and greatly confused, and they kept asking one another, “What does this mean?” (13) But others mocked and said, “These people are drunk with new wine.”

Most people who came from foreign countries believed in what Peter spoke of Jesus. They received baptism, went to their own countries, and communicated the gospel of Jesus. So, the apostles and other disciples who went all over the world to preach the gospel had followers of Jesus to welcome them in foreign places. Those who were opponents of Jesus and those who did not get the gift of understanding, criticized the apostles that they must be drunk to speak like that though it was around 9:00 A.M.

MESSAGE

1. Though the Holy Spirit came on the apostles, it happened when they gathered in one place as a community of prayer. Jesus promised: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:20). Along with personal prayers, we also need community worship.

2. The three pilgrimage feasts brought the Israelites in the Jerusalem Temple from all over the world. They worshipped the Lord and brought gifts to God according to what each one had received from the Lord. They also observed other feasts and offered a daily sacrifice in the morning and evening in the Temple. God invites us, who are pilgrims in this world, to attend services in the church where Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist and where Jesus offers his sacrifice for us. Let us make use of maximum opportunity for this worship in our lifetime.

3. Besides our parish churches, let our homes also be places of daily devotion. God’s presence will be there also when the family gathers for prayer in Jesus’ name.

4. We have received the Holy Spirit at the time of baptism and Confirmation (Chrismation). Confirmation strengthened us to defend our faith and to propagate the Christ’s message of salvation. Let us keep up our faith in this secularized society, teach religion to our children, give witness to the Lord in every way, and support the missionaries who serve on behalf of us and the Lord in various parts of the world.

5. When King Saul sinned, the Holy Spirit left him. “I feel sorry that I made Saul king because he has turned his back on me and has not kept my command.” (1Samuel 15:11). So, “the spirit of the LORD had left Saul and an evil spirit sent by the LORD tormented him.” (1Samuel 16:14). Let us be careful to avoid grave sins so the Spirit of the Lord can prevail within us and the evil spirit does not dwell in us.

6. There is only one language that all people all over the world, regardless of age and diversity, understand; and that is love. As part of the Pentecost observance, God commanded: “When you reap the harvest in your country, you are not to harvest to the very end of your field, and you are not to gather the gleanings of the harvest. You are to leave them for the poor and the resident alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 23:22). Let us not forget that what God gives us is not just for our personal use, but to share with others out of love towards God and humanity. Such sharing is part of evangelization, and the longing for sharing is a gift of the Holy Spirit.