Digging Deeper into Scripture: The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–21)

May 15, 2024 Phil Rigdon

Upon finishing my teaching degree at what is now Concordia University Chicago, I was recruited to serve as a missionary in Taiwan (ROC—Republic of China), where I spent two and a half years learning the language and culture, and teaching English and Christianity. The first half year was spent entirely on learning language and culture. Mandarin is the official language of both mainland China and Taiwan, but this was not always the language used. A group of mainland Chinese brought Mandarin to Taiwan when they fled the communist takeover. Prior to the arrival of this group, the people of Taiwan spoke their own, indigenous language, Taiwanese, which is distinct from Mandarin Chinese.

This distinction was made real to me on one occasion when I was traveling with a friend in southern Taiwan. After six months of Mandarin language training, I was no expert with the language, but I was fluent. I asked a local woman where I could find a restroom. I could tell immediately that she did not understand what I had said. I realized then that I had come upon an indigenous Taiwanese woman who spoke no Mandarin, and I spoke no Taiwanese.

The LCMS Office of Missions had adroitly trained us to communicate with the most populous people group on the island, the Mandarin speakers. We had been equipped to minister to this group of people, although not to the exclusion of the indigenous Taiwanese. This anecdote has application to our reading for this month in that we see the Holy Spirit equipping the Christians gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost for missions to specific groups of language speakers—but doing so in a far more dramatic way than our books and teachers had.

Noteworthy Details

Pentecost, before it became a part of the Christian Church Year, was (and still is) a Jewish festival. The word itself means “fiftieth day,” occurring fifty days after the Sabbath of the Passover. As such, it always landed on the first day of the week (Sunday). Pentecost was also called the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Firstfruits. 

Recall that Passover was a celebration of God’s work to release the people of Israel from slavery. The Lord had told the people to spread the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintel of their homes. Because they had done so, death of the firstborn—God’s final plague against hard-hearted Pharaoh—would pass over them. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. By His blood, we are redeemed from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

Two of the other names for Pentecost, Feast of Firstfruits and Feast of Harvest, are impactful when we consider that for the Old Testament Israelites, the barley harvest began at Passover. As Christians, we connect Passover with the death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the firstborn who was slain to redeem the world. His blood was shed on the cross in order that, through faith, we would be spared from death. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

The harvest then ends at Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. Acts 2 records that at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered the gathered Christians to speak in other languages—but not just any other languages. They were able to speak the languages of those in every part of the Roman Empire. The Holy Spirit equipped them for the harvest, the harvest of souls.


At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus commands those present to make disciples of all nations through teaching and Baptism. Although most of us have not been equipped by the Holy Spirit to speak languages of other nations, we are, nonetheless, recipients of Jesus’ command to teach and to baptize. The tough reality is that, as sinners, we struggle to fulfill this charge. We have myriad excuses: “I don’t know what to say”; “I will mess it up if I try”; “the Lord has called me to other areas of ministry”; “I may unintentionally push someone away from Jesus”; and the like. To whatever extent these excuses are valid, underneath them is nothing but a lack of love—obedient love for God and love for our unbelieving neighbor.


The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is fulfillment of Jesus’ words in John 16:7: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” Jesus had completed His salvific work on the cross, redeeming us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Now comes the Holy Spirit to create saving faith in the hearts of sinners. The fact of the Holy Spirit equipping the gathered Christians to speak in other languages is evidence that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Consider your family, your ancestors, and their ancestors. At some point, a Christian brought the Gospel message to them in their own language. So it was brought to you. Using this message, the Holy Spirit created saving faith in your heart, that through this faith you would receive forgiveness and everlasting life, in order that you would be part of the harvest.

Scripture: ESV®

204294-3As you reflect on how, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered people to speak in other languages, see how learning the Apostles’ Creed in another language deepened the meaning and understanding of it for missionary Emily Belvery. 

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