Context Is Important
The apostles went from a congregation of 120 to 3,000 in one day! Most of these people were out-of-towners who had come to participate in the annual Passover at the Temple in Jerusalem. Many were fathers who had brought their sons to their first Passover in the temple. We know they came from the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire and beyond. Many stayed beyond the required 7 days of Passover and celebrated the Pentecost 50 days later.
This had not been a normal Passover. The rumor mill had been swarming around Jerusalem for the last few years, finally reaching a crescendo just before this Passover. A man who had purportedly healed the blind and the lame and even raised the dead, who had cast out demons and taught with incredible authority was now being publicly humiliated in a public trial that resulted in the pardoning of a hardened criminal so that the religious leaders could stoke up the crowds to exclaim: “Crucify Him”. This man had survived the Roman scourge and carried His own cross—as long as he was able—to the hill where He was crucified, sentenced to die a horrible, excruciatingly painful death and public humiliation.
And that was just the beginning.
Upon His death the mid-day sky turned black, buildings toppled in the earthquake while dead people were walking in the streets (Matthew 27:51-53). The news of the temple’s curtain torn in half announced the final Passover sacrifice given once for all and Luke tells us that the people left the dead body of Jesus on the hill, beating their chests as though to say, “What have we done! What have we done! O Lord, have mercy!” (Luke 23:48). Heathen Roman soldiers were so overwhelmed by the events of the day that at least one was overheard exclaiming at the foot of the cross, “Surely, this was the Son of God!”
For those who had never attended a Passover at the Temple before, this weekend would twist their expectations and shatter their stories upon the prospect of returning home to tell family, friends and their Jewish leaders at the synagogue. This was given added force after the rumors about the resurrection of Jesus began to filter through the city and across the countryside for the next 40 days. Mysterious appearances in upper rooms with locked doors; excited disciples huddled together remembering what He had said only weeks before; religious rulers obviously worried and troubled hastily walking about the city, listening, watching, and waiting…for who knew what?
Finally the day of Pentecost arrives and everyone hears the wind rushing the streets without any signs of a breeze and this Galilean and his friends suddenly emerge, excitedly walking the streets, speaking in foreign languages and making sense about all of the events of the last month. Listening, their hearts were pierced and 3,000 of them cried out “What shall we do?” and the temple pools were suddenly overwhelmed by people baptizing one another in the name of this Jesus who had been killed but Who was now risen. He had ascended to heaven and was now offering forgiveness for their complicity in killing the Son of God.
For those who responded to the invitation that day the apostles were faced with a challenge: how do we prepare these out-of-towners for their return to their hometowns, their families and their synagogues? How do we anchor them in their faith so that they will not waver but, rather, will convict others of the God to came to dwell among them so that through His death, burial and resurrection, they could find forgiveness before God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?