Pentecost: Wind, Fire, and Faith!
Bible Background for Teachers
Scripture for the Lessons
Acts 2:1-8, 12-18, 36-47
~ the story of Pentecost
(Teachers should read the entire story
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
-- Acts 1:8 (NRSV)
Note: We've written this background in such a way as to give teachers things to remember to share with their students. Consult a commentary for more traditional background commentary on the passage.
After studying the story of Pentecost during this Rotation, student will be able to:
- Locate the story of Pentecost in their Bibles.
- Have a working knowledge of the story's outline and key points.
- Describe the transformation that the disciples underwent.
- Articulate how the symbols of wind and fire describe God's Spirit.
- Reflect on how God's Spirit "feels" and what it may be moving them to do in their lives.
- Understand what it means to "witness" to Christ.
What does the story of Pentecost mean to a child?
The typical "Sunday School answer" is to call it "the church's birthday," and talk about flames appearing over the disciples. And indeed, those are worthy teaching points, and good images to get started with, however, in the Rotation Model, you'll have four or more weeks to explore this story more deeply, which is a very good thing, because there's more here than "birthdays and flames."
The story of Pentecost is a story about...
- scared disciples becoming bold.
- empty disciples becoming filled with the Holy Spirit.
- clueless disciples finding the right words to share their faith.
- ordinary people suddenly believing in a life-changing truth.
On a personal level, the story of Pentecost teaches us...
- that we are not alone (God's Spirit takes over for Jesus).
- that it is God who powers our faith, and not we ourselves (faith is a gift we can grow).
- that God calls us to become members of his fellowship (the Church).
- what the presence of God feels like when it's around you and in you!
On a theological level...
- it is the beginning of the Church,
- and the dramatic emergence of the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Comforter whom Jesus promised would take his place after he was gone.
Pentecost was originally a Jewish feast day
Feast days were prescribed in the Book of Leviticus. You're undoubtedly familiar with the Feast of Passover commemorating the Exodus story. This was the festival Jesus was celebrating when they arrested him. Then three days after Passover, on a Sunday, the festival of the "first fruits" was also celebrated. It was like a "spring" festival.
Then the Book of Leviticus specifies that 50 days after the Festival of First Fruits another festival should be celebrated to give thanks for the first harvest of summer. This "Feast of Harvest" was also known as "Feast of Weeks." In Hebrew the festival was called "Shav-u-ot" (literally: "weeks"). In Greek, Shavuot is translated as "Pentecost," the festival held on the "50th Day." (Pente = 50).
God loves symbolism. We have the cross, an empty tomb, and on the harvest festival, God sends his Holy Spirit to begin the harvesting of souls for Christ! God rushes in like a mighty wind, appears like a fire, and moves the disciples to speak in the language of the people gathering for the Pentecost festival.
That last part always surprises: God speaks in the language of the people, not the disciples. Not in the language of the Pharisees, but in a way that makes sense to the "foreigners" who have come to Jerusalem from many places and cultures. The implications of that are profound, but for the moment, let's just remember that this is what TEACHERS are doing in Sunday School! ...sharing an amazing story in amazing language.
"your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams." (Acts 2:17)
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared and gave his disciples the "Great Commission" before ascending into heaven. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
He must have known that would be scary, and maybe even dangerous.
Jesus knows we need help.
So he told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and to wait for the gift the Father would send: the Holy Spirit. Imagine being with them in Jerusalem WAITING and WONDERING. They must have felt a great deal of confusion, fear, anxiety, impatience, and perhaps even skepticism.
God rocks the symbolism again!
- The Holy Spirit appeared on Sunday morning at 9 a.m.!
- God's Spirit felt like a rush of "violent" wind. Wind was a biblical symbol of divine power of creation and renewal. In fact, the word for "spirit" is the same as "wind" in Hebrew. You can't see the air, only the things it moves. Same thing with God.
- Tongues of fire appeared on the heads of believers. Fire was a symbol of God's might and holy presence. God was in the burning bush. He guided as a pillar of fire in the Exodus. Remember those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who said they felt like their hearts were burning, after walking with Jesus?
- The disciples began speaking in different languages, but amazingly, those present heard the words in their own native languages. This is a miracle designed to teach us two important ideas: (1) The message is for all, and (2) Needs to spoken in a way that makes sense to each person.
Note: For some reason, churches like to include the "dove" symbol at Pentecost to represent the Holy Spirit. However, there's no "dove" in Acts 2. God's Spirit alighted on Jesus at his baptism. Pentecost is about a mighty wind and flames!
What does God's Spirit feel like?
It's important to help our kids know the answer and the symbols God uses to teach us are a BIG help! Fire heats up, cleanses, clears, and leaves a mark, but you can't grab it. God is like that. The Spirit-wind-fire isn't something you can bottle. The wind doesn't always blow, or move you. God is like that too. And the thing about wind and fire is that you don't always see or feel them. They come and go. Indeed, remember Elijah's story? God didn't speak to Elijah through the wind and fire or earthquake, but in a still small voice. In all three cases, however, you feel moved. God's Spirit "moves" people, and it moves each of us in unique ways.
One of the things the Spirit moves us to do is BE TOGETHER. That's part of the Pentecost story too: the beginning of churches. A sign that the Spirit is moving within you is when you feel moved to be with other believers in worship, prayer, study and service.
BTW: What happens when you share the Good News?
This may come as a surprise to some children, but the story tells us that not everyone wants to hear about Jesus. Some scoffers show up, taunt Peter and the disciples, and even accuse them of being drunk! (How about your students and parents? Any "scoffers" among them? Some shout, "boring!" or "busy," instead of, "you're drunk." How did Peter answer them? )
More life application
The story of Pentecost tells us to:
- Get out of your group and into the crowd. Be witnesses! (Act 1:8)
- Invite people to believe and join. (How can you do this?)
- Be bold and allow yourself to be moved by the Holy Spirit to speak about Jesus.
- Be courageous when naysayers and scoffers do their thing.
A Few Life Application Questions:
- Who's the crowd you could witness to?
- What words could you use to invite others to come to church with you?
- How can you change your faith from weak to bold?
- Who are the naysayers and scoffers around you, and what can you tell them?
What does it mean to "witness"?
A witness tells others what they know. A witness is not a prosecutor or judge or preacher. They do not pretend to know everything or have all the right answers. They tell what they experienced, how their life has changed.
In some churches, the idea of "witnessing" is something akin to standing in a group and telling your faith story. Certainly there's a time and place for that — when it is done humbly. Notice that the disciples "witness" to a receptive crowd and used language that others could understand.
How does your character and behavior "witness" to others about Jesus?
How is your attendance and conduct in church a witness to your family and friends?
Jesus witnessed with his compassion and forgiveness. How could you do that?
If someone were to ask you, "why are you a Christian," what would you tell them?
Some teachers use the Pentecost story to talk about the concept of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us suggest that you save that important concept for another time. Pentecost has so much in it already. That said, please make this connection: The Holy Spirit IS the Spirit of Christ. Jesus didn't leave his disciples then, and he doesn't leave us now.
Written by Jaymie Derden and Neil MacQueen for the Rotation.org Writing Team
Copyright 2016, Rotation.org Inc.