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Pentecost: What It Means and Why It Matters


“To Be Continued . . .”

These three words carry a special weight to any good story—especially when you think the story is finished. Is the hero really going to be humiliated and defeated? Will this barrier in the plot forever remain unresolved? Is this really the end?

When those three words appear—To Be Continued—you know the story isn’t over. And if you’re soaking up a good story, that’s very good news.

For followers of Jesus, Pentecost is like a cosmic “To Be Continued” message.

As a part of the Church calendar, it’s celebrated on the 50th day after Easter (the pent in Pentecost comes from this designation of 50 days).

Pentecost was originally a feast for God’s people in the Old Testament, also known as the Feast of Weeks, coming fifty days after Passover and pointing to God’s saving grace and provision (Lev. 23; Deut. 16). It later became an occasion to remember God’s promises to restore all things after the great flood in Genesis and the giving of the Law in Exodus.

Yet after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, Pentecost took on a new meaning that not only deepens but furthers the story of redemption.

What Happened at Pentecost?

After his resurrection, Jesus tells his apostles that they’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them (Acts 1:8). This is not a power that will stay in them but a power that will move through them as they break through regional, social, and ethnic barriers to share the good news of life in Jesus.

After giving this promise of future Spirit-empowerment, Jesus ascends into heaven, and the disciples wait.

The earliest followers of Jesus experienced this promised movement of the Holy Spirit when they gathered to celebrate the festival of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). It’s a monumental “To Be Continued” moment. Because of Pentecost, every barrier suggesting that this was “The End” of God’s story had an expiration date.

But what did it mean for them, and what does it mean for us?  

Connections to Other “To Be Continued” Moments

To appreciate what’s happening through the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, we need to see how it’s connected to other “To Be Continued” moments throughout the story of the Bible. In each of these venues, it seems like a barrier is going to end God’s story. We’re forced to ask, “Is this really the end?”

Joel & The Exile

Exile was one of the most formidable barriers to God’s kingdom movement in the story of the Bible. The Old Testament prophet, Joel, addressed the people of God during this time of severe injustice, idolatry, and hopelessness. Joel said that one day God would pour out his Spirit on all his people—that he would be with them and empower them in a new, meaningful way so that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Joel 2:28-29, 32).

Immediately after the events at Pentecost, the apostle Peter quotes Joel 2 to explain the coming of the Holy Spirit. Exile could not prevent God from keeping his promise to be with his people and work through them. This is not the end of the story.

Exodus & Enslavement

Alongside exile, the enslavement of God’s people in Egypt was one of the most significant barriers in the Old Testament. Does the oppressive reign of Pharaoh mean that God’s story is over? Throughout the Exodus narrative, God uses fire to demonstrate his power and presence as he guides his people into freedom and into his mission (Exodus 3, 13, 40). It’s a barrier-breaking image, pointing to the God whose story cannot be stopped.

When the first followers of Jesus experience “divided tongues as of fire” resting on them during Pentecost, the imagery of fire is not arbitrary—it’s intentional (Acts 2:3). God’s presence is going to continue breaking through barriers. This is not the end of the story.

The Tower of Babel Turned Upside-Down

Both exile and the Exodus point to another key moment in the earliest chapters of the Bible: The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). At the Tower of Babel, humans use their power to grasp for a life of flourishing apart from God. It’s a replaying of the rebellious act in the Garden of Eden, scaled up to a societal level—God’s design for humanity is tossed upside-down. In response, God turns this desire for self-oriented greatness in on itself by confusing the language of people and dispersing them throughout the earth.

Pentecost is an epic reversal of the tragedy at Babel.

Human languages are altered again, yet in a way that leads to astonishment and an understanding of the gospel. People are dispersed again, yet in a way that extends God’s barrier-breaking mission of renewal. At Pentecost, the paradigm of Babel is itself turned upside-down as people have a right-side-up relationship with God and his kingdom purposes.

Why does Pentecost Matter? 

In each of these moments of the biblical story, the people of God are inclined to wonder, “Is this the end of the story? Has this barrier extinguished the promises of God?” The resounding answer to both questions is “No.” His story continues.

Like the ancient Israelites, we will come up against apparent barriers to God’s kingdom. We’ll be tempted to wonder, “Is this the end of the story? Have God’s promises failed me?” The answer for us is the same as it was for the Israelites, the same one Jesus’s followers received at Pentecost in Acts 2: God is working. These barriers are not the end. You have a place in the story he’s telling.

Pentecost and the liturgical season that follows on the Church calendar invites God’s followers to live into this bigger story.

How Can we celebrate Pentecost today?

Pentecost can feel like a far-removed moment in the story of the Bible, yet it points to a foundational reality that we’re meant to live into today. Consider these three ideas for observing Pentecost in the community of faith.

1. Recognize the Barriers
Read through Acts 2 with friends, family, or a small group. Then, share the apparent barriers to God’s kingdom that you see in your own life. What makes you wonder if God’s story is over? This often unearths areas of idolatry (loving something/someone more than God) or injustice (failing to love others).

While exploring these things together, pray for one another to experience the life-changing presence of God. 

2. Recognize the Work of the Trinity
The special outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost can be a powerful occasion to remember that the story of redemption is based on the work of the Triune God—one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Some followers of Jesus around the world also observe Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost) to focus on this important truth. To root this perspective in Scripture, study or pray through Matthew 28:18-20 or Ephesians 3:1-14

3. Recognize Your Place in the Story
The events at Pentecost remind us that we have a place in God’s story. Followers of Jesus do not watch it as observers—they enter it as participants.

Where is God’s presence and power leading you to connect with others who need to know the love of Jesus? How is God stirring your heart for people in your classes, workplace, neighborhood, or family?

God works through his people at Pentecost to bring more people into the community of faith (Acts 2:41, 47). How is God wanting to work through you?

God is continuing the work of his barrier-breaking kingdom today. His story isn’t over. How is he calling you to be a part of it?

Imagine a neighborhood where people are connected rather than isolated, where wrongs are righted, where mercy brings fences down, and where we become agents in seeing God’s kingdom come.

Discover how God’s inviting you into his kingdom-building work in your neighborhood with Placed for a Purpose: a podcast from Chris and Elizabeth McKinney, authors of Neighborhoods Reimagined.