WHEN THE DAY OF PENTECOST CAME THEY WERE ALL TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE…Thousands from many nations were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day the Almighty had appointed 1500 years earlier. Today, WHO and WHERE these nations are challenges our religious thinking, and provokes our repentance just as it did long ago when 3000 believed and were baptized.
According to Acts 2:9-11, the Persians, known then as Parthians and Medes, along with others, like "the Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs", were “declaring the wonders of God” in one tongue 2000 years ago during the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Jerusalem.
The Parthians and Medes were original Iranian tribes, the beginning of the nation of Iran. From that time until today, Christianity has been a continuous presence in Iran. When the Christian persecution of the 21st century threatened to annihilate the church, Iranian Christians relied TOTALLY on their faith in Jesus, and became bolder witnesses, just as they were commissioned to do long ago at Pentecost. In fact, up until recently, the church in Iran was the fastest growing Christian church in the entire world. Today, they are being systematically annhililated BECAUSE they are maintaining their boldness as Christians.
Mesopotamia is a Greek word referring to the region lying between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. It points biblically to Babylon and the descendants of the Jews who stayed there after they were freed from captivity. Known today as Iraq, the disciple Thomas ministered there in the 1st century following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today, Christians in Iraq are considered to be one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the entire world. In 2003, there were 1,500,000 Christians in Iraq.Today those numbers hover at 200-250,000, as Iraqi Christians have been executed, forcibly displaced from their homes by the government, and targeted for violence by extremist groups.
Judea is the biblical, Roman and modern name of Southern Israel, with Jerusalem in the middle. It comes from the Hebrew name of the biblical Israelite Tribe of Judah or Yehudah. During the time of Jesus, it was part of the Roman Empire. Indeed, we must keep in mind that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, and preached in the Jewish countryside, never in the Greek Hellenistic cities. Acts records early Christian persecution in Judea by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious court at that time. Later, Islam displaced the remaining Christians throughout the Middle East. Though Jews returned to Jerusalem after the state of Israel was formed in 1967, the Christian community was minimal. As of December, 2017, 80% of the 172,000 Christian people living in Israel were Arabs.
Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia were districts in Asia Minor, now known as Turkey. Antioch, Turkey, is the place where followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christians (Acts 11:26). There was a massive genocide of 3 million Christians in Turkey following World War I. Today, there is increasing Christian persecution in Turkey. In the last 5 years, more than 100 pastors and Christian leaders have been deported from Turkey.
Many Jews settled in Alexandria, Egypt during the days of the Greek Empire. It is believed that the Disciple Mark ministered there, founding an early center for Christianity. In fact, the majority of Egyptians were Christians until 1453 when the country came under Ottoman rule. In August 2013, USA Today reported "forty churches have been looted and torched, while 23 others have been attacked and heavily damaged.” In 2017, the Egyptian government declared a three-month state of emergency following the Palm Sunday bombings of two churches in northern Egypt.
Mark the Disciple is also credited with founding the first church in Libya, Africa. Libya had a vibrant Christian community until the Muslim conquest of 643AD. Libya continues to be in a state of anarchy since Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s regime was toppled in 2011. Today, following mass beheadings and firing squad executions, only 150 Libyan nationals are Christians, and they belong to underground “house” churches. According to a new report by Open Doors International, Libya is “one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian”.
Cyrene was an ancient Greek and Roman city located in Libya. Simon, who carried the cross of Jesus, was a native of the ancient city. Acts 11:20 records Jewish Christians from Cyrene and Cyprus were the first to preach the Gospel to non-Jews. Acts 13:1 names Lucius of Cyrene as one of several who was instructed by the Holy Spirit to appoint Barnabas and Paul, then called Saul, as missionaries.
For 30 years following Pentecost, Paul traveled 10,000 miles across the Roman Empire: to places like Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and Athens. When the Emperor Nero came into power, feeding Christians to the lions became a form of national entertainment in Rome. He had the Disciple Peter, crucified upside down, and beheaded Paul. In spite of the persecutions, or perhaps BECAUSE of it, by the 5th century AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. However, the simple, serving, Jewish character of Christianity was replaced with the Gentile nature, complete with church dogma and Christian aristocracy.
At the time of the Pentecost, Jewish "Arabs" lived south of Damascus in the northern part of modern Saudi Arabia. Many Arabs also came to Jerusalem to trade goods. Galatians 1:17 records that Paul spent time in Arabia. The Disciple Thomas, also ministered there. Christianity spread quickly, and some parts of modern Saudi Arabia were predominantly Christian until the arrival of Islam in the 10th century. There are no “official” Christians in Saudi Arabia today, because the government executes anyone convicted of converting from Islam to Christianity. Still, a 2015 study revealed there are as many as 60,000 Arabian Muslims converted to Christianity, worshipping in private online chatrooms and secret gatherings, risking their very lives to worship Jesus.
Cretans were those people from the island of Crete, located in the Mediterranean Sea near the southern entrance to the Aegean Sea. Following Pentecost, Paul preached there, and it became an important Christian center. To this day, there are hundreds of religious monuments and churches scattered across the island. Titus 3:1-7 records Paul’s instructions Titus, whom he left on the island to help organize the early church. It not only provides historical connection to the people there, but it transcends the boundary of time to remind us of our own incredible spiritual heritage.
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
These words should pierce us to the core. Clearly, it is only through the very gift of the Holy Spirit operating in individuals gathered at Pentecost in Jerusalem, as well as their faithful descendants over the years, that we even HAVE churches here in America. And it came, and has continued for millennia, through significant persecution, loss of life, and unswerving faith in Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the very foundation of today's church DID NOT come from anything WE did here in this nation. The truth is we owe our very existence to the faithful Christians like the Parthians and Medes, peoples of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, Rome, Cretans and Arabs as they responded to Peter's admonition on that glorious day 2000 years ago.
"God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear...Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call...Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Acts 2:32,33, 38-40.
Verses 42-47 tell us all these people from many nations came together and “… devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
We are given specific instructions on how to calculate Pentecost, translated form the Hebrew word "Shavuot" (shəˈvo͞o'ˌôt) meaning "weeks". "From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of wave offering...count off 50 days of to the day ater the seventh Sabbath...present an offering of grain to the Lord." Leviticus 23:15-16.
If we count off 7 weeks from Jesus' resurrection on Firstfruits, the 16th day of God's first month, specifically 7 Sabbaths and add a day, as God's Word instructs, that would bring us to around June 13 on our 2019 Gregorian calendar. (The set Hebrew calendar marks Pentecost as June 9.)
God's Word gives further instruction in Deuteronomy 16:9-12 "Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees."
Now it's up to us in this season to offer "a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you." Perhaps a humble and prayerful admission of our shameful national “Christian” pride, along with a commitment to "gather" with our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters, is EXACTLY what the Good Lord is looking for.
WHEN THE DAY OF PENTECOST CAME THEY WERE ALL TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE…