Did you know the feast of Pentecost predates the coming of the Holy Spirit? It’s true. The disciples were gathered to celebrate a Jewish feast. In the Old Covenant, God had established this celebration as a remembrance of the giving of the law to Moses, and it was celebrated every year, fifty days after the Passover. It is interesting that God chose this day to pour the Holy Spirit into humanity. Think about it. Out of the 365 days the Lord could have selected, God decided to come on this particular feast. Could it be a coincidence? I do not think so.
Perhaps the Lord’s words, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, can shed some light:
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
Did you catch that last part? God promises a new covenant. It will not be a covenant like the one he established with Moses. In the Old Covenant, the Lord gave the law from the outside. In this New Covenant, he promises to place his law on the hearts of his people. How would he do that? In Acts, chapter two, it becomes clear. The Spirit comes to dwell in the hearts of the believers. In this light, it makes perfect sense that God would choose to come on Pentecost. Just as the Passover prefigures Jesus’ paschal sacrifice, Pentecost and the giving of the law prefigures the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Written on Our Hearts
When we understand this relationship between the giving of the Law and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we gain insight into the relationship we, the followers of Christ, are supposed to have with the Holy Spirit. In this light we can reflect on Jesus’ words in John 14:26:
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
The Spirit comes to guide us and to teach us. He comes to establish God’s law within us. How are we to know this law? From the outside? No. We are supposed to come to know the Lord through the Spirit so that his will is clear to us at all times because it is written on our hearts.
When the Holy Spirit burst into creation, he came so that every believer could know and live in the will of the Lord. Jeremiah’s prophecy continues to emphasize this:
“No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me” (Jeremiah 31:34).
That is the relationship God desires with his people.
The Remaining Need for the Law
It is possible that a person might be tempted to think, “Well, why do we need the teachings of the Church if we already have the law written on our hearts?” Because God is a good Father. Yes, he established his Spirit in us to teach and to guide us, but like a good Father, he created safeguards in this relationship. Yes, we should not need the law, because our relationship with the Lord should be so intimate that we know the law.
God, however, knows how easily we are led astray. He knows that there is an evil one actively seeking to mislead us. So, not only does the Lord speak the truth to our hearts, he also speaks to us through the Church he established as well. The Church is always there, publicly proclaiming the truth so that we are safe to follow the prompting of the Spirit in that truth. In those times when we are tempted to stray after our egos, or into the lies of the evil one, the Church proclaims the truth with authority.
The Spirit’s coming on Pentecost was no accident. It was not a cosmic coincidence. No, God was teaching us something. He was declaring something. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised to write the Law on the hearts of his people. In Pentecost he accomplished it.