You may listen to today’s audio devotional message here.
I haven’t always understood how Pentecost was a holiday for both Jews and Christians. It took me five trips to the Southern Steps in Israel for it to really sink in. The most recent visit to Jerusalem was just a few months ago.
Christians celebrate Pentecost seven weeks after Resurrection Sunday. Jews celebrate it seven weeks, or 50 days, after Passover. It doesn’t always work out this way because the Jews operate on a lunar calendar, but this year it falls on the same weekend. This weekend.
God asked the children of Israel to come up to Jerusalem three times each year. Passover is one of those times. It celebrates the Exodus and how God delivered His children through the Red Sea and the oppressive Pharaoh of Egypt. A second time is at the end of the summer. Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest and how God provided for the children of Israel as they wandered through the desert, living in tents. We sometimes call this the Feast of Tabernacles. Many Jewish people today still set up small sukkahs, or huts, in their backyard to commemorate the holiday.
The third celebration is called Shavuot, meaning “weeks,” for it was exactly seven weeks after the Exodus when the people of God found themselves at the base of Mt. Sinai. This special time is a celebration of the giving of the Law, the Torah, to Moses (beginning in Exodus 19). Then (Moses) read aloud the Lord’s commands and promises, and the people shouted, “We will obey the Lord and do everything he has commanded!” (Exodus 24:7, CEV).
Now, fast-forward 1200 years. The children of Israel have returned to Jerusalem to celebrate this Feast of Weeks, Shavuot. They bring offerings of grain to honor God for these first fruits of the new harvest season. This year is different, however. At Passover just two months prior, Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. He visited with the disciples for 40 days before He ascended into Heaven.
While he was still with them, Jesus said: Don’t leave Jerusalem yet. Wait here for the Father to give you the Holy Spirit, just as I told you he has promised to do. (Acts 1:4, CEV).
The disciples had been waiting days for the Holy Spirit. While they waited, they watched as the city population tripled, when the children of God arrived from the Judean countryside, and even from foreign countries, to celebrate the Feast. And then, just as Jesus promised, on the very morning the Jews were to celebrate the Law, God showed up in Spirit and in power! As the believers met together that day, suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. (Acts 2:2-4, TLB).
Here’s where it gets amazing! The Good News was being proclaimed to people from at least 15 different lands by strangers who didn’t speak those languages. And everyone heard, and understood, the voice of God in their native tongue.
The Law brings death. But the Spirit brings life.
It was into this cacophony of noise that Peter stood up to address the crowd. It was likely near the top of the Southern Steps that lead up to the Temple –the same steps that I visited just a few months ago. At that time, there was an open plaza where a large crowd of people from 15 different nations might gather. You remember Peter… the fearful yet rambunctious disciple. When he tried to walk on the water, he sank. When he was confronted by a young girl if he knew Jesus, the fisherman issued a strong denial. Yet now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he spoke with boldness and with power! This was his first public sermon and the message cut to the hearts of all the listeners.
Peter pressed his case with many other arguments and kept pleading with them, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!” So those who accepted what he said were immersed, and there were added to the group that day about three thousand people. (Acts 2:40-41, CJB).
Three thousand people were baptized in water that day, taking a step of faith to follow the Messiah. There is something amazing about that number.
Let’s go back to the first Shavuot. Do you recall what happened when Moses came down from the Mountain with the tablets of the Law? His brother Aaron had formed a golden calf and the children of God were worshipping it. Yes, these were the same people who shouted “We will obey the Lord and do everything he has commanded!” (Exodus 24:7, CEV). And they were disobeying the very first command! As a result, God released His wrath.
Then the men of the Levi tribe gathered around Moses, and he said to them, “The LORD God of Israel commands you to strap on your swords and go through the camp, killing your relatives, your friends, and your neighbors.” The men of the Levi tribe followed his orders, and that day they killed about three thousand men. (Exodus 32:26-28, CEV).
Would you look at that? The Lord was so angry that He had 3,000 people slaughtered on the original day of Pentecost, the first Shavuot, the giving of the Law. Disobeying the Law leads to death. Now, on the day of Pentecost celebrated here in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit comes and gives life, and 3,000 people were baptized on that day! God symbolically redeemed those caught in His judgment 1200 years earlier, on this Day of Pentecost when He gave the Holy Spirit!
The Apostle Paul says it this way: The Law brings death. But the Spirit brings life. (2 Corinthians 3:6, CEV).
God calls out to us through the Holy Spirit, which we celebrate today. Do you hear His voice, His Good News? It is life!
(c) 2020. Rich Ronald.