The Festival of Weeks is called Shavuot in Hebrew and Pentecost in Greek.
As usual, we hear, "What's this got to do with me?" and sometimes, "But I'm not a pentecostal."
What does Pentecost mean?
The date for this Festival was triggered by the Festival of Firstfruits (see earlier blog). The Festival of Firstfruits was celebrated on the first day of the week (our Sunday) after the Passover. Seven full weeks were counted – that would bring us to a Saturday – and on the day after that Sabbath (another Sunday), Israel was to celebrate the Festival of Weeks. Shavuot refers to "weeks" or "sevens"; Pentecost refers to fifty, as this celebration fell on the 50th day.
This celebration coincided with the beginning of the wheat harvest.
Let me repeat the trajectory that we will follow
from the institution of a festival in ancient Israel
to the fulfillment of the reality of that festival in Jesus Christ
to the significance of that reality in the present for followers of Jesus.
Institution of the Festival
As always, we do well to (re)acquaint ourselves with the actual instructions given to Israel. Take a moment or two to read one of the sections of Scripture that tell us about this festival (Leviticus 23:15-22 or Deuteronomy 16:9-12).
What are some of our observations?
We've already noted that it was the 50th day after the Festival of Firstfruits; that it was celebrated on the first day of the week (our Sunday); and that it marked the beginning of a harvest – in particular, the wheat harvest.
There were a number of sacrifices associated with this Festival. There were burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings to the LORD – "an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD" (Leviticus 23:19).
Can you imagine what it would have been like to witness these offerings?
The flames would have leapt high – perhaps you could even feel the heat.
As the intense heat licked at the drink offerings there would have been a loud WHOOSH!
And what of the aroma as the smells of animal, grain, wine, and olive oil filled the air.
The one thing that you might wonder about is this:
"... bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD" (Leviticus 23:12).
Keeping in mind that Israel was to eliminate leaven or yeast from both its diet and its houses in an earlier festival, I wonder why they are now to present bread "baked with yeast" as a wave offering. The heat of baking would have arrested the activity of the yeast – nevertheless it had been baked with yeast.
Furthermore, there was not just one loaf but two.
Fulfillment of the reality
Jesus Christ had been crucified during the Passover. The first day of the week following the Passover was the Festival of Firstfruits – that was the day that Jesus rose from the dead.
Counting fifty days from that Festival of Firstfruits brings us to the day of Pentecost – the Festival of Weeks.
What happened on the 50th day following the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
The event is laid out for us in Acts 2. About 120 followers of Jesus have gathered together in Jerusalem (1:15). This account begins this way:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [or, languages] as the Spirit enabled them. (2:1-4)
The sound: "like the blowing of a violent wind."
The sight: "tongues of fire ... came to rest on each of them."
And then other things began to happen. These followers of Jesus began speaking human languages they had never learned – even to the extent of speaking regional dialects.
Some who heard thought it was drunken gibberish. Others said, "No, that man there is speaking the very dialect that we speak back home."
The attention of thousands of Jews was riveted to these strange happenings. "Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?'" (2:12)
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven [apostles], raised his voice and addressed the crowd" (2:14a).
Peter gives an explanation of what God had done, and was doing, through Jesus Christ (Acts 2:14-41). As a result, about 3,000 of these Jewish people became followers of Jesus Christ that day.
Even though we have heard what Peter said in Acts 2, we still ask the question: "What does this have to do with me?"
We should recognize immediately that this is what Jesus had told his followers about only a few days earlier: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John [the Baptist] baptized [in] water, but in a few days you will be baptized [in] the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5)
Significance to us
In our study of these festivals, we have come to expect Paul to explain this significance to followers of Jesus in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians. This festival is no exception.
Here's what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 :
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized [in] one Spirit into one body –whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
This text explains the importance of what happened on that Pentecost. It was the promised baptism in the Spirit.
Although this text – and indeed the whole event – is full of significance and power, here are a few insights into what it means for us:
- This "body" is a metaphor for followers of Jesus who, together, compose the "body" of Jesus Christ that is presently on earth. Thus, those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ here and now, together, make up the tangible presence of Jesus Christ because of the Holy Spirit.
- In this "body" we maintain our individual uniqueness – our personal diversity. That includes our ethnic identities (i.e., Jew or Gentile); our social identities (i.e., slave or free); and so many other characteristics that make each of us unique individuals. And yet, somehow, as followers of Jesus we are unified. This unity is like the diverse parts of the human anatomy (e.g., toes, ears, lips, elbows, kidneys) together making up one healthy, fully-functioning body.
- Despite each individual's ethnic and social identity, this is no longer our true (highest) identity. Followers of Jesus no longer find their primary identity in their social status: the rich and the poor; the slave and the free; the high and the low – all find their primary identity in Jesus Christ.
Similarly, the primary identities of followers of Jesus is no longer Jewish, Greek, Chinese, African, British, Indian or whatever – all of us find our primary identity in Jesus Christ. We are all parts of the same "body."
What are you hearing from this Festival of Pentecost that is being spoken into your life?
What differences are being made, or could be made, in your life because of what you're hearing? What adjustments are being made to your worldview, self-image, identity, attitudes and behaviors? What about your relationships with others who do not share your ethnicity or social status?
Feel free to send us your questions and comments.
Next week, I think I have to continue with our exploration of this "baptism in the Spirit" and its implications for our lives.
 I have inserted "in" in place of "with" used by many English translations. My reason for this is the Greek word used is en meaning "in." I suggest that "with" weakens the meaning of what was happening in this baptism, and I suspect that "with" is used as a concession to those who do not view baptism as an act immersion "in." More on this in the next blog.
 See note 1.
Photo credit: "When the day of Pentecost came" by Mark A. Hewitt of Panorama, South Australia (http://oldtractortinshed.net/). Mr. Hewitt's site states "You are free to use these works for non commercial purposes" This is a non-commerical use.
Works by Mark A. Hewitt are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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