You say Shavuot … I say Pentecost — Celebrating with Fun and Fire
It’s easy to forget that the Gospels were written by Jews for Jews in the first century. There’s a shorthand of meaning which is hidden to the uninitiated. The symbolism of the Holy Spirit descending on the day of Pentecost is an example of this. It’s the perfect holiday for Christians to receive the last promised piece of their faith: the Holy Spirit.
The scene, as described in the gospel of Mark, is set. Jews from all over the world were there in Jerusalem. It is the day the Jewish nation commemorates their receiving the Torah from Moses in the desert. That day celebrates the giving of the Torah and the first fruits of the first harvest. It’s the day that their faith was made perfect after having wandered without knowing where they were going. Passover in Egypt was the day the Jews marked themselves publicly as Jews and God spared their first borns while killing the first borns of the Egyptians. It marked the final plague that made the Egyptians fear God and let his people go. The parallel with Jesus’ sacrifice and liberation of his people is strong.
There were three holidays where all Jewish men were required to attend Temple: Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot (Pentecost). It was guaranteed that a crowd from all over the Jewish world would be there.
WHAT MAKES THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT FROM ALL NIGHTS?
First comes Passover – to celebrate the Jews’ escape from Egypt and slavery. With their escape, they ceased to be Egyptian slaves and once again became Jews.
After Passover there is a 50 day countdown until Shavuot (similar to a Christian advent countdown until Christmas). This is the Counting of Omar. It is a period of 49 days to remind the Jews of their journey from bondage in Egypt to the freedom they enjoyed when they received their Torah. They were redeemed spiritually from idolatry and immorality. This period was to be a somber period of reflection: no weddings, parties or dancing.
At the Shavuot – the 50th day after Pentecost — celebration! The first fruits of the first harvest! Spiritual redemption! It is time for a joyful, elaborate celebration! All were required to come from near and far bearing fresh figs and grapes as offerings. The baskets were as beautiful as one’s wealth would allow them to be. Pilgrims journeyed to Jerusalem in a procession accompanied by a flute or other instrument. At the city gates, the chief priests would welcome the pilgrims. Gold bedecked animals were herded toward the temple. Men would spontaneously stand up and testify as they were led to.
The parallel with Christ’s death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit is clear. Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, was the Passover sacrifice. Just as the Jewish families in Egypt sacrificed a lamb and smeared the blood on their doors to mark them as Jews.
The period of spiritual wandering in the desert – learning again to become Jews after so long in a foreign land. The disciples and the other believers were scared, confused and leaderless. They had seen the risen Christ but he didn’t stay. Now they had the Holy Spirit — the promised helper. Now their tools were complete to move forward. They were ready for what was next.
3,000 Jews heard Peter’s message and became believers that day. They understood both the spoken and the unspoken message. Belief in Jesus was the next step. They had come to remember what the Lord had done for them as Jews and they left convinced in the truth of what Peter promised the Lord was to do.
It’s the perfect day to begin to grow the church.