Tag Archives: shavuot

What Should Shavuot Mean to Me?

Yesterday, I attended a class called “The Laws of Shavuot.” Being relatively new to Judaism, I expected a class similar to those before Passover or Sukkot. Many technical laws. Lots of “do”s and “do not”s.

To my surprise, other than going to synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments, there are very few laws unique to Shavuot. Unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are no lengthy prayers. And unlike Sukkot and Passover, we can eat whatever we like, as well as wherever we like. Sure there are the customs related to flowers, blintzes, and cheesecakes, but hey, it’s a piece of (cheese)cake compared to the other holidays.

Am I missing something here? Shouldn’t the holiday on which we received the many laws of the Torah have some laws of its own?

-from “Why is Shavuot So Easy?”
Chabad.org

I suppose I should write something about Shavuot. The festival begins at sundown this Tuesday, June 3rd and continues through sundown on Thursday, June 5th. It’s the only one of the Jewish moadim (appointed times) that has a direct corollary in the Christian religious calendar since the Church observes the Pentecost event (Acts 2:1-13), however, while Christians consider Pentecost a one time occurrence, Shavuot, from a Jewish perspective, is an annually recurring celebration.

As the person writing to the Chabad “Ask the Rabbi” column observes, unlike the other Jewish festivals, Shavuot doesn’t seem to have much in the way of customs or commandments associated with it. Of course, neither does the typical observance of Pentecost in churches. In fact, growing up in a Lutheran church, I didn’t even know Pentecost was an event. I only thought we celebrated Christmas and Easter. The same was true when I actually (finally) came to faith (as a child, I never understood I was supposed to do something like “accept Christ into my heart,” so I couldn’t be considered a Christian in those days) in a Nazarene church when in my early forties.

I guess I should correct a point I made above. Shavuot celebrates a one time event also, the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Yet, the Bible commands the Jewish people to observe the moadim in perpetuity, while Church custom added the “observance” of the giving of the Holy Spirit outside of the Biblical canon.

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

Acts 20:16 (NASB)

In the church I attend, both in the sermons on this verse and in Sunday school class, it is imagined that Paul’s primary motivation to get to Jerusalem in a hurry has to do with the significance of the Pentecost event, the giving of the Holy Spirit, which the Pastor refers to as “the birthday of the Church”. And while Pastor does acknowledge that Paul, as an observant Jew (though he believes that in this “transitional period”, Torah observance was on its way to extinction among the Jewish ekklesia), would also be motivated to return to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot in accordance to the commandment, my Sunday school teacher is all but blind to the “Jewishness” of Paul and focuses exclusively on Pentecost as the apostle’s overriding concern.

More’s the pity. The Church wholly misunderstands Paul and has led the rest of the world, including ancient and modern Judaism, to misunderstand him, too. We also tend to miss why Shavuot would have been so special to Paul as a Jew and especially as the apostle to the Gentiles in the diaspora.

Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Aish.com

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

As I’ve mentioned in one or two commentaries on Magnus Zetterholm’s book The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity, there were always Jews in the first-century diaspora who were at risk of abandoning Judaism and being assimilated into pagan Greek culture. Paul must have seen evidence of this in Antioch and other cities in the galut and I can only imagine how it pained him.

He, of all people, should have known the vital importance of Torah study and observance for Jews, Jesus-believers or otherwise, in order to maintain Jewish identity and covenant integrity. After all, he declared himself…

…a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God…

Acts 22:3 (NASB)

Also, on many occasions after his initial arrest, he proclaimed his innocence, including in Rome:

Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.”

Acts 28:17 (NASB)

The Torah was always close to Paul and in spite of how the Church has distorted Paul’s teachings and his reputation and taught the Jewish people to distrust if not actively despise Paul, the meaning of Shavuot must have been heavily upon him during his last visit to Jerusalem.

What is it supposed to mean to Jews today? What is Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar’s answer to the question of why Shavuot is so “easy”?

Here’s what R. Cotlar says the answer isn’t:

The Torah is often seen as a “bandage” solution. The world is essentially a dark and scary jungle filled with all sorts of unhealthy foods, relationships and forms of recreation. So the Torah keeps us out of trouble.

Essentially, this perspective is saying that there was always a world, stuff, and us. The Torah? That came later on. It wasn’t until 2,448 years after creation that G‑d decided to work on the glitches, or at least provide us a way to maneuver around them.

With this approach, the Torah is an imposed set of laws—one that clashes with the world around us.

Now here’s the correct response:

The Torah is G‑d’s own wisdom. It existed long before there was a world. But G‑d wasn’t happy with this wisdom staying in the spiritual realms. He wanted a physical world where this wisdom would be studied and its commandments observed. To make things challenging, He planted obstacles and distractions, but these are merely masks that conceal the world’s true purpose: An activity center for Torah and mitzvahs, a place where every word can be transformed into Torah, every gadget used for holiness, every dollar turned into a mitzvah.

And because this was the intent from the very beginning, it’s Torah—not the craziness on the outside—that is the world’s true genetic makeup. We need the Torah merely to reveal what the world always was meant to be: a home for G‑d.

ShavuotThe celebration of the giving of the Torah seems so “ordinary” because the Torah represents what is supposed to be “normal life” for the Jewish people, it’s a reflection of what God’s intent for Creation was always supposed to be. R. Cotlar even calls the Torah the “very DNA of the world.”

He concludes:

Each year on Shavuot, when we re-experience Sinai, we show our appreciation for Torah through normal eating and celebrating—without any special rules. For the Torah does not introduce a new reality, but rather sheds light, purpose and sanctity into everything that is already here now. Even cheesecake.

What should Shavuot or “Pentecost” if you will, mean to Christians today? In most churches, not much. Even those churches that observe some sort of Pentecost celebration rarely, if ever, even give lip service to Shavuot. Until I started studying within a Hebrew Roots context, I had no idea what so many “out-of-town” Jews were doing in Jerusalem when the Pentecost event happened. I had no idea that Jews from all over the civilized world would be flooding into Jerusalem to observe Shavuot and to offer sacrifices at the Temple.

Although I won’t have the opportunity this time around, for the previous two years, I’ve seen first hand what Shavuot should mean to Jews and Gentiles celebrating together in response to the ancient mitzvot and through the revelation of Messiah. This year, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) is holding it’s annual National Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin from May 30th through June 5th. Messianic Jews and Gentiles from all over the U.S. and some from other nations, are currently gathering together for a time of worship, fellowship, and celebration in Messiah, perhaps not entirely unlike that early Jesus-believing “Synagogue of the Way” in ancient Syrian Antioch.

A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish.

-R. Packouz

But if this is what the Torah, and by extension Shavuot, means to the Jews, what does it mean to those of us from “all the nations (who) will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23)? Do the Jews celebrate the giving of Torah while the Gentiles celebrate the giving of the Spirit?

We can see the application of celebrating the Spirit to both the Messianic Jews and the believing Gentiles, but what about the Torah?

conference2Last year at the Shavuot conference, during the Shabbat and Shavuot Torah services, I was reluctant to participate because of this very question. I had embraced Boaz Michael’s vision of the Tent of David and was attempting to integrate into “church life.” Would I damage that effort by not only participating in but thoroughly enjoying celebrating Shavuot within a wholly Jewish context?

I’m afraid my identity and affiliation confusion made me seem “inhibited” and I lost the sense of closeness I felt toward people the year before. I only started to “get into it” at the very end but by then it was too late. And when returning home, almost before the plane landed back in Boise, I thought I shouldn’t go back the following year. I felt like I embarrassed myself in front of many of the people I respect, people who I consider friends but who now seem distant.

In the past year, I find I don’t really fit in at church though I’ve tried to remain devoted to my mission. I seem to be making a mess of all of my relationships on both sides of the aisle. I’ve been reconsidering my purpose in church, but I’m rapidly running out of options and ideas except maybe continuing to attend while keeping my head down and my mouth shut.

My wife surprised me a few weeks ago. Actually, it was on the day she called me arrogant for thinking I had a purpose to change anyone or anything in any Christian church. She asked me why I wasn’t going to this year’s Shavuot conference.

I was more than surprised by her asking. I didn’t even realize she was aware that another conference was coming up. I told her the truth. First off, we always have a “discussion” about the financial cost of my attending, even though I’ve received generous support in the past. I also mentioned (again) the relative level of embarrassment I cause her in the local Jewish community, not only as a church-going Christian, but as a “Messianic” and one who periodically associates with “Messianic Jews.”

But she’s worried about my “fellowship,” which she brings up from time to time (again, to my surprise), and she said that for those people in the Jewish community who she’s closest to, my being a Christian probably doesn’t make a difference one way or the other. It’s not as if I interact with any of her Jewish friends, or at least I haven’t for many years.

Shavuot is a time of community. I suppose you could say that of any of the moadim, but on Shavuot, God forged the nation of Israel at Sinai, He created a Covenant relationship with Israel and delivered, through Moses, the conditions of that relationship, the Torah, which gives joy and is a tree of life to all those who cling to her. We grafted in Gentiles, by clinging to the garments of the Jewish people through faith, apprehend salvation and some of the covenant blessings. Through faith in Messiah who leads us to the Father, we can sit at the same table as the Jews in Messiah as equal co-participants, and be blessed as well as be a blessing as the crowning jewels of the nations.

Up to JerusalemThis Sunday (today, as you read this), I expect to be in Church listening to a sermon on Acts 21 and 22 and discussing Paul’s initial defense against the charges leveled against him by some Jewish agitators, largely due to his close association with Gentiles, both in the diaspora and in Jerusalem.

Yet Paul fought tremendous opposition to his return to Jerusalem, and many of his closest friends and advisors thought it was a mistake for him to enter the Holy City. Nevertheless, he went, for he was traveling not of his own accord but in response to God’s will. He knew it would be the last time he would see Jerusalem and that he was quite likely to die. His dedication to the Torah, to the Temple, and to the Jewish people was brought into question and many believed him to be a traitor, but he was responding to a higher purpose, not higher than Temple and Torah, but higher than criticism, insult, and even threats of death.

What should Shavuot mean? It should mean choosing (or being chosen, if speaking of the Jewish people) a way of life that isn’t comfortable and for some, isn’t even safe. It’s recognizing that God comes bearing gifts, but those gifts aren’t always easy to carry. Actually, the yoke of the Master is light, but in my case, I find the burden of my human character flaws to be an unwieldy weight that I stagger under and yet cannot release.

Shavuot means accepting what God gives in obedience and realizing your life isn’t your own anymore. It never was of course, but the illusion of “self-ownership” is swept away. Shavuot may be a time of fellowship, but can also bring near the realization that your “ekklesia” may be nowhere nearby, and in the stillness and quiet, you, or rather I, turn to the One who has taken my life and the One to whom I willingly surrender it.

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.”

John 6:66-68 (NASB)

Shavuot is a reminder to accept whatever comes from the hand of God, whether bitter or sweet.

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For Redemption is Not Yet Complete

But I have been persuaded by Professor Edward Greenstein to read this story existentially rather than critically. The death of Aaron’s sons was not the result of a miscue in the prescribed choreography of the Tabernacle. Their fate conveys the far deeper and more unsettling truth that no amount of elaborate, awesome, and precisely executed ritual should ever leave us with the illusion that we have brought God under human control. The very moment the Tabernacle comes into service, Israel is taught the sober lesson that God’s will remains free and inscrutable, God’s wisdom unfathomable. The religion of the Torah is not a set of magical techniques to get God to do our bidding, but rather a quest to invest our lives with meaning. To rein in the erratic and destructive passions of the earth’s most intelligent animal, that is the Torah’s desperate mission.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Enduring Life’s Setbacks,” pg 411
Commentary on Torah Commentary Aharei Mot
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.

Genesis 4:3-5 (NASB)

I’ve read a couple of different commentaries on the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3) recently. Both said that the “strange” or “alien fire” they offered was fire of their own making. These commentaries said that when God first ignited the fire upon the altar, only that fire was to be used in making offerings to God. A rather simple explanation for a question that has stumped scholars for thousands of years.

No, we can’t make a sacrifice to God of any sort that somehow brings Him under our control or provides Him with something He lacks. Nothing we make, say, or do will manipulate God into behaving or performing in a manner differently than is His intention.

Like prayer, we don’t turn to God with anything that will change Him. The purpose of the sacrifices, the mitzvot, and prayer is to change us.

Likewise the cup that was given to the world’s greatest tzaddik.

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

Luke 22:41-42 (NASB)

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last.

Luke 23:44-46 (NASB)

As I write this, I just read a commentary about Passover and atonement which said in part:

“Suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik (righteous person) as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree. Such suffering also includes cases where a tzaddik suffers because his entire generation deserves great punishments, bordering on annihilation, but is spared via the tzaddik’s suffering. In atoning for his generation through his suffering, this tzaddik saves these people in this world and also greatly benefits them in the World-to-Come. In addition, there is a special higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole. … Beyond that, the merit and power of these tzaddikim is also increased because of such suffering, and this gives them even greater ability to rectify the damage of others. They can therefore not only rectify their own generation, but can also correct all the spiritual damage done FROM THE BEGINNING, FROM THE TIME OF THE VERY FIRST SINNERS.” (emphasis mine) .. (Derech Hashem, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, translation by Aryeh Kaplan Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 1977, pp 123-125)

If you are a Christian and unfamiliar with Jewish texts, this may seem strange or even startling to you. If you are Jewish and not a believer, this will seem like a gross misappropriation of the writings of the sages, bent in an unintended direction for a mistaken purpose.

The Death of the MasterI’ve written about just such an interpretation before, both in The Death of the Tzaddik and The Sacrifice at Golgotha. God is not pleased by unauthorized offerings, strange fires, and certainly not by human sacrifice, which we Christians sometimes are mistakenly accused of condoning.

And yet, sometimes God does ask that we put our soul on the altar so to speak, not because human struggle and suffering is His desire, but because we need to learn that as servants of the Most High God, our lives are subject to Him, not to what we want. By offering sacrifices, whether it be a lamb, a prayer, or our time and energy in performing deeds of kindness and charity, we aren’t giving to God something that changes Him, but we are doing what changes us in the manner God desires us to change.

And even that desire of God’s is not for His sake but for our own.

At the last second, God terminated the Akedah or the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) to spare the life of Isaac and to spare Abraham the death of his only son, the son of inheritance, the son who would carry forward all of the promises God made to Abraham, so they might be sent into the future with Isaac’s son Jacob, with Jacob’s twelve sons, with the tribes they would found, and with all of Israel, today’s Jewish people.

And because God wasn’t asking Abraham for a human sacrifice on the altar by killing his son, He was changing Abraham and changing Isaac, and the result of those changes reverberate down through history in both Judaism and Christianity.

To rein in the erratic and destructive passions of the earth’s most intelligent animal, that is the Torah’s desperate mission.

-Ismar Schorsch

I might have worded that sentence a little differently, but it’s a sound statement. The Word of God exists to change us, mold us, refine us (like a precious metal in fire if necessary) so that we might become a more spiritually pure product over time.

Rabbi Kalman Packouz in his Passover commentary said the following:

The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people had the same problem in Egypt. Only 1/5 of the Jewish people were on a high enough spiritual level to leave Egypt — and they were on the 49th level of Tuma, spiritual degradation — and were within a hair’s breadth of being destroyed.

Yet, what is amazing is that in the next 49 days they raised themselves to the spiritual level to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai! Each day we climbed one step higher in spirituality and holiness. Many people study one of the “48 Ways to Wisdom” (Ethics of the Fathers, 6:6 — found in the back of most siddurim, Jewish prayer books) each day in the Sephirat HaOmer period between Pesach and Shavuot — which will be explained below — as a means to personal and spiritual growth. This is a propitious time for perfecting one’s character!

PrayerSome of those terms may seem a little odd to some of you but the principle behind them should be clear. We want to change. We want to be a little better tomorrow than we were yesterday. But even as believers and devout disciples of the Master, that’s easier said than done, at least for me (especially for me). Rabbi Packouz suggests Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s series 48 Ways to Wisdom, working through one “way” each day between the start of Passover and the arrival of Shavuot.

Jesus didn’t die just to be a human sacrifice since God abhors the desecration of human life. But if a great tzaddik can atone for the sins of his generation, how much more does the death of the greatest of all tzaddikim atone for the sins of the world, across the vast panorama of human existence?

But there’s nothing we can offer God that changes God. Every sacrifice, every lamb, every bull, every prayer, every mitzvah, and the death of the tzaddik, the Master, exists to change each of us and to bring us a little closer to God. Empty sacrifices are less than useless however. What we do is important but why we do it is crucial. Simply giving a can of soup to a hungry person feeds that hungry person, which is good, and it may temporarily elevate ourselves, at least in our own eyes, which may not be bad either. But if the act doesn’t reveal a little bit more about God to us, and if we don’t become just a little more dedicated and compassionate as God’s servants because of it, then all we’ve done was given one small meal to one single person.

And they’ll be hungry again in a few hours. So much for our “sacrifice.”

It only really, really matters on a vast and even cosmic scale, if it brings us to a greater realization of who is above us:

“Consider three things and you will not come to sin: Know what is above you: an eye that sees and an ear that hears, and all your deeds are recorded in the Book.”

-Pirkei Avot 2:1

Jesus will have died for nothing if we don’t follow him as a result, if we aren’t changed by the crucifixion and resurrection, if his act of inaugurating the era of the New Covenant did not begin to turn our heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

Run to do good. Shun evil. Pray for God to soften you, to change you, to refine you.

Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.
For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, And I have walked in Your truth.

Psalm 26:2-3 (NASB)

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Acts 20:28 (NASB)

Looking upPlease don’t think me vain if I start by praying for myself. It has been all too easy for me to rest for an extended period of time on a spiritual plateau and it’s all too difficult for me to overcome inertia and begin moving again. Going up means I have to overcome gravity, but going down is not the direction I want to take. Like a boat without oars in a river, standing still is just another way of going backward.

Our love of God is not to collapse even when our soul is shattered.

-Ismar Schorsch, pg 412

For redemption is not yet complete.

A Passover Haggadah, Ed. Herbert Bronstein, pg 34

The King is coming, but there’s still time for each of us, you and me.

“Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

-Bonne Raitt

Gifts of the Spirit, Torah, and Gospel

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsThe theme of this year’s conference is “The Gifts of the Spirit.” To be honest, when the First Fruit of Zion staff first suggested this theme, I was not excited about it at all. I’m not what you might call a Pentecostal type of person. Growing up, my Jewish background was secular and non-religious, until my family got involved in a Baptist church, and then eventually Messianic Judaism, but I have never been what you might think of as a holy roller.

So when the staff suggested this theme for the conference, I groaned. I thought, “What in the world would we possibly have to say about gifts of the Holy Spirit?” I pictured us trying to act Pentecostal and Spirit-filled.

-Boaz Michael
“Let’s Get Pentecostal,” pg 5
Gifts of the Spirit

Note: This book is a compilation of the presentations given at the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, organized by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) and held during the festival of Shavuot in May 2013 at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin.

I was surprised at the conference, and again by reading black text on a white background, that the modern Messianic Jewish movement was highly influenced by the Pentecostal church. Early Messianic services emphasized the Holy Spirit, called Ruach HaChodesh in Hebrew, but said-services were indistinguishable from their Charismatic Christian counterparts. Small wonder Boaz was less than enthusiastic when his staff suggested a “Gifts of the Spirit” theme for last year’s Shavuot conference.

But like so many other beliefs and practices in modern Christianity, the concept of the Holy Spirit was appropriated from ancient Jewish origins. After all, “Pentecostal” refers back, way back to the Acts 2 event which occurred on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which in the Church is called Pentecost.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

While the giving of the Spirit depicted above was a unique experience, Pentecost, or Shavuot, is an annual event, speaking to the Jewish people of the will of God and their response to Him. It is said that God gave Moses and the Children of Israel the Torah on Shavuot, so devout Jews consider it is the anniversary of the giving of the Law to the Israelites. But for Messianic Jews, and not a few Gentiles, it is also the anniversary of another gift, the power of the Holy Spirit, which enabled the apostles to fulfill their mission and their purpose of spreading the good news of the Moshiach to the Jews and Gentiles in Judea, Samaria, and ultimately across the globe.

And so we come to the Holy Spirit and what it means in Messianic Judaism today.

So that’s our objective at this conference. We want to recontextualize the role of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. To accomplish this, we must first understand the Spirit and the gifts from a Jewish perspective. What were the gifts? How did they function among first-century believers? Why? What was their purpose? What role did they play in first-century Messianic Judaism?

-Boaz Michael, pg 7

I quoted above how the Holy Spirit of God filled the apostles on an occasion which my Pastor calls “the birthday of the Church.” And yet, is this a completely New Testament concept?

This is not a New Testament idea. The Torah uses the same terminology to describe the endowment of God’s Spirit on Joshua, Caleb, Bezalel, and Oholiab. In those examples, the Torah compares a person to a vessel. God’s Spirit can fill a human being like water can fill a jar.

-ibid, pg 9

Receiving the SpiritThe Church believes that when a person truly becomes a believer, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, even though in the modern age, there are no visible or auditory cues that speak of the event; no rushing of wind or tongues of fire. Also, in Acts 2, the in-filling of the Spirit was like those more ancient days of which Boaz speaks, when the Spirit didn’t fill everyone, but only certain ones in order to enable those people to accomplish certain tasks, such as the apostles, the witnesses of the resurrected Messiah, to be able to spread the gospel message.

Boaz also writes of many other incidents in the Torah and the Prophets whereby a person or even groups of people received the Spirit.

And if we compare the events in Exodus 20 to the Acts 2 experience of the apostles, there are striking similarities, enough for Boaz to call the Acts 2 event a “second giving of Torah.”

What does it all mean? It means that the disciples of Yeshua experienced the day of Pentecost as a second giving of the Torah. They knew the rabbinic legends about the words of fire dividing into seventy languages as they left the mouth of God (Boaz references Shmot Rabbah 5:9). They knew the story of God’s voice speaking to all mankind in every tongue. Those legends gave significance to the miracles and signs and wonders that they experienced on Shavu’ot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah.

-ibid, pg 12

I’m reminded of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and subsequent book which I know fails to address the ancient Jewish perspective on the Holy Spirit. But then, MacArthur’s purpose was not to examine the Biblical history or merits of the Holy Spirit, particularly from a Jewish point of view, but to more narrowly focus on the detrimental effect Pentecostals and Charismatics have on the larger body of the Christian Church today. Boaz Michael and the Shavuot conference “Gifts of the Spirit,” held five months prior to the MacArthur conference, took a completely different course. While Michael cites the Jewish perspective as linking Spirit and Torah (Bible), MacArthur declares that Pentecostalism divorces the Word of God from the Spirit of God, inordinately focusing on the later and all but ignoring the former.

But what if they were meant, as Boaz suggests, to go hand in hand? Moreover, what if the giving of the Spirit is the fulfillment of prophesy in a way MacArthur likely missed? Jeremiah 31:33 referring to the New Covenant, states that God will put His Torah within His people and write it on their hearts, while Ezekiel 36:27 says that God will put His Spirit within His people in order to cause them (the Jewish people in this context) to walk in His statues and to obey His rules (Torah).

R.C. SproulOf course, MacArthur and his conference presenters didn’t totally deny any activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of a genuine believer today, just that certain “gifts of the Spirit” were not carried over into the post-canonical world.

I guess I should mention that Strange Fire presenter R.C. Sproul did speak about Pentecost in relation to the Charismatic movement, but his perspective was hardly Jewish and he suggested (and I don’t know if he really meant this…I hope not because of its anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic implications) that only those Israelites (such as the prophets) who received the Holy Spirit were saved, not all Israelites who had faith and genuinely obeyed God.

Strange Fire speaker Tom Pennington did say that the work of the Spirit in today’s Church is not null and void, only that specific gifts have ceased:

The label “Cessationism” is negative, but the real problem is that it has been easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work. But the fact is that we who are cessationists believe the Holy Spirit has continued his work. Nothing eternal happens in a person apart from the Holy Spirit. Temporal things can happen, but nothing eternal. We only believe the Spirit has ceased in one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.

Church doctrine states that in order for believers to rightly interpret the scriptures, they must be helped by the Holy Spirit. It is also believed that the Spirit draws each person to God, indwells within each person as he or she comes to faith, and then enables them (us) to break free of the chains of sin and to live lives pleasing to God. While mainstream Christianity depends on the Holy Spirit to help us understand the words of God, the Jewish perspective, according to Boaz, goes even further:

It means that the work of the Spirit is fundamental to Messianic Judaism. If the Torah is important to Messianic Judaism, so is the Holy Spirit. We should not try to separate the two. They are married together.

-Michael, pg 13

It’s one thing to speak of the activity of the Spirit in the apostolic era and before, and another thing to apply it to the life of a believer in the 21st century. Unless you are deeply involved in the Charismatic movement, your experiences with the Spirit of God may not seem very tangible or even noticeable. We assent to the existence of the Spirit of God and we believe the Spirit is influential in our lives, but only invisibly, intangibly, unperceptively. In other words, when/if the Spirit is at work in our lives, chances are, most of the time, we can’t tell.

As MacArthur’s conference pointed out (at least to me), the different factions of Christianity seem woefully out of balance. The Pentecostals seek the Spirit above all else. Evangelicals/Fundamentalists rely solely on reading/studying the Bible for their understanding of God. Some people primarily pray. Some focus on preaching. Others believe evangelizing on the mission field is the only way to go. Boaz suggests that we need to be sitting on a three-legged stool to avoid falling this way, that way, or the other way. The three legs are:

  • The Spirit of the Lord
  • The Torah of Moses
  • The Gospel of the Messianic Kingdom

Note that each of the three legs must be of equal length, of the same strength, and equally secured to the platform upon which we are seated so we don’t start leaning in a particular direction or have our foundation break down beneath us. Boaz mentioned another “three legs” which we should be pondering.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (NASB)

white-pigeon-kotelIn reflecting on the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, which I attended last May, MacArthur’s “Strange Fire,” and Michael L. Brown’s hastily constructed response to MacArthur called Authentic Fire, I can’t help but think that the FFOZ Gifts of the Spirit book, while not really a “response” to MacArthur, would have been a better way to speak to the Pentecostal community than the “Strange Fire” approach. In fact, as I recall, there were a number of Pentecostals at the Shavuot event, and they were made to feel welcome and participate fully. If FFOZ’s “Gifts of the Spirit” had received the same “press” as “Strange Fire” in the Christian media space, it might have made MacArthur’s efforts superfluous.

Something to consider at any rate.

The Challies Chronicles: R.C. Sproul and Pentecost

rc_sproulFor the third session at Strange Fire, John MacArthur introduced his good friend R.C. Sproul. Because of issues with his health, Sproul was unable to travel to California, so instead he sent along a video message. And his task was to speak about Pentecost.

He began by saying, “I want to look specifically today at the redemptive-historical significance of Pentecost.” We’re aware that the modern Pentecostal movement began at Azusa Street and that it occurred outside of the mainline denotations until the middle of the 20th Century. Then it moved into Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, etc. circles. Initially when it came into these various denominations there were several attempts to assimilate the theology into their creedal foundations. At the same time, Pentecostals were gathering their beliefs into a creed, which became Neo-Pentecostal theology.

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: R.C. Sproul”
Challies.com

I’m not familiar with R.C. Sproul so I looked him up on Wikipedia. That didn’t help much, so I looked Dr. Sproul up at Ligonier.org. That was only slightly more enlightening. Oh well, I guess I just don’t know the population of presenters John MacArthur chose for his Strange Fire conference. But then, I’m an unusual Christian because I don’t know a lot of “famous names” in the Christian publication world.

I have to admit to being confused for the first part of Pastor Challies’s “live blogged” rendition of Sproul’s presentation. Dr. Sproul was supposed to be speaking about the Pentecost, the original event we see depicted in Acts 2, but then he launched into a brief history of the Pentecostal movement. Where’s the relationship?

Then Sproul said a few things that got me thinking.

The fundamental weakness of Neo-Pentecostal theology is that it understands the original Pentecost differently than the apostles, and that it considers this Pentecost too lowly.

I’m not sure most Fundamentalist Christians understand the original, Jewish context of Pentecost the way the apostles did either, but that’s not what got my attention. It was this.

The significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has to do principally with the Holy Spirit empowering Christians for ministry. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit he was promising power and strength.

OK, I can buy that as far as it goes. Relative to Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles in preparation for their mission to spread the Gospel message to Israel, Samaria, and to the rest of the world. But that would mean only believers who have a specific mission would ever receive the Holy Spirit. Sort of like these guys.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

Numbers 11:24-25 (NASB)

Sproul actually mentioned this event in his presentation, and we see the Spirit God gave to Moses being “sub-divided” among the seventy elders who were to form the first Sanhedrin. The Spirit was preparing them for their mission and, like the later apostles of Acts 2, they prophesied once and then never again.

But what about this?

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”

Acts 10:44-47 (NASB)

Receiving the SpiritIf, as in our previous examples, the Holy Spirit is only given to people who have a special mission or job to do for God as a method of empowerment, why was it also given to the Roman Cornelius and his non-Jewish household? The Bible records no subsequent information about them, so either they didn’t have a mission for God, or they did and Luke simply thought it not worthy of recording (or he was unaware of what happened next for Cornelius, his family, his servants, and so on).

Or there’s another reason we just haven’t gotten to yet.

As far as I can tell, universally in all Christian denominations, it is believed that everyone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…except that we don’t see this event happening to the Ethiopian who receives Messiah in Acts 8:25-40, only that he is baptized by water. For that matter, we don’t see Spirit baptism happening today, at least not as it’s described in Acts 2 and 10. Christians I know today don’t say they prophesied or spoke in tongues when they came to faith. But then we also know (Acts 19:1-6) that historically, some believers weren’t even aware of the Holy Spirit, at least initially, only John’s baptism of water and repentance.

Sproul said:

It is admitted that some people can have conversion or regeneration simultaneously with their baptism by the Holy Spirit, but in the main there is a time difference between original conversion and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I can only assume this means Sproul too believes all people who come to faith in Christ receive the Spirit, although he seems to indicate that there’s some sort of difference between “original conversion” and “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” We see some indications of this in scripture, as I noted above, but I’m still not sure if Sproul is referring to these scriptures or something else.

In the Old Testament a person could only be a believer by being born again of the Holy Spirit. But the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament with respect to Pentecost is that in the Old Testament the Spirit was only given by God selectively to isolated individuals, such as the prophets or the judges when they needed strength for the particular task.

OK, here’s the really interesting part. Sproul says that an Israelite could only become a “believer” (I find the term somewhat anachronistic, since being a “believer” isn’t mentioned let alone emphasized in the Tanakh or “Old Testament” as it is in modern Christianity) by receiving the Holy Spirit. I agree that the Biblical record only shows certain individuals receiving the Spirit (such as Prophets), so does that mean Sproul is saying only Old Testament Prophets were saved? Does that mean the vast, vast, majority of ancient Israelites who were born, lived, and died in a covenant relationship with God worshiped the Creator in vain and have no place in the World to Come?

I’m not sure Sproul meant to say it that way and even if he did, it’s not in line with scripture. If the faith of Abraham was counted to him as righteousness, and the Abrahamic covenant carried down to Isaac, and then Jacob, and then the twelve tribes, and then all of Israel, it would be difficult to believe that covenant faith being counted as righteousness somehow didn’t translate into salvation. After all, the Tanakh has tons and tons to say about Jewish faith in God.

It would make more sense to believe that the faith of the Israelites was counted as saving righteousness by God’s grace, and that only those individuals who required special empowerment to carry out the acts of God, such as the Judges and Prophets, would require the Holy Spirit.

ShavuotOf course, this brings up the question of why everyone who comes to faith post-Acts 2 receives the Holy Spirit, especially since the Strange Fire conference attempts to convince us all that no one has the gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophesy or anything else.

I certainly am not going to throw the ancient Israelites in the Torah and the Prophets under the bus because one presenter may have inadvertently suggested that the Holy Spirit has suffered a change in job description between the Old Testament and New Testament records, and that the “old” God only saved those Jews who were possessed of the Spirit of prophesy.

Here’s another interesting detail.

In Acts 8:14-17 we have the record of what happened among the Samaritans. There is a second Pentecost among the Samaritan believers when Peter and John lay hands on them. In Acts 10:44-48 the Spirit falls on the God-fearers, which Peter recounts in 11:13-18. This is Pentecost number three. Just as in the case of the first and second Pentecosts, all of those present received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19:1-7 the Gentiles in Ephesus receive the Holy Spirit and are empowered for ministry.

So you have four separate Pentecosts, one for each people group in Acts. When Paul was dealing with the Corinthian church, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Here he speaks of the universality of the Sprit’s [sic] empowering of every believer. That’s the significance of Pentecost.

If I didn’t know what little I know about Sproul, I wouldn’t be so surprised by such statements. “Pentecost” just means “the fiftieth day” and is the Greek name for Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. Shavuot or Pentecost only comes once a year on the Jewish (and Christian) religious calendar, so it’s a little odd (for someone who should know better) to say there were “four separate Pentecosts.” It’s also strange to believe in four separate events of the giving of the Holy Spirit to specific populations (however, he may have been waxing poetic).

If God was doing something new in the giving of the Spirit (but not entirely new it seems) to those requiring power to perform a ministry, I would interpret Acts 2 as the beginning of a continual process rather than the start of four separate and distinct “waves” of “Pentecost events” based on differences between people groups.

Maybe I’m “majoring in the minors” here, but it seems like Sproul’s presentation didn’t really amount to much, at least for me.

No, I don’t want to give up on Sproul’s presentation yet. Here’s how Challies ended it on his blog post:

In Ephesians 2:11-19 Paul again addresses this issues [sic] that threatened to divide the 1st century church, the issue of what role the Gentiles have in the body of Christ. Paul’s “mystery” in Ephesians and Colossians is that Christ has folded Gentiles into his body and indwells them. “Through Christ we both have access through one Spirit to the Father.” This is a Trinitarian work.

My concern with Charismatic friends is that they have a low view of Pentecost. They don’t see it as a signal of the outpouring of God on all Christians. They believe all Christians can have it and should have it, but they miss the point that the pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost means that all Christians already have the Spirit and have been empowered by him, and that they don’t need to be baptized by the Spirit again.

Pouring waterI think Sproul is saying that the giving of the Spirit to Christians is a one time event, like water baptism, and that Pentecostals have repeated events of accepting the Spirit, thus “cheapening” the gift of the Spirit. Also, it is the giving of the Spirit Acts 10 to Gentiles that indicates that we are also accepted into the redeemed body of Christ, and it is faith in Messiah that allows us to receive the Spirit and be saved in the same way as believing Jews.

That helps, but it doesn’t close the can of worms I think Sproul opened up in terms of Old Testament Jewish salvation. We seem to see though, that Sproul is saying the Spirit was only given for empowerment of prophets in the Old Testament, but that in the New Testament, the Spirit was given, not only to empower, but as a sign of induction into the body of Messiah. I’m still not willing to accept that only the Spirit-filled Prophets and Judges of ancient Israel were “saved.”

According to MacArthur’s viewpoint though, even if all believers after the Acts 2 event received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, post-closure of Biblical canon, whatever gifts a person once received from the indwelling of the Spirit simply ceased to exist. But we don’t know why.

Paul’s Sunday Shavuot

first-fruits-barleyThe period from Passover to Shavu’ot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavu’ot: Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. Shavu’ot is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day; however, Shavu’ot has no particular similarity to the Christian holiday of Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after their Spring holiday.

Shavu’ot is not tied to a particular calendar date, but to a counting from Passover. Because the length of the months used to be variable, determined by observation, and there are two new moons between Passover and Shavu’ot, Shavu’ot could occur on the 5th or 6th of Sivan. However, now that we have a mathematically determined calendar, and the months between Passover and Shavu’ot do not change length on the mathematical calendar, Shavu’ot is always on the 6th of Sivan.

– “Shavu’ot” at Judaism 101

The date of Shavuot is directly linked to that of Passover. On Passover, the Jewish people were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they were given the Law and became a nation committed to serving God. Shavuot is celebrated in Israel for one day and in the diaspora (outside of Israel) for two days. Reform Jews celebrate only one day, even in the diaspora. Karaite Jews and Christians believe that Shavuot always falls on a Sunday, while mainstream Jews follow the teaching of the Talmud, which holds that the holiday commences immediately after the “counting of the omer,” or 50 days after Passover.

– “Shavuot” at New World Encyclopedia

Last Sunday, my Pastor’s sermon from Leviticus 23 was on Shavu’ot/Pentecost. Like many Christians (and I had no idea Christians believed this before a few days ago), he believes that Shavuot must always fall on a Sunday for the following reasons:

The word “Sabbath” in this verse is assumed, by some, to be the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which has been deemed to be a “special Sabbath.” Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to assume that the first instance of “Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:15 indicates the special Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Aviv (or Nisan) 15—that is, the day after the Passover, Aviv 14. In thinking this way, their count of the Feast of Weeks would begin on the day after the 15th, which is the 16th. Many, if not most, Jewish rabbis begin the count here.

However, in Leviticus 23:16, it says, “Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath….” There are not special Sabbaths during each of the seven weeks during which the count is made. However, there are seven regular weekly Sabbaths. Therefore, the fifty-day count ends on Sunday, the day after the seventh weekly Sabbath (which is Saturday). That makes the first day of the fifty-day count to be a Sunday as well. So Shavuot = the Feast of Weeks = Pentecost always falls on a Sunday, although some believe that it can be on any day of the week, depending on the year.

– “How do you calculate the timing of Shavuot or Pentecost?”
at TedMontgomery.com

churchesI have no idea who Ted Montgomery is or why he’s considered an authority in this matter (and he should update his website design to something that doesn’t just scream, “1998!”), but what he has on his site is basically the same explanation Pastor gave in his sermon.

If he’s right, then Shavuot/Pentecost always occurring on a Sunday would have a great deal of meaning in Christianity and bolster the Christian tradition of having the official weekly worship day on a Sunday. I don’t know enough about it to have much of an opinion, but one of my personal “laws” (and I think almost everyone has this “law”) is that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

When I looked up the dates for Shavuot at Chabad.org, the holiday doesn’t always fall on a Sunday according to their calendar. In fact, this past year, since Shavuot is celebrated two days in the diaspora, Shavuot was observed on Wednesday, May 15th and Thursday, May 16th. Next year, it will also be held on a Wednesday and Thursday, but in early June.

How the dates for Shavuot are calculated depends on when you start counting. If it’s always on the first day after Passover, the day of the week Shavuot occurs will vary. If it’s always on the first day after the Saturday Shabbat, then it will always be on Sunday. Before last Sunday, the only way I heard that it was to be calculated was how Judaism traditionally recommends. Christianity, it seems, always comes up with little surprises for me.

I know that Christians, including my Pastor, will tell me that the calculation for the “Sunday-only” Shavuot/Pentecost is purely Biblical and thus, it doesn’t matter what Judaism and the Rabbis have to say about it. On the other hand, this observance was given to the Children of Israel well over a thousand years before the birth of Christ, so I’d have to give the Jewish people some “props” in how they choose to understand the Torah on this matter.

According to Pastor in his sermon, in Acts 20, we see Paul anxious to get to Jerusalem as soon as possible. Pastor tells us that this is because he wanted to arrive in time for Shauvot, but he asked an odd question. Why should it have mattered to Paul? He wasn’t a farmer. Shavuot is (or was) all about offering the first fruits of the wheat harvest to God at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. What was the big deal for Paul?

Pastor’s answer was not so much about the Jewish Shavuot as the Christian Pentecost. Because of the giving of the Holy Spirit in the original Acts 2 event and its meaning as the “birthday of the Church,” Paul wanted to get back to Jerusalem to commemorate the Christian side of the coin, so to speak, as opposed to observing one of the three pilgrim festivals that all Jews are commanded to attend in Jerusalem each year.

shavuot_two_loavesIt is true that based on Leviticus 23:15-22, it doesn’t seem as if Paul would rush right back to Jerusalem in order to offer a personal wave offering of two loaves of bread along with the lamb and drink offerings. But then again, in the same sermon, Pastor said that the offerings recorded in those scriptures weren’t personal offerings but were offered for the entire assembly of Israel, so Paul wouldn’t have had to be a farmer  with a personal sacrifices to offer to desire to be present at the Temple. He just had to be a Jew.

We see in Acts 2 that thousands upon thousands of Jews from the diaspora were present in Jerusalem for Shavuot. Could they have been responding to this?

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God (emph. mine).

Exodus 23:14-17 (NASB)

You can find similar language commanding Jewish people to appear at the Temple in Jerusalem for Shavuot in Exodus 34:21-24, Numbers 28:26-31, and Deuteronomy 16:9-12. I’m not saying that the Acts 2 event had no meaning for Paul and that it didn’t add a tremendous dimension to Shavuot for Paul and the other Jewish apostles and disciples, but it would hardly be disconnected from the commandments of God for the Jewish people and Jewish obedience to the Torah of Moses. There’s no reason to believe the Christian conceptualization of Pentecost would have unplugged the festival from the Jewish Shavuot.

After all. Pastor acknowledged in his sermon that one of the names for Shavuot is “Z’man Mattan Toratenu” or “The Time of the Giving of the Law (Torah).” In his sermon, he affirmed that it is quite Biblical to believe that, given the timing of the Exodus from Egypt, that the Children of Israel could have been at Sinai for the giving of the Torah on the traditional date for Shavuot.

For Paul then, the linkage between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Spirit would have been inescapable and been seen as a dramatic illustration of God’s continual graciousness to the Jewish people as a light to the world and as the means by which Israel and the nations would be redeemed.

While I strongly believe that the coming of Jesus, his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father represents a revolutionary event in the course of human history and the plan of God for both the Jewish people and the people of the nations, it was and is also the predictable, prophesied, and logical extension of God’s plan across time, not a radical departure shifting from God’s “plan A” to “plan B.”

The past several blog posts where I mention my Pastor, I know it seems as if I’m really butting heads with him, so to speak. While we don’t always see eye to eye, I have great respect for him and I thought last Sunday’s sermon especially was informative and illuminating. In fact, the highlight of my church attendance every Sunday is his sermon. As you can see, he provides me with a lot of food for thought.

ShavuotI know why Christians count the Sabbaths from Passover to Shavuot as they do. The symbolism relative to Pentecost and Sunday is exceptionally compelling given Christian tradition. I can also understand why Judaism would calculate it differently based on disconnecting the Jewish Shavuot from the Christian Pentecost. On the other hand, that doesn’t make the Christian calculation right and the Jewish calculation wrong (or vice versa). Even if Shavuot/Pentecost occurs annually according to the Jewish calendar, that hardly devalues the meaning of the holiday for believing Jews and Gentile Christians. Christians just don’t have to work so hard to disconnect Pentecost from its original and ongoing meaning in Judaism. If there will be a Third Temple as both Pastor and I believe, then those offerings will once again be upon the altar in Jerusalem in Messianic days.

Why was Paul in such a hurry to get to Jerusalem before the festival of Shavuot? We can’t derive his exact intent from the text of Acts 20. However, reason, history, and the Torah tells us that he needed no other reason than because he was Jewish. If he had other reasons, then we will learn those after the time of Messiah’s return, may he come swiftly and in our day.

A Christian Brings a Tanakh to Sunday School

jerusalem_templeSome people believe the 4 spring holidays (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Feast of Weeks/Pentacost) were fulfilled in Messiah’s 1st coming and that the 3 autumn holidays (Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Booths/Tabernacles) will be fulfilled at his 2nd coming.

-from Sunday School study notes
for August 4th, “Leviticus 23, Feasts of Israel: God’s Picture of Things to Come”

Help.

I knew Pastor Randy was going to start giving a series of sermons on the Festivals to better educate folks about their past and future (and hopefully their present) meaning. I forgot that meant my Sunday School class would be teaching on them too, since my class “mirrors” the Pastor’s sermons.

I like my Sunday School teacher but in many ways he has a very “basic” approach to the Bible, that is to say, very basically Christian. I’ve had to bite my tongue on a few occasions during a study rather than open a can of worms that would not easily be closed again.

To his credit, the teacher came up to me before the start of class today and said he expected I’d have a lot to say about next week’s lesson. That’s something of an understatement. I plan to really do my homework this weekend, come prepared with a lot of notes, and bring my Stone Edition Tanakh for good measure.

What’s kind of scary is that the Festivals won’t be approached based on their own merit, but on their “symbolic meaning” relative to Jesus and all that “fulfilling” stuff.

Really, Passover has been “fulfilled?” I’m not sure what that’s even supposed to mean. Does that mean it’s over. No more Pesach seders? Then why did Jesus say “do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19)? Oh. Am I supposed to believe that the sacrament of communion replaced Passover? What happens when the Temple is rebuilt? Will there be no Pesach sacrifices because Jesus “fulfilled” Passover?

Actually, I told my teacher that I do sometimes keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself in his class on various occasions. Our conversation was light-hearted but I know I’m going to have concerns over the next two months. I won’t be as quiet as I have been in the past. I can’t be.

Actually, in preaching on Acts 14:21-28, I encountered my Pastor’s opinion on Shabbat as applied to Christians. This section of Acts addresses the end of Paul’s “first missionary trip” and his return to Syrian Antioch. Although the text doesn’t actually say Paul and his team rested, it’s assumed that once they returned to their “home church,” they may have taken it easy for a bit.

Both Pastor and my Sunday School teacher emphasized the importance of taking a break from our duties to recharge our “spiritual batteries,” so to speak. Pastor went so far as to mention the Shabbat, “but not in a legalistic sense” (Oy). He did say that he felt it was important to take one day out of the week as a day of total rest. That day can’t be Sunday for him since it’s his busiest day, but every Monday, he and his wife spend the day at their cabin. No phone and no Internet. Just taking it easy and pursuing some personal activities and projects.

From the way he’s described it to me, it doesn’t sound like a “Jewish” Shabbat as such, but it is a day of rest. However, Pastor says we can choose whatever day we want. I don’t see that in the Bible, but then, he’s not going to be preaching a Saturday Shabbat to his congregation, either.

levites-aaronic-blessingAs an aside, in ancient times, the Kohenim (Levitical Priesthood) also worked on Shabbat and yet were held blameless (Matthew 12:5). I wonder when they rested? Of course, in the days of Jesus, the Priests worked on a rotational basis, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as all that. However, what about Rabbis working on Shabbat? But I digress.

I wonder if Pastor or anyone else at church would consider actually observing a Saturday Shabbat as “legalistic,” particularly if observed from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday and abstaining from some form of the Melachot or the thirty-nine types of work traditionally forbidden on Shabbos? Would it be legalistic to observe Shabbat because it honors God as the Creator rather than just because we need a rest?

Christianity didn’t switch Shabbat from Saturday to Sunday, they eliminated it altogether. Few Christians treat Sunday the way a religious Jew observes Shabbat, not even close. I think the church surrendering the Sabbath and its traditional observance was like Christianity shooting itself in the foot. Could you imagine the enormous relief and freedom we could experience if we didn’t choose to treat Sunday pretty much like any other day of the week?

That’s pretty much what I’m going to be addressing at church for the next two months. I’m actually kind of excited to hear what Pastor is going to say about the Festivals, but I’m also kind of dreading how it’s going to play in Sunday School. I’m going to go. In some ways, I really want to go. And I’m going to give input. People have become aware of my basic leanings and seem to be OK with it, but this will be the real test.

People are going to find out that in my own small way, I do observe the Festivals. My wife and kids being Jewish, we have a family seder each spring and I build a sukkah in our backyard each fall. I eat matzah instead of leavened products for the eight days of unleavened bread. And although I don’t always fast on Yom Kippur, I have done so periodically in solidarity with the Jewish people.

Too bad this didn’t come up before Tisha B’Av.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say after next Sunday’s message and Bible school study. This is where my real life experience and the mission illustrated in Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David intersect, hopefully not to forcefully, though.