Today we celebrate the feast of weeks, or Shavuot, or better known as Pentecost.
Pentecost is actually an Old Testament festival. Pentecost took place, as Leviticus 23 instructs, on the 50th day after the feast of unleavened bread.
Pentecost simply means ‘fiftieth’. The Hebrew name Shavuot means weeks – the counting of the weeks – 7 weeks from the feat of unleavened bread.
The feast of weeks was a festival which required the presence of all males in Jerusalem – therefore it was an important festival. People would come with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest and of other crops. They would then bake two loaves of leavened bread and bring them to the temple as a wave offering to the Lord. It says in Lev 23 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.
But the Feast of Weeks also has another significance. During the exile, when the Israelites could not bring the first fruits as an offering, Shavuot became the celebration of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. According to the Bible account this happens around the 50th day of the Israelites leaving Egypt. So the first Penecost, from the Jewish perspective, takes place in Exodus 19 – On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.
So by Jesus’ day, Shavout was a celebration of both the giving of the Law and of the reliance the Israelites had upon God for the provision of the harvest and the food they ate.
One of the things we have to understand about the festival’s in the Old Testament is that they are dress rehearsals. The Israelites were meant to keep the festivals as a reminder of what was to come. They were memorials of what had happened in the past as well as reminders of what will happen in the future. So Passover was celebrated for 1500 years as a memorial to the killing of the lamb by whose blood the Israelites were saved from judgment. But Passover was a dress rehearsal of what Jesus would do on the cross – the lamb that takes away the sin of the world.
Pentecost was a memorial of the provision of God in giving the Israelites all they needed, both in terms of physical food – the harvest and spiritual food, the Torah. The Israelites would come to the temple on Pentecost – or Shavuot, in the hope that today would be the day Ezekiel prophesied a new spirit would be given – the day of Spiritual Renewal – the day when God would provide the new covenant – the day the Spirit is written on the hearts of the people.
For 1500 years the Israelites had left the festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost disappointed because the New Spirit had not been given.
But now, on this Pentecost the promise was fulfilled.
You know, the Jewish midrash has a fascinating piece about what happened on the day God gave Moses the law. Exodus 19 tells us that when God comes to the mountain there was smoke, fire and a cloud as well as the mountain trembling. But the Midrash teaches that when the law was given flames of fire came down on each individual and God spoke in every language known to man.
Now, whether or not the Midrash records a real event or is just apocryphal is irrelevant. The Jews in the temple in Acts 2, and the disciples, would have known this account very well. It would have been apart of their whole framework for Shavuot..
Therefore what happens at this particular Pentecost in Acts 2 carried deep significance and prophetic fulfillment.
Now, many commentators will argue that the house the disciples are in is in fact the temple. Peter tells the crowd that the disciples were not drunk because it was only 9:00am – the third hour. Well the third hour was when you went to the temple for the morning sacrifice. And we know that the early believers gathered everyday at the temple for the times of prayer. So, possibly, the people in the temple offering their morning praises to God have heard the sound of the Spirit – the wind and might roar and may even have felt the shaking of the temple and now they hear the commotion and the testimony of the disciples speaking in all the tongues of the world. The room shaking, the tongues of fire, the wind and most importantly the speaking in different tongues would have immediately brought to mind both Exodus 19 AND the Midrash account of the giving of the law at Sinai.
Let’s spend a few moments thinking about the symbolism and significance of the loaves which would have been offered that day in the temple. The bringing of the first fruits and the presentation of the two loaves of bread is a sign of dedication to God. How? Despite working hard to plow a field and plant the seeds, the farmer, the people, are never the one responsible for the harvest – that it is God’s blessing. The first fruits and the bread acknowledge everything comes from him and that all we have is from him. And instead to taking the first fruits and eating it as if they were the ones who had done the hard work and so deserved the benefits of the first part of the harvest, the people offer it to God.
But in light of what Jesus had done and who he said he was, the loaves real symbolism becomes very clear.
The loaves were a first fruit offering. This is very powerful symbol for us as christians. Who was the first fruits? Jesus. He rises from the dead on the feast of first fruits as the first fruit from the dead. Paul says in 1 Cor 15 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Also, Bread is the major source of sustenance. How does Jesus refer to himself in John 6? As the bread of life! Jesus invites us to eat of his body and drink of his blood – Jesus is the ultimate and eternal sustenance. Finally, the bread was leavened. This is the only time leaven was accepted as an offering within a festival of the Lord. Also, Just 49 days previously the Jews had diligently removed ALL leaven from their homes and had celebrated the festival of unleavened bread. Many times in the Bible leaven is a picture of sin and indeed the festival of unleavened bread was a symbol of God removing their sin. Don’t forget that it is during the feast of unleavened bread that Jesus is in the tomb dealing with our sin. But leaven is not ALWAYS a picture of sin. We should realize this because nothing impure can be offered in the temple as a sacrifice. What other symbol can leaven represent? Well, Jesus uses the picture of leaven in relation to the Holy Spirit. Matthew 13:33 The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.
For 1500 years the Israelites had been enacting, doing a dress rehearsal for what would happen to those who accepted God and received the Spirit upon them at this Pentecost.
On this pentecost – the offering of the bread pictures those who have recognized the revelation of God and the provision of God in Jesus Christ. It pictures those who have leavened themselves with the Word of God through the Holy Spirit.
No wonder 3000 jews instantly believed!! They got it. They saw the connection and they understood.
As we remember Pentecost today we must remember and celebrate God’s provision for us – his provision in our lives, his provision in giving us the word of God and his provision of the Holy Spirit which makes his word live in our hearts. One of the powerful effects of offering first fruits is freedom from ones own self aggrandizement. It’s an acknowledgment that we are not responsible for what we have – God is. We are not responsible for our blessings – our income – our skill and abilities. We have simply been blessed by God. By giving the first portion of what we receive to God we acknowledge it’s not about us. A Jewish Rabbinic saying says Who is a freeman? One who is enslaved to God’s word! Pentecost is about putting God at the center of our lives and not ourselves. And that is the whole point of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us!!
When we believe in Christ we are instantly filled with his Spirit but as Christians it is not until we offer ourselves to the Lord – when we give the first fruits of ourselves completely over to the Lord, when we remove self from the center of our lives that we will start to be molded and effected by the Spirit. There are Christians who while saved, are not allowing the Spirit to move and fill them because they still live for themselves. They think they are in charge. They believe they are the ones responsible for their life and destiny. Christians who think like this will receive no benefit from having the Spirit in them. Just like many of the jews and religious leaders in Jesus’ day Christians are missing what God is doing around them because they have not submitted themselves to the Spirit. How do we submit to the Spirit? Primarily in following and doing what the Bible says we should do. Not the bits of the Bible we like – but all of it. Going back to that first pentecost in Exodus 19 just listen to what God says to the people and listen to their response: Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
And it is only when we say All that the Lord has spoken we will do will the Spirit minister to us, in us and through us. Only then will we will be able to do what Jesus asks us to do: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.
He sent the disciples in the power of the Spirit and he sends us in the power of the Spirit.
Ultimately, the purpose of our salvation, the purpose of giving us the Holy Spirit is service to God. Are we living our lives in service to God? We have been saved, we have been given the Holy Spirit not to serve ourselves, but so that we might walk in obedience to God’s commandments and serve him and him only.
That is the purpose of Pentecost and that is what we should commit ourselves to this morning.