Jun 4, 2006

Happy Birthday, Called Out Ones!

Today is the day of Pentecost, according to God's Word. Most Christians know that God sent His Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, but there really is much more to it than that.

Leviticus 23 outlines all of God's holy days for us. The timing for Pentecost is tricky, and it took me several years to get it figured out (at least, I think I have it figured out now!). We need to start at verse 5, where God first explains Passover, which is on Nisan 14 (around March/April timeframe), which is Christ's death. God then explains that Nisan 15, the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread which lasts for 7 days, is a day of holy convocation, or a Sabbath day. The Sabbath can mean the last day of the week (Saturday) or it can mean a holy day, certain holidays God sets aside to be holy. Then in verse 11, He explains about the Feast of Early First Fruits, which is Christ's resurrection. This takes place on the day after the Sabbath. Which Sabbath? The first regular sabbath after the holy Sabbath of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so generally it is the first Saturday after Passover. So the Feast of Early First Fruits (Christ's resurrection) is to take place on the first Sunday after Passover.

Now we come to verse 15, which tells us how to count the days until Pentecost. "And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath." So to figure out the right date, we start with Passover, go to the first Sunday after the first Sabbath after Passover, and count 50 days to the day after the 7th Sabbath. Normal Sabbaths are always on Saturday, so the day after would have to always be on a Sunday.

(I digress here: I have heard both sides of the "worship on the Sabbath/worship on Sunday" argument. With both Early First Fruits (Christ's resurrection) and Latter First Fruits (Pentecost) ALWAYS falling on a Sunday, this is the strongest argument FOR Sunday that I see in Scripture. I, personally, have not come to a firm conclusion either way at this point.)

I put so much into figuring out the date because if you look on a calendar, you will find Pentecost on any day of the week, and the beginning of the counting time doesn't always seem to mean anything either. Even Jewish calendars do not use God's reckoning of time for Pentecost. My Jewish calendar says it falls on June 2 this year, while God's time would put it on Sunday, June 4. We'll see more later about why that is important.

The very first Pentecost (Greek for 50 days) , or Feast of Weeks (counting the 7 weeks), or Feast of Latter First Fruits (wheat harvest), or Shavuot (hebrew name), took place 50 days into the wilderness trek, when Moses brought the Law down to the Israelites. God writing the Law in stone was a very significant day for all Israel, but they were impatient in waiting for it and easily turned to idolatry and wicked, vile behavior before Moses returned. So God told the sons of Levi to put every man to the sword for this wickedness and about 3000 were killed that first day of Pentecost.

Fast forward about 1476 years to the second major Pentecost festival, which is one of the 3 main Feasts that God requires all Jewish men to attend in Jerusalem each year. Acts 2 is the famous "birthday of the church" event, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon all who believed. What an incredible fulfilling of the prophecies of Pentecost! Until this time, God's chosen people were Israel. There were a few Gentiles here and there who chose to believe in God, such as Ruth, but those who mostly belonged to God were Jews. On the day of Pentecost, Peter said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Not only did God send His Holy Spirit on Pentecost, but He chose this day to include Gentiles in His family, as many as He will call. The word church, as used in Acts 2, literally means the "called out ones," which is different from the other New Testament uses of the English word church, which usually means "belonging to the Lord." Although Pentecost is recognized as the birthday of the church, there were really already many people, mostly Jews and a few gentiles, who belonged to the Lord before Pentecost, but now God was calling out both Jews and Gentiles.

Although God wrote His Law on stone on the first Pentecost, He wrote His Law on our hearts of flesh on the second great Pentecost. And while the Levites killed 3000 souls that first Pentectost, after Peter preached his great sermon, Acts 2 tells us that about 3000 souls were added to them that day. What a restoration!

Leviticus 23:17 tells us to celebrate Pentecost with "two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD." In other words, bake 2 loaves of leavened bread, 16 cups of flour each, and wave them before the Lord as an offering. We use unleavened bread at Passover as a symbol of the sacrifice Lamb being without sin; we use leavened bread at Pentecost as a symbol of believers still being sinful. The 2 loaves represent the Jews and the Gentiles, coming together for the first time. So we now have sinful Jews and sinful Gentiles, together, with the Holy Spirit, as the called out ones, believers together in Christ Jesus, believers with God's Law written on our hearts of flesh, celebrating Christ's resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the called out ones both on the first day of the week, Sunday.

Have you ever wondered why this great Acts 2 sermon included references to King David's death and burial and tomb? It is well known among the Jews that King David died on Pentecost, so his death is commemorated that day as well; hence, Peter would naturally have mentioned it in his sermon.

Another aspect of Pentecost is found in Leviticus 23:22 - "‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God.’” This is a time of year to focus on helping the poor and the strangers, especially the widows.

Most Jews celebrate Pentecost by reading the book of Ruth. Not only was Ruth probably the most well-known Gentile convert before Pentecost, this story takes place at the time of the harvest, which is a main part of the celebration of Pentecost, and it explicitly tells about Ruth gleaning from the corners of the field, but also of helping the poor and the stranger. We read the book of Ruth aloud today, with a new perspective!

Leviticus 23:21 tells us that Pentecost "shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. " The Law, the Holy Spirit, the harvest, the union of the Jews and Gentiles together in Christ. There are many great reasons to celebrate God's holy day of Pentecost!

2 comments:

Mark Epstein said...

Jennifer,

Great post! I haven't decided on the Sabbath vs. Sunday debate either. However, since Sabbath is mentioned in the Ten Commandments, and the first followers of Christ met in the Synagogues and Temple in Jerusalem on the Sabbath, I'm leaning towards the Sabbath. Obviously, June 2 this year was the Sabbath (Friday night at sun down), and we still have difficulty reconcilling the Lunar and Gregorian calendars. Frankly, maybe we should return to the Lunar calendar so we can rid ourselves of all these pagan names for the days of the week. ;~}

Jen said...

Yes, we just studied how all the days of the week got their names last week. We also ordered a book on how the current calendar came into being. It looks real good!