Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Happy Shavuot!

Tuesday May 18 (Sivan 5) is Shavuot Eve
Today is Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks. You may be more familiar with its English name: Pentecost. 
Acts 2:1-5 “When the Day of Shavuot had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.”

Do you know why it says “had fully come”? 
Every day for the last 49 days, Peter, John, and all of the Jews had counted off the days until Shavuot. This time interval of 50 days became known as counting the Omer. It spanned the time between the First Fruits of the Barley Harvest and the First Fruits of the Wheat harvest. Omer is the word for the sheaf (bundle) of grain that was presented in the Temple during First Fruits. So, when this countdown of 50 days had fully come, the Jewish disciples were in the Temple. Do you know what Shavuot celebrates? The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The tie-in to Acts chapter 2 is awesome. See if you can catch the parallels here:
Exodus 19:16-21 “Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who [were] in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai [was] completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. ... And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain.”

The following two paragraphs come from First Fruits of Zion:
“According to one ancient tradition, when God gave the Ten Commandments, His voice spoke them in all languages of the world. According to another legend, His words came forth as visible torches of fire, which came to every Jew individually.
In Acts 2, The Holy Spirit fell upon them in the form of tongues of fire. The torches of fire came to rest on each individual disciple. The miracle is a clear allusion to the legend of God’s fiery voice at Mount Sinai. In addition, subsequent to receiving the fiery Spirit of God, the disciples found themselves proclaiming the Gospel in every language. The miracle of speaking in all tongues is another allusion to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Whether or not the tradition of the seventy languages and the fiery words preserve actual historical memories of the Mount Sinai experience is not of great consequence. It is consequential, however, to remember that the disciples and followers of Yeshua were all well aware of the Shavuot legends. We can only assume that those legends predate the book of Acts; otherwise, the allusions would be meaningless. Thus, the disciples must have known the story of the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. They knew the story of the words of fire resting on each individual on Shavuot. They knew the story of God’s voice speaking to all mankind in every language on Shavuot. Therefore, the miracles, signs and wonders that came upon them in Acts chapter 2 carried deep significance. The tongues of fire and the speaking in every tongue were both direct allusions to the receiving of the Torah. God was underscoring the inseparable relationship between His Holy Spirit and His Holy Torah.”
I think that when most Christians read or hear about something like this, they immediately file it away in their "interesting history - but no longer relevant today" cubbyhole and forget about it. Why do we do that? This is where Luther’s baggage comes in. 
The early centuries saw the Christian balance of power shift from the Jewish birthed New Testament to the Gentile dominated Holy Roman Empire. In this wrenching transition, the empire chose to relegate the Jews (and Messianic Jews) and their Law to the trash heap of history and forbade Christians from eating “at the dump”, so to speak. They convened councils and enacted rules against the Jews that would not see their equal until the Nazis replicated their restrictions 1600 years later. 
The promise of Genesis 12:3 (“I will curse him who curses you”) came true throughout Europe as the very literal Dark Ages plunged the people into a time of feudal ignorance. It would languish through the Crusades, Inquisitions, and papal politics until a few brave souls dared to shine the light of God’s Word on the sins of the church. But the candle that Luther lit sputtered as the wax and wick subsided and the shadows returned in different forms. I recently read a translated version of Luther's notorious pamphlet “On the Jews and Their Lies” and was quite disgusted to say the least. While the vitriolic nature of it was by and large not carried forward literally by subsequent denominations, the idea that the Law was replaced by Grace in Christendom was heartily adopted. Why study, teach, and follow something which represents the awareness of sin when you can skip over it and go straight to the Promised Land of Freedom and Salvation? 
What is one end result? Shavuot came and went this year and I imagine that few Church bulletins mentioned it. If Pentecost was preached on at all, the emphasis was on the giving of the Spirit (which is super important) and the birthing of the Church (which is also key), but its parallels with the giving of the Torah were overlooked. If you read the opening posts of this blog, you’ll remember that Heinrich brought a calendar in the carpetbag to Luther. It was not the Biblical one, but one the Church compiled. 
Which one are we following? 

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