Secrets of the Feasts: Pentecost

1How are you feeling today? Are you full of energy and strength? I have to admit. There are days when I feel just the opposite, especially on those mornings when I haven’t slept well the night before. In fact, I was talking to a friend about this the other day, who is usually full of energy and strength, but due to the pain of a neck injury, he hasn’t slept much the last few weeks. But life goes on, and he has had to work anyway. And we both agreed. When you get that tired, it’s tough to feel good about anything. Because as men, we like to feel that we have what it takes to get the job done. But when you’re walking around in a daze, having trouble concentrating on what you’re doing, it’s frustrating, discouraging, and sometimes very depressing.

The prophet Elijah knew what that was like, you’ll remember. After single-handedly battling and defeating four hundred prophets of Baal, he was so tired that all it took was a simple death threat from Queen Jezebel and he wanted to die. And we are like that too! As Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Packers, used to warn his men, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all!” It can also turn us into curmudgeons and complainers who feel sorry for ourselves. But what we need to remember is that other people are going through the very same thing. In fact, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I read somewhere that ninety percent of that work that gets done in this country is done by tired people. And I think that’s probably true.

The other thing I forget is how much harder some people have it than I. For example, I read an excerpt the other day from an article by Joni Eareckson Tada. For those who haven’t heard of her, she is a Christian woman who at age 18 misjudged the shallowness of the water while diving and fractured her spine between the fourth and fifth vertebrae and has been a quadriplegic confined to a wheel chair ever since. As she went through rehabilitation, she suffered severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and lots of doubts about her faith. But then by the grace of God, she began to find meaning in life again. She learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, starred in a film about her experience, written over 40 books, and been a great champion for the disabled. Here’s what she says about herself in a recent article called “Joy Hard Won.”

2“Honesty is always the best policy, but especially when you’re surrounded by a crowd of women in a restroom during a break at a Christian women’s conference. One woman, putting on lipstick, said, “Oh, Joni, you always look so together, so happy in your wheelchair. I wish I had your joy!” Several women around her nodded. “How do you do it?” she asked as she capped her lipstick. “I don’t do it,” I said. “In fact, may I tell you honestly how I woke up this morning? This is an average day,” I breathed deeply. “After my husband Ken leaves for work at 6:00 a.m., I’m alone until I hear the front door open at 7:00 a.m. That’s when a friend arrives to get me up. “While I listen to her make coffee, I pray, ’Lord, my friend will soon give me a bath, dress me, sit me up in my chair, brush my hair and teeth, and send me out the door. I don’t have the strength to face this routine one more time. I have no resources. I don’t have a smile to take into the day. But you do. May I have yours? God, I need you desperately.’”

“So, what happens when your friend comes through the bedroom door?” one of them asked. “I turn my head toward her and give her a smile straight from heaven. It’s not mine. It’s God’s. So,” I said, gesturing to my paralyzed legs, “whatever joy you see today was hard won this morning.” I have learned that the weaker we are, the more we need to lean on God; and the more we lean on God, the stronger we discover him to be.

That is true strength. For the power of God is not proven in how physically, mentally, or spiritually capable we are; it’s demonstrated in how we respond to our weaknesses and whether or not we let the love and joy of the Holy Spirit shine through us even when we’re hurting, and many of us are. Many of us have suffered great hurts and heartaches in life, some of which continue to afflict us this very morning. Think back to Jacob the patriarch and you’ll remember God intentionally put his hip out of joint so that he walked with a limp the rest of his life. Why? So that henceforth he’d learn to depend upon God’s power rather than his own scheming ways. And God came through for him in ways beyond his imagination. And friend, the Lord Jesus Christ will do the same for you and me if we learn to depend upon His power and not our own.

3That’s the focus of our study this morning. In studying the feasts of Israel the last few weeks, we’ve seen in them the grace, the peace, and the hope that come from the Spirit of Christ. But today the spiritual fruit pictured for us is His power, seen in the fourth feast of Israel. By way of review, you’ll remember that each of the feasts is a visual aid foreshadowing the work of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. Passover, the first feast, pictured His death for our sins as the Lamb of God. Unleavened Bread pictured His burial and our sins that were buried with Him forever. Then last week it was the Feast of Firstfruits picturing His mighty resurrection from the dead and our coming resurrection with Him when He returns.

But today we come to the fourth feast, which is the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost picturing the power of the Holy Spirit. To see that, there are three major points I want us to work through together—the Law, the Spirit, and the Power. So open your Bibles with me to Leviticus 23:15, and let’s see what the Law has to say about this feast.6

1.            The Law

The Lord is speaking to Moses here and says, “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; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.” A few important things to notice here: First, the name of the feast in Hebrew is Shavuot, and it was to take place seven weeks (that’s why it was called the Feast of Weeks) after the last feast, the Feast of Firstfruits when the barley harvest was dedicated in the Temple. But notice this feast is to take place not on Saturday the Sabbath but on Sunday the day after the Sabbath. So there are actually 50 days between the Feast of Firstfruits and this feast, the Feast of Weeks. That’s why it became known as Pentecost, because the word Pentecost in Greek means fifty—fifty for fifty days. As you see in verse 16, this feast also took place during one of the harvests in Israel—not the barley harvest this time, but the wheat harvest that took place 50 days later in the spring. And again, once the crop had ripened, they were to offer the firstfruits to God in the Temple.

But this time they were to bring the firstfruits, not in the form of sheaves, but as two loaves of baked bread with leaven added to it now. Why add leaven? Messianic rabbis (those who have turned to Yeshua as Messiah) say the reason is because this bread pictures the people of God, not Jesus, and we still have sin in our lives until we receive new glorified bodies at the Rapture. So leaven is added to the bread to remind us of that. Many rabbis believe also that the two loaves picture Jew and Gentile in the family of God, who were once two separate peoples, but are now one body in Christ.

4Another fact that is important to remember is that this was the second feast at which all the men of Israel were to appear before the Lord in the Temple, which means Jesus celebrated it every year in Jerusalem, first with Mary and Joseph and his younger half-brothers and sisters and later with His disciples. They were some of the poor folk the Lord had in mind when He commanded, “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.”

By the way, this is also one of the great feasts the Jewish people continue to celebrate in their synagogues today. One of their traditions is “counting the days of the omer.” “Omer” is the ancient Hebrew term for the sheaves of a harvested crop. So, in obedience to the Lord’s command to count the days between Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks, each Sabbath in the synagogue the people faithfully count aloud the 50 days of omer while the wheat is still ripening in the field. Special omer counters, kind of like our advent calendars, are used to keep track of the 50 days until the feast begins.

5People also decorate their homes and synagogues with flowers and greenery to symbolize the harvest and picture the Torah as a tree of life. The reason they celebrate the Torah on this day is because the Jewish people believe it was on this day, the Feast of Weeks, that God first gave the Ten Commandments to Moses.

For that reason they also serve special holiday desserts on this day like cheesecake and cheese blintzes symbolizing the sweetness of the Law which the Scripture says is like milk and honey. You see, the Law tends to get a bad rap today from those who despise authority or have been hurt by legalistic Christians in the past. And that’s understandable. But that isn’t how the Jews think of the Law.

9The Jews believe that the Law was a beautiful gift from God, because rightly understood, the Law was never a condition for their salvation. God saved them out of Egypt and gave them a relationship with Himself before the Law was ever given. What the Law provided was stability and structure for them as a people as well as protection from evil, because unlike the pagan nations around them with their petty dictators who could take a life and commit other atrocities at a whim, God’s people were safe and secure because their rulers were also subject to the Law.

It’s also important as we come to the fulfillment of this feast to remember how the Law was first given to Israel. Exodus 20:18 says the people saw fire and thunder coming out of Mount Sinai as God spoke to them. In fact, His voice was so frightening that they begged Moses to make it stop and to speak to them instead. The Midrash also says (the ancient Hebrew commentary on the Law), and I’m quoting it here: “On the occasion of the giving of the Torah, the children of Israel not only heard God’s voice, they saw the sound waves as they emerged from His mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. As each commandment left God’s mouth, it traveled around the entire camp and came back to each Jew individually. All the people saw the thunderings.” In fact, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai, one of the great rabbis from the 1st Century added this about it. “When the Lord spoke, His voice split into 70 different voices in 70 different languages, so that all the nations around them could understand it as well.

10Now obviously no one can say for sure if what the Midrash says actually happened, because the Midrash isn’t Scripture, and Scripture alone is reliable. But what we do know for sure is that everyone in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost knew the Midrash, and that that was in their minds when the Holy Spirit came upon them with tongues of fire. So let’s see how all of this was fulfilled on that day.

2.            The Spirit

Acts 2:1 describes it like this. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” So, like the first three feasts we’ve studied, there are parallels between the fulfillment of this feast and how it first occurred in the Old Testament. There was the noise of a loud wind from heaven that attracted a huge crowd. And as the Holy Spirit swept through the house, people saw tongues of fire resting on those who had gathered together for prayer and were now declaring the mighty works of God.

7Furthermore, as we read farther in this chapter, we find a similarity between what the Midrash says about the giving of the Law and what the book of Acts tells us about the giving of the Spirit. Verse 11 says all the people who came from the nations around them to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem heard the Word of God spoken in their very own languages, which was an amazing miracle that immediately grabbed their attention and made them want to hear more about it. So you’ll remember, Peter, who was filled with fear just days before and denied that he even knew Jesus, was now filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly seized this opportunity to declare to them that Jesus is Lord, calling all of them to repent and turn to Christ.

What amazing thing happened when he did? Verse 37 says the crowd was cut to the heart when they realized that they had crucified their Messiah. As a result, 3,000 of them repented immediately, were baptized and added to the church that day. And that’s significant! Why? Because that’s the number of people who died when the Law was given! The people of Israel rebelled against the Lord by worshiping the golden calf and 3,000 died as a result! But here it’s grace that is poured out, not judgment, as a sign that everything has now changed. “For,” as John writes, “the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” That’s the difference between law and grace. 3,000 died at the giving of the Law, while 3,000 received eternal life at the giving of the Spirit. Because as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 3, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life!” You can see that too in the way the people responded to the two different events. When the Law was given at Mount Sinai, the people tried to flee from the voice of God. But when the Spirit was poured out on Mount Zion, the people flocked to the disciples to hear more about this gospel of truth and grace.

8But the most important fact about the fulfillment of this feast is who sent the Spirit into the world that day. The answer is Jesus! Following His resurrection, Luke says He appeared to His disciples for 40 days teaching them from the Scriptures how all of the Old Testament was fulfilled in Him. Then following those 40 days, He told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the Promise of the Father. That’s 50 days in all. 40 days of instruction followed by 10 days of praying for the Promise of the Father to be granted. What was the Promise of the Father? The gift of the Holy Spirit which God’s people had been waiting and praying for since Jeremiah first promised it 600 years before. It’s the promise that the Law would now be written on our hearts by the Spirit of God, so that we would have the power to know and do the will of God.

The giving of the Spirit also happens to be the final proof that Jesus is the Lord of life with all authority given to Him on heaven and on earth. For who else could give us the Spirit but the same Lord who thundered from Mount Sinai and now fills us with power from on high! John 3:34 says, “He whom God has sent speaks the words of God for He gives the Spirit without measure!” Jesus gives us the Spirit without measure as living proof of His victory and exaltation to the throne of heaven. Ephesians 4:8 puts it like this: “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives and gave gifts to men.” That’s a metaphor from Psalm 68 describing how a conquering general led a captured army through the streets of his home city demonstrating his victory over the enemy. And that’s what Jesus did by His resurrection and ascension into heaven. He demonstrated His victory over Satan and all the powers of hell proving forever that He is Lord of both heaven and earth. And then, because He’s such a gracious Savior, what was the first thing He did for us His people? He gave us gifts of the Holy Spirit to fill us with His power and His joy! So let’s finish by looking at what that involves.

3.            The Power

We began this study with a humble admission that you and I are weak and that we don’t have the power to serve God in and of ourselves. That isn’t my opinion. That’s the statement of Jesus in John 15:5 where He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Now add to that the lesson we learned from the loaves of leavened bread—that you and I are still full of sin and self—and the question is: How can we ever empty ourselves enough of those things to be used by God? D.L. Moody the great evangelist illustrated it one day by holding an empty glass in his hand and asking the crowd, “How do I get the air out of this glass?” One man shouted, “Suck it out with a pump!” “No,” Moody explained, “that’d create a vacuum and shatter the glass.” Several other suggestions were made until Moody answered the question himself.

11He picked up a pitcher of water and poured it into the glass. “There,” he said, “now the air is completely gone.” He then explained that the way to have power with God is not by trying to eliminate every sin from our lives; it’s by being filled with the Holy Spirit. He was right! You and I will never be free of sin until we stand before the Lord in glory. But in the meantime, God has given us a powerful way to overcome sin and accomplish great things for Him. And that’s the filling of the Holy Spirit.

So let’s notice two ways He does that. The first way is described in Ephesians 5:18 where Paul uses the word pleroo and commands us, “Do not be drunk with wine in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” The word for “fill” here has the idea of growth and maturity and is in the present tense describing ongoing continual action. Paul is saying, “Be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit and little by little you’ll find yourself bearing more and more of His fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—and thereby growing to be like Jesus Himself in all that you think, do, and say. This is the maturing work of the Spirit that takes place as we yield more and more of our lives to Him. We get more and more of Him as He gains more and more control over us.

But it’s the second type of filling I want to emphasize before we head back into the world this afternoon, because this is the filling that the world so desperately needs from us. It’s found in the second word pimplemi referring not to the maturing ministry of the Spirit but to His sudden and mighty empowerment for ministry. It’s the word in Acts 2 where it says they were all “filled” with the Holy Spirit and began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance. This word refers to a single event in which great power is released for ministry like Peter on the Day of Pentecost. And frankly, that’s the kind of power we don’t see much of in the church today. As A. W. Tozer, the writer/prophet bemoaned, “There are many churches so lacking in the power of God that if the Holy Spirit withdrew from them, they wouldn’t find out for many months.”

12Why do we lack that kind of power? One simple reason: We do not ask for it. Let’s not make that mistake. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” So let’s ask Him for the Holy Spirit and all the power that comes with Him, not for our own enjoyment or entertainment, but so that we too can do great works for God like those first believers did on the Day of Pentecost.

(To download or read a written copy of this message, click Written Message. To download or listen to the audio version of this message, click Audio Message.)

Sources used in this sermon series: “The Seven Feasts of Israel” by Zola Levitt, “Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts” by Richard Booker, “Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts” by Michael Norten, “Life Principles for Worship from the Feasts of Israel” by Rick Shepherd, and “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” by Alfred Edersheim.

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