SHAVUOT/PENTECOST

SHAVUOT/PENTECOST

This may seem like an ancient and outdated Jewish Feast grafted-inday to most, but to me it is a very important day. It is, of all the appointed ancient Jewish Feast days, a day which all believers in Jesus Christ should continue to celebrate.

But one must travel back in time to understand just how significant it is. We go back to the book of Ruth, which all observant Jews will read during Shavuot. Ruth is a love story of monumental importance. It is the story of two women, one a Jew and one a Gentile. It is a story of two women whose lives had been turned upside down by tragedy and death leaving both alone in a man’s world—in a dangerous land. Just before we read about the story of these two women, a profoundly disturbing statement had been made in the book just before Ruth—the book of the Judges. It sets the stage for this little seemingly insignificant story of two women informing us of the condition of the land of Israel at this time. “And there was no king in Israel in those days; everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Everyone did what was right in their own eyes

Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. This was Israel, the chosen Land where Yahweh had written His name. The Land where His people had forgotten Him and chosen to go their own way. There was a famine in the land and a woman named Naomi and her husband Elimelech (which means God is king), left the Land and traveled to Moab (today it is called Jordan), to try to scratch out a living. God had forbidden the Jews to live in Moab because the inhabitants of that land had refused to allow the wandering Jews to set up camp to rest during their journey to the Promised Land and also because the Moabite king had tried to curse Israel. The Moabites worshipped the demonic god Molech, who required women to sacrifice their children by burning them to death. But it was a time when everyone did what was right in their own eyes, and so Elimelech took his wife to Moab, where Naomi gave birth to two sons, Mahlon and Chilion (whose names mean sickly and pining). These two men had married Moabite women, something else that was forbidden by God. Not only were they Gentile women, they were Moabite women—worshippers of another god and enemies of Israel.

Then tragedy came to the house of Naomi. Her husband died. And then her two sons died. She was alone in a foreign land responsible for her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. It was the lowest point in her life, she had lost everything and she had no children or grandchildren who would care for her in her widowhood. Women didn’t work to earn a living in those days. There were no men to provide for her. By “coincidence” she heard that the famine in Israel had ended and so she decided to make her way back to her native land. It would have been a treacherous journey and the likelihood that she would even make it was slim to nonexistent. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their own people but Ruth refused. A familiar little passage comes out of this story when Ruth tells Naomi “Where you go I will go and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth chose to give up everything that was familiar in her life—her land, her people, her family, her mother and father and sisters and brothers, her chance to ever marry again, and even her religion, to set out on a treacherous journey to a foreign land where she would only face rejection from the people because she was a Moabite foreigner and a complete outcast.

Why?

That is the question isn’t it? Why? Because there was a God in Israel and He had not forgotten His people even though they had forgotten Him. He was behind the scenes orchestrating the circumstances to put into place the next piece of the cosmic puzzle. This God had a plan bigger than these two widows could possibly imagine and their story continues to impact us today. His plan, from the beginning of Genesis, was to bring a promised Deliverer into the world through a people He called the Hebrews, through a specific tribe of the Hebrews, the tribe of Judah, and from one specific family of that tribe. This lineage can be traced throughout the Scripture. We would imagine that God would only use the designated tribe and family to continue this lineage—only the most perfect of the tribe—but as He often does, He stepped completely out of character and allowed people into the story who were outcasts in Israel—a Gentile prostitute, Rahab; a Moabite Gentile, Ruth; an adulteress Bathsheba. For some reason, God stepped out of the prescribed “box” and brought these fallen, outcast women into the lineage of the promised Messiah.

Ruth traveled with Naomi back to Israel, specifically back to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem (“house of bread”), and by a series of strange “coincidences” she married a wealthy Jewish landowner, Boaz, who happened to be a near relative of Naomi which meant that he was obligated to provide for this widow of his relative. Again, out of the prescribed “box” of the law of Israel, instead of marrying Naomi, he married Ruth and at that moment, a Gentile outcast, was grafted into the tribe of Judah, and she gave birth to Obed who became the father of Jesse who became the father of David who became the great, great, great (?) grandfather of Jesus Christ the Messiah.

Jesus came to the Land of Israel, born in the city of Bethlehem. Scholars believe He was born near the same field that Boaz had owned and where he met Ruth. It is believed in fact that the shepherds in that field on the night Messiah was born, were tending their sheep in the field of Boaz which you can still visit today. A fulfillment of a prophecy that God had set in motion thousands of years before—fulfilled to the very last detail.

What does this have to do with Shavuot—Pentecost—that is being celebrated today?

Jesus the long awaited Jewish Messiah, had fulfilled every detail of the Feast days of Passover (Pesach). He was the spotless, sinless Lamb, introduced as the King of Israel four days prior to the Passover sacrifice, proven as a pure Lamb by the questioning and examining of the rulers who found Him “faultless” which qualified Him for the sacrifice. He was the “Unleavened Bread” who went into the temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers symbolizing the cleaning out the leaven of the temple. His blood was shed on the day of the offering of the sacrificial lambs—Passover, which memoralizes the blood on the doorposts of the Jews in their escape from Egypt—the last plague when the angels of death would see the blood on the doorposts and “pass over” the houses marked with the blood. He died and shed His blood at the very same time the religious leaders in Jerusalem were shedding the blood of the innocent lambs in the temple and the high priests, after the last lamb was sacrificed would cry out “It is finished!” Jesus the Messiah would have cried out the same words on a cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem just at that moment. Three days later He rose victorious from death, fulfilling the third part of the celebration of Pesach, the offering of the first fruits. His life, death and resurrection fulfilled to the last detail all of the hidden pictures that the Jewish people have celebrated for thousands of years.

The next Feast on the Jewish calendar would be Shavuot, (Greek-Pentecost). This Feast was held 50 days after the day following First Fruits, and the Jews would begin the countdown by bringing a sheaf of Barley, the first fruits of their harvest, to the temple as an offering to the Lord every day for fifty days. Close to the time of the celebration of Shavuot, the Wheat harvest would begin and the last offering would be wheat. There would be a great celebration on the last day of the counting of the omer of the sheaves. It is the only Jewish Feast that was open to Gentiles.

However, on this particular Shavuot, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ from the dead, something completely different happened—something so extraordinary and supernatural that we miss the significance of it. Much emphasis is placed upon the fact that on that day, tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit descended upon the people and they all spoke in a different language, but the real miracle is that because Jews and Gentiles were there, celebrating together, and at the moment that the Holy Spirit came, the Gentiles were “grafted” in to the plans of God which had been reserved up to that point for the Jewish people. This grafting in (Romans 11:17), was in direct fulfillment to the hidden prophecies in the book of Ruth, a Gentile who was grafted in to the Jewish people. But in this fulfillment fifty days after Jesus the Messiah was resurrected from the dead, Jews and Gentiles together were brought as one people into the Kingdom of God—believers and followers of Jesus Christ who fulfilled every detail of every hidden prophecy found in the spring Jewish Feasts. There are three Feasts yet to be fulfilled—the Fall Feasts of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succoth. We are anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of those.

But why does this day matter to me? For many reasons, but most importantly because in 1989, a fallen woman (fallen many times over), an outcast from her church, a messed up, confused, lonely, and very ill woman, was grafted in to the fellowship of the body of Christ. This Messiah, Jesus, met me right in the middle of my fallen state and said, “Come and follow Me.” And I accepted His invitation and the miracle of Shavuot/Pentecost, happened in my own little insignificant life. And I have never been the same. Just as Ruth said to Naomi, “Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God,” I changed identities from messed up, confused, miserably unhappy, beginning to worship the false god of the New Age, to a “new creation” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). I am grafted in. Shavuot is my Feast Day. I am Ruth, betrothed to the mighty Boaz. The Jewish resurrected Messiah is my Messiah. I have faced many hardships and losses since that day, but if Jesus Christ never did another thing for me, this was enough. And He is coming again—sometime during one of the as-yet-to-be-fulfilled Fall Feasts, He is going to return. Hallelujah, what a Savior.

Chag Sameach.

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