[Family of four—Mom, Dad, two kids aged 8-12—enters the sanctuary. They are dressed for a summer outing and carry things for a picnic: lawn chairs, blanket, picnic basket. They also have Bibles.]
Child 2: [running ahead] Hey, everybody! I think this is the place.
< strong >Child 1: I don't think so. I think its further south.
< strong >Mom: It might be further south, but this is pretty nice. Lets set up here.
Child 1: Aw, Mom, youre always taking [his/her] side.
Child 2: She does not.
Child 1: Does too.
Dad: Hey, I thought we weren't going to have any arguing. What day is this anyway?
Child 1 and Child 2: [together] Shavuot. [pronounced "shav-oo-ought"] Pentecost.
Dad: That's right. It's a day of family closeness and celebration. Its a day of thanksgiving and peace. Remember?
Child 1 and Child 2: Yes.
Mom: OK then. Heres the place. [to Child 1] You set up the chairs and get the lamp lit. [to Child 2] You help me with the food. Dad is going to talk to those people out there. What time is it?
Child 1: 10:00.
Pastor: This family is going to reenact the kind of celebration that a contemporary Messianic Jewish family would do on the day of Pentecost. A Messianic Jewish family is one that is Jewish and is well connected with all of the traditions and celebrations of the Jewish culture but is also Christian, believing that Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) is in fact the Messiah that God promised long, long before.
It is a Saturday night in late May, seven weeks after celebrating the Passover and (usually) seven weeks after celebrating Easter, the day that Yeshua arose from the dead and proved for all who had the eyes to see and the heart to believe and understand that he was the Christ.
Why is the family going outside with lawn chairs and picnic basket and lantern at night? Let's listen in.
Dad: Well, how is it coming? It looks like a pretty good job to me. Who can tell me what we are doing and why we are doing it?
Child 1: It's Shavuot. The Feast of the Seven Weeks. Pentecost. We are going to stay up all night.
Dad: And . . .
Child 2: And we are going to get really sleepy.
Dad: And . . .
Child 1: And we are going to eat bread made from barley with honey, and also have milk and cheese and fruit.
Dad: Good. What else?
Child 2: We're going to play the shadow game.
Dad: And . . . [silence]
Mom: And the most important thing. We are going to study the Bible. All night long. Why do we study all night long, Dad?
Dad: The "all night long" part is based on legend, not on the Bible. But seven weeks after the children of Israel left Egypt, they came to Mount Sinai. And on the fiftieth day, God gave them the Ten Commandments. The legend says that instead of staying up in eager anticipation of hearing the Lord, as they should have, they went to bed early and slept late. So now, to make amends for that, Jews stay up all night and study. I tell you what. Why don't you guys look up Psalm 78:1-8 while the pastor tells these people some of the reasons why this is still a pretty good idea.
Pastor: Did you catch the parallels? Seven weeks after being granted freedom from Egypt, the children of Israel came to Mount Sinai. Seven weeks after Passover and the death of the sacrificial lamb they come to the place of the giving of the law. And on the fiftieth day, God shook the mountain.
That is one of the reasons the family goes out on a mountain or hill. Some people go out on the roofs of their houses. But the Lord shook the mountain and fire and thunder erupted. Smoke billowed out of the mountain and it trembled violently.
Now listen. Fifty days after Easter, fifty days after the final sacrificial lamb had been raised from the dead, fifty days after Christ won our deliverance from slavery to sin and death, God once again shook the earth. He sent fire and a mighty wind on the day of Pentecost. Peter quotes Joel to explain the mighty signs and wonders that they have seen: "I will pour out my spirit in those days, I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious days of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Some other fascinating parallels: When Moses descended from the mountain with the tablets of the law, the people were worshiping a golden calf. In his anger the Lord, through the avenging Levites, killed three thousand of the children of Israel. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended, three thousand were saved and were baptized.
You see God's wonderful timing. Pentecost in the New Testament is a fulfillment of Pentecost (Shavuot) in the Old Testament: This is the fulfillment of what the prophet Jeremiah said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them. . . . I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts."
Child 1: Hey, Dad, do you want me to read Psalm 78?
Dad: Yes, please.
Child 1: [he/she reads verses 1-6]
Mom: [to Child 2] What do you think that phrase "I will utter hidden things, things from of old . . . we will not hide them from our children" means?
Child 2: It means that it is important to tell about the great things that God did for us.
Mom: Thats right. But who are we supposed to tell them to?
Child 2: [looking at her Bible] Our children and our children's children.
Dad: Then it says, "He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children." Do you guys know your law? Your Ten Commandments?
Child 1: Most of them. No other gods before me. No graven images. Don't misuse the Lord's name. Remember the Sabbath.
Dad: [to Child 2] Do you know the others?
Child 2: Honor your father and mother. You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not lie, and you shall not covet what belongs to your neighbor.
Dad: Good. Now Lets turn to Jeremiah 31. What do you think it means when the Lord says in Jeremiah 31, "The time is coming when I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts"? [turns to Child 1]
Child 1: I don't know.
Dad: [turns to Child 2]
Child 2: I don't know.
Dad: Let me try it this way. When he says, "The time is coming when I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts instead of on stone tablets," what might that have to do with Christmas? A pretty hard question, I know, but think about it. Here's a big hint. Turn to Galatians 4:4-7 and listen to what Paul says: "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out "Abba, Father." Anybody got an idea?
Child 1: I'll take a shot at it. When Yeshua was born, he was God's way of making us his children.
Dad: Great. Anything else?
Mom: [to Child 2] Look at that. It says that since the Son came and we are God's children, he sent his Spirit into our hearts. What do you think it means to have Yeshua's Spirit in our hearts?
Child 2: [thinking] That we do the right things and not disobey God? And that we do it because we want to, not because we have to.
Dad: Bingo! Wonderful, kiddo. You hit a home run. You see how Christmas and Pentecost are related. The coming of Yeshua into the world means also the coming of his Spirit into our hearts. And that is what it means when the Lord said, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts." When the law is in our hearts, then it's on the inside isn't it? It's not like some chore or duty to live lives that please God and follow his commands. Great job, you guys. What time is it getting to be?
Child 2: Late. It's already after midnight.
Dad: Anybody sleepy yet?
All: Nope. No, not me.
Mom: What do you say we eat something?
Mom: How about some of this barley bread first with some honey and milk?
Dad: Id like a slice, please. While you are doing that, Pastor is going to talk a little bit about these food aspects of Shavuot or Pentecost.
Pastor: When God first commanded that the children of Israel celebrate the feast of Shavuot (Shavuot means "weeks"), it was strictly tied into the fact that the nation was an agricultural people. Their economy depended on the fields, orchards, and vineyards of the land. God told them they would receive a land that was rich with resources and fertility. A land flowing with milk and honey.
They were, of course, always to remember that this good, rich land came as a gift from God. They were to demonstrate in their lives that the land was the Lord's. They were to treat it as a precious gift and return its produce back to God as a gift. And so the feast of Shavuot is sometimes called "firstfruits."
Hear what God tells the people in Leviticus 23. "From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord."
Firstfruits. What the Jewish children do is take a piece of scarlet cord and go out into the vineyards and the orchards, and when they spy what seems to them the first, the biggest and the best fruits, they will tie the cord around the stem or stalk and then harvest that when it is ready. The firstfruits is the earliest part of the harvest.
[At this point have children take pieces of fruit, tie a red string around the stem, and hang a few of them in strategic spots around the front of the church.]
Where do we meet that term in the New Testament? Several places, all relating either to Christ or his Spirit or his body, which is the church.
In 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him."
So you see, Jesus was the one with the red cord tied around him, so to speak. The great harvest is the resurrection from the dead, which we know has already been begun because the firstfruits are already harvested. Christ is indeed raised and the rest of the harvest of resurrection, you and me and those already gone into the ground, will follow.
Dad: What time is it?
Child 1: 3:30. I don't think we are going to make it again this year.
Dad: Sure we will. It's time for the shadow game--that will help you wake up. [to Child 2] Why don't you lead us? We'll follow. Pastor will tell a little more about why we do this. Lets see if the people listen to him or watch you.
[Child 2 performs a variety of motions which the rest silently mimic, like a silent version of "Follow the Leader."]
Pastor: The family plays the shadow game as a reminder that the Old Testament feasts and festivals were shadows or hints of the things that were to come. Just as the shadows in the game are not a perfect example of the original, so too the feasts and festivals contain only a part of the story.
Dad: What time is it?
Child 1: Were moving along pretty good. Its 4:15. When do I get to talk about the stars?
Dad: Now would be a good time. But first why don't you read Psalm 8?
Child 1: [reads Psalm 8]
Dad: Being out here like this really makes that psalm come alive doesn't it? "When I consider the heavens, what is man, that you care about him?" Can you point out some of the constellations?
Child 1: Sure. Theres the North Star. You have to start there. You find that by first finding the Big Dipper, which is over there. See how the two stars point to the North Star? If the night is clear you can always tell which way north is. And then theres the Little Dipper—you can tell it because the North Star is the first star of the handle of the Little Dipper.
[Child 2 slowly drifts off to sleep during this exchange.]
Dad: Any message for Christians in the stars?
Child 1: There sure are a lot of them. When God told Abraham that his children would outnumber the stars of the heavens, I dont think Abraham had any idea how many that would be. Do you think there are more stars or more grains of sand on the beach?
Dad: Man, that is a tough one! Wouldnt it be something if there were the same amount?
Child 1: Whew! I guess the church has a ways to go, doesnt it?
Dad: I guess so. Looking at the stars is one of the most fun things about Shavuot. What time is it? [turns to Child 2] Oh[she/he]'s sleeping. [turns to other child] Do you have the time?
Child 1: 5:10. Mom, I won't make it if I don't have something to eat.
Mom: How about some fresh fruit salad? Real nice and tangy. It'll wake you up.
Dad: I'll have some too. But I want to hear Pastor speak some more on the whole notion of firstfruits.
Pastor: There are two other passages that mention firstfruits in connection with the Messiah. Paul writes about the Holy Spirit being the firstfruits in Romans 8:22-23: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons." Before, Paul said that Christ's resurrection was the firstfruits of our resurrection. Here he says that the Holy Spirit is the firstfruits of our adoption.
Dad: What do you think that means? [silence] Anybody? Dear?
Mom: I'm too tired to think.
Child 1: Yeah, Dad, lighten up. That question is too tough for 5:53 in the morning.
Dad: OK, but it is really important and really neat too. Just listen. The whole creation is groaning. There's all sorts of pain and suffering everywhere. But Paul says that we who have the firstfruits groan inwardly as we eagerly await the redemption of our bodies. That means that the Holy Spirit is like the first installment, the down payment on our new bodies that we will have when the resurrection comes. Isn't that incredible? More incredible even than a sky filled with stars billions and billions of light years away. One day we are going to have brand-new, holy, marvelous and perfect bodies, and we already have the down payment on it. The Holy Spirit living in our hearts. There is a scarlet thread tied around my heart. Wow. That wakes me up. What time is it?
Child 1: 6:13. [goes to sleep]
Dad: [to Pastor] Last one standing.
Pastor: You folks are still awake aren't you? There is one last thing that is important for you all to know about Shavuot. When God gave the command in Leviticus 23 to offer the firstfruits to the Lord, he also told the children of Israel to offer some more of the fruit to someone else. He said, "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and alien. I am the Lord your God."
In her song about the one she was carrying in her womb, the virgin Mary sang, "He has lifted up the humble, he has filled the hungry with good things."
Old Testament or New Testament, the Bible shows us that God has always had a heart for the poor. Certainly the coming of Jesus would not lessen that. But the coming of Christ and his Holy Spirit into our hearts has changed something very meaningful and profound.
Leviticus tells us to leave the gleanings for the poor. What are the gleanings? They are the lastfruits. The gleanings are the stuff that falls to the ground, the stuff around the edges.
Now, with the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, God has scattered the proud and haughty; he has brought down the important people, the rulers and such; and he has sent the rich away empty. Now the poor are not to be handed what is left over, what we can spare after we have had our fill. No lastfruits for the poor. Now, since the law is on our minds and in our hearts, our giving comes off of the top.
Why do you think December is such a big time for charitable giving? Because we tend to give in an old covenant, legalistic, "law-on-tablets-of-stone" way. Giving in December is lastfruits giving. It is giving what we can spare. It is giving what is left over.
I hope I discourage no one from writing sizeable and generous checks to the charitable organizations of your choice next December. But I do hope this message helps us all recognize that, as Christians of the new covenant, we are to give our firstfruits. Christ demands no less.
Back to Purim, Passover, Pentecost: Celebrating three Old Testament Spring festivals.