I’d like to take you on a journey. I want you to imagine that it’s 30 AD and you are living somewhere in Asia Minor. You’re a Jew—a devout one—and as a consequence you take seriously the commands, that God gave the Israelites on Mount Sinai, about keeping the Sabbath and attending the three major festivals every year.
B. JERUSALEM EXPERIENCES
And as a consequence, you went to the first festival earlier this year. You went to Passover because it’s very important to you. It’s a reminder that your ancestors were once slaves in Egypt. It’s a reminder of the ill-treatment your ancestors received from the Egyptians. It’s a reminder that your ancestors needed to be rescued from Egypt and needed to be taken to the land that God had promised them. It’s a reminder that God came to their rescue; that he called a man named Moses and used him and his brother to make the Egyptians let them go.
It’s a reminder of the final plague that God inflicted on the Egyptians, so that Pharaoh would release the people that he loved. It’s a reminder of the blood that the Israelites put around their doorframes, and the death of the first born of the Egyptians. And, as a precursor to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately follows, it’s a reminder of the haste with which your ancestors left Egypt.
In other words, for you, Passover is an opportunity to thank God for coming to the rescue of your ancestors. And, as a people who had entered the Promised Land, it is an opportunity to show God how thankful you are for his provision for his people.
Having said that, remember your surprise when you got there. Because when you arrived, there was a lot more going on than just the preparations for a major religious festival. Indeed, there was all this talk about a Messiah—someone claiming to be from God, someone who had come to rescue his people.
And confronted with that, you perhaps couldn’t help think how appropriate it was that at festival intended to celebrate God’s rescue of his people there was something else going on. Indeed, some were claiming that God’s messiah had come to rescue his people again.
Of course, you’d heard about Messiah’s before—they’d been many of them—but never had there been someone with such wisdom, such learning—and there had been all the miracles too.
And while you were there for the feast of Passover, this man—this Messiah who had come to rescue you—had been executed. What’s more his body went missing, and there were the rumours that this Jesus had been risen from the dead.
Nevertheless, life had to go on. Jerusalem with a population of about eighty thousand, had swelled with another one hundred and eighty thousand who had gathered for the festival. But even with all the fuss, the time came for everyone to go home.
The first major festival of the year was over. And as you returned home, you couldn’t help think of all that had occurred. And even more so, over the following weeks, as more and more stories began to spread.
b). Feast of Weeks
And now seven weeks later, fifty days after Passover, you’ve come back to Jerusalem again. And the reason . . . Well it’s the second of the major festivals on the Jewish calendar.
The Feast of Weeks is an important festival for you too. And it is called the Feast of Weeks because it is seven weeks after Passover. Indeed, you’ve been taught to count the weeks off from Passover. And because people are speaking Greek these days, it has also become known as Pentecost (literally ‘Fifty Days’).
But for you it’s a festival to give thanks, to mark the end of the Grain Harvest. It’s also a time to remember the new start that your ancestors had been given when they arrived in the Promised Land. They had a new beginning. And, in more recent times, it had become an opportunity to give thanks to God for the giving of his laws at Mt Sinai too.
So as you arrive in Jerusalem, there’s a lot of hubbub as the excitement builds, as people arrive from around the world to join in the festival. But then just as at Passover, another event seems to take over.
There’s the sound of rushing wind. And at the same time there are these disciples that you’d heard about—but didn’t see too much of at Passover—appearing on the streets.
Now, of course, people are naturally curious, and a crowd begins to gather. And you want to know what’s going on too. So you join the crowd, and when you do you witness something extraordinary.
Because it’s not just that there are some apparently uneducated men speaking with authority, it’s that whatever they are saying is heard in different languages by the people around you. And what is being proclaimed is about this Jesus, this Messiah who had risen from the dead. Indeed, the one you had heard about last time you were in Jerusalem. But side by side with that, as you listen to this talk about taking a new start, you hear about the need for God’s Holy Spirit.
And at this point something begins to click. At Passover—with its emphasis on God rescuing his people—you experienced something of what was claimed by some as God’s ultimate rescue. And now at the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) with its emphasis on having a new start, you’re hearing about God’s Holy Spirit being able to help you do that very thing. And you can’t help but wonder, “Is this just a co-incidence, or is God really trying to tell me something?”
Now, of course, the people around you react in different ways. Some just want to dismiss the whole thing. But as you pack up to go home it’s not that simple. Something has happened. In fact two things have happened. And both events have historical and religious links with the festivals that you’ve attended.
It’s like God is speaking—but not everyone is listening. And it’s got you thinking. And maybe it’s got you speculating too. Because if the first two festivals this year had been dramatic—and had these so-called God events—then what about the third, the Feast of Tabernacles? Now that festival was a reminder of the time your ancestors lived in tents—the temporary accommodation they lived in the wilderness as they travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land. And so if Passover and Pentecost have been very different this year, what was in store for the Feast of Tabernacles too?
C. BACK IN THE 21ST CENTURY
And on that note, I want to bring you back from your journey to 30AD, and I want you to return to the twenty-first century. Because we can read the stories, we can fill in the background, we can even walk through and speculate what others would have experienced and done. But, in the end, we need to face up to the events in these stories too.
Because the reality is, that most of the people who been at those two festivals in 30AD would have gone home and the events they had experienced would have made very little difference to their lives. Yes, there may have been some gossip, but they the reality probably wouldn’t have sunk much at all. And, sadly, today, the response to those two stories is very much the same.
So, is that all they are, just stories? Or are these historical and religious events ones that should make a real difference to our lives?
Because if both Passover and Easter are all about God rescuing his people, is God’s rescue something we have considered for ourselves? Put it another way, how have we responded to a God who is holy, who by his very nature has to deal with anything that isn’t, but who is keen to come to our rescue?
Because none of us are perfect. None of us are fit to be in God’s presence. None of us can undo our own mistakes let alone the mistakes of others. As a consequence, have we accepted that we even need to be rescued by God? And have we accepted our need to have the consequences of our sins removed from us, so that we can be treated by God as though we are perfect?
The mathematics works well: Sin + Blot out sin = Perfect life. So for me, accepting God’s rescue is a no-brainer. But yet, sadly, there are so many people today who still don’t get it. The majority still live with the consequences of sitting on the fence, rejecting God, or reinventing God in their own image.
The importance of the message of God, in coming to the rescue of his people, is paramount in both Passover and Easter. And it is a message we would do well to remember.
Similarly with the Feast of Weeks and Pentecost. Because the need to have a new start should be part of our vocabulary too. So if we have accepted the need for God’s rescue, do we still fight against and resist the changes that we need to make in our lives?
Are we happy to live our old sinful ways—the worldly ways with all its expectations and pressures—which then spill out into our attitudes towards God’s church? Or have we responded to the need to live a new life? Indeed, have we turned our lives around and embraced God’s Holy Spirit who promises to guide and encourage us on a God centred journey instead?
And yet I know, for some, the implications of the events at the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) in 30AD is very scary. The supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are hard for many to accept. But that’s why we need to put the events of 30AD in perspective.
Because both the festival, and the events at that festival in 30AD, bring together the ideas of the need for a new start, for a new life, and for the need to head in a different direction. And that’s just not possible without God’s help. Indeed God’s gift of his Holy Spirit is given not to take us over but to teach, nudge and guide us. Indeed, to give us the gifts and abilities that we need so we can exercise them for the good of all.
That’s why for me, Pentecost is another mathematical no-brainer. Old life + God’s Holy Spirit = New Life.
d). Personal Reflection
Now for me, the Old Testament suffers today, because it is little read and poorly understood. However, you can’t have the ‘New’ without the ‘Old.’ You can’t have a ‘caring’ God without a ‘creator.’ And you can’t have a ‘holy’ God without him needing to deal with ‘sin.’
As a consequence, you can’t have someone coming to fulfil the scriptures, unless there are scriptures to be fulfilled. And you certainly can’t have a sacrifice without a sacrificial system. Take away the ‘Old’ and there simply is no ‘New.’ So for me the Old Testament plays a very significant part in my faith.
And for me the first two major festivals, for which attendance was supposed to be compulsory for all male believers, have a significant role in my understanding of the events of Easter and Pentecost. There’s a consistency that shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, Passover and Easter are both stories of God coming to his people’s rescue. And the Feast of Weeks and Pentecost are both stories emphasising the need for God’s people to have a new start.
And if the first two major festivals have special meaning for us in the church today, then what about the third? What about the Feast of Tabernacles?
Well as far as we know the Feast of Tabernacles came and went in 30AD in the same way it had done in the many years before. There were no extraordinary events recorded. However, Tabernacles is a festival emphasising the temporary nature of things. It’s a festival that looks forward to a time when God will provide a more permanent home. And to me, as someone who has accepted God’s rescue, and as someone who has adopted the new life that God provides, that idea—of living in the temporary now and looking forward to a permanent home with God—is both significant and meaningful. And because of that I think it’s a real shame that the church has not adopted the festival to go with that very theme.
The people in Jerusalem at both Passover and the Feast of Weeks in 30AD witnessed two great historical events. But they were events that were steeped in the festivals in which they took place. In other words, God used those two festivals which celebrated God’s rescue and God’s provision of new life, and he raised them up to a whole new level.
What is sad, though, is despite the events of 30AD, people did not generally respond as perhaps they should. Indeed, at the end of each festival, many if not most, would have simply packed up and gone home.
But then, when we are faced with the same two festivals today, is our response any different?
Indeed, do we, today, see the need to be rescued? And if so, are we willing to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our saviour? And do we, today, see the need for a new start? Because that is what the Holy Spirit offers.
And do we recognise the temporary nature of our life on earth, with its vision of a new Promised Land? And are we actively engaged on this temporary journey as we travel to a more permanent home with God?
Posted: 1st February 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis