By Rev. Cariño Casas
I grew up in charismatic circles, so the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 was an important Bible story. The Pentecost story – if not the holy day – was foundational to understanding how God dwells in the disciples of Jesus and empowers us to be his hands and feet on earth as he rules and reigns from the right hand of the Father in heaven.
Acts 2:3 always intrigued me. In the King James Version that I read in my childhood: “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.”
- Why would tongues of fire be seen with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost?
- Why is the Holy Spirit given to the disciples of Jesus on this day?
Pentecost – the name Greek-speaking Jews called Shavuot or the Festival of Weeks – is a Jewish festival that celebrates the spring grain harvest as well as the giving of the Torah. It remembers the day that the God of Israel descended on Mount Sinai and spoke out his instruction to the newly freed Hebrews.
Fifty days after the first Passover – after Israel is freed from Egyptian slavery, after the crossing of the Red Sea – the Israelites encounter God at Mount Sinai (Exod 19). God proceeds to make a covenant with Israel and pass on his instruction (Torah).
There is a rabbinic tradition that when God spoke the 10 Commandments (Exod 20), the children of Israel saw God’s voice as something like fire. The voice-fire split into 70 voices/tongues of fire, one for each of the nations listed in Genesis 10.1 When God spoke out his instruction to Israel on that first Shavuot, he was inviting all of Israel and the nations to love him by obeying his instruction. God vows to take care of Israel. Israel vows to obey.
God promises to regather the exiles and give them a new Sinai experience.
Fast forward through Kings and Chronicles. Israel has not done well and is exiled from the promise land. After much weeping, Jeremiah speaks out God’s promise of regathering and restoration. Jeremiah 31 has an especially dear promise:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. … For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:31-34, ESV)
God promises to regather the exiles and give them a new Sinai experience. However, God will write his Torah on the hearts of the faithful instead of stone tablets.
Jesus surely has Jeremiah 31 in mind when he declares the start of this new covenant at his last Passover seder: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:14-23, cf. Exod 24:6-8).
- The New Covenant is initiated at Passover when Jesus sacrifices himself for the sins of the whole world.
- The new covenant is validated when Jesus rises from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits (cf. 1 Cor 15:20). Forty days later, Jesus ascends on the clouds to take his throne at the right hand of the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:13-14, Ps 110).
- Ten days after that – 50 days after the resurrection – on Shavuot, God pours out the Holy Spirit on the men and women who follow Jesus Messiah.
Why send out the Holy Spirit on Shavuot?
- Because God is writing his Torah on the hearts of those who trust in his Messiah Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man.
- Because God is once again inviting Israel AND the nations to himself.
Jew and Gentile called together at Shavuot
We know that Egyptians – and perhaps others – left Egypt with the Hebrews (Exod 12:38). These Gentiles also heard God’s instruction. The implication of the rabbinic tradition is that they would have heard God’s instruction in their own language when the flame of the voice of God split into 70 flames, one for each of the nations in Genesis 10.
In Acts 2, God is once again calling Israel and the nations to himself. If we weren’t sure that the tongues of fire attest to God’s global vision, the multi-national Jewish worshipers in Jerusalem hear the gospel in their own languages (Acts 2:5-11).
Peter preaches the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection to this crowd and 3,000 come to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord – 3,000 Jews. But notice a detail in verse 11. The crowd contained both Jews and proselytes. In other words, this was a mixed multitude of Israelites and Gentile worshipers of the God of Israel, just like in Exodus at Sinai.
A refreshing Jewish openness to Jesus
We must, like Peter, continue to proclaim Jesus as Messiah to all who will listen. Two articles from Jewish media this month signal that more of our Jewish neighbors may be willing to broach the subject:
- “Why this Jew is binge-watching The Chosen (and maybe you should too)” from the Times of Israel
- “It’s a giant musical about Jesus – with a Jewish producer. Will it make America believe?” from The Forward
In both, Jewish writers review and comment on Christian depictions of Jesus. The reflections are startlingly open. In the first, the Orthodox Jewish writer praises “the most intensely Jewish Jesus” of The Chosen series. She also encourages Jews to read the New Testament, to not be afraid of it and in it get a glimpse at first-century Judaism. The second ends with the recognition that the catchy closing number of the musical His Story is not just a song but a prayer for Jesus’ return.
We’ve seen how Shavuot is a season that highlights God’s pursuit of Jew and Gentile. What a great opportunity for Gentile followers of Yeshua the Messiah to engage with our Jewish neighbors. Send them holiday greetings and perhaps use the two articles above as conversation starters. Remember you’re not alone. The Holy Spirit is with you, ready to reveal the identity of the Jewish Messiah to those we encounter.
The Rev. Cariño Casas is the Executive Director of CMJ USA. She joined the CMJ family in 2014 as the media coordinator of Christ Church Jerusalem. She has a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Trinity School for Ministry and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Texas A&M University. She is the deacon at Grace Anglican Church in Edgeworth, Pennsylvania.
 Shemot Exodus 5:9; Weissman, Moshe, The Midrash Says: Shemot (Brooklyn: Bnay Yakov Publications, 1980), 182.
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