Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra was renown for his unique and often comical manner of turning a phrase. One phrase that has become part of the American lexical tradition is “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Déjà vu of course is that sensation we sometimes get that we’ve been here before – that what we are experiencing in some mysterious way has already happened. If only we could experience the reality of the Scriptures in that way – but we can’t – or can we? People who think they were actually with Moses at Sinai, the event that is celebrated at Shavuos, may raise some concerns! Still as we open Torah each week we do so in a manner that would suggest that we are receiving the Holy One’s instruction and gift anew on Mt. Sinai. On Shavuos this feeling should only be intensified.
There are many believers in Yeshua who understand their own experiences to be precisely the same as what his original followers experienced, complete with all the miraculous outworking. They will often call this experience Pentecostal after the events that are described in Acts 2 of the Good News. But to fully understand this phenomenon, I think it would be best for us to first understand the nature of the event in question.
How few Jews know that Shavuot has been transmuted into a Christian holiday, and how few Christians recognize that Pentecost is really a Jewish holiday. “Pentecost” is the Greek term for Shavuos – nothing less, nothing more, and certainly nothing other. So, to have a truly “Pentecostal experience”, it should be like “Shavuos all over again.” The festival comes fifty days after Passover. It is one of the shalosh regalim, the three festivals when it was required of all Jews that they make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem: Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos (cf. Ex 23:16; 34:22, Deut. 16:16). It is also a day on which the firstfruits of the wheat harvest were offered to God (Num. 28:26; Dt 16:10) so it is sometimes also called Yom HaBikkurim or Chag ah-katzir, the Festival of Harvest. Most important to Jewish life it is a time when we celebrate the gift of Torah. So, it is sometimes called “Zman Mattan Torah – the Time of the Gift of the Torah.”
In Christian circles, it also has a nickname, it is often called “The Birthday of the Church.” And this is what I think we need to investigate, because along with this name, and this concept, several misconceptions have crept in which cannot be supported from Scripture. And correcting these misconceptions has much to do with what Hashem has in store for Messianic Jews.
Let’s skim the Besorah portion for Shavuos (Act 2:1-21) and the next three chapters of the book of Acts. As we do this what should become evident is that the Pentecost event was actually part of a Divine renewal movement among the Jews. It wasn’t until years later that large numbers of non-Jews began entering the faith in Yeshua, and generations before it became widely thought that the Church was an entity separate and apart from the commonwealth of Israel.
The group waiting in Jerusalem was not surprisingly comprised entirely of Jews. They were after all, in a Jewish city, in anticipation of a Jewish promise, the coming of the Spirit of the God of Israel. (Ezekiel 36-37). In fact, Acts 2:5-13 specifies that the entire crowd that gathered in response to the coming of the Spirit and the which heard the preaching of Kefa was entirely Jewish.
The prophetic illusions that Kefa uses to address the crowd gathered are of course all from the Jewish Scripture – is there another kind? As a result, the three thousand who came to faith that day were all Jews (2:41) and they to live in unbroken continuity with the wider Jewish community. “Every day they (the Yeshua believers) continued to meet in the temple courts” (2:46), which could not have been so if they had broken with Jewish life and community. They either would have been barred from the Temple precincts or would have chosen to go to church instead – an impossible anachronism!
Instead they allowed the Spirit of Hashem to work through them in the both the marketplace and religious center of Jewish life! We are told that many of the Jewish people in the temple courts were afraid to approach the Yeshua believers out of fear precipitated by the miraculous they observed. Still the numbers of the Yeshua believers grew daily (5:13). This is incredibly counter-intuitive to all we imagine about congregational growth strategies! No sandwich signs announcing membership campaigns, no seminars entitled “How to Use Your New Gifts,” and no Facebook entries. Just organic living, loving and breathing among their friends extended family. This is a powerful evidence of Jewish continuity and the continuation of Shavuos as a Jewish renewal movement, a movement that began in the Jewish context of Jerusalem and was still thriving three decades later (Acts 21), and still expressing itself in an authentic way of life!
So, what does this mean for us as a Messianic Jewish community, a restoration movement if you will of a legitimate Jewish expression of faith in Messiah Yeshua? First, we will learn to walk freely in the Jewish World. Our personal cultural and religious histories will need to inform and in a practical sense reinvent our origins as a religious movement which was birthed largely out of the free church movement.
• We will become obedient to the mitzvot (commandments), mishpatim (ordinances), and middot (character) of Hashem.
• We will be expectant of the outworking of the miraculous
• We will be filled with the Joy of the Lord.
• We will be the peace-makers and bridge builders that God intended us to be.
• We will become attractive to all who meet us.
The earliest followers of Yeshua realized they were part of renewal movement for the Jewish nation. All that they did and all that they are reflected that. Today there is much talk of Jewish renewal. But the kind of renewal they are speaking of is merely renewal of interest among Jews in being Jewish and maintaining Jewish continuity. For us that is only the beginning, but an integral part. We also recognize that Jewish renewal must mean a return to the greater and higher purpose of the Jewish nation, to serve Hashem and be a nation of kohanim. This year lets commit ourselves to that purpose. If we are guided by the Spirit of Hashem, we can be the beginning of a great Jewish renewal movement – it will be like Shavuos all over again!