Shavuot and Pentecost

“He has revealed God to us.” John 1:18

Jesus is the revelation of God. He is the “‘Aha’ moment” within us concerning the substance of the invisible God.

Each of the Gospels argues a point about the nature of Jesus. That’s why there are four accounts all with only narrowly diverging details and inclusions. Matthew argues Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; Luke argues Jesus as the Savior of the whole world both Jew and Gentile; Mark argues Christ’s divinity as the Son of God; and John– John presents Jesus as the revelation of God to us.

Where Matthew and Luke tell us who Jesus is in relationship to us; Mark and John tell us who Jesus is in relationship to the other persons of the Trinity. Son of God the Father and the revelation of God: the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the Father and He is the Holy Spirit. Jesus called God, “Father.” Romans 8:15 says that there is a spirit of adoption that allows us to cry out “Abba, Father” to God. Jesus is the Messiah, he is the Savior, and he is also the spirit of adoption. Jesus’s nature as the Spirit does something for us.

Embracing the Holy Spirit without fear, skepticism, or incredulity is not about emotional church services, manifestations, or spiritual gifts– it is about realizing that Jesus is the Holy Spirit. You can’t divide God.

And! The Holy Spirit gives us adoption! “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father,'” Romans 8:15.

People in the Old Testament rarely referred to God as “Father,” but the Spirit that Jesus had is the Spirit we have been given. We are not simply the Messiah-King’s grateful subjects, we are not just “freed men” saved by a Foreign Liberator, we are sons as he is Son.

“My desire is that you would be one as my Father and I are one.” Jesus desires that we as Christians would be indivisible. And what is that glue that holds together the Father and Son? It is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit united Jesus with His Father and the Holy Spirit unites the Body of Christ together.

 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” Ephesians 4:4-6

I love that Ephesians points out “one baptism.” In the Gospel of John, right at the beginning, there is a story about John the Baptist’s disciples getting angry that Jesus is baptizing more people than they are.

Talk about missing the point. Here they are diligently working baptizing people to prepare them for Jesus, and then they get so caught up in the ministry that they become near-sighted to the point of blindness. They fall flat for two reasons:

  1. They view Jesus’ and John’s ministries as  divided, competing works.
  2. They view the two ministries as divided and competing because they don’t recognize the Spirit.

They didn’t recognize the Spirit in Jesus’ work and they didn’t recognize the Spirit in the person of Jesus either. They didn’t recognize that Jesus was the revelation of what they were doing by faith!

As we move away from the concluded Shavuot/Pentecost season, we will return to the Proverbs 31 Family series. In the series, we will be steering away from dysfunctional faith relationships and into highly effective faith relationships starting with Esther and Mordecai.

As we start to talk about effective faith relationships we will be talking A. L.O.T. about unity. Bear this in mind as we do: There is no unity outside of the Holy Spirit. If you desire God, you desire the Holy Spirit. If you desire Jesus, you desire the Holy Spirit. If you desire unity within the Body of Christ, you desire the Holy Spirit.

Let’s not covet the canonized ministries of remarkable biblical families without it dawning on us that we are a canonized remarkable biblical family! And we have ministries united and coordinated by the Holy Spirit of Adoption.

 

 

Shavuot and Pentecost

“Wherever you go, I will go.” Ruth 1:16

Shavuot and Pentecost are coming up May nineteenth and twentieth. Shavuot is the Jewish half of the holiday celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is celebrated during the wheat harvest. Wheat has a rich connection with the Word of God— the bread of life, manna from heaven. The story of Ruth also takes place during the wheat harvest, which is one reason it is a fitting scripture reading for the synagogue at this time of year.

On the second day of Shavuot, rabbis read the story of Ruth. They read it because Ruth was the first convert to the Jewish faith— she took upon herself the yolk of the Torah when she committed herself to Naomi. 

“But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. Look Naomi said to her, ‘your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.’ But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” 

Ruth’s conversion is very similar to our conversion as Christians. Jews celebrate Ruth’s commitment to Naomi as a commitment to the Torah— to God’s law. And so, our conversion too, is accepting God’s law where before we followed the mandates of our appetites and the inferior morals of our own reasoning. 

We tell God, “wherever you go, I’ll go” when we accept Christ. And when we accept Christ, God “writes the law on our hearts,” (Jer. 31:33.) 

While wandering in the desert the Israelites moved when God moved and stayed when He stayed. They followed God’s movement as seen in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. “Wherever you go, I’ll go.” 

And what was it that God as cloud and pillar was hovering over? The ark of the covenant— inside of which was what? God’s law, there physically as the Ten Commandments tablets. Inside God’s throne was the law— sounds kinda like us, right? Our hearts are now God’s throne room and His law is written on our hearts. 

We say like Ruth, “everything I am, I give up; everything you are, I take up.” Ruth learned Naomi’s customs, and was taught by her. That is what the Law does. It teaches. It is a thing we take up.

We take up the Law in the following ways:

We take up Right Thinking (Phil. 4:8.) We take up Right Action (Rom. 12:1.)

We give up our Rights (1 Cor. 9), and we give up our Rites (Gal 5:2.)

You can convert to the law like Ruth did. The law is tangible, outward, and actionable. It is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” 

I recently heard a sermon explaining that we are not released from God’s morality or the standards of His character when it is said we are free from the law. We are free from the ceremonial rites as requirements of salvation. Our salvation goes from being through ritualistic sacrifices and offerings to being through the unwarranted favor and compassion of Jesus. 

Boaz was moved with compassion for Ruth (Ruth 2:4-17.) God is also moved on our behalf. Just as Boaz is the kinsman redeemer of Ruth, Jesus is our kinsman Redeemer.

“‘That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers,” Ruth 2:20.

A “redeemer” is a huge component of the concept of Jubilee (Leviticus 25). People in indentured servitude for debts, or who had properties garnished, or childless widows like Naomi, had an opportunity to buy back their hereditary landholdings and to purchase their freedom through kinsman redeemers.

For Ruth, Boaz being willing to be her kinsman redeemer did way more than just returning back to Naomi’s family the lands they lost during famine. Boaz marrying Ruth gave her citizenship and legitimacy as an Israelite. 

Ruth was a Moabite— a cursed enemy tribe. She may have adopted the worship of the God of Israel, the law of Israel, the customs of Israel, served the needs of an Israelite widow— none of that made her an Israelite with the rights, protections, or privileges of a citizen. 

Not by the law, but by the Redeemer’s compassion, Ruth went from despised foreigner to the mother of Israel’s royal line, the fore-mother of the nation’s greatest kings— King David and King Jesus.

That is what Redemption does! The law leads us into discipleship; but only the Spirit gives us heaven’s citizenship and a righteous inheritance on earth. 

Shavuot and Pentecost

“The women represent two covenants.” Galatians 4:24

Where we have landed in the Proverbs 31 Family series— the Patriarchs’ families— is pretty perfect for the timing of the biblical calendar. In May, we’ll be celebrating Shavuot and Pentecost. I’ll be writing exclusively about the holidays for the month, picking The Proverbs 31 Family series back up in June.

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses. Christians celebrate Pentecost at this same time, which as we read in the book of Acts was when the Spirit was given as the helper and comforter of Christ’s disciples. The giving of the Law. The giving of the Spirit.

So, what might this have to do with the families we have been reading about? Well, in Galatians 4, you’ll find Hagar and Sarah given as allegories for the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The analogy hinges on the difference between one of them being a slave and the other being free. Paul emphasizes to the Galatians that in Christ, we are not enslaved to the law but are free. He also comments that Hagar and her children are the “present Jerusalem” and that Sarah and her children of promise are of “the Jerusalem that is above.”

The Jerusalem “that is above” refers to the Kingdom of God. It’s the Jerusalem that we are waiting for. This is the life of faith— it is a life of waiting, anticipation, belief in, and fidelity to something above our comprehension and beyond our field of vision. Sarah is the mother of the children of faith.

Now, as you know, I have painted Sarah in a bit of an unflattering fashion. I have pointed out her prickly habit of unforgiveness toward Abraham, and her unfair treatment of her slave girl. Well, I am going to go ahead and continue on with that description of her.

Sarah is a priceless picture of what unforgiveness looks like in a believer’s life. Sarah exhibits actions and reactions that I believe are systematic of unforgiveness, and are recognizable in the lives of any person or family plagued by a habit of being unforgiving.

My family was discussing unforgiveness at lunch not too long ago, and my aunt asked, “How do I know if I have forgiven someone?”

Believe it or not, secular and spiritual alike, you can find myriad articles on that very question. People regardless of moral, spiritual, and religious persuasion are plagued by unforgiveness; they recognize its affect on their lives, relationships, —and health— and they desperately desire to shake off the shackles of old grudges and wounds that just won’t heal.

“How do I know if I have forgiven someone?” You know that you have forgiven someone when you stop acting like Sarah.

Sarah’s unforgiveness, and all of our unforgiveness, goes beyond an attitude or emotion set. Unforgiveness is not invisible. It’s not very sneaky either. It hides behind the sheer vestige of “getting along,” but come on— we see you, Unforgiveness!

Unforgiveness has a palpable agenda and physical pawns. These pawns are called: leverage and collateral. Sarah had leverage from the past and collateral in the present.

Sarah was so eager to blame Hagar’s presence in the camp on Abraham, but she shared some responsibility. Hagar had begged her to come with them away from Egypt. She could have said no. Can I posit for a moment that Sarah might have been happy to bring a living reminder of what Abraham had done wrong in Egypt along with her?

How many of us have been happy to keep a little something from the past with us to use against a loved one? A good failure from someone’s past works wonders in the “getting my way” department.

And while you are keeping the past alive, make sure to double down on the mess “he made” in the present— find a way to grow that past failure into a living, breathing piece of collateral— like Ishmael. “If you don’t…I will.” That’s collateral.

Sarah had cast Ishamael out once while just in his mother’s belly, when Abraham didn’t hop to. You better believe she’d do it again…which she did. And you can’t say that didn’t hurt Abraham, because the bible specifically says that it did.

How do you know if you’ve forgiven? If you have stopped weaponizing the past, you have forgiven. If you’ve stopped insinuating threats, then you have forgiven.

If someone is “on probation,” that’s not forgiveness. If you’re still “always right,” that’s not forgiveness. If you could write the play book for “How to Get Others to Walk on Egg Shells”— that’s not forgiveness!

So many of us, who are called by Christ’s name, feel like we have not been set free. We still feel chained down, fogged in, and like every door is painted shut. We still feel like we are under the law.

If that is the case for you, which it has been for me— God has been revealing my own spiritual baggage, praise Jesus!— you need to recall the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

I have often wondered which meaning of “as” that phrase was using. And that’s not a nit-picky, semantic question— it makes a difference. Because of how we use the word “as” in English, this line of the prayer could mean two things.

  1. “Forgive us our sins while we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
  2. “Forgive us our sins like we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Well, the good news, and very challenging news, is I believe that it is both. The second reading, I interpret, as relating to Jubilee. To forgive like the Jews would have been in the biblical style of Jubilee. I will be touching on this subject this month in the context of Shavuot, and again during Advent.

The first reading of “Forgive us our sins” is the personally challenging reading. Forgive us “while.” That’s a conditional word. It means our ability to forgive has a direct correlation to our being forgiven. I know— of course!— that Jesus paid the penalty of our sins, as our kinsman Redeemer. However, forgiveness is an ongoing process that is dependent on us. Let me put it this way: “Free us while we free others.”

If you want to experience freedom, you’ve got to free others.

Leverage and collateral are actions. They’re not attitudes that we can’t help. Whether or not we use them is within our self-control. They are conscious, active, formulated, weaponized words and non-verbal communication that are meant to keep others enslaved by us.

And, yes, I know those others deserve it! Believe me— mine deserve it!!

Under the law they deserve it. But Jesus makes it clear that we are not under the law, but in the Spirit. And in the Spirit, our freedom depends on our freeing others.

We might think that we need deliverance from some ball and chain that is keeping us down. Well, let me inform you— there are two kinds of ball and chain. One is a shackle that weighs down a prisoner from escaping. The other is a weapon. It’s a medieval weapon called a “flail” or a “ball-mace.” If you’ve seen Braveheart you’ve seen this weapon. It is also a ball and chain— a ball covered in spikes, wielded and swung by a chain.

We are the one’s holding the chain, wielding reckless death to others. The scariest thing about forgiveness is that if we put our ball-mace down, if we stop holding leverage and collateral over other people’s heads, how do we know they won’t hurt us again?

We don’t know that, but life in the Spirit is a life of faith. It is “the Jerusalem that is above.” We put our faith in God not the other person. And we do it imperfectly. We forgive and have faith imperfectly. Thank God, that just like Sarah, who didn’t really by the book deserve to be hailed as faithful or forgiving, we are perceived by God, in the Spirit, as deserving and faithful.

I am so excited for Shavuot and Pentecost as we will look more deeply into forgiveness and faith, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

What are we forgiven from?— our failures under the law— Shavuot. And what are we forgiven for?— freedom in the Spirit— Pentecost.