Shavuot Part 5: Lessons Learned
Romans 15:4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
We’ve recognized that Scripture does not validate the belief that Shavuot is the anniversary of God’s gift of the Torah. But isn’t it interesting that while God gives such precise details and dates, He is silent regarding the dating of this and the Incarnation of Jesus, two immensely important events in Israel’s history? Just as the Christian church chose December 25th to celebrate the Incarnation, the Jewish people chose Shavuot to celebrate the gift of the Torah. Regardless of the erroneous date setting, I suggest we can glean personal and significant lessons Shavuot. Lessons from Sinai Second to the Passover event, the experience with God at Mt Sinai is a turning point in Israel’s history. Thus is it’s not surprising that soon the two events (and holidays) were conjoined. Sadly Israel failed repeatedly at Sinai and thereafter.
- They rejected God’s invitation to come into His presence, choosing Moses to mediate.
- They rebelled and forsook their promise to obey.
- They refused to make God preeminent, preferring a god of their own making, one they could control.
In how many ways do we make the same choices?
- Rejecting God’s presence. By God’s grace through faith in Christ, Christians have the unique opportunity of an intimate relationship with the God of the universe. To seal and guarantee that relationship God Himself dwells within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit continuously pours the Father’s love into our hearts and takes what is God the Son’s and gives it to us.
This intimacy is unparalled in any other “religion” or “spiritual discipline.” No man can bring himself into that kind of relationship. God wants to speak to us as He did with Abraham, with Moses and with David. And yet, how often do we stand “afar off,” preferring to hear God’s word from the lips of others? We go to “prophets” to hear God’s voice giving us direction rather than allowing Him to speak to us directly. So vividly do I remember when I felt God whispering to me, inviting me to come closer. In my heart I “saw” a very dark forest, so dark that I couldn’t even see my hand before my eyes. In fear,I responded, “God it’s too dark, I cannot see where I’m going.” Then with tears I realized that’s exactly what He wanted. He wanted me to move into the dark trusting only in the Light that I knew was waiting for me.
- Rebelling by forsaking promises and vows. Scripture warns us not to make and then break a vow, not to people and much more not to God. We tend to think a vow is bigger than a promise because usually a vow is public and formal. But I doubt God makes the same distinction. Our vows to God are based on these fundamental promises:
- accepting Jesus as our Savior,
- surrendering to Jesus as the Lord of our lives.
But then there are those “smaller” promises that we make and often break:
- to live more healthy (diet, exercise),
- to spend more time in Bible study and prayer,
- to give more,
- to love more,
- etc etc etc.
Without thinking one day, I vowed never to eat another chocolate chip cookie. Before you laugh or say, “Glad it wasn’t me” let me challenge you dear reader that you probably have some chocolate chip cookies in your life. So let me tell you what happened. While driving to a church meeting I was so focused on God’s message that I didn’t realize I had almost finished a whole bag of “Chip Ahoy” cookies. My arm was on automatic, going from the bag to my mouth. I was aghast and without further thought vowed, “I will never eat another chocolate chip cookie.” And I haven’t! Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with a cookie, but it held me in bondage. Okay maybe not as harsh as Israel’s bondage in Egypt, but bondage none-the-less. Most people don’t have a problem with eating a cookie, but for me it was poison. For others it might be alcohol, sex, work, ministry or “America’s Got Talent.” It doesn’t matter. Bondage is bondage and a vow is a vow.
- Refusing to make God preeminent. When we break our vows to God we are putting Him in second place. Israel wanted (and made) a god that was more comfortable, more convenient and less demanding. All religions do the same. Rules and “how to’s” put us in bondage while at the same time making us feel good if/when we succeed.
It’s hard to comprehend the love of God who is already pleased with His children of faith. We like working our way into God’s pleasure. We like having standards against which we can measure our growth. But then our rules, our need to grow and achieve become preeminent. Paul admonishes the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). This would be a bondage maker if we didn’t consider the context. Paul had just waxed eloquently about the preeminence and humility of Jesus. And then Paul assures us that “our working” is not isolated from Christ. Philippians 2:13: [F]or it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. I suggest that Paul’s exhortation is a reflection from the second harvest of Shavuot. Israel was given their first harvest by grace, reaping what they had not sown but they had to possess their possession, by both sowing and reaping. Likewise we are saved through no efforts of our own, it is a gift totally by God’s grace through faith, but we too must learn how to possess our possession through the process known as sanctification. What are the lessons we can apply to our lives from that day in Jerusalem circa 32? From Jerusalem. Peter’s message on the day of Shavuot came from the Hebrew prophet Joel. Joel’s prophesy warned Israel of the judgment and devastation to come that he called “The Day of the Lord.” But Joel also gave God’s promise and assurance of the Holy Spirit who would bring the salvation of Israel and restoration to the people and to the land. Finally Joel warns the nations of God’s impending judgment. Then Peter presents the Gospel of Jesus, and that it is through Him that Israel will be saved and the ultimate harvest will be of souls. Furthermore it is no accident that Peter includes the Messianic prophesies from the mouth of David. Like Paul did later, the Word was delivered in power, in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance. Consequently the people responded: Acts 2:37: They were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s answer is the pattern that should follow every presentation of the Gospel: Acts 2:38-39 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Too often Christians forget the context of the gift of Holy Spirit – to proclaim the Gospel of Christ for God’s harvest. Through God the Holy Spirit, God the Father is creating a Kingdom of kings and priests who will worship God the Son and serve Him throughout eternity.
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.”
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!