Shavuot 2012 … Giving Back at Least the Corners of the Field

Since moving to my new home, I have been given the privilege of enjoying the country!  There are horses roaming around in a beautiful pasture.  There are fields of wheat and wildflowers as far as the eye can see.  It is beautiful.  It is relaxing.  It is home and it reminds me of one of my favorite Bible stories which just happens to coincide with the Jewish feast of Shavuot which begins at sundown on Saturday, May 26th.

Shavuot is known in Christian circles as Pentecost.  Shavuot is centered around the gleaning of the barley harvest.  Shavuot in English is translated as “weeks.”  From the Feast of First Fruits to Shavuot, one counts 7 weeks (49 days) plus one more day which is why it is translated in Greek as “Pentecost.”  By the way, the reason why the counting begins on the Feast of First Fruits will be explained … later!

Some of the Jewish traditions for Shavuot is that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai on this date.  Other traditions involve that perhaps David was born and died on Shavuot.  A wonderfully delicious tradition is that we should eat foods made with cheese and milk.  This tradition is commonly digested in the form of CHEESECAKE!

Two other important traditions (b. Megillah 31a) is that all Jewish males should go to Jerusalem for the celebration of Shavuot as well as the book of Ruth and Ezekiel 1 should be read in anticipation and in celebration of Shavuot.  In fact, many Orthodox Jewish people will stay up all night studying these passages … Ruth especially today.  The reason why the reading of Ezekiel 1 is significant will be explained later.

The story of Ruth is a great love story in more ways than one might expect.  We have Ruth leaving the idolatry and curse of the Moabite people to follow Naomi back to Bethlehem (“house of bread”) to become one with the Jewish people.  We have Naomi who so cared and was so touched by Ruth’s devotion that she went immediately into “Yenta” mode and began to seek a match for Ruth and her relative Boaz.  We have Boaz who is so flattered and honored by Ruth’s attention that after a brief “entanglement” with a closer kinsman that they marry and she gives birth to Obed who is a grandfather of King David.  A great love story but to borrow from Paul Harvey … “not the rest of the story.”

For ultimately Obed is to serve as Naomi’s kinsmen redeemer (Ruth 4:17) and Boaz through the act of a levirate marriage serves as Ruth’s kinsmen redeemer which in the Hebrew is known as the Ga’ol.  The concept of redemption is prevalent throughout Ruth and the book along with the Leviticus instructions for Shavuot (chapter 23) serves as a foreshadowing of a future redemption and a future harvest.  HINT…!

Leviticus 23 provides the instructions for the celebration of Shavuot according to Scripture…

    • Two loaves of leaven bread are to be made in the home and brought for a Wave Offering before the Lord
    • Seven lambs, one bull, and two rams are to be offered as a Burnt Offering
    • One male goat for a Sin Offering and two male lambs for a Peace Offering are to be sacrificed
    • It is to be a Day of Holy Convocation (Sabbath Rest) AND
    • The Israelites are to leave the corners of the field unharvested for personal use so that the poor and the foreigners (aliens) can be fed and blessed.  This will be explained later as well.

Obviously, today it is impossible (dare I say unnecessary?!) for all of these requirements to be followed as there is no Temple for the sacrifices.  However, the other aspects, especially the last requirement, can and must be remembered by all believers in Jesus today.

For, I believe that Acts 2 shows us the ultimate realized fulfillment of Shavuot.  For do you remember that I asked you to remember two important concepts from above — why the counting of the 50 days (Omer) began on the Feast of First Fruits and why Ezekiel 1 was commanded to be read on Shavuot?  I believe that the counting of the 50 days begans on the First Fruits festival because Messiah Jesus is our “first fruits” of all who will be raised from the dead.  He finished teaching the disciples after 40 days, ascended into heaven, and the 120 then went to pray for 10 days in the Upper Room.  At the end of the 10 days (now 50 days from the Feast of First Fruits), the Holy Spirit arrives perhaps just as all the Jewish males around the world were hearing these verses from Ezekiel 1:4-14 …

Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man.Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies. And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning. And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.

Perhaps it is now clearer as to why 3,000 Jewish souls were added to the Kingdom of Heaven that day.  These Jewish men saw the reality of Shavuot come to life before their very eyes!  They were able to see how Messiah Jesus was the ultimate Kinsman Redeemer from the Book of Ruth.  They were able to see God working miraculously and personally in the lives of the followers of Jesus!

There is one final remember from above that I hope you are considering.  Why in Leviticus 23 did God command the harvesters to leave the corners of the field for the poor and the foreigners?  Because … this is one of the festivals that non-Jewish people (during the time of the Tanakh/OldTestament) could participate.  They were able to eat and be fed from the harvest.  They were able to go (if they were proselytes and/or God-fearers) Jerusalem to worship God.  They were included!

Therefore, I close this post with a simple question — Is it not time for the Jewish people to be given back Shavuot? 

Yes, Jewish people around the world will celebrate a semblance of Shavuot this weekend.  They will read from the Book of Ruth.  They will eat cheesecake and celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  However … they do not know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Torah and the Holy Spirit has already arrived.  They do not know that the harvest truly is plentiful and they can be a part of not only the Corners of the Field but the entire field.  They do not know because no one or very few have told them (Romans 10),

Is it now time to give back at least the corners of the field?

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Christianity = Judaism Realized

Many people use a phrase in regards to Jewish evangelism/missions that has always bothered me but until recently I could not put my finger on the source of its irritation.  The phrase in and of itself is not the problem but the interpretation and application of it is creating a definite problem among Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah Jesus.  What is this innocuous phrase that is creating such confusion and disunity?  What are the words that has done much to build a wall between Christian churches and Messianic congregations?

“Churches need to return to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.”

Surprised?  Confused?  I bet you weren’t expecting that phrase!  Were you?  You have heard it repeated across the years as Jewish mission organizations have come to your churches to do Passover presentations in your churches.  Perhaps I have even said it myself in the past.  However, I am going to explain why I am uncomfortable with this phrase and advocate for the usage of a new phrase that is not only Biblical but also missional.

First you need to know that I love history!  I love the History Channel and watch it often on my mom’s cable.  I watch documentaries on my PBS 13.2 because I don’t have cable but just one of those boxes that makes my old TV receive the HD antenna waves.  I am a professor of history at Arlington Baptist College and a “Downey History Class” is known by one word … HARD!

However, I also know that for many people words such as history or ROOTS creates a glazed look in their eyes.  Therefore, a call to return to “our Jewish roots” creates a mental/emotional/spiritual barrier for many Christians because they simply cannot fathom what exactly does it mean.  And no matter how many times, they eat the horseradish at a Passover demonstration, they just will never really have it sink into their souls.

In addition, the connotation of the word ROOTS provide one with the sense that it is something in the past.  The idea of something (pictures, letters, etc.) that is brought out of grandpa’s attic after Thanksgiving dinner to occupy the non-football fans in the family.  Touching for a moment but forgotten until the next funeral, reunion, or turkey dinner.

And that is the crux of the problem!  Biblical Judaism is not something to be brought out once a year and then put back into the closet.  Biblical Judaism is the basis of our Christian faith.  Biblical Judaism has given us 78% of our Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament).  Biblical Judaism gave us a Messiah who not only lived as a Jewish man but also died and rose again as a Jewish man.  Biblical Judaism gives us Jesus!

This concept is not understood by many today.  I once had to restrain myself during a seminary class when a future “pastor” stated that the Old Testament wasn’t really necessary for salvation.  I also had to laugh when I became the “Jewish chick who can answer those questions” at my own seminary because no one in the missions office could help the counseling students who were working on a cross-cultural counseling project related to the Jewish people.  I also remember a certain professor who came into my office and asked a simple yet baffling question — Is Jesus celebrate Hanukkah?  Yes, John 10:22-31!

Therefore, the following statement is what I would like to suggest for a replacement for that old tired adage …

Christianity = Judaism Realized

Why is this phrase Biblical?  First, because our faith as believers in Jesus is based on the truth of Old Testament (i.e., Biblical Judaism) passages.  We could not have been saved without Jesus’ fulfillment of the words written about Him by David, Isaiah, Micah, Moses.  Christianity does not exist without Judaism.

Second, it eliminates the tendency of those on both sides of the Jesus debate from forgetting our past.  The first Christians … Jewish.  The first churches … Jewish.  The first mission sending agency … JEWISH!

This phrase is also missional.  It eliminates the argument touted by rabbis for centuries that when one becomes a believer in Jesus that one ceases to be a Jewish person.  If we recognize that Biblical Judaism reaches its greatest reality in the person of Jesus Christ, then the argument of the rabbis is made null and void.

However, and most importantly, it reminds all of us about the priority of evangelism in Christianity.  If we purposefully decide not to refer to the feasts of Leviticus 23 as something in the past, we will realize that the festivals lays out the plan of salvation from the first to the second coming.  And if this is true, we must recognize and affirm that Romans 1:16 and the entirety of Romans 9-11 is true as well.

Therefore, I give you this pledge.  I will no longer use the phrase dealings with roots and faith.  I will only affirm the truth that Christianity = Judaism Realized. Will you join me?  If so, you will have no choice but to do something about Jewish missions/evangelism.  Shalom!

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