Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, May 16, 2021

Shavuah Tov,

Counting the Omer – Day 43

Here is the proper blessing to be said each day.  This is how Jewish people fulfill the command to count.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר

Baruch Atah Adonai Elohenu Melech Ha-Olam, Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav, Vitzivanu Al Sefirat Ha-Omer.

Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments and commanded us about counting the counting of the Omer.  Today is six weeks and one day of the counting of the Omer.

Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)

Sun 16 May-2021 5th of Sivan, 5781 

Nu 4:21-37 Jer 17 Job 37 (Mk 5) 1 Co 1

Shavuot/ Pentecost – The Day Adonai Got “Religious” 

by Dr. Raymond Finney

TODAY! “Pentecost,” from the Greek Πεντηκοστή (English transliteration = Pentēkostē = Pentecost), translates to “fiftieth” (the fiftieth day after Resurrection Sunday). This same day, also, marks the Jewish feast of Shavuot (“Weeks”), celebrated fifty days after Passover. Two important events happened on these days: 

● Jews celebrate Shavuot as Adonai’s giving of the Torah (the Law) to Moses on Mount Sinai more than thirty-three centuries ago (in ca 1313 BC). 

● Christians celebrate Pentecost as fifty days after Resurrection Sunday (“Easter”). 

● Since Passover and Resurrection Sunday are movable celebrations, varying over an approximate month-long span determined by the lunar cycle, the day of Pentecost and Shavuot are also movable calendar dates. In 2021, the Day of Pentecost is today (May 16); Shavuot begins for most of the Jewish world at sundown today (May 16).  Shomair will celebrate next Sunday, May 23, for reasons previously discussed in these RRs.

INTRODUCTION: “Religious” may be defined as “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.”

Why the title? There is one day in the calendar year– Shavuot in Judaism and  Pentecost in Christianity– when Adonai seems to have been moved toward “religion” – moved to solidify mankind’s worship practices. On this particular day, Judaism was birthed. Centuries later on the same calendar day, Christianity was birthed. That is, Old Covenant and New Covenant expressions of worship of Adonai began on the same calendar day. Old Covenant faith and worship began when the Law (the Torah) was given to B’nei Yisrael (and to us, by extension). New Covenant faith and worship began when the Third Person of the Triune God– the Ruach ha-Kodesh– was sent to Yeshua’s followers to “put legs” to Yeshua’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20): [Yeshua said] “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

SIDELIGHT: I ask Adonai’s forgiveness for accusing Him in this title of being “religious.” I wonder whether “religion,” as now practiced, is slightly slanderous. Is it a complement to be called “religious?” I have been asked in the past, “ Are you religious?” My answer has been: “I certainly hope not. I believe in God in three Persons and the Holy Bible as the Word of God, but I am ashamed of many things associated with organized ‘religion.’” Too much of what passes for “religion” today has no Scriptural basis, but has been crafted to support denominations, unique (even bizarre) interpretations of the Bible, or personal ministries. “Religion” is too often a profitable source of tremendous wealth for many denominations and practitioners of this art. (For example, one well-known televangelist is said to have a net worth of 760-million dollars. Wow! What a blessing from God! In fairness, though, the majority of the clergy supposedly earn $45,000 or less per year.)

Some persons are reluctant to criticize anything someone else calls a “religion.” They reason that the Holy Spirit might be telling these people to act in the way they act, and to offer any criticism would be commission of the unpardonable sin, which is blaspheming the work of the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 12:31-32). The standard for truth, I believe, is not to accept blindly the word off men (popes, ministers, evangelists, and so forth). The standard for truth is to test religious practices against the Holy Bible. Every word uttered by man is open to testing and even rejection, if it is contrary to Scriptures. If man’s word is consistent with God’s Word, however, it is to be accepted as Truth. See 1 Thessalonians 5:21: … test all things, hold fast to what is good,…. 

I believe I am in good company in making these statements. Yeshua was far more critical of the religious Jewish leaders of His day, than He was of “ordinary sinners” (thieves, murderers, prostitutes, and so forth). I believe the difference was this: Errant religious leaders were convinced of their piety because they were rigidly entrenched in “religion” and were then/ are now impressed with how “religious” they were/ are. Having memorized passages from the Holy Writ, they could not/ cannot see how to accept new revelations from God and how to apply God’s Word to their lives. “Ordinary sinners” knew/ know their faults and were/ are open to change to a better life. A rigid religious leader might resist change, but an ordinary sinner can change his/ her life in a moment. You are not responsible for errors of “religion” made by others. You are responsible, though, for false matters of faith you adopt as guiding principles for your life. END sidelight.

SHAVUOT IN JUDAISM: The Festival of Weeks– Shavuot, also called Feast of Harvest– began as a harvest festival celebrated seven weeks and one day (fifty days) after the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. See Deuteronomy 16:9 and other Tanakh verses. Traditionally, this feast followed the first grain harvest. The fiftieth day of this observance was known as “the Festival of Weeks.”

There were three major feasts in the Jews’ ancient calendar– Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks), and Sukkot (Booths).

PENTECOST IN CHRISTIANITY: Many diverse denominations– thousands of  denominations– may be gathered under the umbrella classification of “Christianity,” including Messianic Jewish congregations. No one knows precisely how many Yeshua-following denominations there are in the world, but some estimate the number at approximately 45,000 distinct denominations. If I may paraphrase a statement of Yeshua (Mark 3:24) to state an alarm He might possibly give at this large number: “If a movement of faith is divided against itself, that movement cannot stand.” How do you feel? Do so many thousands of Christian denominations strengthen or weaken the Body of HaMashiach?

There are many reasons why we have so many denominations– some good, perhaps some not so good (in my opinion). Perhaps the Apostle Paul anticipated this wide division of Yeshua’s following (1 Corinthians 12:12-14): For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body– though many– are one body, so also is Messiah. For in one Ruach we were all immersed into one body– whether Jewish or Greek, slave or free– and all were made to drink of one Ruach. For the body is not one part, but many.

At the very beginning (starting on the Day of Pentecost in an uncertain year, generally thought to be AD 30 or AD 33), there was only one group which followed Yeshua. The Roman Catholic Church teaches this group was the Catholic Church, was founded in Rome, and was headed by Pope Peter. This teaching makes a good story, but is contrary to the teaching of the Bible. In next Sunday’s RR, I will discuss the founding of the faith of Yeshua’s followers (Acts, chapter 2). In that RR, I hope to point out that this original fellowship of followers:

● Was founded in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost/ Shavuot, less than two  months after Yeshua’s crucifixion, and was not founded in Rome;

● Had little in common with the rituals of Catholicism, but followed general principles of Judaism (that is, was an extension of Judaism);

● Had no pope or ecclesiastical hierarchy typical of Catholicism (cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests), but had a more egalitarian organization (meeting in homes to observe Communion, to pray, and to encourage one another in the Lord);

● Was not led by the Apostle Simon Peter (the “first pope of the Roman Catholic Church”), but was led by Jacob (James), Yeshua’s half-brother; and

● Was an extension of– an outgrowth from– Judaism.

SIDELIGHT: The event mentioned in Acts, chapters 1 and 2, occurred in ca AD 30 – 33. There was no Roman Catholic Church at this time. I cannot find an unbiased view of the date the Catholic Church was founded. (Does anyone know for certain?) Not being a scholar and not wishing to spend many hours researching this subject, I will leave certain points vague. Roman Catholic Church tradition argues for a founding of the Catholic Church in ca AD 30 – 33 (Acts, chapter 2); and Peter was the first Bishop (Pope); and the Church was centered in Rome. Protestants argue, to the deep chagrin of Catholics, that the Roman Catholic Church was established later (by Constantine the Great in the fourth century?). This is an interesting argument, which I may explore in a future RR, but is probably inconsequential because souls are neither gained nor lost depending upon which side of the argument a person chooses. END sidelight.

How did all of this begin? Recall from recent RRs the accounts of Yeshua’s public crucifixion death and burial. His disillusioned and frightened followers hid in fear for their own lives. Then, on the Sunday morning following Yeshua’s crucifixion, He appeared to three women who were present at His tomb to prepare properly His body for burial. Then, he appeared to hundreds of people over the next forty days. Multiple witnesses could attest that the Lord had arisen from death to life. He had proven His resurrection to any reasonable person. If He could defeat death, cannot also His followers accept the hope and promise of eternal life?

Now, pick up the story in Acts, chapter 1 (verses 2-11): …up to the day He was taken up, after He [Yeshua] had given orders by the Ruach ha-Kodesh to the emissaries He had chosen. To them He showed Himself to be alive after His suffering through many convincing proofs, appearing to them for forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Now while staying with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father promised– which, He said, “you heard from Me. For John [John the Baptizer physically] immersed with water, but you will be immersed in the Ruach ha-Kodesh [that is, spiritually baptized with fire] not many days from now.” So when they gathered together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” He said to them, “It is not your place to know the times or seasons which the Father has placed under His own control. But you will receive power when the Ruach ha-Kodesh has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” After saying all this– while they were watching– He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. While they were staring into heaven as He went up, suddenly two men stood with them in white clothing [obviously, angels]. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you keep standing here staring into heaven? This Yeshua, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

SIDELIGHT: I will emphasize a point in next Sunday’s RR, but note this point in the preceding Scriptural passage: Yeshua did not call His followers to create a “church” (a building, a denomination). In the Tree of Life Version, “church” is translated “Messiah’s community.” I will point out next week that neither translation is completely accurate. Yeshua called His followers to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (To modernize this passage, Yeshua would tell us to be witnesses of the Gospel in our home city [Knoxville], our home nation [America], and throughout the world.) The greatest activities for Yeshua may be outside– not inside– church buildings. I will include in next Sunday’s RR certain values of corporate worship, but corporate worship “in church” would best be in preparation for ministry outside of the church.

Then, in future RRs, I plan to discuss the seven ages of worship groups, often translated “churches” or “Messiah’s communities” (Revelation, chapters 2 and 3), and I hope the distinction I have bungled in this discussion will be more clearly defined. END sidelight.

Continuing in Acts, chapter 1, we read that Yeshua’s followers, after witnessing His ascension into the skies above them, journeyed from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. The disciples, Miriam (Mary, Yeshua’s mother), and others (approximately one-hundred and twenty in total) went to an upper room to join in prayer and supplication. 

There, the Apostle Peter explained the remorse-filled fate of Judah from Kriot (Y’hudah from K’riot, Judas Iscariot). They proposed to replace Judas, casting lots to determine whether Joseph (Barsabas) Justus or Matthias should be the replacement. Adonai likely rigged the casting of lots, and Matthias was chosen as Judas’ replacement. Matthias served as an apostle into his old age. Matthias was an obscure person in the B’rit Chadashah. Various accounts have him dying by stoning (by cannibals?) in present-day Georgia (the country, not the state); or, stoned/ beheaded by Jews in Jerusalem; or, simply dying in Jerusalem of old age.

By now, Yeshua’s followers had arrived in time at Shavuot (Pentecost), fifty days after Yeshua’s resurrection. Yeshua’s followers, all assembled in an upper room, had been promised by prophecies in the Tanakh and by assurances from none other than Yeshua that a monumental phenomenon was ready to happen. That phenomenon would be the appearance of the Ruach ha-Kodesh, which I will discuss next Sunday. God’s New Covenant was ready to be implemented, and God was using an unlikely band of men and women to transform the world completely!

Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.