Author Joan Lipis says church leaders can enrich this weekend's celebration of Pentecost Sunday through deeper understanding of biblical feasts and celebrations.
Lipis, a Messianic believer based in Jerusalem, wrote Celebrate Jesus: A Christian Perspective of the Biblical Feasts after realizing that many churches had a very limited understanding of the biblical feasts, and their significance to and relevance in the lives of all believers. Lipis told Christianity Today during a recent interview, "God has an order. God has a calendar. It is not up to me or anyone else to tell you what to do or how to do it. But I am saying God has given us the when, the why, and the who. Since the feasts are all about Jesus, should we not begin to do things God's way and according to God's calendar?"
Her book explores new Christian perspectives on the weekly Sabbath; the monthly Rosh Chodesh (new moon); Passover; the feasts of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Weeks (Pentecost/Shavuot), Trumpets, and Tabernacles; and the Day of Atonement, Hanukkah, and Purim. Most of the feasts commemorate events in the history of Israel, but Lipis believes that Jesus is at the heart of all the biblical holidays and celebrations. Christianity Today interviewed her recently about the celebration of Pentecost, which this year actually began at sundown on Thursday, May 28.
What was the significance to early Christians of Pentecost overlapping with the Feast of Weeks?
Pentecost and Weeks is the same holiday. Pentecost is the Greek word. Shavuot, meaning "weeks," is the Hebrew term. The holidays do not overlap. They are one and the same. Peter's sermon as recorded in Acts 2:14-40 manifested his understanding of the significance of God's promised gift of the Holy Spirit given on this, the second pilgrim festival.
What did the Feast of Weeks mean to Jews at the time of Jesus?
Each of the three pilgrim festivals were highlights in the lives of the Jewish people. Men came from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5) to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the temple. We hear David's as well as Paul's desire to be in Jerusalem for the feasts (Psalm 42; Acts 18:21). David longs to be part of the multitude that climbed the road to Jerusalem singing songs of praise. Having traveled that road, I can well imagine how the voices of every tribe and language must have reverberated off the hills and valleys. How the sights and sounds of the pilgrims must have blessed the heart of God.
What is missing from the way Christian churches celebrate Pentecost?
There is a lack of understanding of the significance of the pilgrim festivals and their place in the life of the kingdom. God established the feasts as times to come before his face as a corporate body. They were times to set aside all "customary work" and make a pilgrimage — with all that entailed — to seek and worship him.
By bringing the first fruits of our harvest, we recognize and proclaim God's pre-eminence in our lives and our complete dependence on his provision and his protection. In today's church, a weekly or monthly financial giving has become traditional if not routine. Subsequently, we miss the additional spiritual and prophetic blessing of giving on God's ordained calendar, according to the times and seasons of harvest.
The concept of corporate celebration, for the single purpose of celebration, is sadly missing in many of our churches today. The pilgrim festivals provide special times of celebration, which complement the familiarity of our weekly services. In agricultural communities, harvest is a time of great celebration (Ruth 3:2-3). The harvest is the manifestation of God's faithfulness and provision in the past, and also his promises for the future.
Furthermore, there is a lack of understanding of the significance of the second First Fruit holiday. The first First Fruit holiday commemorated Israel's coming into the land and reaping where she had not sown. This reminds us of our salvation in Christ — given by God's grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The second First Fruit holiday was Israel's first harvest, where they had sown and were now reaping. In other words, this harvest manifested their having taken and settled the land, much like our process of sanctification and the journey of faith.
Although Peter in Acts 2 references the prophet Joel, many Christians do not understand the full context of Joel's message and the significance of God's past and prophetic covenant with Israel. The gift of the Holy Spirit in that context is important. Finally, the church often misses the significance of the priest's unique wave offering foreshadowing the creation of the "one new man."
You say that the church was empowered on the Feast of Weeks. What does this mean for leaders of church worship?
We need to understand the meaning of "power" as used in the New Testament, and its purpose. We all know that dunamis is the root of our word dynamite. The word is often used in context with God's power. We are given that same power for the purpose of declaring his glory.
The feasts were times of evangelism and revival. As biblical worship always followed a revelation of God, leaders of church worship need to create an opportunity for God to "show up and show off." God inhabits the praises of his people, so let us give people an opportunity to praise him individually as well as corporately.
By the Holy Spirit, all believers are given the power to testify. Encourage everyone to come with a spiritual song, a hymn, a testimony, or a prophetic word. As Pentecost is a harvest festival, provide an opportunity for the harvest. Celebrations are opportunities for the lost to join and participate in a non-traditional church environment. As we celebrate the person of Jesus, who he is and what he has done in our personal lives, the lost will be touched and he will bring in the harvest.
Too often the church forgets the truth of Romans 11:11: "to provoke [the Jewish people] to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles." The celebration of Pentecost is a great time to bring together the Jewish and Gentile parts of the body. As a Jewish believer who was provoked to jealousy by a Gentile friend, I attest to the power of the testimony of the one new man.
Pentecost can be a rousing family reunion.
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Celebrate Jesus: A Christian Perspective of the Biblical Feasts is available at http:/www.celebratejesusthebook.com/.
More articles on Pentecost include:
Teaching a Calvinist to Dance | In Pentecostal worship, my Reformed theology finds its groove. (May 16, 2008)
Indian Pentecost | How a "Holy Ghost revival" among child widows in India became an international sensation and a local wellspring of Christian outreach. (September 9, 2005)
American Pentecost | The story behind the Azusa Street revival, the most phenomenal event of twentieth-century Christianity. (Christian History, April 1, 1998)
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