The Temple services for Shavuot followed much the same pattern as that of the Feast of First Fruits (and many teachers/translators incorrectly combine the two) since both days were celebrated with first fruit offerings (Shavuot dealt with the wheat harvest whereas First Fruits dealt with the barley harvest). However, the offering of Shavuot was unique because it consisted of two long, flat, leavened loaves of wheat bread (Lev. 23:17). These loaves were not burned as a sacrifice as many other offerings were because the Lord had forbidden leaven on the altar (Lev. 2:11). Instead they were set aside “for the priest” (Lev. 23:20) to be used in a festive meal. The loaves, along with two lambs brought as a peace offering, formed a wave offering. The priest waved them before the altar forwards and backwards, then up and down in recognition that it was the Lord who would provide the coming wheat harvest.
As the saying goes, “Timing is everything” and when Luke takes note of the “time” or day (when the day of Pentecost had come) of this event, he is actually linking it to two events he wrote of in his Gospel. The first was Christ’s crucifixion which took place during Passover. The second was Christ’s resurrection which fell on the Feast of First Fruits according to the Levitical calendar (Lev. 23:9-14). With two significant events occurring on the two previous holy days, the Lord is about to do something on the third- Shavuot. Luke records that a noise like a rushing wind filled “the house” and “tongues of fire” were distributed amongst the believers. Compelled by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the disciples and those gathered with them joined the throng of worshippers in Jerusalem who were amazed to hear Galileans speaking in their native languages. This gathering included people from all over the Roman Empire; some Jewish and some proselytes, that is Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. They heard the proclamation of God’s mighty deeds (Ac. 2:11). The occurrence of wind and fire are linked to numerous times in the Old Testament where these elements represent God’s presence and judgment (Gen. 19:24; Ex. 9:22-26; Ps. 11:4-7; Ps. 18: 7-15; Is. 30:27-30). The crowd that heard these words understood that connection but they weren’t sure of what it all meant (v. 12). Although naysayers tried to discredit the event (v.13), Peter explained to them that they were witnessing the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Ac. 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32) and that the Promised Messiah had come (vv.22-36). The result of Peter’s skillful and Spirit-led dissertation is the birth of the Church (vv.37-41), which was made up of the unique combination of both Jew and Gentile- a very unexpected twist!
The combination of Gentiles and Jews who came together at the birth of the Church matches the imagery of the two leavened loaves of bread joined together on that day of Pentecost. While the previous offering of First Fruits was unleavened as Christ was sinless, the Church is filled with finite people who still struggle with sin (Rom. 6:1-14). But it is also significant that God joined together a body with such far reaching geographical locations. Track down a Bible atlas and look them up! God is still working in His Church today in much the same way (Eph. 2:10-22). It is filled with an amazing assortment of people and when we get to know others outside the faith community and what makes them tick, in essence we are learning their language and hopefully we are bringing the Gospel into their world. The Christians of Acts 2 carried the Gospel back to their homelands where the Good News took root. You are called to carry on where they left off. Where will you take the Gospel so that it can take root (Mt. 28:19-20)?
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
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