They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

More Thoughts on Pentecost

Grain field

As we have written in our previous posts, the Jewish Feast of Shavuot or Pentecost was celebrated for two major reasons. The first was to acknowledge the fact that at this time of year, during the Exodus at Mt. Sinai, God gave his people the ten commandments and other instructions on how to live. The Torah was God’s contract with his people. Exodus 19:5 says, “If you will obey me fully, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession”. They celebrated to be reminded that they must closely observe all that God had commanded them to do. (Read, The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost for more details).

The second reason that God said to set aside the Feast of Shavuot was an agricultural one. The timing of Shavuot was late May and early June which coincided with the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. The Jewish nation was to thank him for his provision in the past and ask him to continue providing with this year’s crop. Deuteronomy 8: 10-18 tells the Israelites to not forget who brought them to this good land and has been providing for them all these years. During the celebration, you brought a portion of the first part of your wheat to give to God and ask Him to bless you with the rest as it ripens.

All during the time of the Feast, scriptures were read each day to remind the Israelites of the Exodus events and to be thankful and generous to the poor and alien. Exodus 19, Ezekiel 1, Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, and the Book of Ruth were always read in full.

There was also another important concept that the Israelites were reminded to practice during the upcoming harvest. They were told In Leviticus 19:9-10 to not cut the corners of their field, but to leave some of the grain or grapes for the poor, alien, and widows. This was God’s way of taking care of the people that didn’t have as much or had been marginalized in some way. The post, “Don’t Cut the Corners of Your Field”, gives a lot more detail on this concept of how you showed how generous you were by the size of the corners of your field. This is such a wonderful practice and analogy of how generous we are supposed to be as we come into contact with people that don’t have as much as we do.

One New Testament story that was interesting to affirm this concept of leaving some of your harvest for others, was the story in the New Testament of Jesus gleaning the fields with his disciples. The story is found in Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5. Did Jesus take advantage of this process during his earthly ministry? If you look at the King James Version of the Luke passage, it says, “And it came to pass on the second Sabbath after the first, Jesus was gleaning in the fields.” The KJV records and preserves the Jewish practice of allowing two Sabbaths for the poor and needy to go through the grain fields and get what they could to feed themselves. After the two week period, the farmer would be allowed to bring his animals in to finish cleaning everything up. Jesus and his disciples would have been taking advantage of that window of opportunity to get themselves something to eat.

To conclude, Shavuot (Pentecost) brought attention to some very important precepts that the Israelites were supposed to follow. They were to be thankful that God had chosen them as his special nation and was to be constantly mindful of his blessings. They were to be obedient to God’s laws and they were to be generous in their dealings with their own people and outsiders. Helping those less fortunate was always a big part of God’s message to the Israelites.

Pentecost: God Changed His Address

Note: In previous posts, we have discussed different aspects of the Bible event we call Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit came to the believers. The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost, Where Heaven and Earth Meet Part 1 and Part 2, and Pentecost, Where were the Disciples, cover a lot of the background pieces that you will need to know to fully understand this final piece of the birth of Christianity, which took place during the time of the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2.

From the beginning, God has always wanted to dwell with his creation. In Genesis 3:8 it says that God walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Heaven and earth were one as God dwelt with his creation. Sadly, sin separated God from his creation and he was forced to banish Adam and Eve from the garden. (Genesis 3:23-24).

However, God did not give up on his desire to dwell with his creation. In Exodus, God chose a group of people to be his own(Exodus 19:5-6) and had their leader, Moses build a tent (tabernacle) that he could live alongside them (Exodus 25:8). With the tabernacle, God could be found again with his creation, living in a small space in the Holy of Holies, on top of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:22).

The tabernacle was God’s dwelling place until the Israelites permanently conquered and settled the Promised Land. King David purchased the land to build God a permanent house and brought the tabernacle to Jerusalem. David’s son, Solomon, built the first Temple to give God a permanent place to live with his chosen people in the land that he had given them. After standing for several hundred years, this house was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Israelites were led into captivity. This temple was later rebuilt in partial measure by the Israelites that returned from that captivity. Four hundred years later, Herod the Great then built a new, much larger and more magnificent temple over the site where Solomon’s temple had stood. This temple was still under construction during the time of Jesus.

The whole world knew that YHVH lived in his temple in Jerusalem. If you wanted to meet with God, you had to come to Jerusalem to his house. Jews from all over the world came at least three times a year to be in his presence. However, access to God was severely limited; only one man could be in His space and then, only once a year.

Finally, God sent his Son, Jesus to earth to complete his plan to fully dwell again with his people. (Jeremiah 31:31-34). While Jesus was on earth, God’s presence was among men; he was God in the flesh. Jesus called the Temple, “My Father’s House” (Luke 2:49 and John 2:16). Now, God’s presence was found not only at the Temple, but in his son, Jesus, and God’s presence was with Jesus everywhere he went. When Jesus completed his work on earth, he ascended back to heaven to be with his Father, at his right hand.

All this background is needed for what happened to the disciples during the Feast of Pentecost. They had waited ten days after the Ascension for the promise that Jesus had made to them of receiving the power of God’s Spirit. On the first day of the Feast of Pentecost, at 9:00 a.m., while they were at the Temple (God’s House), God spirit appeared as tongues of fire and came out of the old house into a new house, the hearts of the believers! He now dwells in a new temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). The corporate body of believers is now God’s house, the building where he dwells (Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:5). Now, you don’t have to go to the Temple anymore to find God. The house now comes to the people; you bring the presence of God with you, wherever you go. If you want to know what God is like, just look at his house (us) where his spirit lives. At Pentecost, God changed his address and we are his new house. His purpose from the beginning was to intimately dwell with his people and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost accomplished that purpose, once and for all. We are the beneficiaries of his spirit, not just for our personal edification, but to show to a broken world what God is like and to bring those broken people back to a relationship with him. What an amazing plan and what an amazing God we serve!

At the Father’s Right Hand

We saw from our study of the Ascension, that when Jesus was taken up to heaven in a cloud (Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9), He fulfilled at least two prophesies about the Messiah from the Hebrew Bible. In the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14), Daniel had a vision of one called ”son of man” who was enthroned as the ruler of all the Earth, and His dominion would be everlasting and never destroyed. This was the first use of the term, ”son of man”, to describe the coming Messiah that the Jews were expecting. Jesus frequently used this phrase to refer to Himself to show that he was the eschatological figure spoken of in Daniel (see also Mark 8:31). In fact, Jesus used this phrase eighty-one times in the Gospels, and that same term was not used by anyone else but Jesus (see the Ascension story for more details).

Mark 16:19 states that ”Jesus was taken up to heaven and sat at the right hand of God.” This also fulfilled a major prophecy from David in Psalms 110:1 (see study notes). In this passage, God said to the one who was to come (Messiah), “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Jesus quoted this verse to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-46 to show them that it was He who was the one who would be seated at the Father’s right hand.

From this background, we can conclude that when the disciples saw Jesus ascending, they knew that He was going up to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God in the very throne room of God. This is supported by several later mentions by the New Testament authors and characters. For example, Stephen, as he was being stoned in Acts 7:55-56, saw a vision of the son of man (Jesus) in heaven, standing at the right hand of God. Paul, in Romans 8:34-35, declared that Jesus is now at the right hand of God, interceding for us. Paul repeats this claim in his letter to the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:20 and also to the church in Colossae in Colossians 3:1. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:22, that Christ has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand. The book of Hebrews has many references to this idea of Jesus being at God’s right hand. Hebrews 1:3 says, “that after Jesus had finished providing purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” The footnote to this verse says that being seated at God’s right hand indicates that the work of redemption is complete. Hebrews 8:1 says, “we do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 10:12 echoes this theme: “when this priest had offered for all time the sacrifice of sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 12:2 sums it up perfectly, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God.”

What then is the concept and the cultural significance behind the idea of the “right hand” in the world during this time in history? Temple of Edfu, EgyptThe hand was very symbolic of the ancient world. The hand represented the authority of the individual and was the instrument that carried out a person’s intentions. From the earliest of times, the right hand was the symbol of authority. Most people were right-handed and the left hand was used for sanitary purposes and thus thought of as carrying a lower status. With the right hand, blessings, fellowship, and even vows were extended, and conversely, punishment and wrath were extracted on enemies. In Egypt, every Pharaoh was depicted on the walls of their temples with an extended right arm, often with some sort of weapon in hand. This extended right arm displayed their authority.

To be seated at the right hand of a ruler or host meant that you were occupying a place of high honor. If you sat at the King’s right hand, you acted as the principal agent of his authority and you were second in command only to the KIng himself. This is where we get the idea in English, ”right-hand man”. This was a well-known concept in the Roman world as well. Many of the statues of the Caesar’s have them posing with his right hand forward, upward and extended to show that he had supreme authority. At his death, Julius Caesar was claimed to have gone to heaven to sit at the right hand of Zeus, the supreme Roman god.

What then can we conclude from this cultural look at Jesus sitting at the right hand of God? What did the Ascension accomplish? Jesus has finished his redemption work and is now sitting in a place of rest in his Father’s throne room in heaven. Everything that he came to do, he accomplished. It is finished. All of His redeeming work was done. Nothing else was required on earth, so He went back to take his rightful place on His throne. He is there now interceding with God on our behalf (Romans 8:34). Because of His status at the Father’s right hand, He has full authority to carry out God’s will on the Earth. He is God’s right-hand man. The disciples, as they watched Him ascend to heaven, now knew that Jesus was indeed divine and would be in charge and with them wherever they went. And, boldly they did go to the ends of the Earth to spread the good news (gospel) that Jesus saves and that He is in on the throne and is reigning forever (read Isaiah 52:7 to see what the good news really is from the text).

Building a Cathedral

Note: This short, multi-layered parable has been around since at least the 1500s and has been delivered with variations to promote salesmanship, team unity, and to motivate businesses and professionals to achieve their potential. It has been attributed to many famous people, from Michaelangelo to John F. Kennedy. Who the author or characters are is not nearly as important as the timeless message it conveys. The following version was presented in a Biblical seminar setting a few years ago by Ray Vanderlaan. This parable is at its best when cast in the light of what our mission is in the Kingdom of God. I hope you enjoy!

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

In 1546, at age 71, near the end of his career, Michaelangelo received his greatest and final commission. He was appointed by the Pope to be the chief architect on the restoration project of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He obviously looked at this huge project as a very somber and important task because he would be creating a space where people would go to meet, learn, and worship the God of the universe. He wanted the cathedral to be perfect in every detail. He immediately set out looking for assistants that would have the same mindset, approach, and passion for this project as he did.

Work had already been going on at the St. Peter’s church for forty years, so Michaelangelo went to the construction site to observe the workers there, hoping that he would find some inspired individuals to be his apprentices and assistants. He viewed and interviewed several bricklayers on the site, but was discouraged at their motivations for their work. One bricklayer, when asked what he was doing, just replied, “he was laying bricks to make money to feed his family”. Another, recognizing the famous painter, wanted the notoriety, pay, and advanced career status that would go with being an assistant under Michaelangelo.

As he continued around the project, he spotted an older gentleman who was also a bricklayer, mixing his mortar cement on the ground with a hoe. The man worked the cement back and forth, very purposely and steadily and never slowed or even looked up from his task. After watching the man for some time, Michealangelo stepped up beside the man and asked him, “Sir, what are you doing”? The man stopped the hoe in mid-stroke and looked up with a look that said, “

Sir, I am very busy and don’t have time to answer your obvious question”. However, he quickly replied with a certain enthusiasm in his voice, “Sir, I am building a cathedral”! It was said, that Michaelangelo hired him as his assistant on the spot.

What are the analogies and applications that we can take away from this wonderful story? Three people were basically doing the same work; one looked at it as merely a job, the second, his career, but the third viewed his job as a calling. The old man saw his job of mixing cement and laying bricks as not just a bricklayer, but as a man called by God to complete a task for his glory. He had a much higher meaning and purpose to his work than did his fellow workers. He was able to see the big picture, even though he was doing a job many would consider mundane and unimportant.

Can you see the big picture in the job you are doing and the life you are now living in? Do you realize the difference you are making right where you are? What is your purpose in life? How are you approaching the job that God has given you to do? Whether you are a janitor or a CEO, God has placed you there and you are an important part of building His cathedral. Each one of us has been left here to mix cement and lay bricks for the kingdom of heaven and to make God’s name known. Our mission is to advance that kingdom one square inch, one day at a time, by the way, we live and interact with people around us. Let’s make it our calling!

Verses that go along with this story:

  • Colossians 3:17-” Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31-” Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of the God”
  • Ecclesiastes 9:10-” Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might”.

A Fire of Burning Coals

When Jesus was raised from the dead, both Matthew (28: 7 &10) and Mark (16:7) record that Jesus instructed the disciples that he would go ahead of them and would meet them in Galilee. He had actually told Peter the same thing even earlier, on the night of his arrest (Matt 26:32) The text, however, doesn’t record if the disciples were expecting and looking for Jesus when they did go back to where they had been discipled by their rabbi for the past three years. We do know from John’s account that a large portion (7) of the disciples were in the Galilee one week after the resurrection (John 21:1-3). The event we will look at today in John 21 is often referred to as the” Miraculous Catch of Fish”.

In this story, Peter decides to go fishing in the Sea of Galilee (called the Sea of Tiberius in this account) and the other six disciples decide to go with him. The text records that they fished all night but caught nothing. (A funny side note is that in both instances in the gospels where it records the disciples fishing, (Luke 5:4-7 and here in John 21), they don’t catch any fish!)

Early in the morning, Jesus appeared on the shore, close to where they were fishing. He calls out to the seven and asks them if they had caught any fish. They answered, “No”, but didn’t realize that they were talking to Jesus. Jesus then told them to throw the net on the other side and when they did, they caught so many fish that they couldn’t pull the net in. Because this was exactly what had happened to Peter in the earlier fishing incident in Luke 5, Peter realizes that it has to be Jesus on the bank! He shouts, “It is the Lord!” and immediately jumped into the water to get to him. (Read the whole account in John 21:1-14)

Here is the cool part of the story and something that you might not have picked up on if you didn’t know something about Old Testament imagery. In John 21:9 it says, “when the disciples got to the shore, they saw a fire of burning coals, with fish on it and some bread”. Why would the text say, “a fire of burning coals”? Don’t all fires have burning coals? Why do we need to know that extra detail? What do burning coals represent in the Bible? In Genesis (Ch.15) and Exodus (Ch.3 and 19 for ex.), God is represented by and is associated with smoke fire, and burning coals. In 2 Samuel 22:9, David describes God with burning coals in his mouth. Burning coals in the text are a metaphor for the presence of God. In Proverbs 25:21-22, it says,” if you are kind to your enemy, you are heaping burning coals on his head”. Does that mean that you are trying to hurt him or make him feel bad? Paul later quotes this same verse in Romans 12:20, to explain, “if you forgive someone who has wronged you, then you are bringing the presence of God into the situation by heaping God (burning coals) on them. So, what does this have to do with the situation in John?

Who was the first disciple who ran to meet Jesus at the fire of burning coals? Peter, who just a week earlier had denied his Lord three times and hidden during the crucifixion! Did the author mention the burning coals to let the informed reader know that Jesus was going to forgive Peter and show him God’s presence like the verses in Proverbs and Romans say? Was Jesus going to heap burning coals on Peter? In the very next verses, Jesus forgives Peter and reinstates him and commissions him to be the one to feed the sheep. Did Peter feel forgiven?

We know from the text in Acts that Peter is back again at the forefront when the day of Pentecost comes in Acts 1 and 2. Three thousand people were saved and baptized in response to his powerful message (Acts 2:41). Peter goes on to be a major figure in the book of Acts (Ch.s 3,4,5,8,10,11) and is the founder of the New Testament church. He wrote two books that are in the canon of scripture (1 and 2 Peter) and church history records he died by crucifixion in Rome, just like his rabbi. Because Jesus forgave him and heaped burning coals on Peter’s head, Peter was set free to be one of the main figures in the spread of Christianity from Rome to the ends of the world.

P. S. It also says that they caught 153 fish. There has to be some reason that the number 153 is given! You can look it up and several ideas have been presented, but it seems that God has hidden that one pretty well! We will ask him someday.

Quarantined; a Biblical story

Now that we have had a taste of being quarantined, how would you like for that quarantine to last 12 years?

Read these two verses and see what I am talking about:

“A large crowd followed Jesus and pushed very close around him. Among them was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered very much from many doctors and had spent all the money she had, but instead of improving, she was getting worse.”
— Mark 5:24-26

We don’t know this woman’s name; all we know is that she had a chronic condition. Scripture tells us this condition lasted 12 years. Such a condition would be hard for anyone of any time period. Go back with me 2,000 plus years and let’s take a look into this woman’s world. What would this look like?

It would have meant that this Jewess would have been a social outcast. She contaminated all who came in contact with her. It is possible that every day she would hear the word, “unclean” and she would feel unworthy, unloved, unacceptable, and would be full of shame for something she had no control and had not caused. It would mean that sexually…she could not touch her husband. It would mean maternally…she could not bear children. It would mean domestically…anything she touched would be considered unclean. It would mean spiritually…she was not allowed to go to the temple or even to the synagogue. (Talk about social distancing!) Scripture also tells us that she spent everything she had, but got worse. So, we could add hopeless, financially ruined, and desperate to that list.

However, she had one hope and we find out that she was a pretty gutsy woman. There was a buzz in her village about a rabbi who was healing the lame and the blind. She had to be thinking, “maybe he could heal me” and she takes a huge risk. What if she was recognized? What if she was shooed away? What if she were punished for being in the crowd? What if she was publicly disgraced…again? What if….?

She thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed. ” (Mark 5:28) Luke’s account says it this way: “She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped (Luke 8:44).” Some translations say, “hem of his garment. ” So, this edge of his cloak, this hem of the garment, what could it mean? The Greek word for hem is “kraspedon” and literally means fringes or tassels. God commanded His people to sew tassels on the four corners of their garments to remember to obey all of His commands (Numbers 15:37). The Hebrew word for corner is “Kanaph” and means “wings.” Jesus, like other Jewish men, would have had tassels sewn on the four corners (wings) of his tallit (outer garment).

I think there is more to this story. This woman would have been familiar with the words of the prophets. Listen to Malachi 4:2:

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” She had the faith that Jesus was the sun of righteousness, the long-awaited Messiah and risked it all, and acted on that faith.”

John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, prophesied about John and Jesus:

“And you, my child will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven…”
— Luke 1:76-78

P.S. There is another Scripture that goes along with this. “When they had crossed over, they landed at Geneseret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all the sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge (tassels; wings) of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.”