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Pentecost and the Jewish Feast of Shavuot

Hearts Alive Writer, Michelle Van Loon is our guest blogger this week.  She explains to us the connection between Pentecost, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Jewish feast of Shavuot. 

He told them to wait.

Wait for who?

Every time I read the account of the first Pentecost, I’m struck by the fact that Jesus’ followers had no clear picture of exactly who or what they were waiting for. But the risen Messiah told them to wait, so that’s exactly what they did.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)

There was context for his words. They were smack-dab in the middle of counting the Omer, numbering in prayer each day between the pilgrim feasts of Passover and Shavuot. Those feasts were two of the three times each year the Chosen People needed to present themselves as one in Jerusalem at the Temple. (The third was the fall feast of Sukkot.) Jesus’ words to them reflected the fact that they were going to be in Jerusalem for the Shavuot. I’ll be covering Shavuot in more detail next month, as it will begin this year at sunset on June 11th.

However, the Western Church will be celebrating the event that happened on the first Shavuot after Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday, May 15th. The Eastern (Orthodox) Church will be marking Pentecost this year on June 19th.

The Jewish festal cycle and the Christian calendar each offer holidays that are meant to serve as an on-ramp into the intersection of time and eternity. These moments and days point us beyond our own everyday agendas and connect us with our place in a bigger, more beautiful story. I’ve been blogging a 5-minute intro to each major holiday and season in both the Hebrew and Christian calendars. Today, I’m offering an overview of the feast day of Pentecost. This celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church ends the Easter seasonand inaugurates the long calendar period of Ordinary Time. (I’ll be covering Ordinary Time in a subsequent post.)

Who?

Before his arrest, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would be sent to his followers. Fifty days after Jesus was crucified, God immersed them in the resurrection life of Jesus, filling them as he’d once filled the Holy of Holies in the Temple and supernaturally empowering them to proclaim his glorious grace.

What? 

Pentecost is drawn from the Greek word pentekostos, which means fifty. It references the fifty day period between Passover and Shavuot.

Pentecost had a place on the yearly Christian calendar from the second century. Pasche, the observance of the resurrection, was the name for the entire fifty-day period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. By end of third century, Pentecost was the name given to the final feast day of the fifty days. Over time, a liturgy and an eight-day vigil leading up to Pentecost formed around the day. These holy days were second only to Easter in importance for early believers.

Because the date of Pentecost is calculated based on the date of Easter via the lunar cycle, the earliest date in the Western church for Pentecost is May 10th, and the latest date is June 13th. In these churches, Pentecost Sunday became an alternate day for baptisms for those who could not be baptized on Easter.

When?

Pentecost is directly tied to the date in which Easter is celebrated each year. It’s considered a “moveable feast” as it is not anchored to the Julian/Gregorian calendar. Because the date of Pentecost is calculated based on the date of Easter via the lunar cycle, the earliest date in the Western church for Pentecost is May 10th, and the latest date is June 13th. In these churches, Pentecost Sunday became an alternate day for baptisms for those who could not be baptized on Easter.

Pentecost had a place on the yearly Christian calendar from the second century. Pasche, the observance of the resurrection, was the first name for the entire fifty-day period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. By end of third century, Pentecost was the name given to the final feast day of the fifty days.

Why?

Paul uses the language of Shavuot, the Jewish festival with a focus on offering of the first fruits of the new wheat crop, to speak about the resurrection of Jesus to his friends at Corinth:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:19-26)

God gave the Holy Spirit was given to the Church so we’d be empowered to do the kingdom works Jesus didproclaiming good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and setting the oppressed free. Acts 2 baptism with tongues of fire – a reversal of Babel’s confusion and shattered community  – that set free the community of believers to live their birthright as children of the King.

How?

Liturgical churches use the tried-and-true order of service for Pentecost Sunday. (Here’s a link to a selection of liturgical prayers for the day.) Low-church (churches that don’t use a formal liturgy for corporate worship) Charismatics and Pentecostals seek to live in Pentecost’s reality every day, thus, they don’t tend to mark the day. Those from other low-church traditions interested in celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the big C Church may find some inspiration for service planning here.

And for all of us, Audrey Assad’s achingly lovely prayer, Spirit Of The Living God

At The Intersection Of Time & Eternity: Pentecost

To read more of Michelle’s writing, go to her website: Michelle Van Loon.Com

 

Be a Chopstick to a Pepper

By: Sara Buffington, Hearts Alive Sunday School Curriculum Writer

This spring has brought a new hobby to our household: vegetable gardening. My seven-year-old, who prior to this was only interested in toys involving batteries, has fallen in love with growing our own food.  We are only beginners, and we are learning as we go.

Last week an “accident” befell our tiny chili pepper plant.  We had had a thunderstorm, and the rain and the wind had toppled the plant.  “Mommy help!” my son cried. “Our plant has fallen over!”  Anxiety turned to relief as we straightened the plant and applied more soil around the base.  A few days (and another rainy and windy day) later, the plant toppled again.  When it happened a third time, I knew we needed another solution.

Feeling like a genius, I ran to the kitchen to dig out an old chopstick and a twist tie from the junk drawer.  We “staked” the plant by shoving the chopstick in the soil next to the delicate stem.  We entwined chopstick and plant together with the plastic twist tie.  Now the chili pepper stays erect during howling wind and rain.

Jesus was fond of the agricultural metaphor: scattering seeds, the grain of wheat, and staying connected to the vine.  Like plants, we grow, we take root, we live, and we die.  As I staked that little pepper plant with my son, I thought about how he had things in common with it: they are both young, they both have shallow roots, and they both need someone or something to help hold them up.

When we, as teachers or parents, care for a child and teach them about God’s love, we can be the chopstick that holds them up as they grow.  As believers, should we not support one another? In time, their faith will strengthen, and their roots will deepen.  May our prayers for them echo Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:  Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Eph 3:17 NLT).

Meet the Hearts Alive Writers: Jill Turner

Jill Turner helps Hearts Alive Sunday school teachers understand the background for each week’s lesson.  Many of our users have commented on the value of this component and how it leads to more meaningful discussions with students.

 

Cultivating Children’s Love for Jesus

by David Sanford, Hearts Alive Writer

Why do children love Jesus so much? In the Gospels, it’s clear that they loved Jesus because He first loved them. Jesus wasn’t posing for future artists when He invited children to gather around Him. Actually, He didn’t have to do any coaxing. Children loved Him. So did their parents, who were eager for Jesus to bless their children.

Like a beloved uncle or grandfather, Jesus would put His hands on their heads and pray for them. I can imagine parents reminding their children, “Do you remember when Jesus prayed for you?” What a treasured memory.

It’s sometimes said that adults who love children at heart are really kids themselves. That is, they’ve retained the best qualities of their childhood.

While some grown-ups love to be around kids, some apparently don’t. There’s no question which when we look at Jesus.

Jesus loved to be with children. During His three and a half years of ministry as an adult, we see Jesus giving an amazing amount of priority to ministry to children. Jesus talks with children, something only parents and grandparents usually did in that culture. Jesus commends the faith of little children who, in that culture, were sometimes considered incapable and unable to truly embrace religious faith until they were almost teenagers.

Not only that, but we see Jesus blessing children. We see Him feeding them. We even see Jesus using a little boy’s sack lunch to feed the multitudes and send 12 hefty baskets full of leftovers to help feed others.

Beyond that, we see Jesus healing boys and girls who are demon-possessed and curing others who are sick and dying. He even resurrects a 12-year-old girl who had just died and an older boy who had died a few hours earlier.

In his preaching and teaching, Jesus said that children are a strategic, essential part of his kingdom in heaven and on earth. In so many words, Jesus told his disciples, “Listen, my kingdom belongs to kids.” Not only that, but Jesus goes on to say, “Unless you become like a little kid, you can’t even get into My kingdom.”

What is Jesus talking about? Well, what are kids good at doing? They’re good at receiving. When you’re a small child, your mom and dad give you some food. What do you do? You receive it. Your grandparents send you a birthday satchel with five shekels in it. What do you do? You receive it. God gives you a sunny day to go outside and play. What do you do? You receive it.

The same thing applies when it comes to God’s kingdom. Can you work really hard to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. Can you be good enough, for long enough, to get a part of God’s kingdom? Again, no. Can you pay lots of money to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. That’s what grown-ups would try to do. Jesus says, That’s not the way to get into My kingdom. My kingdom isn’t like that at all. To get into My kingdom you have to get down lower—humble yourself—and trust Me.

What do you have to do to get a part of God’s kingdom? That’s right. You have to receive something. Or, specifically, Someone.

In all we do with children, let’s be sure to cultivate their love for Jesus.

The Servant Life Hearts Alive Palm Sunday Reflections

There’s a bumper sticker that some of you may have seen, it says: Salt Life. I imagine this to mean a life dedicated to spending as much time as possible at the beach: swimming, tanning, jet skiing, surfing, fishing, basically celebrating sun and sand. This coming week’s Palm Sunday lesson in our Hearts Alive curriculum for kids is about The Servant Life, and if you are reading this blog as a Sunday school teacher, congratulations! You are already immersed in Servant Life. As a servant, you know that there can be days that it is a thankless job. You sacrifice a leisurely morning in bed to the rush of preparing for class and sometimes dealing with the behavioral issues of other people’s children. There are those rewarding moments when you see the difference that knowing Christ can make in a child’s life, but most of the time, you will not witness the fruit of your labors. You won’t see the comfort that God brings to a child when he faces a small social challenge or even a full blown crisis in the future. Yet let me assure you, that seed is taking root. God’s Word never returns empty and will accomplish what HE desires (Isaiah 55:11 NIV).

The opposite of the Servant Life is the King Life, and He who is the worthiest, King of all Kings, spurned this life while He lived on earth. It is the life that many in the secular culture sing about… Greed, power, pleasure, cutting down others, being successful, demanding respect and adulation. It is a me-focused life. This week’s Heart’s Alive lesson is a great opportunity to ask ourselves and our students to reflect upon which lifestyle we have chosen for ourselves. Are we little “kings” always demanding to go first, to speak the most, never to wait, and always have our way? Or do we follow the example of our Lord who washed others feet and died a horrible death on the cross to pay a debt that He certainly didn’t owe, but gave out of love. The King Life seems more fun than the Servant Life, but this is a temporary delusion. Lasting fulfillment and happiness is always found in serving others.

“The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matthew 22:11, NIV

“My Father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:26, NIV

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Acts 20:35, NIV

Guarding the Faith

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” – 1 Timothy 6:20-21

 

Paul’s final charge to Timothy is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (6:20). As a minister of the Gospel, Timothy is being sent into a battle on the front lines for the very Gospel itself. He needs strong encouragement to see the importance of the task and ministry with which he has been entrusted.

The need for Paul’s letter was occasioned for two main reasons: geography and time. First, Paul was simply not able to be in more than one place at a time. The delegation of leadership to others was an essential task for Paul if there was to be a geographically broad gospel movement. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys moving from region to region, city to city, town to town, many new congregations were planted. New leadership had to be developed in each region, city, and town. Coordination and support of those various congregations also became mission-critical for the gospel.

The second issue was related to time. Paul was always keenly aware that his days of “fruitful ministry” were numbered. The issue of succession was critically important to Paul as he empowered Timothy to lead and then to identify and empower more leaders for the churches.

In this way, we see the first examples of succession and delegation at work in the church in the personal and pastoral relationship between Timothy and Paul. For Paul, the issue is not merely the passing of a torch humanly speaking, but for him it was critically important that the content and character of the gospel be guarded in order that it may be passed on faithfully to the next generation of leaders.

As each generation considers its own faith, it must also keep in mind the needs of the next generation of believers. We are given a sacred trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ, guarding the faith carefully so that it can be passed on.

In what ways are you delegating, passing on, and guarding the faith which has been entrusted to you?

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This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge.

The Cross Walk: A Brand New 7-Week Children’s Curriculum

We are thrilled to announce the release of The Cross Walk: Learning to Walk Like Jesus. The Cross Walk is an exciting new Children’s Curriculum that combines games, crafts, and hands-on activities with solid Biblical teaching. Perfect for Sunday School or mid-week gatherings, this brand-new resource is designed for Grades K-5, large group or small group sessions. What makes The Cross Walk unique is its parallel to the themes the adults are exploring in The Crucified Life study series, making for a powerful entire-family teaching experience. However, The Cross Walk offers powerful lessons on the foundations of faith for children any time of the year, regardless of whether their parents are participating in The Crucified Life.

The Cross Walk contains 7 weekly sessions based on Jesus’ Seven Words from the Cross:

Session 1: Forgiveness – “God forgives me. I need to forgive others.”

Session 2: Salvation – “When I do something wrong, I should run back to God.”

Session 3: Relationship – “I can help take care of the family of God”

Session 4: Distress – “Jesus helps me thirst to do the right thing.”

Session 5: Abandonment – “God will never leave me or abandon me.”

Session 6: Reunion – “I can trust God, even in difficult times.”

Session 7: Triumph – “God helps me finish the race!”

The Cross Walk Children’s Curriculum includes:

  • Weekly Large Group time of engaging Bible lessons taught through stories, skits, and videos (Grades K-5)
  • Weekly Small Group time for follow-up activities and crafts (divided by Grades K-1, Grades 2-3, and Grades 4-5) to help the lessons “stick” to little hearts
  • Lively, engaging games that tie in to the Bible teachings
  • Uplifting worship songs with on-screen graphics downloadable from the website, including two original songs written for The Cross Walk
  • Original animated videos of Bible stories, narrated by children
  • “Cross Walk, All Week” handouts featuring Dinner Table Talk to help families apply the lessons together

Don’t pass up the chance to get The Cross Walk at the low introductory price of $79.99 for the Digital-Only Package or $99.99 for the Print + Digital Package!

Download a free sample of The Cross Walk!

Purchase The Cross Walk now!

Announcing The Cross Walk: The companion to The Crucified Life – for kids!

Cross Walk coverComing Soon…

The Cross Walk!

We are very excited to announce the upcoming release of The Cross Walk: the companion curriculum to The Crucified Life – for kids in grades K-5! This project is still in design, but we are planning to have it ready for release in January, so that churches can do this curriculum with their children at the same time the adults of the congregation are doing The Crucified Life for Lent.

View the cover image at right. (Click the image to preview Week 1: Forgiveness.)

We are so excited about involving children in church-wide Crucified Life campaigns, and we think the families of your congregations will be blessed by it!




Leave us a comment below to give us your thoughts…

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