Shabbat Shalom, today we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is a biblical Jewish holiday that doesn’t get as much attention in modern times as other days like Yom Kippur or Passover, but it is very important. Shavuot was a holiday that was required to be attended when the Temple still stood. Shavuot means the “Feast of Weeks,” and is celebrated seven weeks after Passover. We count fifty days from the first night of Passover and because of this in the Greek it is called Pentacost which means Fiftieth. In the Torah, Shavuot is a festival where we bring a grain offering to the Temple. But it is also celebrated as the day God gave the Ten Commandments to our people. Today I would like to share with you the history of this first Shavuot, share with you why I believe Yeshua, Jesus, is the messiah, and encourage you to consider these teachings for yourself.
The giving of the Ten Commandments is recorded in Exodus 19 and 20 in the Torah, but to know the full story we must continue past these chapters as well. In Exodus 19 the Lord lead our people to Mount Sinai and called Moses to go up the mountain to speak with Him. After climbing the mountain, the Lord tells Moses to go back to our people and ask them to make a covenant, a contract, with Him.
We read in Exodus 19:4-6 “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the people of Israel.” Moses descended the mountain and we responded that we would do everything the Lord said.
Today we have many forms of Judaism, and the saying has never been truer, “Two Jews, three opinions”. We have forms of Judaism today that deny the Lord is real or that He has any commands for us. But it is on this day of Shavuot, at Mount Sinai, that the meaning of being Jewish is given to us.
To be a Jew, according to God’s Word, is to follow what the Lord has asked of us, to fully keep our agreement with Him, and receive the blessings that come from it. We are to be a kingdom of Priests and holy, a light to the rest of the world showing them who the Great Creator is.
This is a Judaism that goes beyond the teachings of Rabbis or our personal philosophies and what makes us comfortable. The covenant we agreed to on Mount Sinai declares that we would follow the Lord fully, that it was His standard we would strive to meet and not our own. At Mount Sinai we were presented with only two choices, to follow the Lord, or to follow what we wanted. On that day we chose to follow the Lord.
In this moment the mixed group of gentiles and Jews who had left Egypt became part of a new covenant with the Lord. After we agreed to follow the Lord we were told that three days later Adonai would appear to us on Mount Sinai. Anyone that approached the mountain before the Shofar was sounded was to be stoned or shot with arrows, whether they were human or animal. This was because Mount Sinai was holy with the presence of God on it.
Three days later there was intense thunder and lightning, shaking the land and lighting up the sky. Imagine the most intense thunderstorm you have ever experienced, and you begin to understand what it was like that day. A thick cloud came over the mountain and a loud blast of a shofar was heard from heaven. Everyone, including Moses, trembled at this sight. Moses then lead our people to meet God at the base of the mountain.
Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, the Lord had appeared as a consuming fire. The entire mountain trembled as a huge plume of smoke rose from the mountain. The lightning flashed, the ground shook, and the fire burned. The sound of God’s shofar rang out again and again as this awesome and terrifying sight gripped us all. Out of the fire and smoke the voice of the Lord was heard.
He began to speak the Ten Commandments, that we should have no other God besides Him or worship any sort of idol like other nations did. But hearing the voice of God was the breaking point for our people. They stayed back from the mountain and begged Moses to be the one to share God’s commandments. They wanted him to go between them and Adonai and bring back what the Lord had to say, because they were convinced if this continued they would die. Moses tried to reassure our people but eventually went into the thick cloud that was God’s presence to receive His Commandments.
After receiving many teachings from the Lord, Moses returned and shared everything the Lord commanded of us. We all responded once again that everything the Lord had said we would do. The covenant was confirmed, and the Lord called Moses back to the mountain to receive the commandments on stone. Moses had his aide Joshua wait at the base of the mountain and went up for 40 days and nights.
While Moses received the tablets written by God and more commandments, everyone else began to get scared. Moses had been gone for weeks and everyone was convinced He would never return. They then came to Aaron and told him that since “this Moses”, was gone they wanted new gods to go before them like the Lord had. Aaron, whether out of fear of the people or sharing their fear of Moses never returning, instructed them to bring him gold, and from it he created a golden calf or bull. This idol was given the Lord’s special name and Aaron declared that the next day they would offer it sacrifices and party. The next day they did as Aaron had said and had a great time feasting and drinking.
This incident of idolatry was one of the lowest spiritual points in our people’s history. Everyone, including Aaron, turned from the Lord. We created a false god, gave it the Lord’s name and said it was this idol that lead us from Egypt. Weeks after hearing the voice of God tell us to make no idols we did just that. It is hard to picture a greater blasphemy.
Back on the mountain the Lord informed Moses of what our people had done. Adonai offered to destroy us and make a new people from Moses. Moses pleaded before the Lord and in His mercy, He relented. Moses went down Mount Sinai with the tablets of the law the Lord had created in hand and met Joshua who had been waiting for him.
On seeing the idolatry at the camp Moses smashed the tablets showing how thoroughly the covenant with the Lord had been broken. He then took the golden calf and ground it down into a fine powder and forced our people to drink our idol.
He then asked Aaron what on Earth had happened in the camp. Aaron immediately tried to blame Moses, and then our people for what had happened. He also tried to convince Moses that he had thrown the gold into the fire and out popped this idol. Aaron claimed it had been supernatural instead of made by him. These excuses of course did nothing to calm Moses down. Seeing how our people were running wild thanks to Aaron, becoming so wild that even our enemies laughed at us, he stood at the gate of the camp and asked for all who were for the Lord to come to him. Only the tribe of Levi answered his call, everyone else refused to follow their covenant with the Lord.
Moses instructed the Levites to kill many of the people for their sins, including people they knew, it is recorded that 3,000 died that day. After this was done the tribe of Levi was ordained into service for the Lord.
This is the story immortalized forever in the Torah of how we began our covenant with the Lord and then broke it weeks later. Literally broken with the smashing of the tablets. Despite the fact we broke our word and began to do things how we wanted, the Lord did not abandon us. Moses went back up the mountain, brought down a second set of tablets, and this time He found us waiting without any idols.
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the Tanakh, we see this cycle repeated constantly. We begin to follow the commands of the Lord, then most people begin to do what they want, then judgment comes in some form. During the suffering we turn back to God and the suffering ends, but soon the cycle starts again. For the sin of the Golden Calf and others, almost the entire generation that left Egypt would die in the wilderness, never reaching the promised land of Israel.
We see this cycle happen during the life of Moses, the time of Joshua, and the time of the Judges where we read that every person did what was right in their own eyes. The kings of Israel, including David, suffer this way as well. Most people it seems in every generation turn from God, while only a minority continue to follow Him. Eventually we are exiled for 70 years from the Promised Land and then brought back.
But the story of the Jewish people in the Tanakh is the story of humanity. We don’t like being told what to do. We want to do things our own way and would rather God just pat us on the back and let us do everything on our terms. We want to be validated, to have what we feel be told as true, and to only change if we agree to it.
We live in an age of unprecedented choice and freedom. There are untold numbers of philosophies and religions to pick from. A buffet of systems to justify and affirm however you want to live your life. This is true of Christianity and Judaism as well, you can find a denomination of either that will basically fit your life independent of what the Bible has to say.
Despite all this freedom, despite being more connected to one another than we ever have been, numerous studies show that we are more depressed than ever. Major depression, anxiety, and hopelessness are on the rise. You may have experienced it in your own life, the lives of people you care about, your job, or just going through the world around you.
We assume that we can fix ourselves, that we can do things on our own terms and everything will just work out. We distract ourselves with everything around us and pretend everything is fine. But then we find ourselves in moments without distraction, in moments where we can’t just tell ourselves everything we do is fine, and in those moments, we just desperately look for something to block those thoughts and feelings out. But we are not alone, the same God who created everything, who moves through the stories of Scripture is still here today. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In God we find peace from the suffering in this life, an answer for the hopelessness that surrounds us.
The Lord knew our people would break the covenant through Moses. That we would fail time and time again. That all of humanity would be lost in darkness, each of us going our own way. Woven through the story of our people, threaded through the story of humanity, is the promise of an Anointed King, a Mashiach, a Messiah.
He is promised to bring our people, and all humanity, back to Him. Before Moses died He prophesied that one day the Lord would send someone even greater than himself. In the time of king David, it is promised that it will be one of his descendants and that the throne of David will last forever. Today most Jews don’t believe in a Messiah. In Reform Judaism the idea is that human beings will bring about a Messianic Age. But this is a teaching not found in the Tanakh, it is a change like many others made to Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple. Changes made by people, but not by the Lord.
The fact is that today the Temple has not stood for almost 2,000 years. Without a Temple we cannot keep the law of God.
The Rabbi’s understood this and so Judaism was transformed in the wake of its destruction and our exile from Israel again. In today’s Judaism each of us basically follows our own way of thinking, mostly trying to keep the faith going either without a belief in the God of the Bible, or without the ability to follow the commands of the Mosaic Covenant.
If God is real, if anything in the history of Scripture is real, then why would God allow the Temple to be destroyed for so long and not be rebuilt unless something had changed? Unless the sacrifices had been fulfilled in the Messiah and the promised New Covenant foretold in the prophets had come to pass?
Now I believe that Jesus, Yeshua is the promised Jewish Messiah. There are many things I could say, about how Yeshua and His teaching is different from anyone else who has ever lived. I could talk about how this young upstart Rabbi challenged an entire generations idea of what it meant to be a Jew. Challenging them to abandon petty desires for the Lord’s desire.
I could talk about how He was seen and followed by large crowds, performing miracles that have not seen before or since. Or I could talk about how there is no more influential person in human history. That in western civilization we divide time from before and after His birth. That no one else has had such a large impact as He has had, with His followers moving from the underground to the center stage of human history.
Yeshua was born as God’s prophets declared, lived as God said He would, died as Scripture said, and was resurrected just as God’s Word said He would. Now I will confess I was not there to see this, but we have more records about the life of Yeshua than anyone in the ancient world. If you can believe Julius Caesar was real, that he lived his life and died as history says, then you can do the same for Yeshua. Because we have much later and many less copies of the life of Caesar. It is the same for everyone in the ancient world. With the New Covenant, New Testament, Scriptures we have thousands and thousands of copies from dates much closer to when events occurred.
But what truly makes Yeshua different from all the other supposed messiahs, is that besides the miracles He performed in front of many people, was His teaching telling everyone to abandon their own way and go back to God’s. He called us to repent, to turn back to the Lord, and stop trying to do things based on our own way and desires. Like the other prophets before Him, He was eventually put to death, but unlike everyone else who had ever lived, He fully kept the covenant of Moses.
If you’ve only ever heard about Jesus second-hand from someone, I would highly encourage you to consider Him and His teachings for yourself.
For me, one of the strongest facts that Yeshua is the Messiah, is how His followers after His death went into hiding from persecution, but then after His resurrection boldly came out of hiding. They saw the resurrected Yeshua and became bold proclaimers that He was the promised Messiah. What turned these men hiding away, into men willing to die horrible deaths for proclaiming the truth?
Every one of His disciples died horrible deaths, and for centuries His followers were persecuted by Roman and Jewish leadership. If it was a lie, they would have died out like every other messiah’s followers, but instead they boldly flourished.
It is in Acts 2 of the New Testament that we see this bold flourishing begin. On another Shavuot centuries after Moses there is smoke and fire again. The disciples were waiting for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit just as the resurrected Yeshua had promised. They were waiting for the same spirit that moved Moses, Joshua, King David, and others, but in a much more powerful way.
We read in Acts 2, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongue as the Spirit enabled them.5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?
We have listed for us all the languages spoken that day and the text continues in verse 12.
12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!
Once again fire and smoke had come with a moving of God’s presence. But this was very different than Mount Sinai.
Instead of fear of God’s spirit, the disciples accepted this new promised covenant made through the Messiah. Once again God’s will was proclaimed to our people in a spiritually powerful way. Some heard this and were willing to listen, others decided to dismiss it as drunk ramblings even though this did not make sense.
Peter, one of Messiah Yeshua’s disciples, stood up and began teaching the crowd through the prophets and what they themselves had seen, that Messiah Yeshua was the promised and resurrected Messiah. How in accordance with God’s Will He was put to death and that everyone needed to follow Him and not their own way.
He concludes His preaching with this eternal truth, 36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Yeshua, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were immersed, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
On the day our people suffered for the Golden Calf 3,000 died. On the day we accepted Yeshua as the Messiah, 3,000 began to truly live. When we believe in messiah Yeshua we begin to truly live. Just like at Mount Sinai our people were presented with a choice, to fully follow God or to do things our own way.
Each of us today, Jew and gentile, are presented with the same choice on this Shavuot as the ones before it.
We can choose to fully follow God’s teaching, revealed in His word and through Messiah Yeshua, or we can choose to follow a religion of our own creation.
We can dismiss as nonsense the clear and real teaching of God or we can embrace, however hard it may be, God’s revealed will for our lives and experience a peace that goes beyond our circumstances.
The New Covenant through Messiah Yeshua is different than the Mosaic Covenant. It is built on the promises of that covenant but where the Mosaic Covenant shows our inability to save ourselves, the New Covenant shows us the saving power of God. As the writer of the letter to the Messianic Jews, the writer of the book of Hebrews, states.
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
This is how the Mosaic Covenant as we read today was enacted. But for those who are followers of the Messiah we have these encouraging words.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Yeshua the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
This is the faith that I have, and one that I hope you share as well. It is encouragement of God that comes from being right with Him. That despite the circumstances of my life, the highs and lows, that we have come to the joy of God made perfect in His Messiah.
My prayer today is that each one of us would experience the joy of God in this life and look forward to the heavenly Jerusalem in the next. May each one of us approach not a mountain of fear, but a mountain of joy. May we each make the right choice, to choose God’s way over our own destructive way. May we not perish like that generation that left Egypt but instead live forever with the Lord. May we as followers of Messiah, Jew and gentile continue to press on boldly proclaiming our faith life like Peter, as more and more join us in our shared faith.