Did you know that God commanded His people to count to fifty? In the Biblical cycle of annual Feasts, the Lord told the Israelites that they should count fifty days after the feast of Firstfruits, (which follows on from Passover). Today (26 May) we come to the fiftieth day after Firstfruits in the biblical calendar. I don’t know about you, but this countdown reminds me of the feeling I had as a child, counting the days until my birthday, or Christmas, or the summer holidays. It brings such a sense of anticipation. After fifty days there was to be another celebration, one with a very practical name- the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot.
Traditionally, the Jewish people have taken Shavuot as the celebration day for God’s giving of the Law- one of the most defining moments in Jewish (and indeed in world) history. God’s Torah is what made the Jewish people the nation they are. It is a core part of their national identity. As Paul said, “Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). Certainly, something to be celebrated!
You might wonder: what does this have to do with me? The answer is: everything! You may know that Jesus died at Passover, just as God had planned. He rose from the grave on the feast of Firstfruits. Then, after having walked the earth another forty days, He went to heaven and told His disciples to wait. What were they waiting for? The coming of the Holy Spirit! Another ten days later, right on Shavuot, the Holy Spirit was poured out, and His coming changed everything. At last, that great Promise of the Father had become a reality for the followers of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit does so much in our lives that whole libraries of books have been written about it. One of the most important elements of the Holy Spirit’s work was prophesied by Jeremiah, some six hundred years before, in Jeremiah 31:33-34.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (NKJV).
The Holy Spirit writes God’s laws in our hearts. On the day the Jews were celebrating God’s gift of Torah, God poured out the Holy Spirit, with the promise that He Himself would write the Law in our hearts. The Holy Spirit does away with self-righteousness and legalism. He is about an intensely personal relationship. He does that which we cannot do ourselves. He changes not just our outward behaviors, He transforms our sinful hearts. He helps us walk in love and holy fear. What a reason to celebrate and give thanks to God!
When the Law was given in Exodus, three thousand people died, due to the incident with the golden calf. Amazingly, on the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out three thousand souls were saved. Though the Law is good, it brings death because of our sin. The Holy Spirit, who empowers us from within, brings life.
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