By Jaime Sherman
I have heard it said that we are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. Our lives have been transformed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; however, we remain in a war-torn, sin-scarred world that longs for the final resurrection when Christ makes all things new. We are living in the in-between time, waiting and wondering: How long will You wait to return, Lord?
Jesus’ disciples had a similar question for Him in the days following His resurrection: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority,” Jesus replied. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).
As He was speaking to them, He was lifted into the clouds and returned to His Father 40 days after His resurrection. His friends were left to wait, for how long, they did not know. But they did know that Jesus had instructed them to remain in Jerusalem until they were “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5). So, they gathered, as was their custom, in the upper room to wait and to pray together.
Acts gives us one clue as to what they prayed about during what would be a 10-day wait — finding a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26). I imagine they also prayed for patient endurance in the waiting and thanked God for how He had provided and was continuing to provide for them. It was, after all, the season of gratitude, of Counting the Omer.
An omer is a sheaf of grain. During the 50 days between the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks (also called Shavuot and Pentecost), the Jewish people gathered their final spring grain, noted the day of the count, and offered a blessing to God for His provision in their lives. On the final day of the omer count, they celebrated the feast together with a special sabbath. In accordance with the instructions given in Leviticus 23, they offered God two loaves of leavened bread from the firstfruits of the wheat and animals for sacrifice. They also remembered that God gave the Israelites the Torah at Mount Sinai 50 days after rescuing them from Egyptian slavery.
The season was full of celebration and joy, beautiful albeit predictable each year, as devout Jews made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, one of three required each year for worship and sacrifice at the Temple. The city’s population swelled as the day approached for the feast, and as it did, 120 of Jesus’ followers remained devoted to prayer, not knowing that this would be the feast of a lifetime.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language (Acts 2:1-6).
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God enabled His followers to speak the heart languages of people from all over the known world who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. God knew these people — Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — all need to hear the gospel message. Through the words of the apostle Peter, who was equipped through the power of the Holy Spirit as he led the flock of disciples, they were “cut to the heart” and turned their lives over to Jesus Christ (Acts 2:37). On that day, some 3,000 people repented and were baptized, proclaiming their new life in Christ. You can read Peter’s Holy-Spirit empowered sermon in Acts 2:14-41.
In my youth, Sunday school teachers used brightly colored illustrations to depict the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and I always thought the day seemed rather chaotic. I was secretly glad I had not been there, but through the study of the Feast of Weeks, I’ve come to realize the beauty of that day as God fulfilled His promise and brought peace and beauty to His church. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, He reversed the chaos He orchestrated at the Tower of Babel when He confused the languages (Genesis 11:6-8) and the reckoning He required of 3,000 lives after the Israelites worshiped the golden calf (Exodus 32:25-35).
Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, His people were now knit together in unity and freedom. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, they were no longer bound to the punishment the law required, and they were free to live in the Spirit, overflowing with His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). From the Feast of Firstfruits, through the Counting of the Omer, and on the Feast of Weeks, God brought order from disorder and freedom from bondage, and His children learned the beauty of prayer and thanksgiving in seasons of waiting.
The Counting the Omer is known in many Christian churches as Eastertide. This year it begins on Easter Sunday, April 17, and continues through Pentecost Sunday, June 5. The 50 days of prayer and thanksgiving allow believers to linger in the reality of the resurrection and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit as they await the future day when Jesus will return to earth to make all things new.
We will return to our study of the 7 Feasts from Leviticus 23 on March 31 (no meeting during spring break) to explore the Feast of Trumpets, which points to Jesus’ Second Coming. Beginning Sunday (3.20) and running daily through Saturday (3.26), we will share a special spring break feature here on the blog with audio and written posts by Brianna Hines on honoring God with our health. You won’t want to miss it!