Bible Reading Exodus 24:3,4a,5,7,12
Hear the highlights of the original, Old Testament Pentecost drawn from Exodus 24.
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances. Then all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.” Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain… Then he sent some of the young men to sacrifice the burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord… He took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and we will be obedient.” … The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me to the mountain and stay there, and I will give you the stone tablets with law and the commandments which I have written, so that you may teach them.” (MEV)
Message Paul accepts Lydia & the Philippians Acts 16:9-15
Technically, there is no connection between the Jewish Pentecost and the Christian Pentecost, except that they both count 50 days from Passover/Easter and so are on the same day. The Jewish Pentecost (to avoid confusion) is most often called Shavu'ot (shaw-voo-awt), which literally means “weeks” - and is commonly referred to as the Festival of Weeks.
Three traditions are associated with the Festival of Weeks. Agriculturally, it commemorates when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple on the second day of Passover (The Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah through Moses at Mount Sinai and is aptly known as (The Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). And between them, they count the days with great anticipation. This is called “The Counting of the Omer (Oh-mare)”. An omer is a unit of measure - about 2 quarts. In the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as a thank offering. This grain offering was simply called an omer. They would count the days from this offering.
A blessing is recited -- here is a slightly paraphrased excerpt of one --
May God be gracious to us and bless us; may He make His countenance shine upon us forever; that Your way be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. All the nations will extol You, O God. They will rejoice and sing for joy, for You will judge the peoples justly and guide the nations on earth forever. All the peoples will extol You, for the earth will have yielded its produce and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us; and all, from the farthest corners of the earth, shall honor Him… Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever...
After the blessing is said, the count is stated, so on the 16th day, they would say "Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer." The counting of the omer links Passover with Shavu’ot, the Exodus from Egypt where they were slaves with the giving of the Law on Siani when they enter into covenant with God as a nation. Now just tuck that away as we move to today’s text.
Prior to the text (See Acts 16:1-5), Paul has some success and in Derbe and Lystra (List-ra) and picks up Timothy who eventually become one of his important trainees. Then, Luke doesn’t describe how, but the Holy Spirit kept blocking them from going where they planned, and they ended up in Troas (Trow-aws). It is here that the Spirit gives them positive direction. Verses 9-10:
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
God calls them to take the gospel (the primary kind of help they could give) to Macedonia. The narrative switches from “they” to “we”, meaning our author, Luke, has joined them in Troas. Paul’s plans were not blocked forever, but a changed strategy of timing and they hit some of the central cities first, (which some scholars in hindsight deduce was a more effective strategy) which allowed the gospel to take on a life and movement on its own and allowed Paul to have even more effective missionary journeys. Verses 11-12
From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
Samothrace was a towering mountain island rising 5,000 feet above the sea. Neapolis was the seaport for Philippi, which was about 10 miles away. Philippi was a proud and important Roman colony, which allowed them to self-govern under Roman laws and it freed them from taxation, and many veteran Roman soldiers settled there. The city had a very small Jewish population. We can deduce this because the custom was that Paul would normally first visit the synagogue. But apparently, they didn’t have the required ten Jewish men to form one. But while staying in the city, they did hear of a place outside the city (the assumption is they weren’t allowed to meet within its borders) that was an unofficial meeting place where some Jewish women and at least one God-fearing Gentile gathered for Sabbath prayers. It was near a stream so they could also practice the Jewish water purification rituals. So Paul, Luke, Timothy and their group joined them there and told them the story of Jesus. We see this in verse 13 and 14.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God.
One of them was a transplant from Asia. Thyatira was a city in (what was for them) the ancient kingdom of Lydia, a people famous for the manufacture and use of purple dyes. We call this woman Lydia, it likely wasn’t her name, for it is literally translated “the Lydian woman”, and she happened to be skilled in her hometown’s reputation. There was probably a Jewish colony in that city, but we don’t know if it was there or later that she converted to the Jewish faith. The last of verse 14 says
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
and she became the first recorded European convert to Christianity. It is interesting to note that she was a native of Asia, but even the old conservative scholars recognized her as the first European convert, because of where she was living when she was converted.
This event affirmed both the benefits of (Paul’s) obedience to the Spirit and God’s eagerness to accept and work in ever-expanding types of cultures and peoples. Verse 15:
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
Let’s sum it up. A business person from a culture foreign to the rest was welcomed to worship in a prayer meeting. She was already seeking, she just needed the space and time, the opportunity to learn in a safe place. By the positive, encouraging testimony of missionaries, whom they also welcomed; Lydia found the joy of Jesus Christ, and immediately went about the business of Christian ministry. As a practical expression of her new faith -- she pressed her hospitality and material support on the missionaries. Nothing dramatic or earth shattering -- in her conversion or in her ministry -- but that makes it no less valid or important. In fact, most scholars describe Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church that was born that day as one of exceptional closeness and intimate warmth, much more so than with any other church he founded or worked with.
And so it is, in the ordinary living and seeking of God and fellowship with one another that we suddenly (or gradually) realize that through some comment, some song, some friendly connection - that Christ has given his Spirit to us and we receive him to live and reign in our heart. He became our highest priority — and his joy floods our soul and spills out in how we live.
I’ve told you (I know because I looked it up – I told you 3 years ago). about the prospectors who set out from Bannack, Montana in search of gold. This was back in the 1860s. They went through many hardships. Some in their crew died or gave up. They were overtaken by thieves who took all their good horses, leaving them with only a few limping ponies. These thieves threatened them to go and stay in Bannock. If they came across them again, they’d kill the lot of them.
The defeated prospectors began to make their way back to Bannack. One evening as they set up camp for the night, one of the men casually picked up a little stone from the creek bed. He called to his buddy for a hammer and upon cracking the rock, he said, "It looks as though there may be gold here!” The two of them panned gold the rest of the afternoon and managed to realize 12 dollars’ worth. (around 350 dollars by today’s standards) The entire company panned gold the next day and realized 50 dollars, (that’d be about 1,500 dollars today). Not bad for a day’s work.
They made their way back to Bannack and vowed not to breathe a word concerning their treasure. They secretly re-equipped themselves with supplies for another trip. When they left, 300 men followed them. No one had told. But their step, their actions, and their beaming faces betrayed the secret.
If we love Christ, then our lives, our actions, sometimes even our faces, will reveal the treasure of Christ’s Spirit within. Granted, Christians have many of the same problems as everyone else -- and it is not always easy to beam. That is understandable. Nevertheless, God’s gift of the Spirit, of Christ in our hearts, is not meant to be limited to a select few or kept secret. He commissions us to reveal Christ’s life within us and that he can live in all people everywhere. As you are able, let his love and grace flow through you. As you are able, let him be seen in your lives. (Pause)
Now wherever you tucked away your knowledge about the Old Testament Jewish Pentecost -- untuck it again. Passover remembers the Exodus from Egyptian slavery, Shavu’ot remembers the giving of the law on Sinai, the counting of the Omer (oh-mare) links the two. Listen to how Jewish websites describe their meaning: Passover freed us physically from bondage [to Egyptian slavery], but the giving of the Torah on Shavu'ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. It reminds us that redemption from slavery is not complete until the Torah is given. (emphasis added)
It is also noteworthy that it is called the giving of the Torah, rather than the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this day significant.
Likewise, believing in Jesus’ physical act of sacrifice on the cross forgives us and delivers us from our acts of sin, and the giving of the Spirit completes the spiritual act of salvation and restoration that puts us on a course of continually receiving and being filled with God’s guiding Spirit (Ephesians 5:18b – many English versions say “be filled with the Spirit” but the verb tense is ongoing -- “keep on being filled with the Spirit” (CJB)) that leads us into all truth (John 16:13) that shall set us free if we are really his disciples and hold to his teachings (John 8:31-32)
Both faiths are wrapped up in a covenant relationship with our God, and the developing of that relationship is important -- that is why we are to always be receiving. It is why Lydia and the ladies were at a prayer meeting, it is why we gather at studies and camps and worship services -- and try to honor (at least metaphorically) the feasts and fasts of the seasons of the Christian year. It is even why we gather in each other’s homes -- so that we can live the faith together -- just by our lives being together…
A Jewish website noted that it is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavu'ot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning. When is the last time we’ve had an all-nighter studying and praying the Word? And I’m not saying we have to or even should need to do that -- but it does make us think about just how much importance do we put on receiving our covenant relationship with our Creator? And how do we express in our lives what we have received… Let’s pray, and the first part will be an additional excerpt from that same omer blessing:
* Closing Prayer We implore You, by the great power of Your right hand, release the captive. Accept the prayer of Your people; strengthen us, purify us, Awesome One. Mighty One, we implore You, guard as the apple of the eye those who seek Your Oneness. Bless them, cleanse them; bestow upon them forever Your merciful righteousness. Powerful, Holy One, in Your abounding goodness, guide Your congregation. Only and Exalted One, turn to Your people who are mindful of Your holiness. Accept our supplication (our prayer) and hear our cry, You who knows secret thoughts.
Now surround us with your Spirit, fill us and make us whole. Open our hearts that we may receive you again and again. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 347 Spirit Song
Closing Blessing We gathered to be directed by His Spirit, now let us disperse from this place but not from his presence, going with our diverse gifts with a singular passion to continue his mission in this world. Amen.
(Note: All texts are from the NIV unless otherwise noted)