Holy Spirit, Part 5: Picture of Blessing.
Introduction to our subject.
In this booklet we start by looking at the struggling and often rebellious society into which the prophecies of Joel (Joel 2:28) and Isaiah (Isaiah 9:6-7) were written and do so to underline God’s amazing grace and loving-kindness towards us all - even though we often go about things the wrong way. Following this we will then move on to look at three of the major feasts in Israel: Passover, which speaks of peace, Pentecost, speaking of power and the Feast of Tabernacles which speaks of rest. In doing so we underline God’s desire to bless our lives with peace, power and rest. Even in the midst of great hardship and suffering God can bless His people as the following story clearly reveals.
In April 2015 a song was written by members of the Church of the Cave in Cairo, Egypt. The church is so-named because it is located in cave in a mountain in south-eastern Cairo in an area known as ‘garbage city’ due to the large population of garbage collectors living there. The Church seats twenty-thousand people and amongst its congregation are many ex-Muslims. As you read part of the song which follows, note that the heroes are those who have been martyred for their faith.
“Increase your praises to Christ; lift up the Lord with your tunes. Call out the heroes, His heroes who walk with the cross before you. Increase your praises to Christ; lift up the Lord with your tunes. Call out the heroes, His heroes, who walk with the cross before you. Say that He has risen and death has no authority and there is no forgiveness except through His blood. Say that He has risen and death has no authority and there is no forgiveness except through His blood. And the light of the Gospel is increasing.”
Despite the difficulty and opposition that Church in the Cave experiences, its members are growing in faith and experiencing the peace, power and rest in the Lord that is experienced through the work of the Holy Spirit.
“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-9
Joel’s prophecy was spoken circa six hundred years before the arrival of the Jesus the Servant King. The place where it was given was Judah of Israel and the real problem the people were experiencing involved was the nation as a whole. Judah of Israel had plenty of action going on within her geographical boundaries, yet it was the wrong sort of action. Through ignoring God she had effectively got on the train of self and was now travelling in the wrong direction and the consequences of these actions could be seen all around her.
Imagine a nation where the ground is dry and cracked open whilst the heat of the day closes in on its inhabitants on a daily basis, almost crushing them under its invisible power. Water is scarce and the places that it can be found are now surrounded by barricades with aggressive people making sure that only friends and neighbours benefit.
Apart from these difficulties the nation had suffered from the worst type of army possible to an agricultural community. This army, an army of locusts, had marched through the towns and villages at speeds of up to twelve miles an hour (three times the speed of an average walker). The army had millions of soldiers covering every square mile and theses soldiers had devoured everything in their path.
Judah of Israel was heading in the wrong direction and reaping the harvest of her own thinking. She needed to stop the train, so to speak, but just didn’t seem willing or able to. Yet because of God’s love and despite their failure and rebellion, God slowed His people down. Yes, they reaped what they sowed yet God is still gracious and merciful and steps in through the prophet Joel. Over the next few centuries, four empires were going to dominate Israel and Judah yet God was still going to be going about His business of reconciliation and restoration. Messiah would come, the Spirit would be poured out and rest would be found for the weary and heavy-laden.
Joel’s name means, “Yahweh is God” and the name Yahweh speaks of the eternal One who does not change; the ‘life-breather’ who is the strong Shepherd having power and authority over all things. Through Joel, God states that He will make a way - without compromise to His nature and character - whereby His Spirit will live with His people and so the prophecy is given about God pouring out His Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28-29).
Having looked at the context in which Joel’s prophecy is spoken we could ask ourselves the question: “How is it possible to bless a nation that is reaping the harvest of its own actions? The answer is, “Because of Jesus the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah who would come and pay the price for man’s sin and offer forgiveness, reconciliation and friendship.”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6-7
Prior to our reading Isaiah had spoken of the people of Judah as being like a battered person with massive head wounds and a weakened body due to continuous rebellion. The picture that Isaiah gives is incredibly graphic as he points out that from the soles of their feet to the top of their head there were only bruises, cuts and open wounds which were not cleansed or bandaged (Isaiah 1:5-8). In these words we have a picture painted as to how sin and judgement afflict those who are living life their own way. Despite the nation’s continuing rebellion we find that God still exercises incredible grace and mercy and promises a king who will reveal the true heart of God to wayward people. Isaiah writes…
“See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The mind of the rash will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.” Isaiah 32:1-4
Throughout scripture we see that God’s love is not quenched by our sin; what sin does is quench our ability to receive His love. Throughout scripture we also see that man’s only true hope for life is to be found in God. No matter what we are going through, whether self-inflicted or imposed on us by others, God is still present and we can call out to Him. No matter what our world is going through, God is still in control.
We now turn to look at Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles and see how they speak of God’s work for man, enabling us in His grace and loving-kindness to find true peace, power and rest in Him.
One of the ways in which God helped Israel to grow spiritually was through instructing them to rest/reorientate the mind through remembering special days and feasts.
Three of the main feasts were Passover (speaking of peace), Pentecost (speaking of power) and the Feast of Tabernacles (speaking of rest and the feasts were a reminder of all that God had done and was doing for His people.
Each of the three major festivals spoke of the historical journey that Israel was making with the divine Shepherd (Ps 23). The first (Passover) speaks of deliverance from evil and the saving presence of God. The second (Pentecost) speaks of freedom and abundance with the giving of the Law and fullness of harvest. The third (Tabernacles), which was at the end of the common year and seventh month of the religious year, was a feast of ingathering when all the fruit of the harvest had been gathered in. It was a thanksgiving for what God had done (Prov 3:9) and a looking forward to the new home that God was going to provide for His people. It was also a reminder that God had enabled His people to begin their journey as well as being with them throughout and that He was the reason they were so blessed in the land. In looking at these feasts we will also see how they are fulfilled in Christ.
The Feast of ‘Passover’ was celebrated each year as Israel called to mind the way in which God had delivered His people out of the ‘house of slavery’ (Egypt). In the feast there people were reminded of how Israel had been protected by the blood of the Lamb when God passed over all homes in Egypt and destroyed the firstborn of the Egyptians (Ex 12:13).
The blood on the doorposts of Israelite homes had no power in and of itself but pointed to the grace and mercy of Israel’s covenant-keeping God. God saved His people because they were the people of His covenant. They were not better than the Egyptians and were not saved because of any good works in and of themselves. They were saved through God’s intervention and through the blood.
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.” Leviticus 17:11
Forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God came about through the sacrificial shedding of blood in the Old Testament which pointed to God’s amazing provision for man. This shedding of the blood of an animal (Heb 9:22) provided temporary cleansing of sin. Ultimately, its power lays in the way in which it points to God as providing a sacrifice. This clearly points to Jesus, the Passover Lamb (John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7), spoken of as slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). Whilst God was creating this world in preparation for man, whilst the angelic host looked on, God was already aware of the great cost that He would personally make: The Son of God was going to suffer and die in man’s place.
When Jesus came into this world in the frailty of the flesh, He revealed a life of intimate fellowship with His Father and a dependence on the presence, power and leading of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the relationship between Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit that Matthew could write:
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” Matt 11:5.
In thinking of the Passover, we can note the words in Exodus 20:2 which read, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” A literal translation of this is, “I am Yahweh, your powerful one and I made you go out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves.”
Christ is our Passover Lamb, through whom we have been brought out of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col 1:12). In becoming the Passover Lamb we see God standing in our place and making sin His responsibility so that we could come out of the house of slavery and into the house of blessing.
Our ‘house of slavery’ speaks of the way we think and act outside of Christ as we have ‘built’ with our own thinking in our hearts and minds. We often build this ‘house’ to protect ourselves and make ourselves feel secure in life, yet in reality, the house we build is more like a prison cell and we are our gaoler. In grace and mercy God stepped into our sphere of existence with the offer of forgiveness and restoration into the place of life. He, the holy One, has taken the initiative so that we, the ones clothed in rags, can come into a place of richness in Him
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Cor 8:9
It is because of who God is and what He does that we have amazing stories throughout scripture that speak of how God reconciles man to Himself; through outrageous grace, mercy and love. Note, for example, the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4), the Father who rejoices at the return of a lost son (Luke 15:22-24) and an ostracised woman who was restored to her community with the words, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." (Mark 5:34).
“The LORD will bless His people with peace.”
In Isaiah 9:6, Jesus is called the ‘Prince of Peace.’ A Prince in Isaiah’s day would be the one a king would send out to deal with any evil or uprising in the nation. Because of this, a prince literally became known as a ‘consumer of evil’ and ‘restorer of relationships’. Jesus is the Prince of Peace – the One who dealt with our sin by dying in our place so that we could be forgiven. One day He will return to deal with all evil in His world.
The peace that God gives us is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of a person who brings about the re-establishment of right relationships with God, self and others.
The Passover and the Passover Lamb is all about restoration and peace. In order to experience the fruit of this peace and restoration we need to be open to the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
Through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ we have been brought into a different environment; that of a developing and deepening abiding relationship with our heavenly Father.
In Acts 1:5 we read of Jesus saying to His disciples, “For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit is the One Jesus was speaking of when He said, “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; equally worthy of the worship give to the Father and the Son.
At Pentecost the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the beginning of the fulfilment of the prophecy we looked at from Joel 2:28-9. The outpouring of the Spirit that Joel speaks of occurred on the day of Pentecost, and a few weeks after the Passover.
After Jesus (the Passover Lamb) had risen from the dead He spent forty days with the disciples, and then tells them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit is given. At that time, Jerusalem was swelling in numbers as people came to celebrate the Festival of Weeks which was also called the Feast of Pentecost.
In the lead up to this festival (which speaks of the giving of the law and bounty of harvest), homes were decorated with flowers and fragrant herbs whilst priests pronounced blessings over cups of wine in the synagogues. Wine was seen as a symbol of joy, speaking of the fulfilment and maturing of the harvest.
On the fiftieth day (the day of Pentecost) two loaves of bread were waved in front of the altar symbolising increasing blessing. God not only provided the seed, He also brought the harvest to maturity as He provided for His people. Ultimately, Jesus is the bread of life – the One through whom all things are brought to completion.
“Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
God is the One who says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1).
Pentecost was not just about the fruit of the harvest; it was also a celebration of the receiving of the Torah. The Torah is God’s teaching, with the word ‘Torah’ coming from a Hebrew root meaning “to throw or shoot an arrow.” It speaks of a Father kneeling down beside a child and helping them, encouraging and teaching them the right way to live. Part of the Torah, the Ten Commandments, can be likened to the terms of a marriage covenant, spelling out how one is to live and act with and towards a loved one.
Throughout scripture we always see that God is the instigator of covenant – the one who reaches out with the offer of help. The suffering in our world today is due to man going it alone; it is man’s inhumanity to fellow man and not God’s lack of concern for man. Despite our rebellion and failure, the son of God stood in the slave-market of our existence in order to offer us fullness of life in Him; this clearly shows us the extent of God’s love. He was willing to undergo injustice, suffering, bigotry, vulnerability, desertion and condemnation.
The Passover speaks of Jesus’ blood, by which we enter the covenant and Pentecost was known by the disciples as a celebration of the giving of a Father’s power, instruction and support, with the Ten Commandments likened to a marriage covenant – speaking of the way we are called to live. The disciples knew that Pentecost spoke of a harvest and therefore of God’s providential care for His people, He being the true Shepherd of the Covenant (John10:10). Through the work of Jesus, the disciples were born again with the language used being reminiscent of Gen 2:7 which reads, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” In God’s incredible grace and mercy He takes us out from what we have become by way of the world and helps us become the man and woman we were always meant to be in Him.
The disciples were born again and called to ministry, yet Jesus calls them to await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – the harvest of His work. We are going to look at this outpouring in a moment, but before doing so I want us to look at a time when God entered into covenant with Abram. I want to do this because it is a picture that speaks of intimacy and will help us capture something of the abundant blessing in the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In the Ancient Near East a covenant would be entered into in a particular way. An animal would be sacrificed with the two parts then being placed opposite each other with a path through the middle. Those making covenant would then walk through the gap to seal their covenant agreement, with this action effectively saying, “May it be unto me as it is to this animal should I break my part of the covenant.” In this we see the deeply binding, life and death aspect of the covenant.
After a covenant ceremony, families would eat together and sometimes take part of each-others name and incorporate it into their own. A modern day example of this could be that a Miss Edwards marries a Mr Wilson and they became Mr and Mrs Wilards. Knowing this helps us understand why Abram’s name was changed to Abraham by God. God says to Abram, “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you the father of many nations.” Genesis 17:4-5. In this change of name, we see part of Yahweh’s name incorporated into Abram’s. Because God was now in covenant with Abraham, Abraham was going to be the father (source) of many nations as the ‘Life-breather’ (Yahweh) worked with him. In this, we have a breath-taking picture of intimacy and fellowship. Let’s now go back to Pentecost, noting as we do so, that a name speaks of nature and character. In the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God is enabling us to live by a new name (name speaking of nature and character).
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to make His home with believers. These initial believers were Jewish and so God, the perfect Communicator, accompanies His arrival with events reminiscent of the giving of the law at Sinai. What was coming about was a new work, but was also very much a part of an old and still on-going work. So what do we read of?
Scripture tells us that there was the sound of a wind which filled the place where the disciples were waiting, and what looked like tongues of fire that separated and rested on each of them (Acts 2). They began speaking in different languages (a reversal of Babel), and 3,000 were added to the church that day and went through the waters of baptism (Acts 2:41).
The giver of the Holy Spirit is the All-Powerful Servant-Hearted One who demonstrated, in both word and action, a sacrificial love that is directed towards the sinner (Phil 2:5-11). In light of this, if we are going to move in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit, then we need to be servant-hearted; nothing else will suffice. No wonder Paul writes:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
The Holy Spirit is here to help us with God’s plan of reconciliation. He is not “God on tap” but the third Person of the Trinity who continually stands with us no matter what we may be going through.
The third major feast celebrated by Israel was the ‘Feast of Tabernacles’ (Lev 23:33f), also called the ‘Feast of Ingathering’ since it was the end of the full harvest season. The Passover in spring had passed as had Pentecost, which had occurred fifty days after the Passover. The feast of tabernacles then came along at the end of the common year and seventh month of Israel’s religious year. This was when the whole harvest – corn, wine and oil - had been gathered in (Ex 23:16) and was a feast that lasted for seven days.
The word ‘tabernacle’ means ‘tent-residence’ and The Tabernacle spoke of God’s dwelling with His people during their wilderness wanderings. He is the One who spread His presence over them and protected them. He is the One who fed and nurtured them as would a father. In the Hebrew name for father – Abba – we have the picture of One who has great strength like an ox and is the true Father who protects His family.
The Feast of Tabernacles was also known as the ‘Feast of booths’. Although Israel was now in the Promised Land, she remembered that God had led her through her forty years of desert wandering.
During the Feast of Tabernacles you would live in a temporary shelter for seven days as a reminder of how God brought you to the Promised Land. The shelters were loosely constructed so that you could look heavenwards through the branches, acknowledging that God was in control and was leading you on His journey into security. Because of, the Feast of Tabernacles also speaks of resting in the Lord on the journey through life. For us it means stopping and spending quality time with God.
One of the rituals that occurred during the Feast of Tabernacles on a daily basis leading up to the last day, was the outpouring of water. Water was a symbol of blessing in Israel and a reminder that they were to trust in all that God had done - He being the One who brought all things to maturity. Each day during the Feast of Tabernacles, a procession would go to the Gihon spring at the side of the Temple hill and a priest would fill a pitcher with water as people sang:
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: "Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.” Isaiah 12:3-5.
It was on the last day of this Feast, that Jesus stood up and said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (John 7:37-39).
In the Passover Lamb, we find peace and in Pentecost we find God coming within us with power and in the Feast of Tabernacles we are reminded of how God blesses us on our journeying through this world as we rest in His work. In all that we go through, let us remember that He is the author and provider of all good things and that He is the One who ‘spreads His tent over His people’ (Rev 7:14-15) as He brings us into the fullness of our salvation through a work that is on-going right at this minute despite the turbulence, suffering and difficulty that goes on in this world.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will rest in the shadow of the almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-12
One of the points we made at the beginning was that despite the difficulty and opposition we sometimes face, the church is still growing. God is at work in amazing ways and in some amazing situations and places. So let’s pray that God helps us open our hearts more fully to Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit. In doing so we may be surprised at what happens, so be encouraged.
We now finish with another verse from the song sung in the Church of the Cave in Egypt. A song sung by marginalised people in ‘Garbage City’ who know the peace, power and rest that comes from the work of God and ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.
“Increase your praises to Christ; lift up the Lord with your tunes. Call out the heroes, His heroes, who walk with the cross before you. Increase your praises to Christ; lift up the Lord with your tunes. Call out the heroes; call out the heroes, who walk with the cross before you. Say that He has conquered darkness and its authority; He has lit up our days and given them colour. Say that he has conquered darkness and its authority. He has lit up our days and given them colour and the light of day is increasing.
Written and produced by Pastor Jem Many more titles available.