Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Weren't Sent ... But They Went

Shavuot was one of the three major pilgrimage festivals for which devout first-century Jews traveled to Jerusalem annually. It was also known as the Feast of Weeks, because you counted seven weeks, or 49 days, from Passover, and then held Shavuot on the fiftieth day. Most people know Shavuot by the Greek word for "fiftieth day": Pentecost.

Shavuot commemorated the giving of the Torah to Israel by God at Mount Sinai. So historically it was linked to the exodus-and probably the reason they held it so soon after Passover. The fact that Jewish males were expected, no matter where they lived, to come to Jerusalem for both Passover and Shavuot no doubt posed challenges for some people. If you lived in faraway Syria or Egypt or Mesopotamia (Iraq) or Parthia (Iran), you had to travel a long way and a long time to get to and from these events. No wonder not many folks made every pilgrimage every year.

Some indeed came from all those places, though; Acts 2 says so. Remember? The disciples suddenly turn up speaking the native languages of all these diaspora Jews, and the pilgrims say to each other, "We are Parthians, Medes, Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judah, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome; Jews by birth and proselytes; Jews from Crete and from Arabia...! How is it that we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things God has done?"

Christians around the world celebrated the modern feast of Pentecost a little more than a week ago. What might the pilgrims who attended that world-shaking first Pentecost of the Christian era likely have been doing a little more than a week after the event? Probably traveling the road home. And there's something that intrigues me about that.

You see, right after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples (John 20:21), "As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you." But they didn't go right away.

Next Jesus took the disciples to a mountain in Galilee and sent them (Matthew 28), saying "Make disciples of all nations." But then He told them to go to Jerusalem and wait -- so they didn't go right away.

And on the Mount of Olives Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses to the remotest places on earth (Acts 1), but again, He told them to wait in Jerusalem -- so they didn't go right away.

Then in Acts 2 we read about the pouring-out of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and the church being born when 3,000 people believed and were baptized. Still, we don't get a report of one of the disciples who had been sent by Jesus actually going anywhere until Acts 8, when Philip, followed by Peter and John, went to evangelize up the road in Samaria.

Yet in the very next chapter of Acts, we get the story of Saul traveling to Damascus, in Syria, to round up a whole group of believers. If by this point Jesus' disciples were only just beginning to move outside Jerusalem, where did these believers 1,800 miles away in Damascus come from? Well, how about from among those 3,000 diaspora Jews who had been in Jerusalem for Shavuot?

There's no question that Jesus sent His disciples -- but the first believers who actually went -- and shared the Gospel -- were probably those festival pilgrims.
Can this have meaning for us today?

Yes. Here's just one example. Close to two million people living in the United States are non-immigrant internationals -- many of them students. Most are here for a short time; most intend to return to their home countries. Often, when they discover that Christianity is not just a western religion, not just a religion for people of European descent, many want to know more -- and some come to faith in Jesus. And when they return to their countries, they carry the Gospel back with them.

It's like an international mission field right here under our noses.

Can you and I respond to this opportunity right now? Again, yes! Here are some things we can do:

* Be faithful to the Lord who sends all of us -- and to His message of salvation.
* Praise God for changing the hearts of many Shavuot pilgrims 2,000 years ago and then sending them back home carrying the Good News about Jesus.
* Watch and listen for when and where the Spirit might call us and send us.
* Trust God's promise that His Word will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it.
* Pray. A lot.

Let the church's recent celebration of Pentecost remind you that each of us is sent -- some of us across oceans and continents, and some of us across the street or across town. Regardless where, there are people there who are hungry for the Good News we have to share.

"Then (Jesus) said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest'" (Matthew 9:37-38).

Funny how things work out and how the Lord achieves His purposes -- sometimes in some very interesting ways.

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