This month marks the observance of Pentecost on both Jewish and Christian calendars. June also kicks off the New York Summer Witnessing Campaign on our Jews for Jesus calendar. I’ve been thinking about these events, and seeing Pentecost as a terrific context for our upcoming campaign.
The story of Pentecost told in Acts 2 opens with the disciples gathered with one accord. Then dramatic signs and wonders captivate our imagination as the disciples receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. But Pentecost is first and foremost the story of how the early Jewish believers in Jesus proclaimed the good news of the risen Messiah to huge crowds of Jewish people in Jerusalem—and saw a harvest of 3,000 souls in a single day.
We identify with those first Jews for Jesus, greatly encouraged that as we go out into the streets with the gospel, it’s our privilege to follow in their footsteps.
Granted, New York is a long way from Jerusalem, but it is the most Jewish city in the world outside of Israel. And New York City is a melting pot—it draws tourists from just about every nation. We can hardly wait to begin this year’s campaign!
Well, the early disciples certainly knew what it meant to “wait” during the time between Passover and Pentecost. On the Jewish calendar, after Passover it is traditional to count down the days until Pentecost (Shavuot in Hebrew). It was a time of anticipation for the spring harvest. But for Jesus’ first disciples, it was a countdown to a different kind of harvest. After He rose from the dead, the Lord directed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them. I wonder how difficult it was for the disciples to wait. After all, they knew that Jesus had risen. They knew that things would never be the same. They had received the Great Commission to go… and yet they had to wait.
I can’t say that we are expecting the kind of harvest those disciples experienced. Indeed, we have rarely seen more than a few dozen Jewish people coming to Christ during any given evangelistic campaign. But we have been praying, just as the disciples prayed while they waited, knowing that God will do something special as we seek to fulfill our mandate. All of us who are taking part in this year’s campaign have been eagerly anticipating and counting down the days until we get to “hit the streets.”
While waiting, we’ve been writing new literature, planning events, recruiting campaigners and raising financial support. Of course, we know that all we do must depend on the Holy Spirit’s showing up to empower our efforts, just as the disciples depended on Him to fulfill their mandate.
As I look forward to our campaign from a “Pentecost perspective,” I’m also reflecting on how the Acts 2 event became an occasion for leadership to emerge among the early believers in Jesus. The apostles, and a little later the deacons, were challenged to step forward and take more responsibility in the church through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our annual campaign in New York is also an opportunity for younger leaders to emerge and test their mettle in the crucible of this intensive outreach. I look forward to seeing that play out this summer.
While I will be providing overall leadership for this year’s campaign, I have selected four younger Jews for Jesus, each of whom will take the lead for one of the four weeks of campaign.
Please pray for Jeremiah Zaretsky, Elliot Marks, Dan Tasman and Ofer Levy as they step up to the plate for leadership on this campaign. We’ve enclosed a prayer calendar with this newsletter to help those who are willing to stand with us, and particularly to stand with these four, in prayer.
Much prayer preceded Pentecost as the disciples awaited the promise of the Holy Spirit and even so, we need your prayers. We know we must be radically dependent on the work of that same Spirit if we are to see fruit that remains.
Fruit, of course, is an important theme of Pentecost; another biblical name for the holiday is “Firstfruits” (Bikkurim in Hebrew). The New Testament develops that firstfruit analogy and applies it to several different spiritual realities including Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-24), the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:23) and the first believers in Jesus in a particular geographic region (Romans 16:5).
Paul uses the firstfruits analogy to speak of the Jewish people, asserting the fact that God still has a plan and a purpose for their salvation. “For if their [the Jewish people as a whole] being cast awayis the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit [emphasis mine] is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches” (Romans 11:15-16).
Some Christians have misinterpreted this passage to say that Jewish people do not need to receive Jesus, that they are already “holy,” while others strangely misconstrue it to mean that Jews were “just the firstfruits,” as though their “season” is over and they are no longer God’s chosen people. In fact, Paul is teaching the opposite of both those interpretations. He is saying that God still has a plan for the Jewish people and that plan is ultimately fulfilled in their coming to faith in Jesus. That future fulfillment will be nothing short of “life from the dead!” In other words, if you thought that the first Pentecost of Jewish people coming to Jesus was powerful for the cause of Christ in the world, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Those of us on Summer Witnessing Campaign in New York take great encouragement from these past events and promises for the future… maybe even for our time. We know that our presence on the streets of New York City is visible evidence of the ongoing work of God to bring the message of eternal life to His chosen people. We also know that even if our efforts don’t pack all the “firepower” signs and wonders of Acts chapter two, we are still part of His redemptive resurrection power and purpose for the world, both now and in the future.
As you know, the Jews for Jesus campaigners will not only be preaching the gospel to Jewish people. We are Jewish people preaching the gospel to everyone. And we praise God that He will undoubtedly bring about a harvest of souls from among non-Jews; sometimes as many as five to ten times as many Gentiles as Jews come to faith during our campaigns. That should be no surprise; it has been God’s plan from the beginning. As a result of the first Pentecost in Acts, Jews who’d come to Jerusalem from various countries brought the message of the gospel back to those countries. God’s Great Commission is to bring His salvation to all people.
Those who come to faith, whether Jew or Gentile, will join you and me in that great Pentecost choir from around the world—evidence of God’s great plan for a wonderful harvest yet to come. So as you pray for the Jews for Jesus Summer Witnessing Campaign in New York, remember that you too are privileged to be a part of this great plan of God in the world: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18).