There have been times it was so difficult to get in to see a certain doctor that I have had to schedule the appointment over three months out. You better believe I did everything in my power to make it to that appointment because I knew I wouldn’t have another chance anytime soon. How much more should it be with God?
Many Christians don’t realize that God instituted feasts, or appointed times, for Him to encounter His people. If you knew you had an appointment with God, how would you use that time? Most of us have forgotten or never even learned that these appointed times exist. Rediscovering these holy feasts may be a way to awaken our faith once again, gain a better understanding of our salvation, and cause renewal to spring forth in a Church that desperately needs it.
Recently I woke up one morning to my alarm going off and was really tempted to use the snooze and keep sleeping. I normally would have, but for some reason I felt this strong conviction that I was a soldier in a spiritual battle. I reasoned that hitting the snooze was not a habit a soldier would have and I snapped out of bed. The alarm I had on my phone was peaceful and melodic at the time, but I decided I wanted something that conveyed urgency to get me up from now on. I set an army trumpet call as my alarm for the next day. Immediately after doing this I checked my email and I had a message that said this, "This Sunday, the Jewish people will mark Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) by triumphantly sounding the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn. These powerful sounds serve as my ‘wake up call,’ preparing me for repentance and opening my heart to deep introspection as I pray and ask God for forgiveness." It seemed as if I was celebrating this feast unconsciously. It’s as if God had written it on my heart.
I’ve been very interested in ancient Israel and the way it connects to Christianity lately. Recognizing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Covenant has been eye opening to say the least. This week is the Feast of Tabernacles, another one of God’s appointed times. I didn’t realize it until last night, but when I did, I felt like I had been unconsciously celebrating it, just like I did with Rosh Hashanah. The Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated by dwelling outdoors in tents (tabernacles) for a week to remember how God’s people lived in tents in the desert as they left slavery in Egypt. It is also a harvest celebration where all the crops are gathered and a great feast is made. After being without groceries for a while, I decided to load up the day before the Feast of Tabernacles. In a way this was like gathering in the crops from the harvest. For some reason I also decided to pray outside instead of in the Church on the day the Feast started. I turned off the air conditioner for one of the first times in weeks and opened the windows in my apartment. It’s as if my heart wanted to dwell outdoors with God’s people. It may not seem like those things were that significant, but when I realized it was the Feast of Tabernacles they turned my mind to God and what He has done for us. This is how we should celebrate these feasts as Christians. It’s not about strict observance of the Law. It is about remembering God’s plan for salvation and how Jesus fits into it. Many people think Jesus was born on the Feast of Tabernacles. Spiritually this has significance because it reminds us that Jesus left His heavenly home and took on our human flesh, “The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us.” (John 1:14 AMPC Translation) It is also likely that the Transfiguration happened during this feast, which would explain why Peter said, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:4)
So what happened? Why did these feasts almost completely disappear from Christianity? Paul kept them. The other apostles kept them. Jesus kept them. Jesus even fulfilled them. The most obvious example of this is when Jesus instituted a new passover where His flesh and blood would be the sign of the New Covenant. This is why John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Jesus is the new passover lamb. He causes death to pass over us. How much richer our understanding of Jesus dying on the cross becomes when we realize it is a fulfillment of the original passover! This is the event where God released His people from slavery in Egypt, a foreshadowing of Jesus releasing us from slavery to sin. It is absolutely mind blowing how these events the ancient Israelites went through all point to Jesus. It shows the depth of wisdom in God’s plan. He knew these things would happen and He wanted to prepare His people by having them do a kind of “dress rehearsal” in celebrating these feasts. He gave them to us as gifts to better understand His plan for our salvation. Unfortunately, they have been lost for many of us.
There are a number of possible reasons for this. There was a lot of discord in the early Church, especially between Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah and non-believing Jews. Many gentile believers wanted to separate themselves from the non-believing Jews. Tensions were high among all these groups. Eventually Emperor Constantine actually outlawed the celebration of Passover in favor of celebrating Easter instead. He wrote:
“… it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. … Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way.” (Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, Book 3 chapter 18)
It is sad to see this kind of anti-semitism. Did Constantine not realize Jesus was Jewish? Another possible reason the Biblical feasts were lost is the co-opting of pagan religious celebrations into the Church. In order to convert the pagans, Christians often changed the meaning of pagan religious customs to symbolize Christ. That may have led to celebrating Christ’s resurrection on Easter and birth on Christmas. I have to wonder if this is what God actually wants. Why would He want us to abandon the feasts He gave us in favor of adopting pagan practices? “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.” (Deuteronomy 18:9) There are other issues surrounding these holidays besides their possibly pagan origins. Many of the customs and traditions attached to these holidays today are disturbing when you think about them. The way these holidays have come to be celebrated is actually pretty outrageous. On Christmas people lie to their children about a guy in a red suit who is omnipresent, omniscient, and brings them presents if they sacrifice milk and cookies to him. Easter has a similar counterpart in the Easter Bunny. That’s not even mentioning how ridiculously materialistic they have become. That alone should be a red flag. Let’s stop and think for a second. Is this really honoring to God? Is this how He wants to be worshipped?
The Church is in a time of cleansing right now, and if we want it to be renewed, we should take a good hard look at the way we are worshipping God. The Old Testament is filled with examples of Israel rising and falling, mostly due to disobeying God and committing idolatry. The times Israel restored right worship of God were the times it was blessed and prospered. One of the things that helped Israel restore their relationship with God was the reinstitution of God’s feasts. There are multiple examples of Israel doing this in the Old Testament. “The king commanded all the people, ‘Keep the passover to the Lord your God as prescribed in this book of the covenant.’ No such passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, even during all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.” (2 Kings 23:21-23) King Josiah realized that celebrating Passover hadn’t been done in centuries, and so he called the people to celebrate it again. The Bible says there was no king like Josiah, who restored worship the way he did. In the book of Nehemiah something similar happens. The Israelites return from exile, and after reading the words of the Law, they realize they have forgotten about God’s feasts.
“On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: ‘Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters’—as it is written. So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.” (Nehemiah 8:13-17)
It says their joy was very great after celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles for the first time in years. When we turn to God, he restores us and gives us this joy. Should we not learn from the example of these stories? Perhaps in this time of hardship and cleansing in the Church, we should think about all the ways we can turn to God. Part of that involves cleansing it from evil, but a bigger part is turning to God in worship and asking for His forgiveness and guidance. Perhaps we should learn from history, the example of the Israelites, and restore the appointed feasts God gave to us. When God instituted these feasts he said of each of them, “This is a statute forever in all your settlements throughout your generations.” (Leviticus 23:21) They were meant to be everlasting feasts. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of God’s feasts. This points to them still maintaining significance. We have been skipping appointments with God for centuries. No wonder we have so much darkness that has invaded the Church. Letting go of Christmas and Easter and celebrating Christ’s life in the context of the Biblical feasts may seem like a radical change, but maybe a radical change is just the thing we need to actually bring about revival in the Church.
William Joseph Scheremet