The people of God are set apart, with different priorities, habits, and festivals than the rest of the world. We may celebrate national holidays of our homelands, such as July 4th for Americans, but those are not the observances that shape our identities as God’s people. The kingdom we belong to under Christ’s authority has a different calendar.
A couple months ago, I read Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. In Chapter 5: Practicing (for) the Kingdom, he discusses “rhythms and cadences of hope” that Christians observe in weekly and annual practices. For him, this means Sunday, Easter, Lent, Advent, Christmas and others. He connects the observances to a rich history of “a people gathered to worship the Messiah, who does not float in some esoteric, ahistorical heaven, but who made a dent in the calendar — and will again” (p. 157).
But when you read the Bible, you won’t find those days he talks about on God’s calendar. Even the one mention of Easter in the KJV is a mistransltion of pascha, or Passover (Acts 12:4, Strong’s G3957). Rather, we find the church from the Torah to Revelation on a calendar even more unique than the one Smith claims for Christians. I know it puzzles many Christians that I would keep the “Jewish holidays,” but I find it equally puzzling that they would continue a tradition of co-opting pagan holidays and attaching them to Biblical events God gave no instructions to observe. When we search the scriptures looking for God’s version of liturgical rhythms, we find a worship pattern far more richly layered and deeply rooted in God’s plan than what man has invented.
Weeks and Months
The observance of time in the Bible begins at Creation. On the fourth day, God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years” (Gen 1:14). On the seventh day God rested “from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Gen. 2:2-3, see also Ex. 20:11; 31:17).
From the very beginning, God set up a world that allowed for marking time in weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. The Sabbath was established from the foundation of the world, and there’s no scriptural evidence that it was ever moved from the seventh to the first day (click here for my Sabbath post). The other holy days were set in place as God revealed His plan and established His covenants, but the Sabbath was there since the beginning and will be with us forever (Is. 56:2-7; 66:22-23; Mark 2:27-28; Heb. 4:9).
The months were marked by new moons, making the Hebrew calendar lunar (which is why the holy days “move around” on the Gregorian calendar). Exodus establishes which month begins the year (Ex. 12:2) and calls it Abib (Ex. 13:4). The new moons aren’t counted as Sabbaths and we know very little about how they were observed. We’re told there was trumpet blowing and offerings (Num. 10:10; 28:11-15), we read about gatherings (1 Sam. 20:5, 18, 24, 27; 2 King. 4:22-23), observance is mentioned in a Millennial setting (Is. 66:23), and once they’re mentioned in the New Testament alongside holy days and Sabbaths (Col. 2:16-17). Most of us aren’t sure what to do with them today and ignore them, and I confess I’m guilty of that as well.
Remembering Our Savior
The first month, Abib, begins the holy day cycle with Passover on the 14th. Originally, the Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) was kept as a memorial of God rescuing Israel from Egypt and sparing their firstborn by passing His vengeance over the houses covered by the blood of a lamb. Jesus Christ fulfilled what was pictured here when He died as our Passover lamb, and He up-dated Passover observance for His new church.
Many churches today keep the Passover, but in most Christian denominations it has been replaced with Easter and the ceremony Jesus instituted on His last Passover is being done more frequently than once a year as Communion. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to mark His resurrection day with a yearly observance, though. Rather, He says during the Passover ceremony, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Even if we remember Him in communion throughout the year (and there are scriptures you can use to support that practice), it wouldn’t eliminate the need to observe Passover as Christ did. The resurrection was incredibly important, but Jesus didn’t want us to stop keeping Passover and replace it with Easter or to replace the seventh day Sabbath with Sunday keeping because He rose on the first day of the week.
In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright laments how little time is spent in celebrating Easter and argues “it ought to be an eight day festival” (p. 256). If he were to step back from Easter and take another look at Passover, he would see God did indeed set up eight days of observance. Passover starts things off, then the following day begins the seven-day festival of Unleavened Bread (also called Chag HaMatzot). If we look at a timeline of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find that He did indeed rise from the dead on Sunday (or, more precisely, when the sun set ending the weekly Sabbath). That Sunday morning corresponds to a special ceremony outlined in Leviticus 23:9-15 called the Wave Sheaf. This ceremony marked the beginning of a 50-day count to Pentecost.
Set back in the context of the Biblical holy days, our remembrance of Christ’s Passover sacrifice kicks-off a week long festival where we remember that because “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” we are being made into a people untainted by the “leaven” of sin (1 Cor. 5:6-8). It should be a time of rejoicing and appreciation for all that’s pictured in His sacrifice and in His resurrection. When we mark the Wave Sheaf as His resurrection day and start counting to Pentecost (or Shavuot), we have a reminder built into God’s holy calendar that without the resurrection of Jesus the church wouldn’t have the holy spirit. And so we celebrate Pentecost, the day God poured His spirit out on the New Testament church (Acts 2:1-4) as a direct result of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the work He’s currently doing in and with His church to make us firstfruits.
Looking To The Future
On the first day of the seventh Hebrew month, the Lord commanded Israel to “have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:24). Many interpret this day as picturing the return of Jesus Christ. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thes. 4:16). In Jewish tradition, trumpets were blown the entire month leading up to the Feast of Trumpets (also called Yom Teruah or Rosh Hoshana). Messianics teach the trumpet calls proclaim, “The Bridegroom Commeth! get ready to meet Him.” What could be more relevant for the churches today as we draw ever closer to Jesus’ second coming?
Ten days after Trumpets we cycle through to a solemn, serious holy day called the Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur). This day is marked by fasting, prayer, and a complete Sabbath rest from all work. Judging by the amount of scripture space devoted to its observance (Lev. 16:1-34; 23:26-32, and others), this day was very important to God, and it still is. Atonement was called an “everlasting statute” and Paul was still marking it in the New Testament (Acts 27:9). Unfortunately, it’s been so stereotyped as a Jewish holiday that most Christians don’t even consider the depth and meaning this day takes on following Christ’s atoning sacrifice, His resurrection, and His exhalation to the role of High Priest. Instead, they’re distracted during the fall season of the year by thoroughly pagan Halloween and non-scriptural All Saints and All Souls days.The holy day cycle, like the plan of God, culminates in a celebration. Every weekly Sabbath looks forward to the time when Christ will reign on this earth as present, powerful, King of kings and Lord of lords, but the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot) takes the picture further. We dwell in temporary shelters as a reminder that we are sojourners here on this earth awaiting the return of our Lord and looking forward to a time when His kingdom will be here on earth. Sukkot also looks back, at the children of Israel who God made to “dwell in booths when” He “brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43). Jesus kept this Feast (John 7:2-10, 14, 37) and it will be kept in God’s future kingdom (Zech. 14:16). We can’t argue it’s irrelevant to the church today because it hasn’t been fulfilled yet in God’s Millenial Kingdom. Wrapping up the holy day cycle, the Feast ends with an eighth day, the Last Great Day, pointing to the final judgement day and the New Jerusalem (Revelation chapters 20-22).
Aligned With The Lord
So why aren’t all the Christian churches on God’s calendar? I’ll be honest, this is something I really can’t understand. I mean, I understand why people who haven’t been taught about God’s holy days and who are members of churches that dismiss them don’t keep these days. Unless you study them for yourself you’re unlikely to hear about them at all in most churches. But I don’t understand how teachers of the Word justify the omission. Why distance yourself from the rhythms of worship God says belong to Him (Lev. 23:1-2) and instead take pagan holidays like the worship of Ishtar/Astarte and mid-winter Saturnalia and give them Christian overtones?
And I’m not just talking about Christian leaders today. This goes back centuries — so far that Easter and Christmas have become “Christian” traditions and the days Christ Himself kept are a distant memory. It’s time for the church to ask itself some tough questions. Is God pleased when we use pagan holidays to “worship” Him, even after we pretty them up and associate them with events in the Bible? Or would God be more pleased if we value the days He set aside for His people from the establishment of His covenants? The way we live our lives matters to God, and He’s watching to see whether we’ll cling to traditions of men or whether we’ll cling to His word, His kingdom, and His plan.
I hope no one feels like I’m attacking them or their beliefs. I’ve thought long over how to phrase this post, and even debated whether or not to share it. I truly feel, though, that the closer we align ourselves with God’s word, the more He will reveal of His plan and the closer our relationships will be with Him. May God’s blessing rest on you all, my friends.
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