Top 5 Reasons for Christians to Keep God’s Holy Days

Today we celebrate Yom Teruah, also called Feast of Trumpets and Rosh Hashanah. But why? After all, I’m Christian and most people think of this as a Jewish holiday. Same goes for Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, which we’ll observe 10 days from now, and Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles that starts in two weeks.

I believe these festival observances, along with others already completed this year, are for Christians today. When Jesus came to this world, it wasn’t to set up a new religion. He was the next step in God’s plan for the world and these days are part of the covenant He makes with His family. He’s still inviting us to gather for “reunions” at certain times of the year.Top 5 Reasons for Christians to Keep God's Holy Days | marissabaker.wordpress.com

1. They Belong To God

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.” (Lev. 23:1-2)

The holy days aren’t Jewish or exclusively Old Testament. They belong to God Himself. We talk about Leviticus 23 as the chapter where God gives Israel the Feasts, but that’s not quite accurate. God doesn’t say, “Here are your holy days, Israel.” He says, “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (Lev. 23:4). Read more

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Rethinking Hell: A Clearer View of God’s Judgement

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of modern Christianity is the idea of hell. The common notion is that those who aren’t following God (including those who reject Him and those who never knew Him) miss-out on their chance at salvation and are tormented forever in a burning place. Few want to talk about it, many have rejected it, but most don’t agree on an alternative. It’s something Christianity has to address, though. What happens after death for the people who are not followers of Jesus?

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I’ll be honest with you, this is something I thought I “knew” the answer to because of the teachings I heard growing up. The more I studied it, though, the less positive I feel that I know exactly what’s going to happen. For believers, the questions “What happens when we die?” has some pretty clear answers in scripture. We’re not sure exactly what life in God’s family will be like, but we know that we’ll be resurrected and “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” For other people, things are a bit more ambiguous.

My purpose today isn’t to give a definitive answer, but rather to look at some different readings of scriptures talking about eternal judgement. There are some things we can say with a fairly high degree of certainty, but there are others that I just don’t know the answers to (and I’d rather acknowledge that than take a stance I’m not reasonably confident lines up with God’s revealed word).

What is “hell”?

The word “hell” is used in the Bible, but not with the same connotation we have for it in English. Western ideas of hell come from Medieval imagery (think Dante’s Inferno). Most uses in the New Testament, though, are translated from the Greek word ghenna (G1067). When people of Jesus’ time heard this word they didn’t think of a burning place with a pitchfork-toting devil where eternal souls writhed in torment. They thought of Ghenna — a rubbish heap outside Jerusalem “where the filth and dead animals … were cast out and burned,” which Thayers’ dictionary notes is “a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.” Read more

Rethinking Heaven: Capturing A Vision Of The Resurrection

Christians and non-Christians alike typically assume that our religion teaches good Christians go to heaven when they die and bad people, or those who’ve never given their lives to Jesus, go to hell. As more and more Biblical scholars, Christian churches, and individual believers are realizing, though, this isn’t the most accurate picture of what the Bible teaches regarding life after death.

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For many years, the churches of God I’ve been part of taught we were the only people to whom God had revealed His Sabbaths and Holy Days, His plan for the world and humanity, and the truth about what happens after death. As I grew older, I realized we had much more in common with other groups than I’d thought — there are a plethora of groups keeping Sabbath, many Messianics observe the holy days, and bloggers with Focus on the Family were talking about God’s plan to bring children into His family. I hadn’t found any teaching the resurrection, though, so you can imagine my surprise when Catholic theologian James K.A. Smith footnoted a comment about Christians not really going to heaven when they die with three book suggestions for further reading (this was in Desiring The Kingdom). The book from this list that I found in the library was Surprised by Hope by Anglican bishop N.T. Wright.

Wright’s teachings surprised me even though I’d been taught the resurrection from my earliest memories. His powerful exegesis on the meaning of the resurrection is inspiring and some of the thoughtful, well-researched ways he diverged from my church’s traditional teachings made me realize there are alternative explanations for a few difficult scriptures that deserve a second look. I also admired his style. Instead of telling people “You’re wrong,” he says, “We’ve been misinformed, and here’s the more wonderful plan God has for us.” That’s what I want to focus on today. The deeper our understanding of what God is actually planning for us, the firmer our hope and faith.

What Happens When We Die?

The idea that human beings have immortal souls comes not from the Bible, but from Greek philosophy (specifically Plato). In Hebrew thought and New Testament theology, the soul refers “not to a disembodied entity hidden within the outer shell of a disposable body, but rather to what we would call the whole person or personality” (Wright, p. 28). It is naphesh (H5315), the animated life-force we have in common with animals (Strong’s and Thayer dictionaries).
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Walking Through Philippians 3: Paul’s Thoughts on Following Jesus

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (KJV). If we want a how-to guide for the way Paul follows Jesus, we can find a succinct version in the 3rd chapter of Philippians. This chapter is a bit unusual. Rather than speaking generally to his fellow believers or addressing a specific issue in the church, Paul gets real about his own walk of faith.

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Paul’s Zeal

We break into the middle of the letter to the church in Philippi. Paul has been warning against “dogs, “evil workers,” and “the mutilation.” He gives a general principle that physical things like circumcision aren’t what determines whether or not you’re part of God’s chosen people. “We are the circumcision,” he writes, “who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:2-3). He then shifts to using himself as an example.

Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)

What a pedigree! Under the Old Covenant, Paul was as perfect as you could get. There was no stain on his Israelitish lineage. His parents kept the Law and had him circumcised. He became an elite leader in the Jewish community and an expert in the Law, which he kept to the letter. He even actively persecuted heretics.

Then, suddenly, Jesus Himself showed up and told Paul those weren’t heretics. The Messiah had come and Paul was fighting the next step in God’s plan. In response, Paul gave up power, prestige, and (parts of) the belief system he’d poured his entire life into to follow Jesus. And that’s an aspect of Paul’s life that we’re supposed to imitate. Read more

Rhythms of Worship

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). Rhythms of Worship | marissabaker.wordpress.com

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. Read more

The Meaning of the Resurrection

My churches have always taught the importance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. I’ve even written about resurrection before, as part of the Foundations series. But I only focused on what the resurrection meant for individuals — that Christ’s resurrection makes our resurrections possible. I hadn’t really considered the implication of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection on the entire world today.

The Meaning of the Resurrection | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Reading N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church has been eye-opening. He’s not really talking about things I’ve never heard before, but the way he frames his exegesis is making me think about Christ’s resurrection and the church’s mission at a depth I hadn’t pondered until now.

Wright places the resurrection in its historic context to show that what happened when Jesus rose from the grave three days after His Passover sacrifice was truly revolutionary. The Greek and Roman cultures believed in an immortal soul and the Jews believed in a resurrection, but no one was expecting Jesus (or anyone else) to rise from the dead in a renewed spiritual body. The risen Jesus was far too tangible and real to fit Greco-Roman ideas of afterlife and it was unexpected timing-wise from the Jewish perspective. This resurrection was sealed proof that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that things on earth would never be the same again. Read more