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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Unchanging Laws

Tallitot (prayer shawls) by  Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY via Flickr
Tallitot (prayer shawls) by Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY via Flickr

Last week we started a study about whether or not the commands and instructions given to Biblical Israel apply to us as Christians today. I answered with a qualified “yes” — we are spiritual Israel, which is not so much separate from physical Israel as it was the next step in God’s plan for His chosen nation. Now, the question becomes, “How many of the laws given to Israel apply under the New Covenant?”

I’ve grown up believing that the Ten Commandments, including Sabbath keeping, carry over into the New Covenant, along with the Lev. 23 Holy Days and the clean and unclean meats laws. I still believe that, but now I’m starting to wonder why we keep those things and not others like the command to put tassels on our garments (Num. 15:37-41) or blow shofars on Holy Days (Ps. 81:3-4). When I ask this question, I’m usually told that not everything from the Old Covenant applies, and when I ask how they know which ones to keep they say, “It’s our tradition.” In my mind, that’s not a good enough answer, so it’s time for some Bible Study.

A New Priesthood

If you read through the laws of the Old Testament, you find quite a lot about the Levitical priesthood. Some of these are described as “a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel” (Ex. 27:21), yet it is evident that Christ’s priesthood supersedes that system. If the switch to the New Covenant changed that, how much else was changed?

 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. (Heb. 7:12)

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. (Heb. 8:6)

When it talks about a change of the law, I think we often imagine quite a disconnect between the Old and New Testament. We think of change as in something old being replaced by something completely new, but I think perhaps the change is more in how God’s laws apply.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Heb. 8:10)

The Old Covenant was replaced with the New (Heb. 8:13), but God’s laws were not done away with. Even before the Old Covenant was instituted at Mount Sianai, God had laws in place. We can see this in Genesis 26:5, where God says, “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Since God is unchanging, His standards for what He expects from us do not change either.

Jesus said, “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18) In the Greek, this means “filled to the fullest extent.” The laws were brought to a spiritual plane, much as physical Israel became spiritual Israel. You still keep the physical laws, but there is a spiritual aspect as well, and we are held accountable for what goes on inside us as much as for what we actually do (Matt. 5:17-30).

Updating The Law

The laws governing the Levitical priesthood are examples of parts of the Old Covenant that have already been filled to the fullest extent by Jesus Christ. We don’t have a physical priesthood any more because He is our High Priest forever. We don’t sacrifice animals any more because Christ’s sacrifice completely fulfilled all the Old Testament commands for blood sacrifices.

For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another — He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:24-26)

Without a physical priesthood or temple, many of the ceremonial laws no longer apply to spiritual Israel. Though we as the New Testament church can examine and learn from them and how they foreshadowed Christ’s role as priest and sacrifice, people in the church no longer serve as priests and we no longer sacrifice animals.

Similarly, there were civil laws given to govern the nation of Israel that are not in effect now because the church is scattered through other physical nations with their own laws. Many of the civil laws had a moral aspect, though, and this is updated for us to follow under the New Covenant. Take, for example, the law that said a man and woman who commit adultery must both be put to death (Lev. 20:10). The Pharisees brought Jesus just such a case, and Jesus told them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). When all her accusers left, Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Jesus didn’t say that she hadn’t committed a sin. He said that there was room for mercy and forgiveness even of sins that had formerly incurred a physical death penalty. For judicial matters, Christians are now under the laws of the countries we live in. For moral matters, God’s laws are applied to spirit and in truth with an emphasis on mercy. Is there a guy in your church shaking up with his step-mother? We don’t stone them as was the case in ancient Israel (Lev. 20:11), but we do make it clear that behavior like this is morally wrong and won’t be tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13). If he repents, you have to welcome him back just like God welcomes us back into relationship with Him when we repent of our sins (2 Cor. 2:3-11).

"Shema Israel" by  Yaniv Ben-Arie, CC BY-SA, via Flickr
“Shema Israel” by Yaniv Ben-Arie, CC BY-SA, via Flickr

There are also aspects of the Old Testament laws that we are specifically commanded to continue observing. This includes the weekly Sabbath (Heb. 4:9) and Passover (Luke 22:19-20). We infer from these specific commands, and from the fact that Jesus and His disciples observed the other Holy Days, that all those days are still commanded observances. Even more obvious is the fact that we should be keeping the Ten Commandments, which are succinctly comprehended in the two greatest commandments.

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

God’s focus is on our hearts, and whether or not we choose to keep His commandments tells Him what our hearts are like. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The implication is that if we don’t keep His commandments, we are telling Jesus we don’t love Him. If our hearts are right, obedience to God naturally follows.

My feelings on the question, “What is applicable under the New Testament?” is that everything God didn’t specifically replace/update to a spiritual level (the priest hood, physical temples, civil laws) are probably still in effect. It’s up to us to seek out the spiritual reasons for these commands and find a way to physically keep them. There are still some I’m not sure about — like those tassels on the borders of our garments or what we’re supposed to do on New Moons — but I want to keep searching and learning. I want to worship God the way He tells me to, not the way I think sounds like a good idea.

Are We Israel?

credit:  T K, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr
credit: T K, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr

You know that feeling when you’re having a conversation with someone and can’t think of a reply, then the perfect words come to you three days later in the shower? Something similar happened to me a couple weeks ago. I was talking with someone who doesn’t think shofars are necessary in church services, and asked what he thought of Psalm 81 that tells us to blow the shofar “for this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob” (Ps. 81:3-4). His response was, “We’re not Israel. We’re spiritual Israel, but we’re not Israel.”

The subject rolled around in my mind for a week before I decided to write about it. Whether or not the Old Testament commands given to physical Israel apply under the New Covenant is a much broader issue than shofars. I think its an important question to answer, because if the answer is “yes” then there are quite a few things most of us Christians have been wrongly ignoring, and that’s a dangerous thing to do.

Welcomed Into Israel

In the Old Testament, Israel was God’s chosen people — the small group He decided to work with and make His own.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel. (Ex. 19:5-6)

In much the same way, the New Testament church is a fairly small group of chosen people, called into a special relationship with God.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Pet. 2:9-10)

At this point in the history of the church, God wasn’t exclusively working with the physical nations of Israel any more. He was calling Gentiles as well. It’s very interesting to see how this calling is described.

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh — who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands — that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:11-13)

The process by which Jesus Christ welcomes us into His church also makes us part of Israel. In Jesus Christ, we are no longer “aliens from Israel” and “strangers from the covenants” because He “has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” between physical Israel and the Gentile nations (Eph. 2:14).

Spiritual Israel

It is evident that there are differences between spiritual Israel and physical Israel. Paul addresses this in several epistles. The Old Covenant contained in it the promise of Messiah, and the ones in Israel who recognized Jesus as that Messiah became spiritual Israel as they transitioned to the New Covenant. At that point, God opened up salvation to the non-Israelitish people as well.

that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved.” “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved.” (Rom. 9:23-27)

This “remnant” is a small part of the physical nation of Israel, and now includes Gentiles as well “according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5). It is what God intended all of Israel to be, and that’s what we are grafted into (Rom. 11:13-24). The rest of Israel is still “beloved for the sake of the fathers” because of the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Rom. 11:28). Now, though, “God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). That indicates He will treat those who’ve ignored Him as if they are outside of Israel so they can eventually be welcomed in as former strangers rather than punished as children who should have known better.

So the question, “Are we Israel?” seems to have answered itself. Paul even tells us quite plainly in Galatians that we are “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). We’re also told that we are under the New Covenant which was promised to Israel.

Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Heb. 8:8-10)

When Jesus Christ came, He didn’t bring a new religion — He came as the next step in God’s plan. “Christianity” is the name that was given because the rest of the world thought it was just a new sect of Judaism. In reality, though, this is what God intended Israel to become all along. Instead of starting with the idea, “I’m Christian, so how much of this Old Testament stuff do I have to keep?” we should start at the beginning and see how the Old Covenant relates to the New Covenant. Some things did change, and some things did not change. That sounds like a good topic for next week’s blog post.

Shout For The King

These are the Days of Awe. That’s what Jewish believers call the 10 days between Yom Teruah/The Feast of Trumpets (which fell on Thursday, September 25th this year) and Yom Kippur/The Day of Atonement (Saturday October 4th).

Having recently started attending with a Messianic Jewish group, I wanted to focus my pre-Trumpets study this year on the Hebraic roots of this Holy Day. With the Feast of Trumpets just a few days past, I’d like to share some of that study with you today as we look forward to the Day of Atonement.

A Question of Trumpets

I found five different Hebrew words translated “trumpets” in the Old Testament. Let’s just take a quick look at each one:

  • chatsotserah (H2689). A metal trumpet (Num. 10:2, 8).
  • yobel (H3104). The signal of a trumpet or blast of a horn. A common noun referring to trumpets, horns , and the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:10).
  • shophar/shofar (H7782). A ram’s horn. The word most often used in the Bible.
  • taqoa (H8619). A trumpet with a looped tube and flared bell that makes a shrill sound (Ezk. 7:14).
  • teruah (H8643). A shout of joy or alarm. The noise from a trumpet.
“Rabbi Blowing Shofar” by Carole Spandau

This last word is the one used in Leviticus 23 and in Numbers 29 in reference to the Feast of Trumpets. My Hebrew dictionary says it means “a shout of joy; a shout of alarm, a battle cry. It refers to a loud, sharp shout or cry in general, but it often indicates a shout of joy or victory. … It can refer to the noise or signal put out by an instrument” (Baker and Carpenter, 2003). A more literal translation of Yom Teruah, the phrase we translate as “Feast of Trumpets,” would be “Day of Shouting.”

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.’” (Lev. 23:23-25)

Now, I’m certainly not saying this day doesn’t involve blowing trumpets. Silver trumpets would have been blown for the new moon and because this was a high Holy Day (Num. 10:1-2, 10). Shofars (the ram’s horn trumpets) were blown as well. In fact, they were blown on every Sabbath and Festival.

Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob. (Ps. 81:3-4)

Based on this scripture alone, I’d say shofars belong as part of every Christian service. And there are other passages too, like Joel 2:15, which indicates shofars are a key part of calling solemn assemblies and sanctifying fasts, and Psalm 150:3, which instructs us to praise God “with the sound of the trumpet.” But I digress …

So, lots of trumpets blasts on Yom Teruah. There’s even a traditional pattern for how to blow them, and shofars are sounded at least 100 times in a typical Yom Teruah service. (Here’s a link for more about Jewish tradition associated with Yom Teruah, and a recording of the shofar sounds). But even though trumpets are a huge part of this day, looking into the Hebrew had me wondering if I’d been keeping the “Feast of Trumpets” my whole life when I should have been keeping “the Day of Shouting for joy and battle cries.” I also wondered if it really made any difference. Does a better understanding of the Hebrew add layers of spiritual meaning?

The Day of Shouting

The word “Teruah” is used 36 times in the Old Testament. It is translated “blow an alarm” as for war (Num. 10:6, 31:6) and to shout like when the walls of Jericho fell (Josh. 6:5, 20). The people shouted for joy when seeing the ark of the covenant and when the temple was rebuilt (2 Sam. 6:15; 1 Chron. 15:28; Ezr. 3:11-13).  Teruah is also translated “joy,” “rejoicing,” and “joyful sound” (Job 8:21, 33:26; Ps. 27:6, 89:15). It is used of praising God (Ps. 47:5), and of fighting with Him on our side (2 Chron. 13:12).

The meaning of Yom Teruah/the Day of Shouting can be interpreted several ways. A website for Karaite Judaism says it may be “intended as a day of public prayer. The verb form of Teruah often refers to the noise made by a gathering of the faithful calling out to the Almighty in unison.” The examples they give are Psalms 47:2, 66:1, 81:2, and 100:1. A Messianic website says the shofar and trumpet blasts are “a wake-up blast — a reminder that the time is near for the Day of Atonement.” There are strong themes of repentance, rebirth, and resurrection associated with this day.

Another element of Yom Teruah was brought out in the teaching given by the Rabbi at my local Messianic congregation. He said that the shofar is blow every day in the month leading up to Yom Teruah as a proclamation that the King is returning. We are to prepare ourselves to hear the voice of the Lord (traditionally, the shofar is seen as symbolizing God’s voice). In Hebrew, the word “prepare” is connected with the human face — we’re making ourselves ready to be face-to-face with God. In that sense, Yom Teruah is a yearly reminder of something we should be doing all the time. It’s also just the beginning of such reminders to repent and be at one with God, since it’s starts out the 10-day count to Atonement (which will definitely be the subject of next week’s blog post).

This preparation to meet God reminds me of the giving of the Ten Commandments. Before delivering His laws, God commanded boundaries to be set up so the people couldn’t get dangerously close to His presence on the mountain, but He did want them to be present as He delivered the words of the covenant. The people were commanded to consecrate themselves and wash in preparation for meeting with God, and then God commanded, “When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain” (Ex. 19:10-13). Here, the trumpet acted as a call to assemble in God’s presence.

The King is Coming!

In the New Testament, trumpet blasts and shouts are strongly associated with Jesus Christ’s return. Traditionally, Christians who keep Yom Teruah have said that the Feast of Trumpets pictures Christ’s second coming and the first resurrection from the dead.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thes 4:16-17)

For my readers who aren’t familiar with this particular interpretation of future prophecy and “what happens after death” belief, here’s a quick summary of what I believe: Those who have died are “asleep,” waiting for a resurrection. The believers who have died “in Christ” will be raised to eternal life at His second coming, and the non-believers will be raised 1,000 years later to be given as second (or in many cases a first) chance to understand God’s truth (Rev. 20:4-5, 11-15)

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)

“Behold, He Cometh” by Simon Dewey

Right now, we’re in waiting for our Bridegroom, Jesus the Christ, to return for us (John 14:1-3). If we’re dead when that happens, we’ll be brought back to life. If we’re still alive, we’ll be changed into spirit beings.

At first, shouting for joy and shouting a battle cry seem only distantly related. But if we turn to Revelation and read more about Christ’s return, the connection in Yom Teruah becomes more clear.

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Rev. 19:6-7)

Here is where the shouts of joy, praise, and exhalation come in. We’ve been preparing to meet our Bridegroom, and here He is! Then, just a few verses down, we see how the shouts of joy turn into a battle cry.

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. (Rev. 19:11-14)

The armies which follow Christ at His return are clothed in “white linen” garments just like His bride, so this is often read as a sign that we’ll be riding into battle alongside Him to set up the promised kingdom of peace.

Yom Teruah is already passed for this year, but our preparations to meet the King and become a suitable bride for Him are ongoing. In Matt. 22:2, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son.” This marriage is an integral part of Their great plan, and we as the church are the focus of it. I pray we all hear and head the trumpet blast that calls out to us and says, “The King is coming! make ready to meet Him.”