Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Feasts of the Lord and the Feasts of Israel

Old Testament Readings: Exodus 23:10-19; Esther 9:18-22
New Testament Readings; I Corinthians 11:17-26

The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy, in the Holy Spirit. God wishes us to express joy in Him, for who He is, and what He has done in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He instituted feasts, and told us how to hold them - the Feasts of the Lord; but He has also allowed us to institute our own feasts, as an expression of our joy in God's Providences - the Feasts of Israel. As we model our Feasts on God's Feasts, then we have ample room for the spontaneous joy there is in celebrating a great and wonderful God, and the glorious work He has accomplished through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, upon the cross.

A feast could be defined as:

1. A sumptuous repast or entertainment, of which a number of guests partake; particularly, a rich or splendid public entertainment. 'On Pharaoh's birthday, he made a feast to all his servants.' Genesis 11
2. A rich delicious repast or meal; something delicious to the palate.
3. A Ceremony of feasting; joy and thanksgiving on stated days, in commemoration of some distinguished personage; an anniversary, periodical or stated celebration of some event; a festival; as an occasion of the games in Greece, and the feast of Passover, the feast of Pentecost, and the feast of Tabernacles among the Jews.

In the English Church, feasts are immovable or movable: immovable, when they occur on the same day of the year, as Christmas day, &c.: and movable, when they are not confined to the same day of the year, as Easter, which regulates many others.

All pagan cultures and false religions celebrate things of religious significance with feasts. this was the case with: the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Naga tribes of Assan, the Karens, the natives of the Mexican Valley, the Chinese, the Peruvians, the Parsees, the Phrygians, the Teutonics, the Celts, the Scandinavians, the Mohammedans, and the Hindu-Buddhists, to name just a few. Such feasts were religious and/or civil, celebrated nationally in public, locally in public, or privately in the family. This suggests a common origin of all peoples. There is a cultural memory of the One True God and His ways, but this memory is perverted due to sin.

I The Feasts of the Lord

In Exodus 23 and Leviticus 23, God appointed feasts for Israel to celebrate. He nominated a reason for them, and outlined how there were to be celebrated. The symbolism in the feasts pointed to the work that God had done in the midst of His people, and gave them a teaching event so that they could pass on to succeeding generations the story of how great a God they, the People of Israel, served. They also pointed forward to the coming of the One who would fulfil their ultimate meaning, so that in the Day of their visitation, the Jews would have no excuse not to recognise their Saviour.

A Feasts in the Old Testament

1. The Septenary Festivals

a) The Weekly Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1-3; Exodus 19:3-30; 20:8-11; 31:12; etc.)
The Sabbath celebrated two events, the rest of God after His creation of the world (Exodus 20:8-11); and the deliverance of the Children of Israel from the captivity of the Egyptians (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). It was celebrated by rest from labours. It was to be a joy. The Israelites had laboured continuously under the yoke of the Egyptians. however, under God's yoke, the Israelites could rest every seventh day. The Jewish leaders defiled this Feast by adding to it multitudes of regulations. The Sabbath was made for Man. Man was not made for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).
b) The Seventh New Moon-The Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 28:11-15; 29:1-6)
This was preparatory Feast. The blowing of trumpets announced the coming of the day of mourning, the Day of Atonement, and the season of rejoicing, the Feast of Tabernacles.
c) The Sabbatical Year (Exodus 23:10,11; Leviticus 25:2-7)
This feast was celebrated every seventh year. This was rest for the land, and also a feast for the owner and his family; also, the poor and the domesticated and wild animals could eat what they could glean from amongst that which God provided, without the labour of men.
d) The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 23-35; 25:8-16; 27:16-25)
This was a feast to celebrate liberty from debt, freedom from slavery, and the return to one's own land. It was to occur every fifty years, during the year after 7 times 7 years. The fiftieth year was the year of Jubilee.

2. The Great Feasts
On each of these occasions, every male Israelite was commanded to appear before the Lord (Deuteronomy 27:7; Nehemiah 8:9-12). The attendance of women was voluntary (Luke 2:41; I Samuel 1:7; 2:19). The promise that God would protect their homes (Exodus 34:23, 24) while all males were absent in Jerusalem at these feasts was always fulfilled. "During the whole period between Moses and Christ we never read of an enemy invading the land at the time of the three festivals. The first instance on record is thirty-three years after they had withdrawn from themselves the divine protection by imbruing the hands in the Saviour's blood, when Cestius, the Roman general, slew fifty of the people of Lydda while all the rest had gone up to the feast of Tabernacles, A.D. 66."

a) The Feast of Passover
Exodus 23:14ff. The Passover was kept just before the harvest commenced. This Feast included: Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits (Leviticus 23:4-14). It was instituted after the escape from Egypt, and expanded after the entry into the Promised land. It celebrated God's deliverance from bondage, and the anticipation of God's abundant provision in the land of His promise. First Fruits celebrated the first of the barley harvest.
b) The Feast of Pentecost (also called the Feast of Weeks)
Pentecost was kept at the conclusion of the corn harvest, and before the vintage. Seven times 7 days (7 weeks) were counted after the Sabbath of Firstfruits. It principally celebrated the first fruits of the wheat harvest.
c) The Feast of Tabernacles (the Feast of Booths / the Feast of Ingathering)
Tabernacles was kept after all the fruits of the ground had been gathered in. It also celebrated the harvest of the vine. This Feast included four parts: Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles, the Great Concluding Day (Leviticus 23:36; John 7:37). The Feast of Trumpets announced the coming of the other feasts. Day of Atonement was a day of mourning for sin, and it was the only day for instituted fasting. No other fasting was required of Israel, other than on the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees were the ones who added to God's Law and required further days of fasting. The Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of the dedication of Solomon's Temple, and was celebrated by dwelling in temporary booths (tabernacles). The temple made with hands was only a temporary dwelling place of God. His permanent dwelling place is in His redeemed people, the temple made without hands, the Church of the Living God.

B In the New Testament

1. Christian Rest
The feast of the Sabbath still carries into the New Testament, but in a different form. It is not the same feast celebrated on a different day (a change from Saturday to Sunday observance), rather it is now celebrated through relationship with Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus said, "Come to me all you who labour, and I will give you rest (Shalom)"-Your rest is in Me (He was saying): not just physical rest, but rest of soul: rest from striving to earn salvation and approval from God. There is some justification of the old Sunday roast dinner as an expression of the the idea of feasting. It is a celebration of the Feast of Shalom.

2. The Feast of Trumpets
The Gospel is to be proclaimed; trumpeted abroad announcing a new season and a new feast. When it is done so, this feast is celebrated under the New Testament dispensation. The preaching and teaching of God's Word is to be celebrated as a feast of fat things (Isaiah 20:5).

3. The Sabbatical Year
Jesus is the rest for the land. Romans 8:22 states that "the whole creation groans, waiting for the manifestation of the Sons of God." Christ is the end of man's labour for salvation. As Christ's salvation is worked out in every area of life, even the environment will enjoy rest and restoration.

4. The Year of Jubilee
In Luke 4:16-21 Jesus announced the fulfilment of the Jubilee promise of Isaiah. Jesus is our Jubilee release.

5. The Feast of Passover
Christ is our Passover (I Corinthians 5:7) and our unleavened bread (John 6:35). The Holy Spirit is our Firstfruits (I Corinthians 5:7).

6. The Feast of Pentecost
The Holy Spirit was given at the Feat of Pentecost (Acts 2:1); He is the earnest of God's Harvest of souls.

7. The Feast of Tabernacles (the Feast of Booths / the Feast of Ingathering)
Jesus is the end of temporary dwelling places, tabernacles made by the hands of men, that can be destroyed by God and men, as God destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70 through the hands of His servants, the Roman Legions. "This is my rest forever, here will I dwell; for the Lord has chosen Zion (the Church), He has desired it for His habitation" (Psalm 132:13-14). The Church is Zion, the eternal dwelling place of God.

8. The Feast of the Consummative Day
Christ is the consummation of all things spoken of in Scripture through the History, the Law, the Poetry and the Prophets. He is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25).

II The Feasts of Israel
In addition to the Feasts instituted by the Lord, feasts were also instituted by God's people. These we could call the Feasts of Israel. God never rescinded, nor did He rebuke these feasts directly. He did, however, rebuke how they were celebrated, and the spirit in which they were celebrated. When they were celebrated to God's glory, and for the joy of His people, they were acceptable. However, when they were celebrated with a selfish and self-centred attitude, and when they were integrated with pagan rites and symbolism, and for the sake of a false god, they were condemned by the Lord.

A In the Old Testament

1. The Feast of Purim
In Esther 9:20 ff. the Feast of Purim was instituted by Mordecai in commemoration of the failure of God's enemies to destroy the Jewish nation.

2. The Feast of Dedication
In I Maccabees 4:52-59 (cf. John 10:22) the Feast of Dedication was appointed by Judas Maccabees in commemoration of the purification of the temple after it had been polluted by Antiochus Epiphanes.

3. The Wedding Feast
The Wedding Feast (John 2:1-11) was a celebration of covenant between a man and a woman. Accompanied with feasting and much wine, the feast preceded the consummation of the marriage. These weddings were arranged by the fathers, but were accepted or rejected by the betrothed. They were celebrated over many days, and required special garments. Seating at the wedding was according to honour; the closer to the bridal party, the higher the honour accorded.

B In the new Testament
None of the feasts instituted by Israel were ever rejected by Jesus. He celebrated the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22). It is not recorded, but Jesus, as a Jew, would have celebrated the Feast of Purim. He most definitely celebrated and affirmed the Wedding Feast (John 2), by performing His first miracle at one. None of the Feasts were instituted by god, nor were required by His Law. God, therefore, by remaining silent on the issue, gives us great liberty to Feast beyond His instituted Feasts.

However, we are to be careful that our feasting is oriented towards Him. Elsewhere, God condemns festivals that attempted to syncretise or mix pagan rites and symbols with the worship of God. He calls such feasts and celebrations, "an abomination" (Ezekiel 8).

III So Let us Feast

1. When to Feast

a) The Eucharist
The Lord's Table is the summation of all the other feasts mentioned. It is the only feast and celebration that Christ has instituted under the New Covenant (Matthew 26:17-30; I Corinthians 11:17-34). It is the Passover meal, Christ being our Pascal Lamb; it is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Christ purging our sin, through His blood; it is the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, in anticipation of the marriage consummation at the resurrection; it is the Feast of Dedication of the Temple made without hands; it is the celebration of the defeat of our enemies, the world, the flesh and the Devil.

The Eucharist is to be celebrated with sweetened, leavened bread, as unleavened bread was a reminder of sin. Sweetened, leavened bread is a reminder that Christ has dealt with sin, once and for all; and how sweet is the sound such redemption. It is to be celebrated with fermented wine, because it reminds us of the joy that is in the Holy Spirit. We are not to be controlled by the wine from grapes (Ephesians 5:18; I Corinthians 11:21), but by the Holy Spirit, Who is the New Wine from heaven. In the Gospels, Christ and 11 of His disciples participated in the Lord's Table. In the Book of Acts, and in Corinthians, it was open to believers only. It was to be approached by inward examination by the believer. In the Gospels it was celebrated in the context of an evening meal-the Passover. In the Book of Acts is was often in the context of an evening meal - a love feast ( ). It was celebrated daily, and weekly, in homes, administered by family heads, under the guidance of the church officers. Historically, the Lord's Table was recorded to be the latter part of an evening meal, eaten communally on the first day of the week. Gradually the Eucharist was separated from the meal, and eventually the meal was dispensed with. The Lord's table then became both a tradition and a religious rite, rather than the feast that it was instituted to be. The Lord's table is both a table of remembrance, and a table of instruction.

b) The Agapae
Jude 12 speaks of the Love-Feast, or agapae, as it is sometimes called. this was the meal that surrounded the Lord's Table, giving the Table its context. This agapae was a time of eating and drinking. It was meant to be a modest affair, each bringing a contribution as an expression of mutual love, care and concern for each other. Paul rebuked the excesses of the Corinthians at the agapae (I Corinthians 11), but never meant for it to be severed from the Lord's Supper. The two were, and still are, an integral part of God's desire for His People. Together they are the consummation of the Feasts of the Lord and the Feasts of Israel. All the other Feasts find their ultimate expression in these two: the Agapae and the Lord's Supper. Vincent wrote: "the emphasis is on Lord's. ... supper (which) represents the principal meal of the day, answering to the late dinner. The Eucharist proper was originally celebrated as a private expression of devotion, and in connection with a common, daily meal, an agapae or love-feast. In the apostolic period it was celebrated daily. The communion-meal of the first and second centuries exhibited this character in being a feast of contribution, to which each brought his own provision." Jesus gave new meaning to old elements; the bread and the wine of the latter part of the Passover. We are not to celebrate the old Passover, which was a remembrance of the sparing of the firstborn in Egypt-it is forever done away with in Christ. We are to celebrate the Passover, which is a remembrance of the sacrifice of The First Born, so that all who trust in Him can be spared.

c) At Special Times of the Year.
This does not preclude feasting at other times and in other ways. However, other feasts of Israel can never be religiously required-if they are, the are works being added to grace. Nor can they be the synchretising of pagan festivals, rites and symbols-for such syncretism is an abomination in God's sight. God has, however, in the Feasts of the Lord and in the Feasts of Israel, given us ample scope and example of how to celebrate for His joy and our pleasure.
A beginning list of things to celebrate throughout the year may include:
i) Creation: celebrate a creation week.
ii) Birth of Christ: gifts of Scripture references
iii) Passion of Christ-death, burial, resurrection, ascension: a resurrection cake
iv) Giving of the Holy Spirit
v) Ingathering of the Church
vi) The Annual Church Camp: living in temporary accommodation at the annual church camp, like they did at the Feast of Tabernacles, and trumpet forth the proceeding Word of God.
vii) Birthdays: we can celebrate the unique person that God has created, rehearsing Psalm 139 as a theme.
viii) Harvest Time: we can give thanks at harvest time, and lay up gifts of produce for the poor.
ix) When someone becomes a Christian, or at a Baptism: we can celebrate as they do in heaven when someone becomes a Christian, or when a covenant child or converted adult is baptised.
x) As a Tool for Evangelism: we can celebrate and invite the out castes of society, as Jesus commanded we do, as a tool of evangelism. The Aussie BBQ is the penultimate Feast of Ingathering.
xi) At other times of Religious, Social and Political importance:
(1) The end of a war: when the First and Second World Wars ended, there was celebration in the streets, and this was good and proper, if accompanied with thanks-giving to the Lord for His deliverance.
(2) At the election of godly men to civil office, and the overthrow of ungodly civil leaders can be a time of feasting and celebration.

2. How Should We Feast?
a) With food carefully and creatively prepared- with special dishes only prepared for such feasting.
b) With Bread and Wine-the elements of Communion
c) With Scriptures
d) With singing, dancing, and celebration
e) With prayer and the patriarchal blessing
f) With the giving of gifts to the poor

3. Where should we Feast?
a) in our homes
b) in the Assembly of the Righteous
c) in the market place

4. Why should we Feast?
a) it celebrates the goodness of God, and His abundant provision for us.
b) it captures the heart of the next generation-for reasons of covenant succession
c) it is a testimony to unbelievers
d) God Himself, celebrates in our midst

IV The Application
1. We need to consider our attitude towards the Lord's Supper, and our practice of it. Is it Biblical, or is it merely traditional and cultural?

2. We need to consider the Agapae. Can we develop that which is already in practise without formalising it into a religious rite and tradition?

3. We need to consider our celebration of cultural religious feasts. Do we trust in them as a religious merit? Are we incorporating pagan rites, symbols and practices and trying to syncretise them? Can we modify our celebrations so that they are more clearly in the mode of the Feasts of Israel, and after the Feasts of the Lord?

4. Can we use our feasting more effectively as an evangelistic tool?

5. Are there other things we can celebrate, that we are not celebrating, so that God is receiving greater glory, and His kingdom is being extended in broader dimensions?

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