You might think that I am talking about the Mayan calendar, but then...you would be wrong. J However, if a person wants to enter a world of disorder and bewilderment, one needs to study the development of the modern calendar. Here is the story, in brief -- in 47 BC, Julius Caesar ordered an astronomer named Sosigenes to straighten out a confused calendar...and he did so with moderate success. Pope Gregory XIII (1502-85) commissioned the calendar that we use today, which is a revision of the Julian calendar. When Great Britain and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, September 3rd became September 14th. Eleven days disappeared from British history. As the result, 20 year old George Washington found his birth date moved from February 11th to February 22nd (and I am particularly grateful for this, so that good old George and I can share a birthday).
Yet, today, calendars are a normal part of our daily lives…maybe even more so than ever. For the Jews under the old covenant, they didn’t really have a calendar…they were content with each day as a gift from God. God gave Israel a calendar that was tied to the rhythm of the seasons and the history of the nation. It summarized not only what God had done in the past, but anticipated what God would do for them in the future. In Leviticus 23, the seven “feasts” as they are called, are not necessarily concerned with “eating,” but are meant simply to be “appointed times.” These were given by the Lord to His people and they had to faithfully celebrate them.
Weekly Sabbath…God Orders Our Times (23:1-3).
The weekly Sabbath isn’t one of the annual feasts (Exodus 20:8-11), but it is an important day for the Jewish people and they are expected to honor it. God gives the Sabbath (which means “rest”) to Israel for several reasons. For one thing, it provides needed rest and refreshment for the people, the animals and the land. It also reminds the Jews that God is the Creator. It is a special sign between God and His covenant people. Other peoples might work on the seventh day, and treat it like any other day, but the Israelites are to rest on the seventh day…and thereby give witness that they belong to the Lord. Today, believers are not commanded to remember a Sabbath Day (Colossians 2:16-17), but, as I shared in doing a series concerning the Sabbath, it is still very important for us to recognize the spiritual principle and value a time or day...one out of seven days...to rest .
Passover…Christ Died for Our Sins (23:4-5).
The Passover is Israel’s feast commemorating deliverance from Egypt. The first-born of Israel’s children and animals, were spared by the Destroying Angel if, by faith, those families had the blood of a lamb on their doorposts…but those without the blood, as well as the Egyptians, were not spared. The lamb is symbolic of Jesus Christ…the substitute…who shed His blood on the cross for a world of lost sinners (that would be us) -- (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19-20). The Passover Lamb has to be spotless…perfect, just as Jesus was perfect – he had no blemish or sin. We must trust in Jesus Christ obediently in order to “feast” on Him through His Word (John 6:1ff) and find the strength we need to walk the Christian walk. Only those who have been purchased by the blood of Jesus are born into God’s family and, therefore, can experience eternal life.
Unleavened Bread…Separation from Sin (23:6-8).
For seven days following the Passover, the Jews eat only unleavened bread with their meals. They carefully cleanse all of the yeast from their homes. In many places in Scripture, leaven is equated with sin. The putting away of leaven illustrates the cleansing of one’s life though grace, faith, the blood, baptism and the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in that order :-). We must be aware of sin, as it can creep into our lives like leaven. A little bit of it can begin a wholesale corruption of the inner person. It is necessary for us to get rid of the “leaven” from our lives…the “old self.” The leaven of malice, hypocrisy, gossip, worry…and whatever else was our old self...must be cleansed away. It is the responsibility of Christian leaders to be on guard to help keep lives, the church free from sin.
First Fruits…Christ Is Raised from the Dead (23:9-14).
The day after the Sabbath that follows the Passover, the priest takes the first sheaf of barley from the field and waves it as an offering before the Lord. It is a token that the first and the best of crops belong to God, and it is done before Israel reaps the harvest for itself. It is also an expression of gratitude to the Lord for providing the harvest and supplying daily bread. The Jews do not eat of the harvest until the first fruits have been given to the Lord…it is an old covenant Matthew 6:33 (Seek ye first the kingdom of God…). Jesus is God’s first fruits of resurrection. Because Jesus was first raised from the dead, therefore all of those who belong to Him also will be raised from the dead. We need to make certain that the Lord gets what is best from our lives (as Abel did)…and not that which is not the best, or the leftovers (indicative of Cain). This can be with regard to our time, possessions, resources….and indicates that seeking Jesus as Lord is a serious matter of priorities.
Pentecost…The Birthday of the Church (23:15-21).
This is also called “the Feast of Weeks”. It is celebrated seven weeks (7x7+1) after first fruits…therefore, the word “Pentecost” means 50th. Here the priest waves two loaves of bread…and thirteen different animal sacrifices are offered before the Lord. All of these are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the one offering on the cross. The fulfillment of Pentecost is seen in Acts 2, when 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and unites believers, Jews and Gentiles (thus the symbolism of the two loaves). God’s people cannot function properly in this world apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Spirit that believers are baptized into the body of Christ and empowered to witness and to serve.
Trumpets…The Calling of God’s people (23:23-25).
The final three feasts were celebrated in the seventh month. Numbers 10:10 says that the priests are to blow the silver trumpets for three occasions – to call the people together, to announce war, and to announce special appointed times. The Feast of Trumpets is held on the first day of the seventh month, and it brings in the New Year (Rosh Hashanah). God gives His people opportunities for new beginnings (thankfully). Yet, unlike our New Year’s celebrations, the Jews use their New Year’s Day for prayer, meditation and confession -- it is a spiritual renewal time. The ultimate point to understand concerning trumpets is that one day, all of God’s people will be gathered together at the sound of the final trumpet. It is a day which we must anticipate.
The Day of Atonement…forgiveness (23:20-32).
I discussed the Day of Atonement in a previous message…but here the emphasis is made concerning people fasting, praying, confessing sin and abstaining from all work. The key to the Day of Atonement is the covering of the people’s sin – two goats…one sacrificed…and one the (e)scape goat. This anticipates one future day when their sins would be taken away by Jesus Christ on the cross. Just as Jesus forgives our sins, so we must live this great grace virtue and forgive others who have offended us.
Tabernacles…the Joy of the Lord (23:33-44).
The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) reminds Israel of God’s blessings of the past. God led his people out of Egyptian bondage, cared for them in the wilderness (thus the booths or tabernacles) and brought them to the Promised Land. This feast is also called “Ingathering,” because it corresponds to the completion of the harvest. Like Thanksgiving Day in our country, it is a time of feasting, rejoicing and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts. The Feast of Tabernacles also pictures the future kingdom of God when all of His people make the final journey home (Promised Land). What a glorious time it will be. Jesus focuses on two traditions during the Feast of Tabernacles -- Living Water (water poured ceremonially, see John 7:38), and Light of the World (lighted candlesticks, see John 8:12)…very important symbols describing the work of the Savior.
As we look at the feasts (appointed times) of long ago, we can see things in common with our own experience. Themes such as…rest, obedience to Christ and the Word, awareness of and repenting of sin, proper priorities in keeping God first, understanding the work of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to do so, commitment to renewal, the need for forgiveness, and thankfulness for what God has done and will do one day. The Old Testament provides for us a calendar that gives us an amazing perspective concerning how we should live as people of the new covenant. We must apply these virtues to our lives. When we are seeking to live according to God’s time and plan, He makes a great difference for us…and we are also able to do the same for others.