Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Feasts of the Lord

Happy Spring! Our Bereans’ class has finished Luke and is about half way through the book of Acts. It’s been a windy March outside and I can feel a whirlwind in my mind too as I’ve been racing to keep up with all the key events going on in these chapters. Luke, of course, ends with the crucifixion and resurrection events and then Acts picks up with Pentecost and the early beginnings of the Church. These familiar Bible stories are each linked to a Jewish spring festival. Leviticus 23:4 tells us that these festivals are more properly called, “The Feasts of the Lord”, in other words, they belong to Him. These are not holidays like Mother’s Day here in the United States which was begun by a presidential proclamation. The Lord God Himself established these Holy Days. There are seven feasts in total and they depict the entire redemptive work done by the Messiah. Four of the seven feasts are observed in the spring and their meaning was fulfilled in the chapters we studied this past month. The other three feasts are observed in the fall.

The first “Feast of the Lord” is Passover. Jesus IS the Passover Lamb, His perfect sacrifice on the cross makes possible our redemption from Satan’s bondage. If you haven’t read this in a while, I suggest you curl up with your Bible some evening soon to enjoy the first 14 chapters of the book of Exodus. Yes, the story is familiar, but it is so much better than anything you’ll find on your television!

 The very next day after Passover, begins the week long “Feast of Unleavened Bread”. In Bible times, Jewish people commonly referred to the entire holiday season by this name (Mark 4:12). Today however, they usually lump all these holidays together in the word “Passover”. In orthodox Jewish homes, the tradition is still carried out where they search the house for all leavened bread – even the crumbs - and ceremoniously remove it. Leaven is a symbol for sin and, like yeast, it takes only a tiny bit to ferment or rot an entire batch of dough. The day after the Lord’s crucifixion, His body was in the tomb. Yet it did not, and could not, decay   because there was no sin (leaven) to be found in Him.

The third day is called “The Feast of Firstfruits”. It is in the spring that the first green blades of barley appear. The first sheaf is cut and presented to the Lord. If it is accepted, it is His promise, His earnest pledge, that there will be a full harvest. The resurrection of the Lord on the third day is evidence of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. How dear it is to know we are part of the harvest to come, pledged nearly 2000 years ago when God the Father accepted Jesus as the Firstfruit.

Then there is a fourth spring festival, “The Feast of Weeks”. We commonly call this “Pentecost” meaning “fiftieth day” because it is observed on the day after seven weeks beginning with the “Festival of Firstfruits”. 7 x 7 is 49, then the next day is Pentecost, or 50 days after our Easter Sunday.

Most everyone recognizes this day as when the Holy Spirit fell from heaven and the New Testament Church began to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. But there’s more to it than that! “Pentecost” marks the beginning of the Jewish harvest season. Did you catch that? The celebration of Pentecost is the birth of the Church and the beginning of the harvest; but not just any harvest, this is the Lord’s harvest of souls!

Now let’s look closer at the promise of the Holy Spirit: “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Notice that Jesus tells the disciples that the gospel message is to spread in three stages throughout the world. This is a key verse in the book of Acts and actually forms an outline of how the message was indeed carried to the world. In Chapter 2, the message is preached in Jerusalem, in Chapter 8, it spreads to Samaria, finally in Chapter 10, the message breaks out into the entire world with the household of Cornelius being the first Gentile converts.

If we study carefully the instructions given for the harvest as begun on the Day of Pentecost in the Old Testament, we learn that the gospel’s spread was long ago foretold. Leviticus 23:22, “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” Note that there are three parts to this harvest: the main harvest, the far corners, and the gleanings. And there are three groups of people who will enjoy these harvest sections – the land owners, the poor, and the aliens or strangers. Each of these corresponds to one of the groups of people in Acts 1:8. The Jewish people are the land owners, the Samaritans are the poor, and the Gentiles are the aliens and strangers.

The next Feast of the Lord on the Jewish calendar is celebrated in the fall at the end of the harvest, known as the Feast of Trumpets. This Holy Day will be fulfilled when Christ returns at the sound of the trumpet on the Day of the Lord.

As for today, Jesus tells us, “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest” (John 4:35). Let this spring mark a time of harvest in the lives of people you know, begin now to pray for those you will invite to church this Easter – April 8th. For today is the day of salvation! (Hebrews 3:13).

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