Sunday, September 30, 2012

Feast of Sukkot... The Granddaddy of Them All!

Sukkot... Booths... Tabernacles... Ingathering...  It goes by numerous names.  It is the seventh and final feast of the seven outlined in Leviticus 23.  For the Jewish people, it is a celebration of great joy!  People look at me funny when I tell them that I, a non-Jewish person, am joining in the celebration.

Under the Mosaic Covenant, it was a pilgrimage feast; meaning that the Jews were required to travel to Jerusalem for the celebration.  However, Zechariah 14:16 tells us that this will be a feast for all the nations in the future kingdom, after the Lord returns (The Millenium):

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).

As I mentioned, the feast is a celebration of great joy.  It celebrates both God's provision and God's presence.  It looks back to the time in the wilderness, when God dwelt among His people in the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  It looks back to the time when God sent His son, Emmanuel, to dwell among us (more on this in a minute), and it looks forward to the time when God will dwell with His people once again on the Earth in the future kingdom!

There are two elements associated with Sukkot that deal with God's provision and presence:  water and light.  Sukkot is the end of the harvest and the beginning of the rainy season.  The water represents God's provision in sending rain to the earth.  The light represents His presence.

In John chapters 7 and 8, Yeshua was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, and in that context He speaks of both water and light.  7:37-38 says, On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.  John 8:12 says Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

There is Biblical evidence that demonstrates that Yeshua entered the world at the Feast of Sukkot. John 1:14 says, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  The Greek word for dwelt, skenoo, literally means to pitch a tent.  Some translations even use the word tabernacled.  The Hebrew word Sukkot included animal shelters... Genesis 33:17 says And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

A study of the time of the conception of John the Baptist reveals he was conceived about Sivan 30, the eleventh week. When Zechariah was ministering in the temple, he received an announcement from God of a coming son. The eighth course of Abijah (Luke 1:5), when Zechariah was ministering, was the week of Sivan 12 to 18. Adding forty weeks for a normal pregnancy reveals that John the Baptist was born on or about Passover (Nisan 14).

We know six months after John’s conception, Mary conceived Jesus (Luke 1:26-33). Therefore, Jesus would have been conceived six months later in the month of Kislev. Kislev 25 is Hanukkah.  Starting at Hanukkah, which begins on Kislev 25 and continues for eight days, and counting through the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy, one arrives at the approximate time of the birth of Jesus at the Festival of Tabernacles (the early fall of the year).

During the Feast of Tabernacles, God required all male Jews to come to Jerusalem. The many pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the festivals would spill over to the surrounding towns (Bethlehem is about five miles from Jerusalem). Joseph and Mary were unable to find a room at the inn because of the influx of so many pilgrims. They may have been given shelter in a sukkah, which is built during a seven-day period each year accompanying the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Due to the difficulties during travel, it was common for the officials to declare tax time during a temple Feast (Luke 2:1).

Even though the Bible does not specifically say the date of Yeshua's birth, we know it was not during the winter months because the sheep were in the pasture. Round the clock shepherding would especially take place during a pilgrimage festival, where there would be great need of many animals for sacrifices.  

God does things with such precision!  If Yeshua was born on the first day of Sukkot, His circumcision would have been on the day after Sukkot ended, itself also a Biblical celebration.  Leviticus 23:36 tells us, For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it.  This is the day that Yeshua would have been given His name and entered into the Abrahamic covenant through circumcision.  (Luke 2:21)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which begins at sundown tonight, is the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar. The Bible prescribes Yom Kippur as a day of affliction (Lev. 16; 23:26-32). In the ancient world, the High Priest woke up early, donned his priestly garments, and sacrificed a bull for both himself and his family. He then cast lots over two goats, choosing one for the Lord and designating the other as the goat to remove sin. Only on this day did the High Priest enter into the Holy of Holies in the Temple to offer incense and sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant. Before concluding the sacrifices by burning both the bull and the goat, the High Priest placed blood from the Lord's goat onto the second goat. He then cast the second goat into the wilderness, thus symbolically removing Israel's sin.

In modern observance, Yom Kippur involves a fast from both food and drink. Many spend the entire day praying in the synagogue. During the Ten Days of Awe preceding Yom Kippur, many Jewish people give tzedakah (charity) which some consider a replacement for the animal sacrifice. A small segment of the Orthodox Jewish community practices kapparot, a ceremony in which a person waves a chicken over his head, before killing the chicken as a symbolic transfer of sin. According to tradition, the Book of Life and the Book of the Dead are closed on Yom Kippur, and the fates of those within the books are sealed for the coming year.

Followers of Yeshua the Messiah confidently look forward to eternal life, because our names are written in the Book of Life. When He died, the veil of the Holy of Holies ripped in two, symbolically breaking a barrier between humans and the presence of God. Previously, only the High Priest had access to this room, and he only entered it once a year on Yom Kippur (Matt. 27:51).

However, Yeshua's death gives believers access to God, because He entered into the Heavenly Holy of Holies to offer His blood for our redemption (see Heb. 9:11-12). Unlike the Israelites' annual sacrifices on Yom Kippur, Yeshua's one sacrifice continues to provide atonement to this day. Yom Kippur, for followers of Yeshua, reminds us of the certainty of our redemption through the blood of our Messiah and High Priest, Yeshua.  It is no mistake that Yeshua means salvation.

Yom Kippur also reminds us of the ultimate salvation of the Jewish people. The prophet Zechariah speaks of a day when the nation of Israel will recognize her Messiah and "they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son" (Zech. 12:10). When the Jewish people recognize Messiah, as Paul writes, "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). The Day of Atonement thus reminds us of our own salvation and also looks forward to the salvation of Israel.

The final Feast, Sukkot, will be five days after Yom Kippur and is the most joyous Feast of them all!  My next post will feature a picture of the first sukkah that I have ever built.  It is still in progress but will be done soon.  Come back soon and read more about Sukkot, The Feast of Booths!  Find out why I believe that Yeshua was born on the first day of Sukkot.

PS.  Thanks to Chosen People Ministries for help with the details of Yom Kippur. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Good News!!!!!

The Gospel... what is it? The Greek word is euangelion; in old English - from where the word is derived - it is godspell. It means good message; glad tidings.

The Gospel is simple, but it isn't easy.

I could start with Yeshua's death on the cross, but there is much that leads up to that point.  Yeshua didn't come to start a new religion called Christianity.  He came to fulfill what the Scriptures foretold in so many places.

Let's go back to the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:3 shows that Chava (Eve) knew the penalty for disobedience - death.  Of course, the serpent deceived her and convinced her that she would instead become like God, knowing good and evil.  When she ate the fruit and gave some to Adam, sin entered the world. 

Adam and Chava tried to atone for, or cover, themselves - with fig leaves.  God proclaimed the penalty for them... that from the dust they were created, and unto dust they will return (die).  But in His mercy, he promised that One would come to crush the head of the serpent (Satan).

Then, in verse 21, He gave Adam and Chava a different covering - animal skins!  This is the first instance of blood being shed for atonement (kafar, which in Hebrew means covering).  This is the first foreshadow of the future redemption!

Fast forward to Abraham.  God asked him to sacrifice his only son.  At first glance, you might say what??? Kill the child of promise, that Abraham waited so long for??  But God is in control.  He was testing Abraham to see where his heart was... did Abraham love God above all?  And then God stopped Abraham and instead provided a ram for the sacrifice.  He was giving us another picture of His provision.

The covenant made with Moses and the people of Israel at Sinai set up an elaborate system of atonement through sacrifice.  One of the key sacrifices was the Passover lamb, which was a picture of escape from the slavery of Egypt.  Egypt is also a representation of sin in the Bible. 

All these pictures of sacrificial substitution lead up to the One who was sacrificed once for all.  Yeshua, Son of God, came to earth and lived His life in perfect accord with the Law of Moses, thus becoming the only One who ever was able to fulfill that covenant.  In doing so, He ushered in the new covenant that was foretold in Jeremiah 31:31... “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 that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,says the LordHe is the ultimate Child of Promise, for Whom the world waited a long time.

Leviticus 17:11 tells us this:  For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement.

The word sin means to miss the mark, or fall short.  Yeshua fulfilled every jot and tittle of the Moses covenant perfectly, yet was put to death.  Scripture says that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), yet Yeshua did not sin.  Because he paid the price that He did not owe, his shed blood is able to cover, or atone for, our own sins when we receive Him by faith.  The second part of Romans 6:23 says that the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.  The ultimate GOOD NEWS!

To receive that covering, the Bible tells us to come to Him in repentance; a word that means to make a u-turn.  Turn away from our life of sin and toward the One who paid the price for us.  Yes Lord, we accept your gracious payment, a payment we could never make for ourselves!

This is our justification.  Our price is paid by the Passover Lamb and we are redeemed unto eternal life. Halellujah!  But God loves us too much to simply leave us there at the altar of sacrifice.

What comes next, then, is our sanctification.  This is the process of becoming cleaned up.  We come to Yeshua repentant but unclean.  He cleans us up through the work of the Holy Spirit, without Whom it would be impossible.  It is a process that takes the rest of our lives.  This parallels the Biblical Feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately follows Passover and continues for seven days.  Seven is a symbol of completeness, and represents the rest of our lives.

Yes, the gospel is simple.  But it isn't easy.  Sanctification requires us to die to self.  Again and again, I might add.

Tomorrow at sundown begins the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar:  The Day of Atonement.

So if our justification and sanctification were fulfilled at Passover and Unleavened Bread, what is this Day of Atonement?  Watch for my next post!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Love the Lord Your God With All You've Got

What is the greatest commandment?

Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us, You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  This is part of the Hebrew shema... Hear O Israel!

The gospels add yet another word:  mind.  (See Mark 12:30).  The Greek word is dianoia, which means understanding. 

Both of these covenants are telling us to love our God with everything we've got.  I find it interesting that the new covenant adds the idea of understanding.  Knowing that salvation would be offered to the Gentiles, and that many movements and denominations within the faith would arise, God has given us provision to love Him to the best of our ability within the realm that He has placed us. 

But that does not mean, stop studying.  He gave us His word so that we can gain greater understanding as we learn more and more about Him, thereby enabling us to love Him more and more as our understanding increases!

Mark 12:31 continues and says the second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  I just love what the scribe says to Yeshua after that in verses 32 and 33:  So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.  And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

I have been studying the letter to the congregation at Ephesus in Revelation 2.  The congregation was commended for its commitment to truth, and for doing good works.  It also hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans (nico means ruler and laitans means people - they didn't allow their leadership to be controlling of the people).  The rebuke they received was that they had lost their first love and were told to return to the first works.

What does this mean?  In today's terms, Ephesus had great church programs, and were busy, busy, busy.  Awesome Youth Group.  Divorce Recovery Group.  Senior Citizens Fellowship.  Women's Ministry.  Men's Ministry.  Awana.  Amazing Music and Drama Teams.  But the time they spent worshipping at the feet of Yeshua was, um, lackluster.  Too busy for that!  They had flip-flopped the greatest two commandments, serving the needs of the people first and giving God whatever was left (if there even were any leftovers).

Now, there is nothing wrong with all those programs.  People have needs, and it's great that there are ministries that can help.  BUT, unless it is done in the proper order as set forth in the Word, it will fail.  What happened at Ephesus?  The Romans came and cut down all their trees.  Erosion caused Ephesus to turn into a desolate place - their lampstand was removed.  A congregation can learn a lot from this:  Put God first, and all the loving-your-neighbor business will follow naturally.

Don't we pray this way too sometimes?  We approach God with our laundry list of things we or others need, instead of simply lavishing Him with praise and adoration. 

Matthew 6:9 gives us our model:  Our Father in heaven,  hallowed (Holy, set apart) be Your name!  Your kingdom come, Your will be done...