Not long after I start a spiritual discussion with a Jewish friend, I’m asked two questions:
- Are you Christian or Jewish? I answer, YES
- What holidays do you celebrate… Christmas or Passover? I answer, ALL of them!
Our dialogue was confusing because I was quoting the prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, clearly the Jewish Bible, BUT I was talking abut Jesus…talking about Him in a Jewish framework yet some of the things I was saying sounded, well, so “Christian.”
I just didn’t fit into the mold.
Which mold….Jewish or Christian?
An important Definition
Here a definition is order, a definition based on perceptions. Everything we hear is processed through our personal grids and perceptions. That’s why communication is often so difficult.
We think we’re being clear, but the hearer is hearing something completely different!
Our perceptions, whether true or not —are made through:
- Religious bias
So what is the perception of my hearer?
This will be shocking to most of you —the perception of most Jewish people is that “Christian” is synonymous with Gentile…Let that sink in…“Christian” is synonymous with Gentile. So, if a gentile = Christian, then billy graham, the pope and hitler…all Gentiles….were all Christian!
Hence the confusion and the questions.
So not receiving a precise answer to the first question, (was I Jewish or Christian?) the second question was asked: “Did I celebrate Passover or Christmas? Thus my answer – that I celebrate all of them was even more confusing.
Friends, my answers kept me out of the box….the mold the questioner was trying to put me into. In his perception, holidays were either Jewish or Christian! The fact that Jesus, a Jew, celebrated the feasts was irrelevant to my friend.
The Holidays we celebrate emphasize the confusion.
Christmas cf Hanukkah: Jews don’t celebrate Christmas and Christians don’t celebrate Hanukkah (although Jesus did!)
Passover cf Resurrection: Jews certainly don’t celebrate Easter (Resurrection) which is on a Jewish holiday and Christians rarely celebrate Passover (again although Jesus did)
Interestingly, more and more Gentile Christians are conducting a Passover service, but rarely is it an annual celebration. And some recognize Hanukkah but focus on a legend about oil rather than the historical truth.
Jewish followers of Jesus?
What about Jewish followers of Jesus? Well that’s an issue strongly being debated to this day.
When I was a new follower of Yeshua, I was confronted about this issue, first from my Gentile pastor and later from my Jewish pastor. My Gentile pastor couldn’t understand what I wanted to do for the Day of Atonement when Jesus did it all (meaning provided atonement.)
I explained, “Pastor that’s exactly WHY I want to celebrate…All my life I sat in synagogue repenting for sins done or imagined and never knew if I’d be forgiven. Now that I know i am forgiven, how can I NOT celebrate Jesus on the Day of Atonement?”
And what about Christmas???
As a child, my family loved Christmas. Our celebration had noting to do with Jesus, it was just a time when the family got together.
Yes we had a tree and Daddy made sure that the rabbi who lived across the street couldn’t see it!
We loved hanging the ornaments…but of course we started with the Star of David so we could call it a Hanukkah bush.
And yes we celebrated Hanukkah too. Best of both worlds.
Eventually we stopped doing Christmas. It was the year by brother was bar-mitzvah and we were all convicted that as Jews we shouldn’t be associated with anything “Christian.
BUT when I became a follower of Christ, I was so eager to celebrate His birth. I could finally celebrate Christmas….really celebrate Jesus! My favorite Christmas song, actually the prayer of my heart was and is
O come, O come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice rejoice Immanuel HAS come to thee o Israel”
That first Christmas was not quite what imagined (or hoped) it would be, but I realized that traditions need not divide us when Christ is preeminent. We can learn so much from each other when we worship Him in
Then I looked forward to celebrating the next holidays (Purim & passover) with my Gentile brethren. But to my shock and sadness, they weren’t interested. Actually the pastor was surprised that I even wanted to.
- The One New Man didn’t celebrate Jesus through those holidays….Why not?
- The One New Man. Aka the church
- The one new man for whom Jesus prayed and died for
- The one new man of Jews and Gentiles, redeemed by God’s grace through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Didn’t celebrate Jesus?
Was it because….yes I’m sure it was….. because for thousands of years these feasts have been identified as “Jewish feasts” and not “the feasts of the Lord.”
As time went on I discovered the terrible breach in the foundation of the church that was designed to be built on the Hebrew prophets and Jewish apostles. And nothing made that breach more obvious than the holidays we celebrated. Jewish Believers had their celebrations; and the Gentile Believers had theirs.
But the holidays had a more divisive impact than in just the Body. Celebrating the feasts even caused divisions in families and confusion in the hearts of the Believers themselves.
Here is a letter i received:
It just seems that things have been really hard and confusing ever since we started to try and learn more about observing a Biblical Sabbath. My older kids (girls 12 and 15) have especially been confused. We have our friends who make it seem like even saying the word “Christmas”, yet alone celebrating any part of it, is an unpardonable sin. They have gone as far as to say that they think those who are not following Torah may not make it to heaven.
My thought then is why did Jesus have to come and die for us?
I love God and want to do what He wants me to do. I also want to teach my children the right way to live ( I also have 2 boys- 7 and 9). Obviously I am still confused about a lot. Like I said, I want to follow God and do what He wants but at times things feel so legalistic and rigid. LG
If that makes my heart break, how does God feel? Here’s a story about a precious friend ….Mary
Mary was the daughter of a pastor so spent her entire life in church….a gentile church. She loved the celebrations I hosted and got my feast book as soon as it was published. Then several years ago she started attending a Messianic congregation with the intention of “learning enough to share with my pastor.”
Two years to “learn enough?” What was to learn that took so long?
I later discovered the problem was that she was told she had to pray certain prayers and follow Jewish traditions outlined by the Messianic Rabbi (note the change of my vocabulary: Congregation not church, Rabbi not pastor.)
As we talked she threw off the shackles and simply celebrated Jesus! The WHO not the HOW of the feasts.
Celebrating Jesus can help repair the breach
Friends, celebrating the feasts need not exacerbate the breach. In fact, I contend that nothing can repair that breach and unite the One New Man more than celebrating Jesus through the feasts of the Lord! So let’s start at the beginning.
What does the Bible say about the feasts? As I said before, we err when we refer to Biblical holidays as “Jewish Feasts” and yet God calls them HIS feasts – the feasts of the Kingdom.
“But” you say. “God gave them to Israel, the Jewish people.” Yes, He did because:
- You are my witnesses that a people yet unborn will know Me (Isaiah 43:10)
- Gave a testimony in Israel (ps 78:5-7)
That they might know
God designed the feasts and celebrations:
- Remember His mighty acts of deliverance
- Reveal His character
- Recognize Jesus!!!
- Reflect on the significance of each feast to my life
Today there is a lot of attention on the “restoration” of all things” necessary before Christ returns. While I question the application of that verse, I must if part of that restoration might include restoring the feasts to the church? hmmm
So to answer the question can (not should) Gentiles celebrate God’s feasts I ask another question:
Is there a valid reason why not?
Is there a page in our Bibles that does not in some way point to Jesus? And of course every feast mentioned was fulfilled by His life and ministry:
- Early ministry (Savior)
- Death, burial, resurrection
- Current ministry (Scape goat and high priest)
- Future ministry (King of all kings)
So “Yes Church, yes celebrate Jesus through the Lord’s feasts….His feasts.”
Why did the Gentiles who were worshipping the Jewish Messiah stop celebrating Him through His feasts?And why did Jewish Believers not put the new wine into new wine skins but instead try to Judaize others?
But the larger question we need to ask is….. what now?
Can we worship our savior and enjoy each other’s traditions learning and embrace in each other?
Sure we can!
So next we’ll take a quick look back at the sad history of the breach, then look up to learn about the feasts and then look forward as we celebrate Jesus!
An excellent resource for the beginner or the experienced:
The challenge was obvious; the pastor had been challenging almost everything I had been saying about God’s unique relationship with the Jewish people. I’m sure he was certain that this was the ultimate challenge.
“Where is it written in Scripture that the Gentiles should celebrate the feasts?”
“Nowhere” was my simple reply. “If I taught that, I would be Judaizing the church.”
Should the church celebrate the feasts? Absolutely NO!
Can all Believers, Jewish and Gentile, celebrate the feasts? Sure!”
Maybe at this point some definitions would be appropriate.
The Church: Jews and Gentiles who have been redeemed by God’s grace through faith in the atoning work of Jesus, Yeshua the Messiah. Therefor term Christian is part of the church regardless of denomination. However, the general perception today of “Christian” is limited to Gentiles. But linguistically, biblically and historically that’s not accurate.
Gentile: The word in Hebrew is “goy” which is best translated as “nation.” Therefore anyone who is not Jewish/Israel is considered part of the nations, or Gentile.
Jew: Here the definition is not as simple, but it is biblical clear. A Jew is a direct descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who is culturally and ethnically part of the nation of Israel. Jews have a unique relationship with God which distinguishes them from any and all other nations. When referring to Jews we must include: the people, the land and the unique calling of God (Isaiah 43:10). Biblically and historically Jews are considered Israel regardless of their location.
The One New Man: is synonymous with “the church.” Because the terms church and Christian have been distorted over the years, the One New Man seems to be a more palatable term. Therefore the One New Man by definition must include both redeemed Jews and Gentiles.
THE DANGER OF JUDAIZING
Today there is a growing interest among Gentile followers of Jesus regarding the feasts of the Lord. I believe this is reason to rejoice as God is restoring these wonderful celebrations to His church. But at the same time I’m saddened by the accompanying Judaizing which Paul warned against in his letter to the Galatians.
What is judaizing? Judaizing is the insistence that Gentiles and even Jewish Believers adopt Jewish rituals and customs. Some even claim that these traditions are necessary unto salvation which is a total denial of the Gospel.
Celebrating the feasts isn’t a “MUST” either for salvation or even sanctification. I contend that any celebration of Jesus is a blessing regardless of how it is done. If we are not celebrating Yeshua, Jesus, we are out of order and might be offensive to God Himself. In other words, the key to a God-pleasing celebration is WHO not how we celebrate.
MOSES cf THE NEW COVENANT
I suggest part of the issue is because of a misunderstanding of the New Covenant and the Incarnation of Jesus.
The argument hinges on John 1:14: And the Word became flesh.
The argument continues: “Since “Torah” is the word and the word became flesh, if we are following Yeshua, we must follow Torah.” When asked, “What part of Torah are to follow?” After a few moments of silence, the “must” is reduced to ‘the feasts'”
Of course we do need to recognize that the Torah, as is the entire Tenach, is glorious and good, but Jesus is so much better. In fact, is this not the premise of the entire book of Hebrews?
Yeshua, Jesus, came to fulfill the law and the prophets. While there is much in the prophets that remains to be fulfilled, Yeshua said His words were to be heard, believed and followed.
So as we celebrate, let us ask ourselves what is most important: the HOW or the WHO we are celebrating?
Let us follow and celebrate Yeshua with all our heart, soul and strength
worship Him in spirit, truth, humility and love.
“Celebrate Jesus; the Christian Perspective of the feasts of the Lord.” A simple resource for the One New Man
To order: https://www.novea.org/store/
This past month has brought one challenge after another from followers of Jesus regarding celebrating the Feasts of the Lord. There is so much consternation, and I suggest confusion, about the appropriateness of their celebration under the New Covenant. Sadly this issue continues to be a watershed issue bringing division instead of the potential joy and unity if Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, would celebrate Yeshua, Jesus, as the One New Man. So, once again I reiterate my position.
SALVATION IS ONLY THROUGH GOD’S GRACE BY OUR FAITH IN THE ATONING WORK OF YESHUA, JESUS, – HIS DEATH, BURIAL AND RESURRECTION.
Salvation is not dependent on or affected by the celebration of the feasts.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe that God has given us His feasts as times to celebrate…to celebrate Yeshua! Subsequently how can there NOT be a blessing when Believers come together to celebrate and worship their God and King? I contend that the essence and purpose of the feasts is in alignment with God’s purpose for EVERYTHING He has done; and that is to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory. Then the only possible response to experiencing His glory is worship. ALL of creation was designed to sing God’s praise and worship Him. Consider:
- The stars sing and dance
- The trees will clap their hands
- The clouds are God’s chariot
- The wind and waves obey Him
- The light envelopes and clothes Him
- The sun and the moon complete their circuit as a bridegroom
Yes, everything that has breath will praise and everything else that has been created will join in the chorus!
God has given us the feasts as times of remembrance and celebration.
Every holiday commemorates a specific event in Israel’s history. Each of them reflects a unique aspect of God’s covenant love and purpose for Israel, His chosen nation and His people. But most important each of them points to His ultimate covenant love and purpose – Yeshua the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. Consider:
- Passover commemorates God’s redemption of Israel through the shedding of the blood of the lamb.
- Jesus shed His blood to redeem all who would believe in Him.
- Unleavened Bread commemorates Israel’s deliverance from bondage
- Jesus was buried and separated our sins from us as far as the east is from the west
- First Fruits celebrates the coming into the Promised Land
- Jesus was resurrected on the First Fruits, promise of our ultimate redemption and deliverance
Obviously, these historical events have spiritual significance applicable to Believers in Yeshua, Jesus. Is He and therefore are they not worthy of remembering and celebrating? Why would we NOT want to remember and celebrate Jesus?
The Law versus the Feasts
The argument against Believers celebrating the Feasts is their location in the Old Testament. (I’d rather call it the Hebrew Bible). The argument is that because they were given to Israel and described in Torah, they have no significance to Christians…those under the New Covenant. Further if Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) celebrate these feasts, they are putting themselves under bondage to the Law. Is this true? I could counter with the question, “Does ‘law’ have no significance to Believers?” If you answer “yes” then you are admitting that you are law-less! I doubt you mean that because we are under the law of love and the Torah is actually written on our hearts! May I also point out that the New Covenant was given to Israel and only by God’s grace through faith extended to the Gentiles? Are not the Gentiles grafted into God’s covenant with Israel and receive the blessings of the Commonwealth of Israel? But all that is a digression. Another argument I encountered recently is that we cannot observe the feasts because we no longer have the Temple and the sacrifices. This gets more to the point… the misunderstanding of God’s intention for the feasts. The sacrifices were only part of the WAY they were to observe the holiday. The greater issue was the WHAT and WHO and WHY they were celebrating. The argument allso shows a lack of understanding what is in the heart of so many Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) who are celebrating.
Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) are celebrating the feasts because they LOVE Yeshua and are grateful for what He has done for them.
They are celebrating God’s love which brought them into the New Covenant giving them the same spiritual inheritance He gave to believing Israel. They are celebrating with the full knowledge and understanding of God’s intention for the feasts. So let’s be more specific about God’s purposes for the feasts. His feasts were to:
- Remind Israel of His acts of redemption,
- Provide opportunities for them to focus on celebration and worship,
- Point to their fulfillment through Jesus!
So I ask, “Do God’s intentions and purposes change with the institution of the New Covenant?” And I answer vehemently “NO!” As Yeshua said, “I came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it.”
By denying Christians the opportunity to celebrate the feasts, I suggest we are actually destroying the Law. Those who celebrate the feasts are actually fulfilling the Law by celebrating Jesus in and through the feasts.
From this perspective, let us look at one of the Sacraments of the Church – Communion. Regardless of your theology regarding the bread and the wine (whether is actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus or not), is there any follower of Christ that would reject the practice of Communion? Of course not. Communion is the commemoration of the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua. It is a memorial which He commanded us to do until His return. But remember what Yeshua said as He handed His disciples the bread and the wine, “When you do this, remember Me.” Remember also the context of that event…they were celebrating the Passover! Passover, the commemoration of God’s redemption and deliverance of Israel.
Could it possibly be that the Messiah was expecting His followers to continue celebrating the Passover, but to do so as being fulfilled in and by Him?!
Of course at the moment His words only confused the disciples. But on the third day, and certainly at the next Passover, the fulfillment of every ritual took on new meaning as they commemorated not only their deliverance from the bondage to slavery, but their deliverance to the bondage of sin. Finally another challenge. Consider why you are so quick to celebrate Christmas, a holiday steeped in pagan history and tradition. Why are you so quick to celebrate your country’s Memorial or Independence Day? And yet why do so many refuse or hesitate or worse criticize those who desire to celebrate those holidays based in historical fact and steeped in biblical significance? The feasts of the Lord are beyond every other national or cultural holiday. They were given to the Kingdom of God – both Jews and Gentiles to point to and then to celebrate the One and the ONLY Savior, Redeemer, Deliverer…
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Creating memories is important. As we enter the final cycle of the annual feasts, let us remind ourselves why God gave us His feasts, the Feasts of the Lord. Everything God does, from Creation to the Resurrection is to bring glory to Himself as He creates a Kingdom of priests to worship Him and fill the earth with their personal knowledge (from experience) of His character and His ways. The Feasts were opportunities for Israel to remember and celebrate and through those celebrations to share their personal experience and knowledge of their God. Continually God commands Israel to “tell your children.” The Psalmists were constantly iterating that they would “declare, praise, tell, speak, proclaim” God’s goodness, especially to the next generation. Is not the act of worship a way of remembering and celebrating God? Sadly many of the Church today consider celebrating the Feasts of the Lord “going back under the Law.” But how can celebrating God and His mighty acts be anything but the joyous response to His Salvation? Celebrating is a honor and a privilege. Recently I heard Ravi Zakarias give an excellent reason for celebrating the Feasts. He was challenging all of us to build in memories within the family through ceremonies and symbols. WOW, I couldn’t say it better. Listen:
‘Maybe we are moving so fast that we cannot pause long enough to see the symbolic nature of some of the things we do. ‘We need to build memories into the lives of our children so that they will go through cetain ceremonies and symbols in their lives that they will miss when they have left home. It will be a memory to them as long as they live. ‘Through these kind of memories, the value of the family goes up. ‘Treasured memories of home buildt around the family room build the kind of ceremonies and opportunities at home where God is being instructed in everything you do. ‘But this will only happen when our own personal devtional life is striaghed out with God.’
Not only does the value of the family increase, but so does the sense of belonging to the larger community, Kingdom of God. Sharing and celebrating a common history is one of the greatest blessings of the Feasts.