Can Christians Celebrate, Part 1

Not long after I start a spiritual discussion with a Jewish friend, I’m asked two questions: 

  1. Are you Christian or Jewish?    I answer, YES
  2. 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:

  • Culture
  • Religious bias
  • Experience
  • Theology

 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

  • Spirit
  • Truth
  • Humility
  • Love

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.”

 The Breach

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
  • Rejoice

 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:

  • Birth
  • 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.”

WHAT HAPPENED?

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:

https://www.novea.org/product/celebrate-jesus-through-the-feasts/

 

 

Judaizing the church?

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.

DEFINITIONS

   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.

YIKES!

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

and

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/

The Incarnation on Rosh Hashanah?

Yes, indeed I suggest that the second greatest miracle ever (the first being His Resurrection) is the Incarnation, God becoming a man.  But did it happen in December?

Let’s lay aside the most obvious reason: The cold, rainy weather of winter in Jerusalem would have prevented the shepherds and their sheep from being in the fields. They would have been kept under shelter. Okay, so how did I come to this conclusion?  By process of elimination. While every one of the Lord’s feasts commemorates an event in God’s redemptive plan in the history of Israel, they are fulfilled through the life and ministry of His Messiah – Jesus. The spring feasts are fulfilled through the death, burial and resurrection:

  • Passover commemorates the redemption of Israel as they sacrificed the lamb and applied its blood on the door-posts of their homes.  The Angel of Death, seeing the sign of the blood passed over the home
    • Jesus is the Passover Lamb whose blood, when applied to our hearts redeems us from death.  Furthermore He was crucified on Passover.
  • Unleavened Bread commemorates Israel’s deliverance from Egypt when they actually departed their bondage in the sin pots of Egypt.
    • Jesus was buried on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, separating our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103).
  • First sheaf of the harvest commemorates Israel’s arrival in the Promised Land and is observed by the bringing the first fruits of the spring harvest to the Lord.
    • Jesus rose from the dead on the this feast, therefore He is called “The firstfruits from the dead.”

The summer feast of Weeks commemorates the first harvest that Israel both sowed and reaped. 

  • The Jewish men were to bring the first fruits of the summer harvest to offer thanksgiving to the Lord.
    • The Greek name for this holiday is Pentecost, the day when Jesus gave the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  You might have noticed that this is the second first fruits holiday and I suggest this holidays is can also be applied to us, the believers in Christ.  As the Bible says, “we are the first fruits of Christ.”

The fall feasts are fulfilled by the birth and ministries of Jesus.  Let’s start with the second and third of the fall feasts and then come back to the holiday under consideration.

  • The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  On this day the High Priest made atonement for the sins of the nation.  This was the only time he went into the Holy of Holies. Two goats  were offered to the Lord for atonement.  Upon both goats, the High Priest put the sins of the nation.  One goat was sacrificed and its blood was brought into the Holy of Holies.  The other goat was released into the wilderness.
    • Jesus fulfilled both aspects of this holy day.  His first ministry was that of the sacrificed goats, bearing and carrying away the sins of the people.  Jesus’ current ministry is that of our High Priest who continuously makes intercession for His own.
  • The final of the fall feasts, and the last of the annual cycle of all the feasts is the Feast of Tabernacles.  This feast commemorates God’s provision and protection during the wilderness journey of Israel.  It is the final first fruits holiday as the people brought the first fruits of the fall harvest to offer to the Lord.  It is the most prophetic of all the feasts as it looks forward to the final ingathering of the nations and the Messiah’s rule and reign from Jerusalem.
    • This is the one holiday that will be fulfilled as it points to the future ministry of Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

To review: The feasts of the spring:

Death Burial Resurrection

The feast of the summer:

Giving of the Spirit

The feasts of the fall:

?

Jesus’ first and current ministry

Jesus’ future ministry

Did you notice the one event in God’s redemptive plan?  Of course, the Incarnation…the birth of Jesus! Now let’s consider what the Bible says about this holiday.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.'” Lev 23:23-24

There were two Biblical mandates on this holiday:

  1. They were to blow silver trumpets (Numbers 10:2, 10)
  2. It was to be a memorial of shouting or blowing

By now you should be asking the question, “Memorial of what?”  The Bible is silent.  Now consider what Jesus expected of Israel:

Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44

There were a few who were expectantly looking: Anna and Simeon.  We hear the understanding of God’s visitation in the words of Zacharias and Mary.  How did they know?  Probably the words of Daniel 9:25-26.  Based on the historical fact of the return of the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 BC, they could do the math bringing them to the year and perhaps the very day when Messiah would be executed for the sins of the world.  Yes they were expecting the Messiah in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Imagine the drama of that night in Jerusalem on the first day of the seventh month, the day of the Feast of the Memorial Blowing: As the priests were blowing the silver trumpets, suddenly there was with the angel a multitude praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” —Luke 2:13-14 If the appearance of one angel is frightening, can you imagine what this sight was like? The awesomeness of the most spectacular sunset or the northern lights cannot compare with a multitude of heavenly hosts proclaiming, singing and shouting the news that God Himself was born! Glory to God in the highest, indeed! Can you imagine a better time to blow every trumpet in the Land? Could there be a better accompaniment to the angels’ voices? Bethlehem is just a few kilometers from Jerusalem. Imagine the perfection of this orchestration—trumpets blasting in Jerusalem and angels praising overhead. [1] You probably have two more questions, “Why is this holiday called ‘Rosh Hashanah?” and “What about the traditional teaching of the ‘Days of Awe?’” My answer is simple: TRADITION. Friends, there is only one New Year on God’s calendar and that is in the spring, fourteen days before Passover.  So the nomenclature of “Rosh Hashanah is biblically incorrect. As regarding the Days of Awe, while there are valuable aspects of this tradition, it remains a rabbinic tradition without a solid biblical foundation.[2] In conclusion, the challenge and decision before us is, “Will be continue to put tradition above the Bible?” As for me, I prefer to celebrate the Incarnation on the day when it probably happened…God’s feast on the first day of the seventh month…the Feast of the Memorial Shout/Blowing!

Jesus the Savior is Born!!!


[1] Lipis, Joan, Celebrate Jesus!  The Christian Perspective of the Biblical Feasts, (Palm Tree Productions) Pg 230-231

Celebrate The Feasts of the Lord – Revisited

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…

Yeshua!

To order “Celebrate Jesus!  The Christian Perspective of the Biblical Feasts: http://store.novea.org/product/celebrate-jesus/

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