Monday, October 20, 2014

Walk in the Light

Hi. It's me again. By now you're home from the Feast of Tabernacles. I truly hope you had a great time. I invite you to mull over your Feast experiences, sermons and interactions in light of what I have to say here. What, you thought I was done with the shadows of Colossians 2 just because the Holy Days are over? Nope, sorry. But this is the last one. 

So why on earth did I write all this? Because I wanted to ruin your Feast? To judge you for fasting on the Day of Atonement? No. Not at all. No one here at As Bereans Did is judging you. We know you are trying to obey God the best way you know how.  I wrote this series on the Holy Days because I want something better for you, and God does, too.

Better than what? Better than staying for a week in an exotic location with a wallet full of disposable income? Yeah, I know. It's a hard sell, especially right now. One of my Church of God pastors used to make fun of people who called "law-keeping" a burden. He'd mock them, talking about the prime steaks and fine wine he consumed at the Feast. "Pile it on, God!" he would say. 

It's tough to explain to you how "law-keeping" could be a burden, because the COGs have weeded out so many of the requirements of the Sinai Covenant that don't seem important to us, or aren't practical in modern application. We've whittled down the "law of God" into something that's almost attainable. In doing so, we've put new wine in old wineskins, ending up with a system that neither meets the requirements for righteousness under the Sinai Covenant nor accepts the freedom and grace available to us under the New Covenant. 

The Apostle Paul cautioned the brethren at Galatia against putting themselves in this same position. Though the false teachers in Galatia were different from those at Colossae, Scripture indicates that both groups pressured Gentile believers to adopt tenets of the Sinai Covenant. Paul warned them that if they became circumcised in an effort to attain righteousness, Christ's sacrifice would be of no value to them, and they would be obligated to obey the whole Sinai Covenant (Galatians 5:2-3). And that those who fail to keep the whole law would be cursed (Galatians 3:10). Though these two passages don't specifically say the law Paul references is the Sinai Covenant, Galatians 4:21-5:1 does, without question. The COGs might play word games with Galatians 4:10 about days, months and seasons, but they have a harder time explaining away these verses: 

"Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar - for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children - but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all." Galatians 4:21-26.

"Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless, what does the Scripture say? 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.' So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." Galatians 4:28-5:1. 

Those under the Sinai Covenant were in bondage, Paul said. He would know. He had been a Pharisee's Pharisee. The law was his life. He knew the Sinai Covenant was a package deal that man had no authority to alter or edit. If you break one part of it, you were guilty of breaking the whole thing, according to James 2:10. And keeping the whole covenant was a burden. Daily sacrifices. Your family's animals - your livelihood and food source - being killed to make restitution for sins. Vigilance about not mixing the fabrics in your clothing and the seeds in your vineyard. Rules about nocturnal emissions. Rules about what to do if your ox got loose and hurt someone. Rules about marrying your brother's wife if he died. The list goes on. And on. And on. And on. 

Similarly, Peter wasn't talking about practices the Pharisees added to the law when he talked about the yoke he and his ancestors couldn't bear (Acts 15:10). Why would early church leaders even entertain the thought of enforcing the Pharisees' codes after hearing Jesus rebuke them at every turn? Neither was he just talking about circumcision. Remember, circumcision was never just about circumcision - it was the gateway to keeping the Sinai Covenant. Peter was circumcised and it seems he was doing just fine in life. No, Peter was referring to the Sinai Covenant. Israel couldn't keep it, not in a way that pleased God, not in a way that made a hill of beans difference where their righteousness and eternal destiny were concerned. Man's righteousness is indeed filthy rags to God. 

The biggest burden the Sinai Covenant placed on Israel was bearing the cost of their own sin. The economic toll of sacrificing animals your family needed for food was hard enough, but the emotional burden must have been even heavier. Constantly falling in and out of God's favor. Having God's checklist for national righteousness but not being able to keep it. Wanting to do right, falling short and knowing your destiny (and that of your countrymen) likely hung in the balance. Every day, every sacrifice, every dead animal, every spilling of blood reminding them that the wages of their sin was death. Now THAT'S a burden. And COG beliefs about sin and righteousness are not so different today. Only now, they use terms like "ongoing justification" to describe this same exercise in legalistic futility. The Holy Days were inextricably tied to sacrifice and maintaining righteousness. Consider the Holy of Holies, mercy seat, blood sacrifices and other rituals. More importantly, remember that you were CUT OFF from Israel if you didn't celebrate the festivals (see Exodus 12:15). Tell me, is it any different in the COGs today? Try to opt out of a Holy Day and let me know how it goes. Will your pastor or your brethren remind you that keeping the Holy Days, among other physical practices, factor into your righteousness? Your salvation? 

In Luke 18:10-14, we see that the Pharisee's physical efforts gave him a false sense of security. I believe many in the COGs do the same thing today. Doing so can foster a checklist mentality, which can leads to self-righteousness and a dangerous tendency toward self-reliance. In Hebrews 10, we see that the sacrifices, rituals and laws of the Sinai Covenant could never save people. They were powerless to remove sin. It's not that the laws themselves were wrong. They were good, and given by a holy God. There wasn't something wrong with the law, there's something wrong with US. The law never had any power to change  sinful hearts (Galatians 3:21). Israel couldn't obey perfectly, or even close to perfectly, which was what was required under that system. Do you think that's asking too much? Well, would the Father have accepted Jesus' sacrifice if He had sinned even once? Why would the expectation be any different for us today? Because we have the Holy Spirit, right? Well, even with the Holy Spirit, we will never achieve perfect righteousness in this life. Remember Paul's laments about wrestling with sin in Romans 7:7-25? If Paul couldn't do it, what chance do we stand? 

Knowing this, God gave Israel the Sinai Covenant to show them what they lacked. To show mankind what we all lack. And to teach us that our only hope is to place our full faith in Jesus for salvation. Once we do that, it is "our reasonable service" to devote our lives to obeying Jesus in gratitude for the gift of eternal life (Romans 12:1). But His yoke is easy, and His burden light.

Be honest. Even the watered-down COG version of righteousness can be burdensome. 
Especially in the modern state of the COGs. Picking up the pieces of your relationships, rocked by the latest split. They're happening more frequently with each passing year. Driving an hour and a half every Sabbath to meet with the "true brethren" who emerged on your side in the latest split. Ignoring lifelong friends who now fellowship with those Laodiceans only 10 minutes from your home. Angry debates over proper Sabbath-keeping. Gossip, whispering and backbiting among the splinters. Turning down your dream job because it isn't compatible with the Sabbath. Passing up career opportunities because extended time off for the Feast isn't plausible. Straining family relationships over birthday parties, Friday night activities and holiday gatherings. In extreme cases, shunning even COG family members when your church leadership tells you to cut them off. And I haven't even gotten into the emotional burden of wondering whether your record of obedience and repentance are good enough to keep you out of the Lake of Fire. I know it's there. I felt that burden, and many of you do, too. You've told me so. If this is what God requires of us for salvation, then it's worth it. Anything is. We know that if we don't love Jesus more than our family, we aren't really following Him. He predicted His would turn family members against one another. So if this is what God expects of us, then it's worth it. But if it isn't, well, then, that might be different story. 

Now that you're home, consider your experience at the Feast. In the moment, the physical excesses often lead us to overlook the festival's spiritual hollowness. If you truly felt spiritually nourished, then great! But if you noticed an emptiness, you're not alone, even though it may feel that way. There isn't something wrong with you. There's something wrong with the festivals. Something - or maybe I should say someone - is missing from today's COGs. 

If my children know their grandfather is on the way over, they might watch the sidewalk eagerly for a glimpse of his shadow coming toward the door. But once they see grandpa, they run to him and hug him. They focus their attention on his voice, his stories, his gifts. They don't keep watching the shadow. It was meant to be the same way for us, God's children. When we focus the majority of our time and effort on rituals like the Holy Days instead of on our Savior, we are embracing the shadow instead of the substance. We need to keep our eyes and attention on Jesus. When we fail to do so, we will sink into the depths below, just like Peter when he tried to walk upon the sea. 

Jesus is God. He created you. He suffered and died for you. He is deserving of your worship now, not just in the Kingdom. Consider Revelation 4:8, where we see mysterious creatures singing praises to Christ in heaven. If they sing His praises, how much more should we, the redeemed? I know, in the COGs we are not comfortable with all this Protestant "Jesus" stuff.  We believe our relationship is with the Father. Perhaps unintentionally, we have relegated Jesus to the gate code we punch in to get our prayers accepted. We usually keep Him high on our closet shelf and pull Him down around Passover and the Feast of Trumpets. But John 8:19 tells us that if we don't know Jesus, we don't know the Father, either. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. The Light of the world, and the light we are supposed to reflect. If you are part of the Bride, Jesus wants a relationship with you now. This is not an arranged marriage, and trust me, on the wedding day, you don't want to hear the words "I never knew you." 

From the time sin entered the garden, God has always promised man something better coming over the horizon. The first Messianic hints appear in Genesis 3:15, when God mentions a Seed that will bruise Satan's head. God promised Abraham that the entire world would be blessed through one of his descendants - Jesus. The Sinai Covenant contained even more hints about a coming Savior. These shadows were good, because they came from God, but they were still incomplete. Once the true Light comes, the darkness flees; there are no shadows (James 1:17).  Stop pouring new wine into old wineskins. Stop peering at the New Covenant from the shade of Sinai. Cast out the bondwoman and her son - the Sinai Covenant and the spiritual and emotional bondage it produces. The everlasting covenant in Jesus' blood (Hebrews 13:20) has better promises (Hebrews 8:6), blessings God wants for you, for a more abundant life. Trade the burdens of Sinai for the light yoke of Jesus.  First Thessalonians 5:5 tells us that we do not belong in the darkness. Come out of the shadows into the light of the Lord. It's time to walk as children of light.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Friday, October 10, 2014

Seven Tips for Having the Best Feast Ever!

"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." - Colossians 4:6

Today, I'd like to take a break from my series on the shadows of Colossians 2 to talk about seven practical ways you can help make sure this year's Feast is the best Feast ever. Why seven? Hasn't every other sermon you've heard this week had seven points? 

Now wait a second, you're thinking. Aren't you the lady who's been telling me for a month that the festivals were created to lead the Israelites to Christ? And that they're completely unnecessary today?

Well, yeah. But that doesn't mean I want you to be miserable. Plus, you're already there. And furthermore, there's no wrong day of the year to worship God.

So anyway, today I want to talk about grace - free, unmerited favor. If you subscribe to Church of God theology, there's almost no better time to discuss grace. You're at the Feast of Tabernacles, which you believe celebrates the time when Jesus has returned and God's Kingdom has come to earth. You are at the Feast today, physically, and will be in the Kingdom, in the future, by God's grace.

Now wait just a minute, Martha, you say. I worked hard to make sure I got to the Feast this year. I faithfully saved my tithe. I waited until the approved festival housing registration hour in my time zone. I submitted my time off request. I checked my tires. I packed. I drove here. I got to the hall early enough to reserve a good seat. I'm here because I deserve it.

Right. Just like you deserve to be in God's Kingdom because you tithed, kept the Holy Days, didn't eat in restaurants on the Sabbath and refrained from committing murder. In other words, you've earned it. Thank you. You've demonstrated the point I've been making all summer.

Wait, that's not what I meant, you say.

I know, you think that you don't believe you are saved by righteous works. You think you believe that nothing aside from Jesus Christ's sacrifice can reconcile man to God.

Well, which time? Yes, your ministers teach that nothing can wipe out your past sin other than Jesus' sacrifice. But most of them say that, going forward, it's up to you. Sure, you can "use" the tool of the Holy Spirit. But each time you sin and repent, you must be reconciled again to God. You sin, you fall from grace. You repent, you are restored. You sin again, you repent. Again. And again. And again. For 50 years or more. Hope you got them all. Repented of each and every one. Heck, even realized you committed each one of them. And I haven't even mentioned overcoming those sinful behaviors. So what percentage of recognition, repentance and overcoming do you need to achieve? Ninety-eight percent? Maybe it's 84. Sixty percent? Whatever it is, if you don't hit it, you risk eternal condemnation. Think God doesn't expect you to be perfect? Then tell me which of God's laws it's okay to break. You do believe that your salvation depends on your works. Just not the first time around.

Now that we've cleared that up, please tell me what you meant, and what you think you deserve.

(Crickets chirping)

While I'm waiting, I might as well pull out my soapbox. I think much of the splintering, bickering and judging going on in the COGs today is a fruit of their faulty beliefs about justification. Since the COGs explicitly state that our righteous works factor into our salvation, it sets us up for failure. If our salvation depends on our actions, then we'd better get EVERYTHING right. Proper Sabbath observance. Getting the count right for Pentecost. Tracking down kosher marshmallows. Deep down, we don't really believe we need to get every point of obedience perfect; root out every sin in order to make it into the Kingdom. But since we're kind of hazy on what counts, or what percentage of our sin we need to overcome, we make an issue of practically everything. And when others disagree with our assessment, or just fall short, it's our duty to educate them. After all, THEIR ETERNAL WELL BEING MAY BE AT STAKE!!!

That's the noblest possibility, anyway. There's also the chance that we are falling into the mentality that it's JUST NOT FAIR for them to not do their duty when we are working so hard to do ours. We are doing what we're supposed to, so our spouse, minister, brethren and child must, too! Showing grace, giving leeway and turning the other cheek are nice ideas, but they just aren't a priority in a works-based salvation model. We pay lip service to these concepts, but consider the way nearly EVERY COG controversy, EVERY split, EVERY point of disagreement is handled in the 700-plus WCG splinters that we have today.

At the Feast, I've seen some wonderful examples of Christian love. I saw thoughtful people who tucked away trinkets to brighten random children's day, and people who picked up the tab for elderly couples. I saw generous hearts who packed their luggage full of shoes for destitute Caribbean children. I also saw fundraisers where spite over an inter-COG dispute raised far more money than did concern over the destitute Africans involved (everybody remember the infamous UCG-COGWA LifeNets cow debacle?)

So how does salvation factor into all this? A proper understanding of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone gives us the freedom to accept the fact that we can never measure up, and the permission to allow others not to measure up, either. We are all sinners and will miss the mark in some way until the day that we die. Extending grace is amazingly freeing, and being on the receiving end is humbling and a catalyst for bridge building in relationships.

Ok, I'm putting my soapbox away now. Got your answer yet? That's what I thought. So now that we've established you're there by God's grace, let's talk about showing that grace to others.

By now, you're several days into the Feast. You're probably getting a little tired, arriving at services later. That hotel room might be feeling a little cramped. You're not sleeping well in a strange bed, and you didn't consider the sunrise when you booked that oceanfront room. You have heartburn from too many heavy meals. I'll pass right over the topic of hangovers. Suffice it to say, your fuse might be a little short. And you're probably not the only one. That's why now, more than ever, you need to show your family and brethren grace.

Let's now consider some scriptures that, when heeded, can help you have the best Feast ever.

1. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'let me remove the speck from your eye,' and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:1-5

Dear New Moon contingent, calendars and postponement contingent, anti-restaurants-on-the-Sabbath contingent, top-down-government contingent, anti-potentially-unclean-Dorito-cheese-powder contingent, anti-immunization contingent and any other polarizing faction: it's not your job to tell everyone why they're wrong. I have another passage for you - Romans 14:4-6. You have no right to judge another of God's servant. You're not even arguing whether the Sabbath should be kept, as those Paul seems to address in this passage. You're arguing application. Be convinced in your own mind and keep it between you and God.

Maybe you're still stuck on Matthew 7 and thinking, ok, I'll just get this tree trunk out and then educate my brother. I have news for you. You are never going to get the whole log out of your eye. Maybe your weak point is outbursts of wrath. Maybe you spend inordinate chunks of your Sabbath surfing Facebook (we can all see who's logged in, you know). Maybe, just maybe, pride and self-righteousness are your downfall. Be careful with the standards you use to judge others. Better yet, don't judge others and leave it up to God.

2. "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." - Matthew 5:39

You probably won't encounter someone at the Feast who's evil, or someone who literally slaps you. But there likely will be verbal slaps and slights. There is no law that requires you to respond in kind. In fact, the same passage indicates those who show mercy will be treated with mercy. Jesus Himself tells you to go out of your way to respond gently. I know, it's hard. There are many times I wish I could find a caveat to get out of it. I never have. So do it.

3. "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body."  -Ephesians 5:22-23

I know this isn't a popular scripture among many women. But I can say it, because I am one. Ladies, don't buck your husbands here at the Feast. It's a sin, and if that's not enough, it doesn't help you, your family or anyone around you. Don't create unnecessary tension or make drama that's already there worse. If something is important to him, and there's no reason not to do it, just do it! If he's crabby or snaps at you, don't return tit for tat. Chances are good you are not acting like the angel Gabriel yourself, and I'm sure you would prefer for your husband to turn the other cheek rather than extract an eye. You are much more likely to win him with humility than trying to force him to admit he's wrong. Nothing makes a guy exude love and gentleness than accusing him of not showing you the love and gentleness you're due.

Ok, guys, now it's your turn.

4. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her." - Ephesians 5:25

Just as Christ loved the church. Christ died for the church. I'm not advocating literal death, here, but it won't kill you to take the cranky baby a few services so your wife can hear the sermon. Or take the kids for ice cream and give her some peace. Passing up the golf course for the third time in a week is rarely lethal. And when she's being totally emotional and irrational, reminding her of her duty to submit isn't going to bring her to her senses. Besides, has everything you've done this week been perfectly logical and rational? Or demonstrated sacrificial love on par with Jesus? That's what I thought. Cut her some slack.

5. "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." - Ephesians 6:4

The Feast can be a blast for kids, but it can be a tough time, too. Sure, there's toys, candy and more fun than they've had all year. But they have to sit quietly through two hours of services to get there. Every day. That's like a month in kid years. And you keep them up late most nights to pack in all that excitement. It's just not fair to kids to expect silence and Christ-like behavior from kids at the Feast. Don't beat them. Give them a fighting chance. In the Old Testament, the commanded assemblies were on the first and last days, not every day. 

And babies - that's a whole 'nother discussion. Expecting a baby or toddler to stay quietly on a blanket for hours is not reasonable. Infants cry. Babies crawl. Toddlers explore. That's how God made them. That's their job. You know, it's debatable whether the youngest Israelites even went to the Feast in the Old Testament, considering the command was for "all the males" to assemble. Let's face it, you're not feeling awesome by this point in the Feast. Your kids are no different from you, except they have fewer social graces and verbal filters. If you want them to be in the small minority of COG youth who remain in "The Church," make this family time enjoyable, not miserable.

6. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." - Matthew 5:9

Expect that there will be disappointments and conflict at the Feast. Between families, between brethren, maybe between you and the hotel clerk, or the waitress who tells you the restaurant is out of beef ribs. You have a choice. Be a peacemaker. Because that's what your Savior told you to do. If that doesn't motivate you, at least remember the locals know the name of your splinter. Bring glory to God. Don't bring shame. 

7. "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things." - Philippians 4:8

I can recall a few Feasts where friends literally met me at the check-in desk complaining. Their issues usually were valid, but it was no way to start the week. Some people, in the COGs or out, are not happy unless they're complaining. And once things start down that road, they don't usually get better. Loud neighbors. Early morning construction. Lousy maid service. Bad weather. Crazy brethren. Nonsensical sermons. Yeah, I know it stinks when things don't go right. This is supposed to be the high point of your year. But being negative won't fix anything. And it ruins things for everyone around you.

Instead of letting things snowball out of control, focus on the positive. I mean, you believe you're picturing the millennium, when you'll be putting the earth back together after World War III. Since you'll no longer have a physical body, you won't be hampered by the tangible inconveniences. But the disastrous state of the planet would make even the most third world Feast site look like Disneyland. So you might as well get in the habit now - focus on what's true, what's good, what's lovely, what's worthy of praise.

I really do hope you have a great Feast. I hope that as much goes your way as possible. But if your happiness depends on everyone and everything living up to your expectations, you are setting yourself up for failure. I should know, because I've been there. Embracing grace was the best thing that ever happened to my personal relationships. My vacations. My every day life.

I'm not entitled to have things go my way or to have people treat me fairly. There is only one thing I am entitled to, and that's condemnation for my sin. Praise be to Jesus, who laid down His life to spare me from God's wrath. Belief in salvation by grace through faith in Him alone gives me freedom. No, not the freedom to behave any way I want. That's a COG straw man argument, and it's totally false. Grace gives me the freedom to have peace even though I know I will never measure up. The freedom to try again each day to deeply trust Jesus and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. How will we be acting if we are led by the Holy Spirit within us? Because it is my joy to do so, not because I'm worried that I earned a trip to the Lake of Fire yesterday. And with it comes the freedom to allow others not to measure up, to lift them up even when they let me down, and to work together with them for God's glory.

Grace is the key to the abundant life God wants for you. And it just might be the key to having the best Feast ever.  

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Trouble With Tabernacles

Happy Feast of Tabernacles to all of our readers who observe it.

I remember back when I observed the Feast of Tabernacles with my COG splinter church. “Feast Fever” indeed. The real anticipation began for me at that dinner after the Day of Atonement fast was over. You know the one I’m talking about.

You’ve just fasted for an entire day and spent your whole afternoon sitting and singing (softly). You’re exhausted, parched, and feeling sick from lack of nourishment. Your mouth feels like flypaper. A group decides to head to a restaurant after sundown and your family decides to tag along. You arrive at the restaurant just before sundown and begin the small talk to whittle away those last few minutes until the moment the sun officially sets. Somehow, proximity to food makes your symptoms a hundred times worse. As your body shuts down vital processes to preserve life you realize that you can smell with the power of a brown bear. Food five miles away cannot escape your notice. Finally the sun sets and you can drink the water – but deep inside you wonder if it’s really OK. No one wants to be the first to drink. The waitress arrives to take the drink order. Appetizers! Who has time for that? Just bring me a crust of bread or some vegetable that I would normally despise but at this moment I would gladly eat like a king’s banquet! As the beverages arrive at the table your skin begins to crawl. Why is the waitress moving so slowly? You try not to show you are famished as silently you coach from the sidelines, “Tea here; Coke there; decaffeinated coffee over there. Look alive!” Every minute spent waiting for the food to arrive is a lifetime. Your hands shaking. Your stomach grumbling audibly. Your head throbbing. Your extremities freezing. You would gladly eat the salt straight from the shaker. Finally, steaming hot food begins to arrive. Of course you ordered way too much. Of course time is moving even more slowly than ever before. Of course the waitress doesn’t have your plate! When the carnage is over, you loosen your belt and yawn as a certain longing to return to fasting overtakes you. Why did you have to eat the entire thing?
Then, as the gathering begins to disperse, the chatter begins about when everyone will be leaving and when you expect to see each other again. This is the anticipated event. An entire year of hope and expectation all culminates in this one unofficial starting whistle. What the end of dinner means is the next big event should be the leaving for the Feast site. 

Oh sweet Feast Fever, you are a cruel mistress!
The Feast of Tabernacles is a wonderful time of year. Happiness and frivolity abound! Oh let me count the ways.

There is the jealousy over the retirees who leave almost a week early. There is the mental anguish wondering if you’ll still have a job when you return. There is the piling on of homework for the children who will miss in excess of one week of school. There is the bother of leaving in the middle of a week this year. There is the using up of all of your vacation time, whereas in other years the Feast will fall just right so the weekends save you two vacation days (which are then eaten up by the spring holy days, so you’ve gained nothing). There is the stress of long-distance travel. There is the debate on whether or not to attend opening night. Look, you’re only human. You just drove or flew a great distance, you’re tired, you’re hungry, your kids are a mess, and you’re not in the mood to mingle with odd-smelling strangers. There’s the mix-up with your room at the front desk, where you come to learn that in the hotel business “reservations” aren’t actually reservations at all. There is the family two doors down who somehow crammed four people beyond legal maximum into one room – and eight times the noise. There is the information table worker who didn’t actually do any preparatory work in order to know the area and give helpful advice, and the best they can do is tell you they hear the food at the restaurant you can’t possibly justify the cost for is very good. At that price it had better be good! There is the one guy who even though you try very hard to hold a polite conversation they insist on twisting everything you say and rudely telling you how wrong you are about everything - even though you didn't actually say any of those things you are now supposedly wrong about. There is the rush to get ready and make it to services on time to get a good seat (or, as a last resort of sending someone down early and put books on the seats). There’s the singing of “Blessed and Happy Is the Man” twice every day. There is the abysmal heat which stifles your ability to think and take notes at a sermonette you don’t feel is noteworthy to begin with. There is the man giving the sermonette on prophetic minutiae who is clearly out of his mind. There is the one sermon that is the easily the best sermon of them all because it made you feel so guilty that you almost do hate yourself for your sinfulness and lack of appreciation for being called. There is the lunch at the hotel restaurant where the staff thought they could handle the rush but was clearly unprepared. There is the guessing whether or not they actually got the memo that you don’t eat pork bacon. There is the second service which you would rather do without, meanwhile you notice several people in attendance who were not there for the first service and several people who were at the first service are now absent. There is the passing of the plate – again. Why do they need to pass the plate? Didn’t they have a year to plan for this? Couldn’t they pay for it out of your regular tithes? There is the bathroom where the fathers are beating their children. There is the mother’s room where the mothers go to avoid sitting through the service …and to gossip. There is the Deacon’s wife who is judging everyone, staring down her nose with that trademark glare of superiority. There is the unbelievable boredom of the late afternoon where the morning’s activities have all ended but the evening’s activities have yet to begin. There is the game room, where four or five hoary-headed senior citizens who have known each other for sixty years sit playing bridge, as you wonder why they spent all this effort and money to travel 1,000 miles to play bridge. There is the brief and mysterious sighting of the Pastor and lead Elders whose seemingly inexhaustible source of money has allowed them to book at the best hotel and eat at the best restaurants – which things you don’t even get to know about they’re so far above your reach. There are the trips to the local entertainment sites, most of which are closed, so you pull in to the outlet mall and spend money you didn’t need to spend on things you didn’t need to have so that you can look like you saved a full ten percent of your income as second tithe to spend at the Feast when you really didn't. There is the group who can't stop talking about how fun it was to do several activities that you some day hope to win the lottery and be able to afford to witness just once before you die. There is the one person whose marriage disintegrated last year, who is here with a new love interest which makes everyone very uncomfortable, while you secretly wish it had been the other spouse that came to your Feast site. There is the couple whose marriage is disintegrating and barely a person need gossip about it since it’s right there in everyone’s face. There’s the family who clearly could not afford to attend the Feast, and probably shouldn’t have come, but they somehow seem to make it on handouts and assistance money. Half-way through the Feast they seem to disappear. There are the teens all in one row at services, passing notes and giggling and paying no attention whatsoever. There are the parties where the teens gather in secret and do what things would be better if we don’t talk about them here in polite company. There is the man who has had a little too much to drink who is speaking rudely to his family and ruining the evening for everyone. There is the sickly sensation that the Feast has only one day left. There is the one super hero who took all of the seniors out to dinner, an act you couldn’t possibly afford if you saved for two years, now everyone talks about how wonderful that person is. There’s the mass exodus after services on the Last Great Day – a holy day, where you aren’t supposed to be travelling but almost everyone does anyway. Should you stay behind as you are supposed to, there’s the onset of “I’m the last one to leave the party” depression as the hotel empties out and new guests arrive who don’t care if the bacon is pork or not. There is the wondering if you will actually be in the first resurrection because honestly there’s no sure way to tell. There is the wondering if you want to be in the first resurrection anyway because if the Millennium is really like this then you would rather just skip it. There is the return to “the world” where you almost want to kill yourself because the vacation is over, it didn’t live up to its hype (as usual), but it still beats working for a living. And then there is the bill you have to pay for going over your budget this year while you have to start saving tithes for next year.
Not to mention the sickness, the weather events, the lost luggage, the interruptions from your job trying to contact you, and other such unfortunates that rob you of time and peace.

Ahh, the halcyon days of the Feast of Tabernacles. How can I forget?

It’s not all that bad. There are some good times. I met some great people and did some seriously interesting things. I know that I would never have gone to the places or met those people had it not been for the Feast of Tabernacles.

I have to ask, though, is seeing sites of historic significance really the point of the time? Yeah, I’m very glad I did those things, but what did those things have to do with the Feast of Tabernacles? Is eating plains buffalo or fish straight out of the Gulf of Mexico really the crowning achievement I was meant to take away from all of this? Those are all things that have to do with a seriously good vacation, but not a holy time. And what did I learn about Jesus Christ from any of it?

“You are supposed to spend your money on your heart’s desire. It’s supposed to picture the Millennium.” Yes, yes. I understand that. But does it?
Is it like the Millennium? Is it really? Then why is it, in our heart of hearts, in those secret and carefully interred compartments of our souls that we don’t want to admit even to ourselves that they exist, do we not want the Millennium to be like the Feast of Tabernacles? Your secret is safe with me, but admit it – you’ve thought this before.

Is the Millennium really going to be like an alcohol-fueled consumerist extravaganza at a hotel near a go-kart park where senior citizens travel 1,000 miles to play bridge? Is the Millennium going to be a stressful, expensive, busy, ultimately unsatisfying event where the anticipation is far better than the reality? Is the Millennium going to be guilt for hiding away from sermons, beating your children for misbehaving, crowded hotel rooms, and trips to the outlet mall? Is the Millennium going to be feelings of inadequacy, or being ignored and avoided by the leadership? Is the ultimate joy of the Millennium going to be found in sites and entertainments and meals? How do spirit-beings care about trying exotic foods or seeing Mount Rushmore? How do spirit beings go on cruises or to Disney World? What souvenirs do spirit-beings take home with them?

When we really pay attention to what is written as opposed to how things are interpreted, the descriptions that the Bible contains of what we call “the Millennium” bares little resemblance if any to the Feast of Tabernacles as it is being kept in the COG groups. Not the stylized and perfected vision we all have in our minds of the way things ought to be, but the way it literally is. Is this really the best picture of paradise we could come up with? When I look at the Feast of Tabernacles, I simply do not see the resemblance. Is the best thing we can come up with really going to be "well, at least I don't keep a pagan holiday"? Is that all it boils down to? A retort based on abysmal pseudo-history? A version of a holy day is being "kept", and everyone knows it's not what the Bible says nor is it what they really want it to be, but hey .. it's eight days and Christmas is only one day! Right? I hate to say it but from what I see the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles just makes it eight times worse than Christmas. It has all the trappings of a vacation pretending to be a holy day.
Best Feast ever!

Something is all wrong.
     And deep inside you know it.

You might think that I was being disingenuous at the start of this article. You might believe that I don't actually want you to have a happy Feast of Tabernacles. Well, I was being genuine and I do want that for you. I just cannot agree that the Feast of Tabernacles is bound upon us as a law (a topic for another article), but more importantly I can't agree that the state of the Feast of Tabernacles as we see it in the COGs is going to lead anyone to that happiness.

All of the experiences I related above are real experiences that either myself or people I know have had. I had to leave quite a few out for time's sake. I'm guessing you've had them too. Or are having them right now. And you will again. (Leave us a list in the comments if you would. We would like to hear of your odd FOT experiences.) Depressing as they may be, I had to go over them to make a point. There is trouble with the Feast of Tabernacles, and that trouble needs to be admitted and then corrected.

All of these things, all of the happiness you find at the Feast, enjoy them! They are empty and temporary, like candy, but enjoy them with thanksgiving. Just don't be fooled by them. They scream Old Covenant physical happiness from physical blessings which perish in the using. They are not New Covenant eternal, lasting blessings of peace and joy through the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ. These happy things, we were taught, were supposed to be empty and temporary. We are supposed to be depressed when we get home, they said. These things were supposed to build a taste for the future. So build a taste for the future. But ask yourself some questions as you go.

Do these empty and temporary things bring relevance to me now?
Do these empty and temporary physical things have spiritual value?
Do these empty and temporary things bring the fruits of the Spirit?
Do these empty and temporary things cause joy; Godly, lasting joy?
Do these empty and temporary things teach me about my value in God's eyes?
Do these empty and temporary things teach me about how Jesus fulfills the symbolism?
Do these empty and temporary things have a place in my life simply because I believe I am keeping a law?

You say that want to be happy? I say good! But seek first the Kingdom of God now, in your heart now, in your actions now, in your attitude now. Not as a law, which you only keep because you are commanded to. Seek what is written on the heart, by love, from the presence of the Holy Spirit in you by faith in Jesus Christ. Step into the New and everlasting Covenant!

How do you seek the Kingdom of God now? By seeking the King, of course. Luke 17:20-21 says that the Kingdom of God will be within you. Some translations for a while rendered it "in your midst". There really is no functional difference between the two. Is the Kingdom in your heart, or in the hearts of you and your companions? Either way the Kingdom is within you.
His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed (JON. 6: 55). You take Him into you. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit within you (I COR. 6: 19). So take Him into you! You don't need to "go" to the Tabernacle anymore; you are the tabernacle. You are the place where the Lord places His name. So take Him into you!

Just as you were starving on the Day of Atonement, the observation of the Feast of Tabernacles in the COGs is starving. What is the trouble with the Feast of Tabernacles? The Feast of Tabernacles is starving! Just like you craved food and drink, the Feast of Tabernacles craves Jesus Christ who is food and drink indeed. Gorging on physical food or the empty and temporary calories in candy will leave you dull and nauseous, but gorging on true Spiritual food will fulfill and uplift you.

(JON. 6: 35) And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst."

He shouldn't be just on a throne somewhere far away in Heaven with the holy angels looking down at your festival site. He should be in your heart. Why is He standing outside knocking? Let Him in! Ask Him to let Himself in. Something is wrong at the Feast of Tabernacles and if you want to fix it then demand that your Feast be Christ-centered. Not the Christ in some shadowy distant future land, but Jesus Christ as He is now. Too much time is spent on prophetic speculation; it's as if the Feast is a free-for-all for sermonettes on conspiracy theories and prophetic what if's. There's no true meat there. Too much time is spent on vacationing. And that's just what the Feast is - a great vacation. There's no substance there. The substance is Christ. Too much time is spent thinking about us. Make it about Him. If no one at your Feast site will do that then do it for yourself. The shadow points to Him, the nuances of the Feast point to Him, most of the Bible is about Him - and these things at His first coming - so let the time teach you about Him. Make it all about Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
You want a happy Feast? Learn that Jesus Christ is no mere messenger boy. Learn who He is. Learn what He has done for us. Learn how the Feast shadows this. Make your Feast about Him. Focus on Him. Insist on Him. Come to Christ and be justified by faith (GAL. 3: 24). Come to the goal and the fulfillment of the law. Step fully into the New Covenant!

...And have a Happy Feast of Tabernacles.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tabernacles - The Bittersweet Feast of Booths

The Feast of Tabernacles is the best time of year to be in the Churches of God. Exciting cities, luxurious accommodations, rich food and drink... it's a virtual recipe for fun. Herbert Armstrong certainly picked up on the celebration's festive nature.

How on earth could this celebration be anything but complete - either now or in its fulfillment, as the Churches of God explain it. Today, at the Feast, we're lying on the beach, fellowshipping with brethren, deciding which steakhouse to visit next. And that's small potatoes compared to the time the COGs claim it pictures - Jesus is back, the saints have been glorified, Satan's gone. Nothing's missing. Yet Messianic Jews say the Feast of Booths - and the other Holy Days as well - are incomplete.

As we near the end of our look at the shadows of Colossians 2:16-17, we need to consider Messianic Judaism's unique perspective on the annual festivals. It is commonly accepted in most religious communities that the Holy Days were given to point to Israel to Jesus. Messianic Jews are uniquely positioned to see both the Hebrew symbolism of these festivals and the incompleteness of their celebrations. Their interpretations don't necessarily line up with the COGs, but if I have to pick between the views of those who trace their roots to ancient Israel or the views of a 20th century Quaker advertising salesman, well, you do the math.

In my last post, we covered the symbolism that traditional and Messianic Jews attach to the Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement. Today, we'll look at their take on the Feast of Tabernacles.

The Feast of Tabernacles

For Israel, the Feast of Tabernacles was an opportunity to rejoice and thank God for His provision during the autumn harvest season, according to David Brickner (A Three-in-One Festival, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, November 2013). With their repentance and fasting over, it was time to rejoice with the blessings of the land God gave to them and a renewed relationship with Him.

Celebrating their blessings undoubtedly reminded Israel of the providential way God brought them out of Egypt to the blessings of the Promised Land, according to Samuele Bacchiocchi (God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: The Fall Festivals, p. 220). Coming into the Promised Land marked the attainment of national and territorial independence.

The temporary booths the Israelites lived in during the festival were a tangible reminder of how God provided for them in the wilderness, says Bob Mendelsohn (Booths in Bethesda, Jews for Jesus newsletter, October 1992). During the celebration of a bountiful harvest, the booths reminded them that God sustained them in the wilderness, where they had no ability to provide for themselves.

"It marks the season in Jewish history when we could not provide for ourselves," Mendelsohn says. "If God had not provided for us, we would have died in the wilderness."

Booths were made out of trees, branches and foliage, which reminded them of their humble origins in the desert, according to Bacchiocchi (p. 222). These temporary dwellings were erected on roofs, in courtyards and even in the courts of the Temple.

During the Feast, these courtyards, the Temple and much of the city were illuminated by giant candelabras. The Mishnah (part of the rabbis oral tradition) tells us they were about 75 feet tall and were fueled by four golden bowls that each held at least 10 gallons of oil, according to David Brickner (Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles, Jews for Jesus newsletter, October 1998). Since the Temple was on a hill above Jerusalem, these blazing bowls could be seen throughout the city. The light was supposed to be reminiscent of the Shekinah glory with which God had once filled His Temple.

And here we find what's missing in the Feast of Tabernacles. The festival was a joyful, bountiful celebration in the good times - giving thanks for the land and the plentiful harvest, looking back at how God had brought them such prosperity out of nothing. But the Feast must have stirred wistful emotions in the Israelites who celebrated it after returning from captivity. Remember Ezra 3:12 and 13 - that many from the older generation wept while the Jewish refugees celebrated completing the new temple foundation. They recalled the glory of Solomon's temple, and their mournful cries rivaled the joyful ones.

God had brought Israel to the Promised Land, and they had lost it because of their disobedience. In a land of such bounty, their friends and family were so starved that some resorted to the horrific act of eating their own children. In the wilderness, God had tabernacled with His people and led them with a pillar of fire. Later, the Shekinah glory lit the temple. But now it was gone. The Jews were keenly aware of this fact, and tried to recreate its glorious light for the festival. But man can never fill the darkness he creates. Only God can.

Jesus used the concept of light to explain His identity and mission to people, to point to Himself and the people's need for what He could give them.

"I am the light of the world," Jesus declared to those in the temple, likely on the Eighth Day. "He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." Examining John 8, many commentators tell us that He spoke these words in the Court of Women, where these magnificent candles were located. Besides this symbolism, Jesus also alluded to Isaiah 9:1-2, which predicts a great light from Galilee will lift despair the of the people from the land.

"Nevertheless, the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, as when at first He lightly esteemed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward more heavily oppressed her, by way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galillee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined."

Jesus was telling the Jews at the temple that He - the Light - the source of the Shekinah glory that once filled the temple - was again dwelling among them, Brickner says. The light from the candelabras would be extinguished after the Feast ended. His light, however, would remain, and could lead them for a lifetime if they would only follow Him.

"Many refused to have their own darkness exposed by that light," Brickner laments. "But there were those who were drawn to the light, whose hearts burned with the truth of Y'shua (Jesus).

Not only had the light returned, that light could dwell within them in the form of the Holy Spirit, Jesus taught the crowd during the festival's spectacular water drawing ceremony. Some sources say this ceremony took place every day of the Feast. Others say it took place only once during the celebration, on the seventh day. A parade of worshipers and musicians accompanied the priest to the pool of Siloam, where the priest filled a golden pitcher with water from the pool. The parade took place in the wee hours of the morning, and returned to the temple just as the morning sacrifices were getting started. The priest approached the altar's two silver basins, poured wine into one as a drink offering, and the water into the second.

This meaningful ceremony thanked God for the water that nurtured the recent harvest and petitioned Him for rain during the upcoming season, Bacchiocchi says. Water was a scarce, precious commodity in that region, which made it a powerful image for Jesus to use. It was likely at the conclusion of this ceremony that Jesus made his statement, as the people had just finished chanting, "with joy you will drink water from the wells of salvation," which was the tradition during this ritual.

It's no wonder that Christ cried out in the words of John 7:37-38 in the Temple on this occasion, Brickner says. Much like the rain for which His people were praying, the Holy Spirit falls upon those who follow Jesus. The Spirit refreshes us and causes us to grow in grace and faith.

"Jesus was saying that he was the wellspring of salvation of whom the prophet Isaiah wrote. He was the Messiah, the Lord's anointed one, Brickner says. "It is no wonder that Jesus chose the day of the water-pouring ceremony to invite everyone to come to him. If only the people would believe in him, he would quench their spiritual thirst."

The Feast of Tabernacles was a joyous occasion, but for post-exile Jews, it had to be bittersweet. It celebrated God's protection and provision - which they had lost. It gave thanks for physical blessings - which had greatly diminished. During this festival, they re-created an imitation of the Shekinah glory - which was gone. It was during this post-exile festival that Jesus declared Himself in the temple to be all the Jews were missing, and more than they could imagine. Some listened, but some refused to look beyond the shadows.

The Eighth Day, which many COG splinters traditionally refer to as the Last Great Day, did not appear to be a significant observance to the Jews, Bacchiocchi said. No water ceremony took place on the eighth day, and the sacrifices were diminished. It simply appeared to be a day to draw the festival to a close and to help those in Jerusalem transition from the pomp and circumstance of the festival back to normal life. There was nothing to foreshadow an opportunity of salvation to the masses. The Bible shows that humans will be judged upon their bodily resurrection (Hebrews 9:27).

For more information on the COG interpretation of the Feast of Tabernacles, please visit and

But wait, Martha, aren't these enduring festivals that were celebrated before Sinai, after Sinai, in the apostolic age and even after Jesus' return?

Well, there really isn't much of a case for Holy Day observance before Sinai. Some like to make hay with verses that talk about Abraham obeying God's commandments, statutes and laws. But it is speculation to assert that Abraham kept the entire Law of Moses before it was even established, much less specific laws regarding festivals which were grounded in the Promised Land. It makes more sense to assume that Abraham followed obeyed the terms of the Abrahamic and Noachide covenents, which were given to him and his forefathers.

What about the apostles and the early church? Festivals are mentioned only sporadically in the New Testament. Paul mentions the fast of Atonement in passing, stating that it was past the time of year for smooth sailing (Acts 27:9). This is not the same thing as proving that the early church still kept Atonement. Cultures and regions often order their calendar and lives around religious or national holidays. In that part of the world, the Jewish Holy Days were a big part of the culture, and likely served as a quick, easily-understood calendar reference. In short, old habits die hard. I left the COGs more than a year ago, but Christmas and Easter are hardly reference points on my mental calendar.

It's also likely Paul and other ethnic Jews continued to celebrate Holy Days. Consider 1 Corinthians 5 in light of the fact that we know there were Jews in the Corinthian congregation. Likewise, Peter was not chided in Acts 10:14 for continuing to abstain from foods considered unclean under the Sinai Covenant. And of course believers in Jersusalem were gathered on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first given.The early Church - guided by the Holy Spirit -  did not admonish Jews for continuing these traditions, but taught that these practices were not to be imposed upon Gentiles. And remember, once again, dear reader, that the odds are very good that you,ethnically speaking, are a Gentile.

Well then, what about after Jesus' return? There are prophetic references to festivals, primarily the Feast of Tabernacles. Zechariah 14:16 tells us that those who survive the Day of the Lord will go to Jerusalem each year to worship Jesus and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. God will withhold rain from the nations that don't go. Those nations, in that context, have a clear command from Jesus to celebrate the festivals. In Jerusalem. Perhaps in accordance with all the provisions of Leviticus 23. We do not today, nor do we even have the means (a priesthood or a temple) to do so in this era (i.e. a priesthood, a temple, specific trees from Palestine with which we are to make booths, etc). And if the Holy Days are part of a covenant established by God - containing laws to which we should not add and from which we should not take away - we have no authority to alter them for modern times.

We see a similar picture in Isaiah 66, at the time when God has made a new heaven and earth. All mankind will come bow before Jesus, from one New Moon to the next and one Sabbath to another. One must wonder if this passage portrays continual worship of Jesus - not on the occasions of the New Moons and Sabbaths, but for the duration of the period between them. God may have used the context Isaiah knew to describe an otherwise indescribable setting. Consider also that at this time, we see priests and Levites on the scene (Isaiah 66:21). Priests and Levites - which we do not have now - were essential to proper, Biblical celebration of the Holy Days under the Sinai Covenant. If we use prophetic descriptions such as these as our basis for requiring Christians to keep the annual festivals today, then we must explain the absence of priests and Levites in our worship as well as our failure to observe the New Moon. 

Interestingly, the millennial system of sacrifices described in Ezekiel 43-46 differs greatly from the the system outlined in the Sinai Covenant. The dimensions of the temple and its courts are different. There was no Ark of the Covenant, Tablets of the Law, Mercy Seat, Cherubim, Veil, Golden Candlestick or showbread. The high priest is replaced with a prince with limited royal and priestly duties. Some wonder whether we should even take these descriptions to mean that a modified priestly system will be put into place. It's possible this is another case in which God used contextualized illustrations to explain a future reality to a discouraged, short-sighted nation. One that had only known God through a priestly, ritualistic system and not through a personal relationship. At any rate, it's highly problematic to describe the millennial system as either a continuation of or return to the very same worship practices outlined in the Sinai Covenant.

We see what may be the ultimate picture of the Feast of Tabernacles in Revelation 21-22, in the new Jerusalem, where Jesus illuminates the city and the righteous dwell with Him there forever. This beautiful passage includes my favorite verse (Revelation 21:3-4, regarding God tabernacling with men), but it is problematic for declaring Holy Day observance to be required for this age. As in Isaiah 66, this seems to be a perpetual arrangement. The whole point is that man will be with God forever forward. It would be anticlimactic for God to dwell in the New Jerusalem and then leave after a week. The Feast of Tabernacles was likely a Biblical type of this time. But the Bible is filled with rich symbolism. It is not our mandate in this age to mark every occasion of biblical symbolism. Not even the COGs do this. The law and the prophets pointed to Christ, and the New Testament revealed Him and explained Christianity, so it's no shock that themes of sin, sacrifice, repentance, restoration and salvation resonate across its pages. We must not let false teachers entice us to pour old wine into new wineskins. In my final post, I'll talk about the dangers of doing so.

The Holy Days (and other shadows) had a purpose in Israel. That job was to point to Christ. But once Christ comes, those shadows have served their purpose. Today, it's not our mandate to peer at Christ through slivers of darkness, but to walk in His light daily. And to preach the gospel to the world (Mark 16:15-16) - the true gospel, a message about sin, repentance and salvation, about Jesus' life, sacrifice, resurrection and future return.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shadows of the Fall Holy Days

As a child, I liked to make shadow puppets - on the movie projector in my classroom, at a sleepover after being threatened with bodily harm if I didn't stop giggling, wherever. I wasn't very good at it - I never progressed past the basic rabbit or dog. But it was fun anyway. Now that I'm a mother, I sometimes get called into my kids' bedrooms at night to vanquish eerie shadows. It's usually a toy at just the wrong angle in front of the nightlight, or a closet door left ajar.

We get a shadow when an object obstructs a beam of light. The object prevents the light from passing through and hitting a surface on the other side of the object. Looking at shadows can give us limited information about an object - if you see my shadow, you might be able to tell I am female. A good scientist might be able to deduce my height. But there are many things you can't tell - for example, my hair and eye color, let alone my talents or emotions. So shadows may give us some clues about the object casting them, but they give incomplete information. And they can't replace the real thing. If the light is right, I might cast a shadow on the kitchen wall while I cook. But if my family depended on that shadow to make dinner, they'd get pretty hungry.

So far in this series, we've looked at the implications of Colossians 2 and the Holy Days under the New Covenant. We've looked at the book's backstory and context and compared it with the background the Churches of God describe. We've turned to the Greek language and Jewish traditions of the day to fact-check COG claims. So now, with all that background established, we can look at the Holy Days themselves.

Before I go any further, I want to talk to you, reader. If you visit this blog regularly, chances are good that you sense something is off in the COGs and are looking for answers. There probably are times when you don't know what the questions are, or who you would ask. You've tried that with your brethren. They don't have the answers. They don't even understand your concerns. And your minister can't answer them - when he tries, he botches it so badly that you just end up with more questions. Great, no answers. And now you're on his List. So scratch that idea. I'm so sorry, reader. I've been there, and it's not a fun place to be. That's how I stumbled upon As Bereans Did. People here helped me, and now I'm here because I want to pay it forward. You can email me with your questions anytime you want at

Let me assure you, no one here at ABD is judging you, looking at you funny or calling your minister. We have all been in your spot. I'm not trying to ruin your Feast. I know you're sincere, you just have some questions. I know you are trying to obey, trying to please God the best way you know how. I'm writing this series because I - like you - was handed a set of assumptions about the Holy Days. To be blunt, that picture was based largely on speculation, contains a lot of inaccuracies and explains only the shallowest of reasons why mainstream Christians do not celebrate them. But given the assumptions we were handed, what other possible alternatives could there be? This series tries to answer some of those questions that you won't ask. That you won't even think to ask, because they won't occur to you. They certainly never occurred to me. But please remember, through all this, no one here is judging you or your motives.

With all that in mind, let's revisit the verses in question, Colossians 2:16-17:

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

The Greek word for shadow - "skia" means a shadow or a shade, according to Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament. Thayer's Greek Lexicon gives us a little more concrete description - an outline, sketch or image cast by an object and representing the form of that object, as opposed to the object itself.

From a literary standpoint, Paul seems to be contrasting the intangible, murky image of a shadow with the substance, the tangibility, the certainty of Jesus Christ. Or more specifically, of right standing with God by grace through faith in Him. The word "soma" means body, according to Zodhiates. Thayer's simply adds the word "physical" to the definition.

The phrase "things to come" is a word cluster; in Greek it is translated "mello" and generally refers to an event that is at the cusp of occurring.

The COGs probably shouldn't cling too tightly to the idea that "things to come" must refer to events in the distant future when it comes to the Holy Days. Christ's sacrifice and the giving of the Holy Spirit - two things the spring festivals picture - happened long before Colossians was written, yet their definition requires us to classify them as "things to come."

In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern explains this phrase to mean,
"'These are a shadow of things which were yet to come,' meaning the good things that happened when Yeshua (Jesus) came the first time but were still in the future when kashrut (dietary laws) and the festivals were commanded." In other words, at the time they were instituted they foreshadowed that something better was coming in the Messiah.

The coming Savior was foreshadowed long before Sinai - the concept is not exclusive to the Sinai Covenant. In Genesis 3:15, God first hinted to Adam that a future descendant would overcome Satan. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham that all the world would be blessed through one of his descendants (Genesis 22:18). And God told David that a descendant of his would reign forever (1 Kings 2:45). The shadows in the Sinai Covenant were among several hints that Messiah was coming.

But how on earth could God's Holy Days be incomplete? This idea is almost inconceivable from a COG standpoint, which argues from the assumption that the Holy Days were intended for all time, for all of mankind. Consider another perspective - that of Stern and other Messianic Jews, who believe that God gave Israel the Sinai Covenant "in the context of Israel's peoplehood, and its details reflect what God knew Israel needed in order to grow spiritually" (p. 611). For Gentiles, Stern says, Jewish practices are in most cases nothing more than a shadow, since they do not arise out of their national experience, their heritage or cultural background.

"Therefore to cling to the prophetic shadow is to obscure the spiritual reality of which those things were a prefigurement," according to Expositor's Bible Commentary (Exposition of Colossians 2:17).

(This is probably a good time to remind you that, unless your last name is Levy, Goldman or something similar, your ethnic heritage probably is not Hebrew. At this point, genetic research has refuted British Israelism - the theory that Western Europeans and Americans are ethnically descended from the "Lost 10 Tribes of Israel." In short, you are a Gentile. A Gentile God loves, a Gentile for whom Jesus willingly suffered and died, but a Gentile nonetheless.)

For more information along these lines, please visit:

So why should we care what Messianic Jews have to say about the Holy Days? Because they are in the unique position to both understand what the Holy Days meant to those to whom God gave them and see the how the picture they painted was incomplete. Certainly we need to consider the Hebrew perspective, because the Holy Days were given to Israel. But this perspective isn't enough, since most Jews ultimately missed the signs and rejected Jesus when He came. At the very least, looking through a Messianic Jewish lens may give us a much more accurate picture than that of a 20th century advertising salesman born into a Quaker family.

As we begin, remember that these posts on Colossians 2 are not intended to exhaustively refute Christian celebration of the Holy Days, but to explain how they were shadows intended to point ancient Israel to Christ.

The Feast of Trumpets

To Israel, the Feast of Trumpets was a time for introspection and self-examination, (Getting Tested for Rosh Hashanah, David Brickner, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, September 1, 2004). The eerie sound of the shofar signified a call to repentance and reconciliation with man and God in preparation of the judgment pictured by the Day of Atonement.

The Feast of Trumpets was not associated with any historical or national event, but as a universal and personal celebration, according to Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi (God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: The Fall Festivals, p. 54). It was not observed joyfully, but in a spirit of moral and spiritual introspection, "as befits a plaintiff coming before the Supreme Judge and Ruler of the Universe, appealing for his life."

Ancient Israel had three types of trumpet calls that communicated different messages. The one connected to the Feast of Trumpets was an alarm, says Joshua Moss (Hearing the Sound of the Shofar, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, September 1993). The holiday could literally be translated "the Day of Alarm," Moss says, which better communicates its intent.

Shorter shofar blasts sounded each month at the New Moon anticipated the Feast of Trumpets and reminded the hearer that a call to repentance was coming (figuratively and literally, since this festival was held on the first day of the seventh month), according to Bacchiocchi (p. 56).

Why should Israel be called to alarm at the end of the summer harvest, when barns were full of grain and storehouses full of fruit? Remember Deuteronomy 8, which warns Israel not to forget God when their stomachs and their storehouses were full, Moss explains. God predicted that Israel would become prideful in good times and forget how He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and would be destroyed because of it. The trumpet blast called individual Israelites to assess their spiritual state and repent before the day of reckoning, pictured by the Day of Atonement.

During this period, Jews picture themselves on trial before God, with their life placed on the balance scales, according to Rabbi Irvin Greenberg (as quoted in God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: The Fall Festivals, p. 60).

"A thorough assessment is made: Is my life contributing to the balance of life? Or does the net effect of my actions tilt the scale toward death?" Greenberg writes. "My life is being weighed; I am on trial for my life. Who shall live and who shall die?".

Incomplete without a Messiah, the Hebrew Feast of Trumpets leaves questions gnawing at even the most repentant, humble man, according to Carolyne Rohrig (The Ultimate Guide to Rosh Hashanah, Jews for Jesus Blog, September 25, 2013). How do we know if we've recognized every sin we've committed? When do we know if we've repented enough? If we've been good enough? And if we fall short on either account, are our names are blotted out of the Book of Life?

"God provided a substitute, His Son Jesus who atoned for our sins by His death on the cross," Rohrig writes. "The gnawing doubt is gone. The only 'enough' that God requires is to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) because He's done it all!".

The Feast of Trumpets reminded Israel of their sins against God, their broken promises to their neighbors and their failure to lead a godly life. They repented for 10 days in preparation for the Day of Atonement. But even God's acceptance of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was not totally certain. Tradition holds that the high priest wore a rope so his body could be pulled out of the Holy of Holies in case God found his sacrifice unworthy and struck him dead. Now what? Are the sins of the nation forgiven? The checklist obedience system from Sinai meant that if you left a box unchecked, you could be at risk for eternal punishment. Only complete forgiveness through faith in Jesus can answer the gnawing questions the Feast of Trumpets left unanswered.

Like the COGs, some Messianic Jews believe the Feast of Trumpets may tie in with the return of Christ. While this theory makes sense, it is speculative, and we must be careful not to allow speculative prophecy to override the clearer instruction that tenets of the Sinai Covenant were not to be imposed upon Gentiles (see Acts 15:7-29 and Galatians 4:21-31, for examples of this instruction). Regardless, for Messianic Jews, the central theme of Rosh Hashanah is fulfilled in Christ's sacrifice.

"For us Jewish believers in Y'shua the kavanah, or central theme upon hearing the shofar, is joy in the knowledge that we have already allowed the seriousness of our sins to alarm us; we have heard and received the good news—that God has atoned for sin, and that He delivers us from calamity through the sacrifice of our righteous Messiah," Moss writes.

Now looking for a refresher on the COG's Feast of Trumpets? Look here and here.

The Day of Atonement

The Day of Atonement is inextricably connected with sacrifice for sin. Jews fasted to demonstrate their godly sorrow for their sins, according to Bacchiocchi, hoping a repentant attitude on earth would influence the outcome of their heavenly judgment. This most solemn day of the year was the only one on which the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. One goat was sacrificed for the nations's sins and its blood was then sprinkled on the mercy seat. Substitutionary death for sin was familiar to Israel under the Sinai Covenant. Contrition alone did not forgive sin. A blood sacrifice was required.

The symbolism of the second goat - the Azazel - is still debated today. Some believe the goat was a symbol of Christ - the sins of the nation confessed over his head, then lead outside the city (Hebrews 13:12). Others believe the goat was an encouraging symbol of Psalm 103:12 - a reminder that God removed repented, forgiven transgressions from the sinner, as far away as East is from the West. Still others use scriptural clues as well as etymological and extrabiblical resources from the period to conclude the goat represented Satan. Regardless, the Azazel goat was an interesting symbol, but it has no bearing on the real problem with the Day of Atonement - the weakness of the mediator.

The Day of Atonement was incomplete because it lacked a perfect mediator - an individual who stands between two estranged parties and seeks to reconcile them, says Efraim Goldstein (The Role of Mediator, Jews for Jesus, Issues, Vol. 5, No. 2). It was the role of the High Priest to do so, but even his sin could be a barrier. Before he could enter the Holy of Holies, the High Priest was required to sacrifice a bull as an offering for his own sin (Leviticus 16:6). If God did not accept his sacrifice, he would be smitten. Tradition has it that the High Priest wore a rope around his waist so that he could be pulled out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him down. This practice shows just how uncertain righteousness obtained through man's actions really is. If our forgiveness depends on the efforts of a flawed human - either mediator or sinner - the outcome is uncertain at best.

Bacchiocchi lauds the Hebrew Day of Atonement as superior to other religious atonements because it set aside one day each year "for the people to experience freedom from the crushing isolation of guilt and a new reconciliation with God" (p 134). To Bacchiocchi I say, great, what about the other 364 days? Spending the majority of the year crushed under guilt and isolation is a good indication that something might be missing.

Observing the Day of Atonement differentiated between genuine and false believers, Bacchiocchi explained (p. 156). Genuine believers who repented throughout the year, brought appropriate sin offerings and celebrated the day the proscribed way were pronounced clean. But false believers who failed to do these things were not pronounced clean. Which leads one to wonder - just how righteous did the believer have to be in order to be pronounced clean? How many sins could he forget to repent of? How many offerings could he miss, even accidentally, before he became a false believer?

These kind of uncertainties haunted Louis Goldberg for much of his adolescence and early adult life. His synagogue teachers answered the young Jewish man's questions from the Old Testament, but he was still plagued by doubt (A Jewish Believer and the Atonement, Jews for Jesus, Issues). Did God really hear his prayers? And was simply repenting even sufficient? The Sinai Covenant required a blood sacrifice for sins. But there was no blood in his synagogue's modern celebration. What real assurance did he have that his sins had been forgiven?

Goldberg's honest concerns have merit, in my opinion. The Day of Atonement was part of the Sinai Covenant, which was a package deal, according to James 2:10. It was all or nothing. You can't alter Leviticus 16 to fit your wants, needs or culture. That goes for both Jews and the Churches of God. If you can't carry it out today as prescribed, maybe there's a problem. Bacchiocchi himself recognizes this problem, yet fails to carry the thought through to its logical conclusion.

"When the hope of obtaining forgiveness and atonement through the sacrificial system was shattered by the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the Jewish leadership was faced with a crisis they had not encountered since the Babylonian captivity," he writes (p. 161). "Without a temple, without an altar, without sacrifices, how could the Day of Atonement, the most crucial day in the Jewish consciousness, continue to be observed?".

Instead of considering that perhaps the festival's purpose had been fulfilled, Bacchiocchi commends the Jews for their creativity in reshaping the holiday. To me, Hebrews 8:13 comes to mind: "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." The festivals had become obsolete in Christ's sacrifice, and their practice in the scripturally-mandated way would vanish after the Temple was destroyed. Bacchiocchi described the Jews' efforts to adapt the festivals as noble, but could they just as easily be considered futile?

Goldberg vascillated between agnosticism and practicing Jewish rituals for years, but his questions about the adequacy of the rituals remained. An outspoken Christian co-worker forced him to confront his questions by challenging him to read the New Testament. He was surprised to find that the picture of Jesus' atoning sacrifice Paul's words painted was based on what Moses already taught.
"This is an atonement by which we know that our sins have been forgiven. It is a redemption by which we have the assurance that our names are recorded in the Book of Life, not for just one more year, but for all eternity. My study led me to these conclusions. The forgiveness of sins that I had begun to seek as a child was accomplished through Y'shua (Jesus)," he writes.

The Day of Atonement, as celebrated by Israel, was a shadow of Jesus' sacrifice for our sins. But the need for annual sacrifices each Yom Kippur ended; finding their fulfillment in Jesus - the perfect mediator, sacrifice and high priest. As God and man, Jesus was able to span the chasm that sin created. He was the goat sacrificed, His blood offered for mercy, for forgiveness of the sins of the people. Believers can rejoice in the knowledge that they have been forgiven, not just for a day, but forever, through the shed blood of the Messiah.

A COG perspective on the Day of Atonement can be found here.

In my next post, we'll take a look at the Messianic Jewish understanding of the Feast of Tabernacles, and consider scriptures that discuss the Holy Days in the apostolic age as well as after Christ's return.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11