Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Christian's Holy Days

This is my April newsletter article for Immanuel's Messenger:

For Christians, the two "high holy days" on our calendars each year are Christmas and Easter. While critics of the Christian faith often point out that the observance of these occasions are "late developments" and that they seem to be Christianized observances of pagan holidays, that is not entirely true. While the date of Christmas was not established immediately in Christian history, there does seem to be an early practice of commemorating the fact that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who became flesh. Easter, though it was not called this by the earliest Christians, on the other hand was instituted almost immediately in the early church. The early church, however, did not always agree on a specific day each year that the Resurrection of Jesus would be celebrated. Rather, the Resurrection of Jesus was celebrated every week. That is why Christian worship occurred on Sunday, "the first day" of the week. Every time Christians gathered together for corporate worship on the Lord's Day, it was a commemoration that this was the day of the week on which Christ conquered death. Though Christians in the East and West observed different annual days for Christmas and Easter, both were celebrated by Christians around the world from very early on. This was a big change for Christians, especially those coming from Jewish backgrounds and some pagan backgrounds in which many feasts, festivals, and holy days were commemorated throughout the year. The Jewish people celebrated seven biblical holy days, and two more were added later, giving Israel a calendar of nine annual religious festivals. It is interesting, however, that the prophet Ezekiel speaks of a coming day when the people of God would celebrate not nine nor seven festivals, but only two. In Ezekiel 45, the prophet speaks of a reconstituted Israel, a reassembled people of God, coming together to commemorate an observance in the "first month," and another in the "seventh month." The festival of the first month is Passover, which corresponds to the Christian observance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The festival of the seventh month is the Feast of Tabernacles, which corresponds prophetically to the incarnation of Christ, when the eternal and divine Word of God became flesh and "tabernacled" among us (John 1:1, 14). Though the annual observance of the Feast of Tabernacles occurs in the Fall, some two or three months prior to the Christian observance of Christmas, it may well be that the birth of Jesus actually coincided with the Feast of Tabernacles. The actual dating of Christmas is irrelevant to the point that the prophetic significance of the Feast of Tabernacles is fulfilled in the incarnation of Christ. Thus, in our observance of these two high holy days, Christmas and Easter, we are seeing the fulfillment of that far off day envisioned by the prophet Ezekiel. It reminds us that the Church of Jesus Christ is the reconstituted and reassembled people of God, not an ethnic group or a national entity, but a body of Jews and Gentiles from all nations, gathered under the Fatherhood of God through faith in Jesus Christ. In Christmas, or Tabernacles, we commemorate the beginning of His earthly life and ministry of redeeming His people from the curse of sin. In Easter, Passover, or Resurrection Day, we commemorate the climax of His earthly life and ministry and the completion of that redemption through the atonement for sins that was accomplished in His cross and empty tomb. These two events define the life and work of Jesus, the virgin-born Son of God who came to seek and save that which is lost, and who came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. Therefore, these two events also define who we are as the people of God. We are His children, adopted by faith in the one who came for us, who lived for us, who died for us, and who is risen from the dead for us. We commemorate this reality every year when we worship the incarnate Christ at Christmas and the risen Christ at Easter. In another sense, we celebrate these truths of who He is and who we are in Him every Sunday as we gather together for worship, and every day as we live out the reality of our faith. So, do Christians only have two holy days? In one sense, yes; and they are Christmas and Easter. But in another very real sense, we have 365 (and one-fourth!) holy days every year to celebrate that God has come to us in the person of Christ to rescue us from sin and reconcile us to Himself. I pray that this season of worship will be a meaningful time of reflection and meditation on the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for you as we exalt our Death-proof King! Remember, because He has risen from death to everlasting life, so we who belong to Him shall as well (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). 

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