LORD, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
We have come to the last chapter of the book. Have we reached the end of the thread? Surely not. The word for “everlasting” in the Psalm above is owlam. Literally, the word means “concealed,” but it implies the vanishing point, the place where a line seen stretching into the distance vanishes. Either way we look, we can’t see the end of a thread that has no beginning and no end.
When we talk about those things that, for want of a better term, are mysteries, someone is bound to ask, “Why hide all this stuff? Why doesn’t God just come right out and say so?” The truth is, he does. There is nothing obscure about the Ten Commandments, nor is the Gospel hard to understand. But, there are two big problems that have to be overcome. One is that man often doesn’t want to know. The truth will run against the grain of the way he wants to live his life. On the other hand, it is no easy task for a finite mind to grasp the infinite. Some things are just beyond our reach. Naturally, that doesn’t keep us from trying.
Meanwhile, the essentials are fairly simple. “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
How hard is this? God does not ask us to “Climb every mountain, ford every stream.” He doesn’t require heroic efforts. He just requires a good life lived well. Okay then, you want to know, what is all the rest of this stuff about? “Why all the laws, the ceremonies, the rules, these holidays you keep talking about?”
I can think of a couple of reasons. First, the laws, commandments, rules, and stuff are all given to define justice and mercy, right and wrong. Otherwise, how would we know? Yes, I know, when the Holy Spirit reveals these things to us. But when you think about it, would you expect the Holy Spirit to tell you something entirely new and different from what has been revealed to men before? And how are you to try the spirits if not from what is already written? The Holy Spirit is not going to lead you in some new direction from where God has led man through history. And how is our conscience going to be educated if not from the Bible? And why should the Holy Spirit tell you something you should have known already from reading the Book?
Then, if you are going to walk humbly with God, you have to know where He is going. Otherwise it may not be God you are walking with. It may be someone entirely different.
The problem is that we human beings are never satisfied. We were made with a restless spirit. We can walk the simplest way with God, but something inside us tells us that there is more. And there is. It is in the observance of the holydays of the Bible that we learn more about the plan of God, where He is going, and how we can walk more closely with Him.
In this book, I have said that these are Christian holydays, not merely Jewish holidays. I have pointed out the obvious, that they are the only holidays found in the Bible. I can recall my own surprise when someone pointed out two important things about the traditional Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. One, neither of them is found in the Bible, either in instruction or observance. Second, almost everything about these days is of non-Christian origin. Everything about Christmas, from the date of the observance to the tree, is of pagan origin – with one exception: the nativity of Jesus. Everything about Easter, from the date to the colored eggs to the rabbits, is of pagan origin, with one exception: the resurrection of Jesus.
Then came the even bigger surprise. There were seven holidays commanded in the Bible that not only are not pagan, but have everything to do with the life, ministry and work of Jesus Christ. One of the greatest losses of the Christian faith is that so many have lost touch with these festivals and no longer see Christ in them, even though the early church certainly did keep them and saw Christ in every one of them.
In previous chapters, I told the story of how these changes came about. The tough question is how a Christian church that has lost touch with them could ever restore them. The resistance is strong and persistent and has hundreds of years of custom and habit built up. Jude provides the mandate for a church that is in danger of losing its way:
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 1:3-4).
That departure from the faith began in the first century and has continued to this day. Among some teachers, there is a rank hostility to the Law of God. In spite of all the statements in both testaments that the law is holy and just and good, there are some who persist in condemning the law at every turn.
But for those who respect the Law of God, it still serves as a lamp to their feet and a light to their path so they don’t have to stumble in the dark. For me personally, the opening up of the festivals of the Bible in a Christian application was like turning on a light in a dark room.
These festivals are called “The appointed times of Jehovah,” and around them flow the entire history of the people of God, from the Israelites, to the Jews, to the Christians of every race and nation. And not only the history of God’s people, but their future as well.
I first began celebrating the festivals of the Bible nearly 50 years ago, but I can’t say that I really understood them in the beginning. What I did was to follow the old rule: “When all else fails, do as you’re told.” So, since God said to do it, and all I had to do was take off work and go to church, I thought, “Let’s do that.” That was a simple first step. And because it was the custom to teach and study the meaning of the days in their seasons, year by year I learned the rich history of God’s dealings with his people, especially at those pivotal points in their history, like the original Passover.
Once the groundwork was laid in the history, the analogies from that history became more and more obvious, and the connections to Christ became just as obvious. That could not be ignored. Paul warned the Corinthians about this:
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
This may be a surprise to you, as it was to me at one time, but most Christian churches believe that Jesus Christ preexisted his human birth, that He was with Israel in the wilderness. So did Paul. Notice it is spiritual food and drink Paul speaks of, drawing out the metaphor. The spiritual Rock, not to be confused with the hard rock that brought forth water, was none other than the one we know as Jesus Christ. Then Paul drives home the point of the analogy:
Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (vv. 6-12).
I am appalled when I hear people say we don’t need the Old Testament any longer. Paul didn’t see it that way, and neither do I. Everything about the history of Israel was written down as an admonition for those people upon whom the ends of the earth have come. We are supposed to be admonished by these errors and what came from them. That does not sound to me like something I don’t need any longer. We aren’t there yet, and we need the road map to tell us where we are and what we need to get it right.
So from the Old Testament, I began to learn what Paul meant what he said, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” It suddenly became apparent that the Corinthians were even abstaining from leaven during the Passover season and keeping the feast.i
As time went on, the metaphors that arise from these feasts became increasingly obvious. I learned what John the Baptist meant when he looked up, saw Jesus and said, “Behold the lamb of God.” We take that statement for granted, but it must have sounded very strange indeed to John’s disciples. I learned that, at the very moment when the High Priest cut the throat of a lamb in the Temple, a Roman soldier thrust a spear into the side of Jesus as he hung, nailed to a tree, and blood and water came out of his side. The connection between the Passover lamb and the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world is there for all to see.
Oh sure, the original Passover was a historical institution for Israel. But we have gone beyond that now. We have gone to the world. Even in going to the world, we take to them the message of the Passover Lamb.
I learned that I was supposed to eat unleavened bread for seven days after Passover, because leaven is a type of sin, and as a disciple of Jesus, I should live a holy life. At first, it seemed a strange thing to do, and yet, one Easter Sunday morning as I sat at brunch in a hotel dining room, there bounded into the room a six foot tall rabbit with big ears and a basket full of colored eggs. He went around giving eggs to all the kids. Now you tell me. Is that a strange custom or not? Why should I feel it is a strange custom to eat unleavened bread for seven days when the rest of the Christian world is doing this “normal” thing of dressing up like rabbits, giving out colored eggs to kids and claiming that rabbits lay eggs? Who is crazy?
And I learned it was not merely a matter of abstaining from leavened bread as a type of sin. I was to actually eat unleavened bread. The connection with the Last Supper is hard to miss. It is Paul again who reminds us that the Lord Jesus, in the night of his betrayal, took bread, broke it and handed it to his disciples saying, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you.” ii
The eating of unleavened bread for seven days came to symbolize my need for the Bread of Life, every day of my life. And Jesus is that Bread of Life. It was in the observance of these days that I came to understand what happened the Sunday morning after Jesus’ Resurrection. That at the very moment the priest in the Temple was presenting the firstfruits to God, Jesus was being presented to the Father in heaven as the firstfruits from the grave, the first human to be rescued from death and presented to the Father. And I learned that Jesus is the first of many to be so presented. I learned that the seven weeks of harvest between that day and Pentecost pictured the time of harvest in which we now live. I recalled that Jesus compared the field of harvest to a world of lost people, and urged his disciples to pray that God would send workers into that harvest.
I learned that the Feast of Pentecost pictured, not only the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, but the time of the presentation of the remainder of the firstfruits to God. I learned that the Feast of Trumpets in the autumn looks forward to the return of Christ and the Day of the Lord, when the last of the seven great trumpets is blown, and the saints are raised from the dead.
I learned that the Day of Atonement pictures the reconciliation of man to God and the final disposition of the age old problem of sin. I learned that the Feast of Tabernacles is a confession that we are strangers and pilgrims in the earth and that we look for the kingdom to come. I learned that this festival looks forward to the thousand year reign of Christ. And finally, I learned that there is this shadowy “eighth day” at the end of the festival that implies that all is not yet finished.
Once you embark on this road, all manner of new connections present themselves. For example, there is a man named Job who understood something that later generations seem to have lost. He has a soliloquy about man that should give us pause. “Man who is born of woman,” he said, “is of few days and full of trouble.”iii Truer words were never spoken. Man blossoms like a flower fades, and is gone almost as quickly. Job, who has been suffering terribly, wishes that God would just let him go, let him rest, even in the grave.
Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, That You would conceal me until Your wrath is past, That You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, Till my change comes. You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands (Job 14:13-15).
It is profoundly encouraging to realize that Job, one of the very earliest of the patriarchs, knew about the resurrection. And he understood something very important that it takes some of us a long time to learn. God will not waste his work with us. He will not take us so far and then cast us away. Human beings are not biological waste to be incinerated. We are made in the image of God and destined to be like him.
It was in the observance of the Last Great Day of the feast that I came to understand that God will not waste anyone. Oh, I am not a universalist. I believe that there are some who will push God away in spite of everything and will ultimately be destroyed. But I believe, for those who are willing, that God will do whatever it takes to make us into glorious creatures who are just like him. Whatever pain and suffering we have to undergo in this life to get there, that is where he is taking us. Poor old Job suffered terribly to learn what that means. There is no way to understand why God allows us to suffer in this world unless we understand what God is trying to make of us.
In biblical terms everything is finished in seven days. Seven is the number of wholeness, of completion. So what lies beyond the finish line? Why is there an eighth day festival? Naturally, if you can’t find the answer anywhere else, you look toward the end of the Bible – the logical place to put it. John saw, in vision, what lies out there. He saw a new heaven and a new earth, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1).
When we go out into the night and look up at the sky, we see Polaris, the North Star, and all the familiar constellations. In John’s vision, they are all gone, replaced by a new night sky entirely. It suggests that this “new earth” is in an entirely different location in space and time.
Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son (vv. 2-7).
It is absolutely breathtaking to consider. But this is not given to the man who drifts along. It is given to the man who overcomes. As we walk through life, we have battles we have to fight. We have to lay hold on our problems and fight to overcome them. We can’t let these things just sweep us along. The Alpha and Omega says that it is the one who overcomes who shall inherit all things. “To the winner belongs the spoils.”
Scientists tell us that, on a summer night, when we look out into space, we are looking out some 12 billion light years. And then, come winter when we look out in the opposite direction in space, we are looking 12 billion light years out that way (not that we can see the edge with the naked eye, but it is out there). Is there life out there? Someone replied, “If there isn’t, it is a terrible waste of space.”
What has God been doing for the past 12 billion or so years? Is Project Earth the first time he has done this? And will it be the last? I don’t have the answer, but I can see the thread vanishing into the future. I can hardly wait to see where it goes from here.
i. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.
ii. 1 Corinthians 11:24.
iii. Job 14:1.