Imagine the whole world living in submission to God, abiding in the saving grace of Yeshua Hamashiach by the power of the Holy Spirit. Suppose that the Church had not distanced itself from its Jewish roots. From among the appointed Feasts of the Lord, consider, for example, what the Sabbath Day would be like. It would be a day when people everywhere would cease their ordinary work and when they would worship the Lord from their hearts and minds, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. As the sun dropped over the horizon for each nation in turn, so rest would come to that nation. Over a twenty-four hour cycle, perhaps beginning in Israel if the international date line were to be reset through Jerusalem, a wave of rest, peace and worship would arise following the course of the sun from East to West across the earth. As the sun completed its cycle around the earth so a new week would then be ushered in through the next twenty-four hours in a similar way. The Sabbath Rest would be blessed by God and it would be as if His Heavenly hand passed gently over the whole earth, bathing it in peace country by country, nation by nation.
Of course the true Sabbath Rest is found in Yeshua for all who believe in Him, so an inner rest and peace would also be evident for the six working days of the week, finding a particular emphasis on every weekly Sabbath.
It depends on a number of theological standpoints, including the doctrine of election, as to whether this picture of the Sabbath could ever have been possible, and in the reality of this fallen world I could be called a mystic or romancer for creating such a picture. Yet I wonder. Perhaps my vision is exactly what the Lord Himself desired when He first said, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy”. He set before Moses a command that could have been understood by the whole world one day.
We are so used to falling short of the mark that we don’t hold such high visions easily, and we tend to excuse ourselves when it is pointed out how far short of the mark we have fallen, even interpreting the Biblical laws to justify our actions. Indeed, when the Church drifted from its Jewish roots, what seemed like good reasons were given to alter the Sabbath Day from Saturday to Sunday, but now there is a discontinuity across the world in the celebration of the Sabbath. This has been so firmly established that, even though it is so obviously wrong when one is in fellowship with Jewish believers (or even when one simply experiences the Sabbath Day in the nation of Israel), it is very difficult to remedy things. Far from consideration of the whole world keeping the Sabbath Day, the worldwide community of believers is not in harmony on this matter nor on other matters concerning the Feasts.
The problem of remedy is related to the traditions of family and community as well as the pressures of secular society. It is not a bit of good trying to force change in a ritual or legalistic way, and the Sabbath is just one of the issues to consider, which I am using to illustrate the point. When we consider the full cycle of Feasts of the Lord as they are set out in Scripture, particularly Leviticus 23, then the whole issue of the drift from the Jewish roots is evident, and there seems that there is very much to be done by way of recovery. If we were to consider each of the appointed Feasts in turn, in the context of their relevance to Gentile believers, then we would discover that these are deep and important issues indeed.
Only recently, after many centuries, are some Christians celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, yet Christmas has long been established as a major festival, while being nowhere to be found in the Scriptures. Easter (named after the Goddess Ishtar) does not usually coincide with Passover on the Christian calendar, even though it was intended as a celebration of the ultimate meaning of Passover. Instead of celebrating Passover according to the Biblical calendar, Christians have deliberately taken over a pagan feast day for the purpose. These are two clear examples of how the Biblical pattern has been ignored among Christians, but now that the role of Israel is being re-established in our generation these things are becoming clear. As we are looking towards the fulfillment of the promise of salvation for this nation (Romans 11), then issues relating to the Feasts are becoming more relevant, inconsistencies are being highlighted, and it is time for adjustments to be considered in the Gentile Church.
There is no doubt that God has, and still does, bless Sunday worship, Easter and Christmas. Yet some of these blessings are not as they once were, particularly in the context of secular society re-paganising many of the Christian traditions. We must consider if there is a gradual adjustment that Gentile believers should begin to make in some or all of the areas relating to the Feasts. I say gradual, because the last thing that is intended is legalism (see my article on law and grace in this issue of the Journal).
The injunctions of Leviticus 23 are straightforward and their emphasis and content should be compared with the emphasis and content of present Christian traditions. Also, however, much has come into Jewish tradition that is not in Scripture, some of which is very good, but not essential. We have an exploration before us that allows us to take the best of Jewish tradition whilst not losing sight of flexibility in our own practice. My own family, for example, has experimented with Sabbath observance enough to know that one can easily force issues into unnecessary tradition that can become lifeless. Yet it is good to have a family meal when the sun has gone on Sabbath Eve and to pray together, making this a focus of the week, inviting guests to this meal and discussing Scripture as the meal proceeds. Indeed, it is important to emphasise that Sabbath is from evening to evening rather than just through daylight hours. The rush can be taken out of daytime observance by preparing in this way the evening before. Yet it is quite difficult to change from Sunday to Saturday if one is not a part of a Christian community that does this together. It is easy to strain out gnats and swallow camels, because we are a part of our families and our communities and it is of high priority to be in unity. Christian traditions are so deeply established that it will take some time to make adjustments, and I would suggest that the Lord will bless our efforts as we seek to make any adjustments step by step, conscious of one another’s stage of growth, willingness and understanding. The Holy Spirit is gracious and loving and the best and most patient of teachers and He will speak to us about all of the other Feasts as well as the weekly Sabbath, which is probably one of the easier things to change.
Yet when the bottom line is drawn, we will discover that a Scriptural establishment of the appointed Feasts of the Lord among Gentile believers will bring a new depth of relationship with the Lord and will be a part of the process of re-establishing the roots of our faith. We will have a maturer meditation on the yearly cycle, on the plan of salvation and on the whole sweep of history, seeing the Lord at the centre of it all. It will also be a part of the means by which Jewish and Gentile believers will become one body as the sun goes down on the history of this age and the final Sabbath Rest is drawing near.
(Reprinted from Tishrei Vol2, No 1, The Feasts, Autumn 1993)