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While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast, each of us cry with thankful tongues, Lord, why was I a guest? Twas the same love that spread the feast, that sweetly drew us in, else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin. That any of us are here, Lord, is an act of Your grace. So we now petition You for more grace that we would not just be here, we would not just endure another sermon and move on to the rest of our day, but You would speak to us, You would give us ears to hear and hearts not only to listen but to be doers and to obey. In all that we see, in all that we read, and all that we meditate upon in these minutes together, may Christ be all in all. In His name we pray. Amen.
We come this morning to Leviticus chapter 23 as we’ve been in the third book of the Bible for several months now. Lord willing, we’ll finish it in the month of June, before I take some time off for vacation and some writing time in July. We come this morning to Leviticus chapter 23.
As you know and as we’ve already highlighted, tomorrow is Memorial Day. It’s a holiday in this country where we remember those who have died in service to their country, in war time and in peace time. You know a little bit of the history. You know that it was originally called Decoration Day. It seems to have first started in 1868 as a time to lay flowers and wreaths upon the gravesides of Union soldiers and quickly then became a national festival and celebration. It wasn’t until this century, much later, that it became a national holiday. We give thanks for the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country.
Sadly, though understandably, it’s also come to be known as the official start of summer. You can look out and it’s not doing a very good job of that right now, but we have a certain rhythm to life in this country. I’m sure every country is similar, with different holidays, different rhythms.
It’s quite fitting that we look at this not only because it’s Pentecost on the church calendar, but because this chapter 23 has everything to do with the rhythms of days and seasons that the Lord established in ancient Israel. Their calendar was a mix of partly religious, partly historical, partly agricultural. They all sort of mixed together. Everything was religious, but it often looked back and it often was marked out by some agricultural milestone in the year.
And as strange as some of these may seem and sort of hard for us to understand from the distance of millennia, yet if you live in them as they did, they would have made intuitive sense. Just like we have a series of rhythms and holidays. Actually, though they’re different, they’re not that different, because our holidays in the American calendar are a mix of religious, historical, and less so agricultural than it used to be, but you might say educational.
And, don’t think it’s too much of a stretch, though I did have to fudge just a little bit, there are seven feast days, or seasons, in Leviticus 23, we’ll come to in a moment, and I think it’s not too much of a stretch to group our own national festivals into seven main holy days. You know that’s where we get the word “holiday,” a holy day.
So the first as we’ll see in Leviticus is the weekly Sabbath. So we might say the basic rhythm to life is a weekend. You work during the week and I know some people have to work on the weekends, but then you have a weekend. So we have that weekly rhythm of work and rest and hopefully rest and worship.
You might say Memorial Day, tomorrow, the beginning of summer.
Fourth of July, of course, our country’s independence, but is the middle of summer.
Then Labor Day, which wouldn’t be marked off as probably such a significant holiday except it’s the end of summer.
So you have Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, the whole Christmas/New Year season, and then the whole holy weekend Easter. You could pretty well map out the rhythms of our seasonal national life along those seven festivals.
Of course there’s lots of other ones, Halloween, Veterans’ Day, MLK Day, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, St. Patrick’s Day, spring break, on the church calendar Ascension and Pentecost.
But pretty well, when it comes to your vacation plans, when you think about the time that you have off, we all inhabit this kind of rhythm. So much so that it’s just there and we don’t even think about it.
These holidays in Leviticus 23 provided a similar rhythm to the year, a pattern of work and rest. No people are meant to constantly be fasting nor constantly be feasting. They’re not meant to always be working or always resting, but there’s a season for gathering, for feasting, for working, for resting, and it’s important to have these rhythms.
But as we’ll see, more important than just the rhythms because you don’t have to be a Christian to see there’s some value in that, more importantly is what we’ll see that these festivals rehearsed God’s work of redemption in the past and they pointed forward to the fulfillment in Christ of all of these feasts in the future.
So let’s work our way through. The outline’s very simple. We’re going to read through. You can see the headings in the ESV. There’s an introduction, the first two verses, then there are seven festivals in the life of Israel. Just going to read through them, stopping after each one to explain what this is about, and then try to understand well, what does this mean for Christians in the 21st century in America.
So follow along. Leviticus 23.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are My appointed feasts.”
You could translate it as fixed times, or appointed times. These are the days in the weekly and the annual calendar that you are to set apart as a special gathering, a convocation.
Here’s the first, the Sabbath.
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.”
As we’ll see, all the rest of them are on an annual schedule, but this is, of course, a weekly schedule. This is the oldest of the feasts, this one is connected not only to the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, that it would be a sign of the Mosaic covenant, but it has its origins at the very beginning, because the Lord created the heavens and the earth in the span of six days and on the seventh day He rested. So all of the other feasts that we’ll come to have their rootedness in this first one, in the Sabbath, because these other ones are a different expression of the Sabbath.
This one is called, you see in verse 3, a Sabbath of solemn rest. In Hebrew, Shabbat Shabbaton, a Sabbath of Sabbaths.
As you know in Hebrew they don’t have italics, they don’t have underline, but when they want to emphasize something, they say “King of Kings,” “Lord of Lords,” “Holy of Holies.” This is called a Sabbath of Sabbaths, a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.
All of the other festivals have their roots in this first one, this ancient one, this one that’s as old as time itself.
Second. The Passover. Verse 4.
“These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.”
So we’re in the spring, they’re first month was in the spring, and this is the first of three pilgrimage festivals. Not all of them, but three of them required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to the tabernacle and later to the temple. We read in Deuteronomy 16:16 three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that He will choose. You may say, “Wow, only the males had to go? At least they didn’t have to bring all the kids.” That the Lord will choose at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.
This is called Passover, but there in Deuteronomy it’s called the Feast of Unleavened Bread because the two went together. You remember that they were in a hurry to leave Egypt as they were set free from their bondage and they didn’t have time to put yeast in the bread so they commemorated with unleavened bread. These two celebrations went together. Passover was on the 14th day of the first month, unleavened bread on the 15th day, the next day, and then as we read here for a week after there would be a continual celebration. It was a say that they would relive and rehearse the events of the Exodus. It would remind them of their national and religious identity.
It’s one of the reasons, though even we can think of holidays now as just vacation times, a chance to go to the mountains, go to the beach, both within the life of the Church and in the life of a nation, they have an important effect. They establish something of a religious identity, a national identity.
What you commemorate, you commend, and what you celebrate you hold up as an example. It’s why it’s important that we have these holidays, both in the Church and in the country.
Here they were together, a commemoration of God’s acts of redemption, when He set them free from Egypt. Passover and then together with that unleavened bread.
Third feast. Follow along, verse 9.
” And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the Lord. And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the Lord with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.”
So this firstfruits takes place on the day after the Sabbath. You see that in the middle of verse 11. See that sentence, “on the day after the Sabbath.” Make note of that. We’ll come back to that later. It’s not clear from this text what this would be. It just says “on the day after the Sabbath.” But we know that by the first century at least, by the time of Christ, Passover, Unleavened Bread, and firstfruits all happened together in the spring season, what we would call March or April, at the beginning of the barley harvest. So as it developed, by the time of the New Testament, Passover was on the 14th day of the first month, Unleavened Bread began on the 15th and then went for a week, and then on the 16th, that is the day after the Sabbath, the second day of Unleavened Bread you can call it, they would celebrate this firstfruits. It was, as the name suggests, the beginning of the harvest. That’s why the priest would do a wave offering, not a “heyyy,” but he would take some of the sheaf, he would come in, we have some of the harvest and here’s the firstfruits, we give thanks to the Lord. Just as we have this beginning, we know that God is going to bring it to completion, He who began a good work in you will bring it to the day of completion. He’s going to give us the rest of the harvest in due time. This is just the firstfruits.
Then the Feast of Weeks. Verse 15.
“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath.”
So you can do the math there, seven weeks plus a day, so 49 plus 1, 50, 50 days til the day after the seventh Sabbath.
“Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord. And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And you shall make a proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.”
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”
In Greek, this was called Pentecost. Simply the word for “fiftieth.” So it’s the fiftieth day later, seven weeks and then inclusive of that Sabbath, so 50 days, Pentecost. As we’ve already read from Acts chapter 1 and chapter 2, we remember in the Church as the coming of the Holy Spirit, because it was the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days later. This is the second pilgrimage festival.
So the first where all the males were required to go to Jerusalem was Passover/Unleavened Bread, then this is the second, the Festival of Weeks. You count 50 days from Firstfruits, which is the day after the Sabbath when you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, and this now would take place in May or June, so around this time, and it would be at the conclusion of the barley harvest. Well, that makes sense. You had Firstfruits at the beginning of harvest, 50 days later the harvest is brought in and this feast had an emphasis on gratitude. That’s why you see more lambs and more offerings. It’s a chance to say, “God has been good to us and He’s brought in the harvest and we give thanks.”
Three more. Next, the Feast of Trumpets. Verse 23.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the Lord.”
So notice we have now gone to the seventh month. You see that in verse 24. So the first holy days were March/April, then Weeks 50 days later in May/June, now we’re into the fall, September/October, and this is the festival of __, and the trumpet. And all of his trumpeters to signal to us the beginning of a special month. It was the seventh month and it was filled with more feasts, the most holy days, the most sacrifices. The trumpets called the people to assemble for this month and there were three feasts, it’s these remaining three feasts – The Feast of Trumpets, then the Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur, and then the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths. This is taking place in the momentous seventh month.
Of course, you would think it would be month number seven because that’s such a biblical number of completion and perfection where they would have the most celebrations and the most offerings were given.
All of these feasts had offerings. We don’t read about all of the instructions here in Leviticus 23 because it seems that Leviticus 23 is probably the laymen’s guide to the festival, what would the lay people know and expect. But there’s more in Numbers 28 and 29, which is probably a more detailed explanation for the priests. We know there that there were daily offerings, Sabbath offerings, regular monthly offerings, plus free will offerings, vow offerings, and gifts. All of these extra things taking place throughout the seventh month, and it’s called to order with the blowing of trumpets.
The Day of Atonement, sixth.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement.”
Yom being the Hebrew word for day, Kippur meaning a covering or an atonement. Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement.
“It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord.”
Afflict yourselves probably means rest and some kind of fasting.
“And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest,” another Sabbath of Sabbaths, “and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your Sabbath.”
If you were here on Easter Sunday, we looked at Leviticus 16, which is the much more detailed list of what to do on the Day of Atonement, where the priest once a year enters into the holy of holies to make atonement for the people and there’s a goat that’s offered as a sacrifice for sin and then there’s the scapegoat that goes off into the wilderness to show not only that the sins of God’s people are forgiven, but the sins of God’s people are forgotten. All of this takes place on the Day of Atonement.
Then finally, the Feast of Booths.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths,” or it could be translated, you see there, tabernacles or tents. “On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.”
The next two verses give something of a recap and a summary. Go down to verse 39.
“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the Lord.”
This is the third pilgrimage feast. Passover/Unleavened Bread is the first, then the second with Weeks, and then we have the next one is here with the Booths.
As they went, they were to live in their tents for seven days. It pains me to say that the Lord commanded camping. Whoo. But it was to teach them a lesson, that they shouldn’t want to camp. They were a pilgrim people and so they had to live in their tents for seven days to remember that they were once sojourners without home, without land, and that they would one day come to their heavenly inheritance and the world they inhabited now was not their final home.
This may have not been the most important in some ways, but it was the most festive. Again, Numbers 29 tells us there were more offerings required for this festival, the Feast of Booths, than for any other holiday. All told during the seven days there were to be 70 bulls, 14 rams, 98 lambs, and on the eighth day, 7 lambs, 1 bull, 1 ram, 1 goat, for a total of 10, all told 192 animals sacrificed during the Feast of Booths. It was a feast of ingathering.
It is the only feast where the people are commanded to rejoice. You can see it’s an attitude of celebration. They’re to take branches and willows and rejoice before the Lord for seven days. They were to be like all of you are, happy, smiling Presbyterians. I’m sure they were Presbyterians, they, after all, were God’s people. Smiling and rejoicing, rejoicing what God had done.
Now by the time of the New Testament, there was another key element of the festival. The priest would bring water from the Pool of Siloam through the water gate to the temple and then the water would be poured out as a supplication to God. So this final Feast of Booths, which was also the final ingathering of the harvest, became connected with water.
Listen to what we read from the prophet Zechariah, chapter 14, verse 16: “Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.”
Because of that prophetic word, you hear the connection there between keep the Feast of Booths and you get rain, it became the tradition that the priests would come from the Pool of Siloam and he’d bring the water, as if to say, “We have kept the Feast of Booths and God has kept His promise and He has given us rain to water the earth and He has given us the very water which is necessary to sustain life.” That was at the very climax of the Feast of Booths.
So, you say, “Pastor, what do we do? That’s very interesting. Gave a kind of rhythm of life that helps me understand days of celebration and festive days. They were reminders of God’s provision and faithfulness. What’s the point?”
Well, if you’ve been here for the series in Leviticus, hopefully some of the puzzle pieces are coming together. There are, you can think of it, in Leviticus there are four spheres of the sacred. Sacred meaning set apart, what is holy as opposed to what is ordinary, or common. Now that doesn’t mean bad and sinful, but there’s ordinary/common, and then there is set apart, sacred, holy. There are four spheres to the sacred in Leviticus.
Sacred persons, so you have the priests. Now in one sense the whole nation is a holy nation because they’re set apart to God, but within that holy nation there are certain holy people, there are priests, so sacred persons. Sacred acts, that is, the sacrifices. Then there’s sacred space, the tabernacle and the temple. Now we see in Leviticus 23 the illumination of sacred time.
It was to reinforce to God’s people that they were a holy people. They are ministered to by sacred persons and they perform their sacred acts and enter into a sacred space, commemorating throughout the year sacred time.
I hope that you can see pretty quickly how Christ is a fulfillment of all of this, the sacred person, the priest is Christ the high priest. That sacred acts of the sacrifice is Christ, the Passover Lamb, who was sacrificed for our sakes. The sacred space of the temple and the tabernacle, well, now Christ’s presence constitutes the temple and we are dwelling places for the Holy Spirit. That sacred time, the assumption is that Christ is going to fulfill all of this, too, as we’ll see in just a moment.
The New Testament is clear, Colossians 2, Romans 14, that we do not need to keep these feast days.
Colossians 2: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in question of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are shadows of the things to come but the substance belongs to Christ.
Romans 14 says one person esteems one day as better, another esteems all days alike.
So Paul is relativizing this national calendar of feasts and festivals.
However, this doesn’t mean that there’s no distinction between holy and ordinary. In fact, even though what I just said with those spheres, how Christ is the fulfillment of each one, we can also see how there is still an element in the Church of sacred persons. Your pastors are not priests, but those who labor in teaching, the preaching of the Gospel, are worthy of double honor.
We don’t have sacred sacrifices, the one sacrifice has already been made, but we do have two sacred acts which are commemoration of that one sacrifice. We call it baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
This is not a temple. There’s always a discussion here. I’ll just, you may have already noticed this, is this room a worship center? Or a sanctuary? Well, there’s a right answer to it. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but there’s a right answer.
Well, you can see you can make a case for both. You could say, well, we don’t call it a sanctuary because it’s not a temple. We’re a temple of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have an earthly temple, that’s Christ, so we shouldn’t use that language. It’s a worship center.
Yet there’s also good reason to call it a sanctuary, though it’s not the Old Testament temple. This is a place that’s set apart. It is sacred. We gather here once a week, twice a week, for a holy purpose that is out of the ordinary.
So there’s sacred space in a way, sacred acts, sacred persons, and sacred time. Now there’s no Jewish Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day carries over the same principles of rest and worship. There’s still a place for people, places, acts, and times to be unique and set apart.
But that’s not the main point. And that’s not what I want to finish with, because the main point I believe as New Testament Christians is to see Christ in all of these feasts. The great feasts of Leviticus 23, each and every one, find their fulfillment in Christ.
Think about it. Sabbath. Hebrews 4 says there remains a Sabbath rest for us and the way to enter into that rest prefigured here on earth but looking forward to the salvation to come is through faith in Christ.
Everyone wants to find peace. We live in a day where you can, you stand in the line at the grocery store, and you’re going to see there in the magazine rack, there’s stuff you can’t look at and there’s stuff that you can see, it’s going to have a book on mindfulness, wakefulness, mental health, all sorts of, you know, focus. You need to find a way to be at peace.
Well, it’s the world grasping for so often what it knows it needs but can’t find. Rest. Freedom. Peace. Only in Christ do we have the true meaning of the Sabbath, prefigured here and ultimately in the age to come. He is our Sabbath rest.
The Passover. Well, that one’s easy to see. 1 Corinthians 5:7. Paul says Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Jesus would be the embodiment, the physical literal embodiment, of the Passover because His whole ministry was the embodiment of the Exodus story. I’ve traced this out before, but just think about it. He is baptized in the Jordan, just like the Israelites had to pass through the Red Sea. After they went through the Red Sea they wander for 40 years in the wilderness. Where does Jesus go after He’s baptized in the Jordan, passes through that water? Well, He’s brought into the wilderness, where He’s tempted for 40 days and 40 nights. What is Jesus tempted with? He’s tempted with food. What do the Israelites complain about? Oh, if we only had the leeks and the onions and the cucumbers. That’s how sinful they were, that was the food they wanted, they wanted cucumbers to go back to Egypt. They were tempted by the food.
Jesus refuses to test God. Remember Satan tempted Him with that. What did the Israelites do? They constantly put Him to the test in Massah and Meribah. Jesus will not worship a false God when Satan says “bow down to me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth.” What do the Israelites do? Their chief idolatry was with the golden calf, very deliberately. The Spirit is leading Jesus into the wilderness to face the same temptations that the Israelites failed. And Jesus passes each one.
Where does He go? Well, just like a new Moses, He goes up on a mountain and He gives a new law in the Sermon on the Mount.
All throughout Matthew’s Gospel we’re seeing Jesus a new Moses, a new Israel, able to succeed where the old Israel failed. So of course He is that final Passover, the sacrifice that turns the destroyer away.
Remember, in connection with the Passover, was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It’s amazing how smart the Bible is. 1 Corinthians 5:7, let me read it to you again, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.”
Now remember the Feast of Unleavened Bread was on the 15th day, Passover on the 14th day. So the next day Unleavened Breast starts. Well, that’s 1 Corinthians 5:7.
The very next verse, after saying Christ is our Passover Lamb, 1 Corinthians 5:8 says, “Let us therefore celebrate the festival not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Paul is saying explicitly, “You know you keep Passover and Unleavened Bread? You worship Christ because He’s the Passover Lamb, and then you do away with the corrupting influence of sin.”
Jesus is the Bread of Life without the leaven of sin and wickedness, so Passover, redemption, Unleavened Bread, sanctification, a life purged of sin and defilement. That’s how you keep Passover and Unleavened Bread.
What about firstfruits? Remember, Passover was on Friday, Unleavened Bread was the next day, on the Sabbath, Saturday, and then the Feast of Firstfruits, remember Leviticus says, is the day after the Sabbath.
Well, this all comes together in holy week. John 19:31: “Since it was the day of Preparation,” now what’s that? That’s probably preparation for the seven days of unleavened bread. “And so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day),” one of the Sabbath Shabbatons, “the Jews asked Pilate that their legs,” the men on the cross, “might be broken and that they might be taken away.”
So the Saturday after Good Friday was the high holy day which marked the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread, Good Friday Passover, holy Saturday is the beginning of the feast of Unleavened Bread, which means the next day, the day after the Sabbath, was what? It was the start of the Feast of Firstfruits. Which is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,” you know it, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Of course it was fitting that Christ would be raised on the first day of Firstfruits. It was God the Father’s way of presenting His Son as a wave offering coming out of the tomb. The first sheaf of a glorious Resurrection harvest to come. “Here it is, people,” God is saying, “Here it is. The harvest. You can count on it. Here’s the firstfruits. You, too, will have new bodies. You, too, will have everlasting life.” How can you be confident? Because Christ was brought forth from the grave, the Sabbath after Unleavened Bread, on the first day of Firstfruits.
Then you know, as we celebrate today, 50 days after firstfruits came the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost and the Holy Spirit filled the room and the crowd heard the Word of God spoken. How appropriate that the day we sometimes say which marks the birthday of the Church, though there’s an Old Testament church in another sense, but the birthday of the Church was the day when the Jews celebrated the incoming of the barley harvest. Jesus Himself said the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest. Pentecost, you see, was the beginning of the answer to Jesus’ prayer. Not sheaves, but souls. The ingathering of souls.
Well, we have the last three festivals in the fall in the seventh month. Beginning with the Feast of Trumpets. It’s the only one without a direct parallel in the New Testament, and yet you can understand pretty obviously the symbolism of a trumpet. What does a trumpet do? A trumpet announces God’s presence. The first trumpet blast is there on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 because God’s presence is coming down to be with His people. It’s like the angelic announcement at Christ’s birth, or John the Baptist crying in the wilderness. So 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tells us to listen for the trumpet at the end of the age. There will be a voice of the archangel, the sound of the trumpet, and the dead in Christ will rise first. The Day of Atonement. Direct fulfillment in the New Testament as Hebrews tells us, Christ has entered into the holy places, which are copies of the true things. It was to offer Himself, not repeatedly as the high priest enters the holy places every year, for then He would have to suffer repeatedly, but He appeared once for all at the beginning of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Then finally, the Feast of Booths. We live as a pilgrim people. That’s what the feast was to remind the Israelites. Remember I said that by the first century, taken from that Zechariah prophecy, there was a connection between the Feast of Booths and the end of the fall harvest with water. The priest would bring water from the Pool of Siloam through the water gate to the temple where the water would be poured out in supplication to God. The water was a symbol of life, a symbol of life because they needed water for the crops that they just brought in and a symbol of God’s blessing, just as Zechariah has said. If you keep the Feast of Booths, I will give you water; if you don’t, you shall have no rain.
So with that imagery, just hear John 7 in a new way: On the last day of the Feast of Booths, John 7:37, the great day Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts,’ ah, you need water? Let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me as the Scriptures has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.
The very climax of that last feast in the calendar, the Feast of Booths, they were so used to the priests bringing the water from the Pool of Siloam, Jesus says, “You want water? That water’s going to run out. You want water to quench your eternal thirst? That sense of guilt and shame, the lack of purpose and meaning? You want that water? I’m that water. You want water that you don’t have to go to the Pool of Siloam every year to bring? You want water flowing out of you? Come to Me. I will give you the rivers of the waters of life, just like the prophets of old had foretold.
Do you see it? Remember those, I’ve said this before, you remember those Magic Eye books that you’re supposed to stare at them and they just look like all jumbled squiggles and colors and you’re supposed to stare at them and [sound effect] some picture pops out in 3D? You can still get those. I confess the sin of lying when I was in school and all the kids said, “Look at these!” “Yeah, wow, cool.” “Do you see it? Do you see the dragon?” Yeah, totally see…” I never saw any of those. Some of you did. I have really bad eyes. I don’t know, I can’t focus or something. But the idea is you stare long enough and you weren’t sure what was there, but you keep looking and you keep looking and then [sound effect] it comes alive. In 3D.
That’s what Leviticus is like. All of it, and this chapter in particular, a 3-dimensional, glorious Christ popping out in every feast. He’s the fulfillment of every holy day. He is our Sabbath rest, our Passover Lamb, the firstfruits of the Resurrection to come, the giver of the Spirit’s harvest, the trumpet blast of God’s presence, the scapegoat for our sins, and the One who provides the water of life that we who are pilgrims on earth may know we will one day live forever in our heavenly home. Christ is the fulfillment of each and every one.
What ought you to do in response?
One. You can rest, Sabbath rest is in most of these festivals. That’s something you can do. Slow down. Meditate on Scripture. See Christ in its pages. Pray. Go for a walk. It does not depend on you. Or me. Rest.
But not only rest. Remember. Every other religion has something to do to manipulate the gods to respond or to act. Some thing you need to bring, a sacrifice to make, an obedience to just hope that they will respond in favor, but the Bible, there’s no divine arm twisting with our rituals. There’s nothing in any of these feasts that are then you do this and therefore God has to do that, but they are for remembering, commemorating what He’s done and to give thanks.
Slow down. Rest. Remember.
Finally, rejoice. What an occasion it must have been, these seven days during the Feast of Booths. We have so much more reason to celebrate. There’s many griefs, many sorrows, many fears, many sadnesses, but we of all people on earth should be a happy people, for we know the point of all the feasts. We have more reason to celebrate, we have more reason to feast, we have more reason to have holidays than any other people because we know Christ. We know that a Sabbath rest awaits us. We know the Lamb of God died to deliver us. We know Christ has been raised for us. We know the harvest of souls has begun among us. We know the angels have announced Emmanuel, God is with us. The scapegoat bore the penalty to save us and we can have, by the Holy Spirit, living waters flowing out of us.
What good news.
He was lifted up to die. It is finished, was His cry. Now in heaven exalted high, hallelujah, what a Savior.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, what good, glorious news, and what blessing is ours that we should know Christ. All of Your promises are yes and amen in Him. So it is with joyful and glad hearts that we can sing praises to this man of sorrows, hallelujah, what a Savior. Amen.