"Read Leviticus 23? You've got to be kidding!"
"Well, are you willing to try something new and different?"
Together, let's experience something about entering into, and celebrating, God's grace.
Why Leviticus 23?
Hopefully, we'll learn useful things about the past, present, and future.
As for your present we'll explore some tools for reading and living the sacred text of the Bible in profitable ways that may be new to you.
As for the future, we will get some glimpses of what God has planned beyond our 'here and now'. As for the past, we'll be introduced to the "feasts of the Lord" and how they can impact our lives for good.
At this point I'm asking you to invest about six or seven minutes reading Leviticus 23 to get a sense of what it's about. Don't worry, you're not going to be killing lambs, burning sacrifices, or building huts in your back yard – but we will be asking what this means for us 'here and now'.
Now that you've listened to Leviticus 23, here are five principles that should help you begin to make sense of what you've heard.
You already know the first principle. You probably use it without thinking.
This principle is sometimes called 'analogous coherence' or 'typology' – but because those are difficult to say, and somewhat misunderstood and misused, we'll just call it 'analogy'.
In simple terms it is recognizing patterns.
For instance, in 1989 the old USSR was defeated in Afghanistan. That conflict was called "Russia's Vietnam." That is an analogy – the recognition of a pattern. In 1975 the powerful American military was defeated by the Vietnamese.
Of course there are differences: the US is different from the USSR; Vietnam from Afghanistan; 1975 from 1989. And yet, you can make out the pattern, the analogy: a powerful military power defeated as it tried to control a smaller, relatively weak country.
When it comes to the feasts, the same principle of analogy applies. Let's use the Passover as an illustration.
Approximately 1,400 B.C. the Passover took place triggering the exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt. It involved each family killing a lamb on the 14th day of the 1st month of the Jewish calendar. The blood of that lamb spread on the door frame of a house became a sign protecting that household from God's judgment.
In or about 54 A.D. the apostle Paul writes to followers of Jesus in southern Greece: "Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7b).
Despite the differences in history, people, geography, and the identity of the 'lamb', Paul recognizes a pattern. There is an analogy between the event of the Passover and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. More on this next week.
This principle of analogy will apply to each of the feasts.
As suggested by the analogy between the event of the Passover and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the seven feasts of Leviticus 23 are ultimately about God’s grace in and through Jesus Christ. As discussed in the last blog, these feasts are shadows – Jesus Christ is the reality. Breaking into Paul’s argument at Colossians 2:16-17 we read:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival [or, feast], a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
So, for example, you are not being asked to sacrifice a lamb – that is only a shadow. Jesus Christ has been crucified as the 'lamb' – Jesus is the reality. As you read about these feasts, be asking how this reveals more of who Jesus is to you.
It may help if you view these feasts as huge object lessons, or parables being acted out – the shadows of the real thing. There is one main object or meaning for each feast, but there are a host of other things we can grasp so we can better understand and appreciate what God is doing through Jesus Christ in human history.
People did not just think about these feasts, they participated in them actively.
Some time ago I quoted Paul Stevens of Regent College: "we don't have a soul, we are a soul; we don't have a body, we are a body." In this we discern the effect of the activities of soul upon the body, and the actions of the body upon the soul.
There is something profound about the actions of the body being engaged in worship and in celebrating God's grace. It is no accident that baptism involves the immersion of the physical body in physical water; that the Lord's Supper involves the physical handling, eating, and drinking of physical bread and wine.
This study is intended to draw us into celebrating God’s grace in very real ways.
Note when these feasts occur in the Jewish calendar.
In broad brush strokes, these feasts paint God’s program for his people throughout history. Thus, for instance, as we explore the Passover event in Egypt, the ultimate reality of that feast is the historical event of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. How does that ultimate reality impact your life?
We will observe that four of these feasts (the first being the Passover) are in the Spring. They have already been fulfilled in and through the first coming of Jesus Christ.
The last three of these feasts are in the Fall (the seventh month of the Jewish calendar). They have yet to be fulfilled in and through the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Note how long these feasts are.
Five of these feasts are one day events; two are seven (perhaps eight) days in duration. It appears that a one day feast is ultimately fulfilled in one historical event; a seven day feast is fulfilled in life-long practices.
Again, for example, the one day feast of the Passover is fulfilled in the specific historical event of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; the seven day feast of Unleavened Bread is fulfilled in the life-long practice of holiness in God’s people. One writer observes that:
"These one-day feasts all point to certain great acts of [Lord's] hand, certain definite transactions of his, perfect and complete in themselves, whereas those feasts which were of seven and eight-day continuance, point to the outcome of these acts, and their results in blessing to the people of God."
In summary, the five principles that you will find helpful in guiding your understanding of these feasts are:
1. Analogy – discerning patterns between different events or experiences.
2. Shadows vs. reality – the feasts are shadows; Jesus is the reality.
3. Physical engagement – not only spiritual activities, but also bodily actions.
4. Time of feast – the first four feasts were fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus Christ; the remainder will be fulfilled in his second coming.
5. Length of feast – a one day feast is fulfilled in a specific historical event; a seven day feast is fulfilled in a way of living (i.e., every day of the week).
As we embark on this exploration of the Feasts of the Lord, let's anticipate experiencing something about entering into, and celebrating, God's grace.
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