Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel. – Exodus 34:23
Celebration was a part of God’s system for His ancient people. In the Old Testament, the Lord established a series of annual celebration feasts, each with an inherent call for His people to assess how they were living in relation to the values that make life effective, fruitful, fulfilled and joyous.
In Exodus 34, we read of the Lord calling Israel to celebrate three special feasts built around the observance of both a day and a week in spring, summer and fall. For each feast, God’s summons is not only for the sake of observance and celebration, but also to establish a principle: That His people would live a life in which (1) God’s miracles are free to work (v. 10); (2) God’s victory is available to work, driving back the works of darkness (v. 11); and (3) God’s security and liberty are maintained so that people are not entrapped by counterproductive, destructive indulgences (v. 12).
By means of these feasts, God establishes a covenant saying, in essence: Celebrate these feasts because I want to prosper and bless you. I want your life to work successfully, and I want to work My miracles among you. Within the context of remembrance, the three feasts each present an opportunity for God’s people to rejoice, to receive and to review.
Rejoice! Celebrate Deliverance and Destiny
A Day: Passover. A Season: Pecach. A Week: Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The first feast focused on rejoicing. At Passover, Israel celebrated their miraculous deliverance by the Lord from the bondage of Egypt. This is probably one of the most well known stories of the Bible, having been depicted in the classic film, “The Ten Commandments.” Their sacrifice of the lamb, and the placing of its blood over their doorways shielded the homes of God’s people from the power of the spirit of death. It also brought about the greatest emancipation in the history of humanity, when the nation of Israel was delivered from their enslavement in Egypt.
Tied to Passover was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was observed for the next seven days. To this day, the season is called Pecach, as the Lord’s people come to rehearse the marvels of His massive deliverance and the prospect of a greater destiny.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread essentially had to do with removing anything from a household that contained leaven. It wasn’t leaven only in terms of the yeast in bread. The feast was a purging of any residue of what could have accumulated and become polluting, something similar to our practice of “spring cleaning.” During this time, the Lord was pointing to anything in our lives that, like unwanted mold, may have become toxic, including practices, relationships or indulgences of our culture. Curiously, we also use the word “culture” to describe the growth of toxic mold. In order to preserve our freedom, it is necessary to guard against compromising “cultures” which will foul our liberty gained in Christ. This is the reason the Bible says in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
When the Bible calls us to the Lord’s way, it calls us to confront the cultural things around us. God’s call to observe and celebrate the milestones of our life is His way of reminding us, My world is different from yours. In fact, the call to celebrate introduces a deeper reality to everything in our present world and to an awareness that He has called us to liberty and freedom. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Father God calls us to celebrate our deliverance by Him and destiny in Him.
Receive! Celebrate Promise and Presence
A Day: First Fruits. A Season: Shavout. A Week: Feast of Pentecost.
The second celebration, the Day of First Fruits, took place when the first samples of the forthcoming crop would appear. They would take a small handful of grain and present it to the Lord, acknowledging Him as their source. Later they would observe the Feast of Weeks, or the Feast of Pentecost. This was 49 days plus one day after Passover—a week of weeks. It’s called Pentecost because 49 days plus one is 50, and pente, from the Latin, means five, or in this case, fifty. The season was called Shavout, which relates to the seven sevens.
In the context of acknowledging God’s goodness at the harvest, they commemorated one thing, and with that, you and I commemorate a second thing today. In the Old Testament, it was 50 days after Israel came out of Egypt that God’s Word was given to them at Sinai. Not only was God honored as the source of their crops, He was also commemorated as the source of wisdom about how to manage every detail of their lives. There was a pattern of blessing He had ordained: The prosperity of their crops would be related to the partnership they had with Him. The summons of the Lord at the Feast of Pentecost was to review and renew partnership with Him.
The second way the occasion is commemorated is that in the New Testament, it was at the celebration of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit was poured out (see Acts 2). The Holy Spirit, who breathed the Word, comes to breathe it in us, as well as give us power to live it out. Through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God promised a day when His laws would not only be inscribed upon tablets of stone, but also upon the human heart. His Holy Spirit in us and enables us to live out His Word with fullness and joy, not just as an observance of regulations. God’s summons to the celebration of His promise is: I am your source, and My ways will work. His summons to celebrate His presence is: I will abide with you, and we will be fruitful together.
Review! Celebrate Repentance and Remembrance
A Day: Atonement. A Season: Sukkot. A Week: Feast of Ingathering.
The third celebration, the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, was separated by a few days from the Feast of Ingathering, also called the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. It was a day of coming before the Lord to review His ways and to repent for any willful or inadvertent violation. Becoming sensitive to the Lord’s dealing with your heart is essential to finding the joy of His way in your life. It can be huge things we need to repent of, or little things (that grow into big things) that have gone untended. The need to repent is not a call to commiserate but a matter of lifestyle. It is about continually discovering things about ourselves and wanting to become the person He intends us to become.
The feast associated with the Day of Atonement was called the Feast of Ingathering, because it was the high point of the fruit harvest. It was also called the Feast of Booths because they built little huts, and the Feast of Tabernacles because they put up little tents. Everybody gathered in Jerusalem for this huge celebration. Children looked forward to it because it meant they slept outside for a week.
Do you remember as a kid how exciting it was to sleep out in the backyard? As an adult, the idea of laying on the ground has no enticement whatsoever. So why did God have them do this? Since it tied so closely to the call to repentance, it was also a call to review the fact that there was once a time when their lives were much more difficult than they are now.
Today the principle is the same. The things we have now are because of what the Lord has done for us. The inconveniences we experience are good reminders to not forget His goodness and become arrogant. This was most aptly summed up several years ago, when Pastor Ralph Torres, one of my sons in Christ, said to me about his own spiritual growth: “Pastor Jack, I have learned that God uses irritation, inconvenience and interruptions to teach me humility.”
God’s call to celebrate is about liberty, prosperity and humility. It’s only by learning the third that you will ever enjoy the first two. Liberty and prosperity, intruded upon by human vanity, rather than sustained by humility before God, will cause your life to backfire one way or another. The Lord set up a series of celebrations in ancient Israel with which He teaches us to this day. If we will learn these things and live in them, we will find a life that has all the fulfillment He intends it to have.
These are the Lord’s ways, and they work. Just keep on growing.