Archive for the ‘The Gospel’ Category

Not Even One Righteous?

romans-3_10

We have a friend in our fellowship who often says, “All doesn’t always mean all.”  I’ve had a good time jesting with him about it, but I didn’t clearly understand what he meant until today when I had a personal encounter with this phenomenon.

I was curled up on my bathroom floor with my Bible. (Yes, it sounds like a strange place to read, but it was warm and cozy on the carpet in there, and I could turn the light on without risk of waking anyone else.)  I had just prayed that God would open His word to me and teach me something new.  Then I began the book of Romans. My faith is still often so small, because I was floored when I realized He heard me and had responded within minutes.  What an awesome God we serve!

The main revelation came as I read this well-known passage in Romans 3:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (quoting from Psalm 14:1-3)

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” (quoting from Psalm 5:9)

“The venom of asps is under their lips.” (quoting from Psalm 140:3)

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” (quoting from Psalm 10:7)

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” (quoting from Proverbs 1:16, 3:15-17)

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (quoting from Psalm 36:1)

How I Have Historically Understood These Verses

These verses seem to say that every human being is unrighteous.  Not one person understands.  Not one seeks for God. Not one does good.

The Problem

But I’ve always had a problem reconciling this passage with others like these:

  • “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous.” (Hebrews 11:4)
  • “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.  Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9)
  • “And they (Zechariah and Elizabeth) were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6)

If no humans are righteous and none seek after God, how do we explain Abel, Noah, Zechariah and Elizabeth?

The Context of Romans

As I reflected on what Paul had been talking about in the first three chapters of this book, something began to click.

He’s been talking about ungodly, unrighteous people who suppress the truth.  And he’s been directing his audiences’ attention to the fact that these ungodly people aren’t just Gentiles. Sure, some of them are Gentiles.  Some sin without the law and will perish without the law (Romans 2:12).  But there are also those Gentiles who, though they don’t have the full law, recognize enough truth in the things that have been made and do what the law requires (Romans 1:20 and 2:14).  On the other hand, there are plenty of people who do have the law and don’t do it (Romans 2:17-24).  Jews were not immune to being unrighteous evildoers, as it seems some of them supposed.

“Are we Jews any better off?” Paul asks in 3:9. “No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written.”

He then goes on to present those various quotes, mostly from Psalms.

It seemed to me that one of Paul’s main points was that unrighteous evildoers are made up of both Jews and Greeks. So, was he really trying to say that all humans are worthless, unrighteous, and unable to do good? Or was he trying to say that all groups of people – both Jews and Greeks – have unrighteous evildoers among them?

I figured I could probably gain some insight by going back to the psalms Paul quoted. I was interested to know whether David believed that every human being is worthless.  Did he believe that not one person understands? That not one seeks for God?

David’s Perspective in Psalm 14

I started with the first reference Paul made, Psalm 14:1-3.

It begins:

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”

Interesting! David is specifying a group of people – fools.  Maybe what Paul and David were trying to say was that among the fools, there is none who does good.

I continued to read.

“The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Hmm… Maybe my theory was wrong after all.  David seems to be saying every human, all the children of men, are corrupt.

I continued.

“Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD?

Aha! There it was again! He started off defining the group of corrupt people as fools, and now he’s defining them as the evildoers.  But, is there another group of non-evildoers or is he classifying the whole human race in this category?

I continue again.

“There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.  You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.”

There it is!  There are two distinct groups – the evildoing fools and the righteous.

But What About Psalm 5?

I went to the next psalm Paul quoted.  Psalm 5:4 gave me more clues :

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”

So David is presenting this group of evildoers again.  But are all humans a part of this group?

“But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.”

A few verses later, David says,

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.”

How beautiful! David doesn’t count himself among this group of evildoers.  In fact, he counts himself among the righteous.  They are not righteous because of their merit, but because they love the name of the Lord and because they take refuge in him. They will enter God’s house because of God’s abundant, steadfast love. Stunning!

At this point I was pretty confident that when David said they all had turned aside, he didn’t actually mean all. He meant that all of the fools had turned aside.

The Rest of the Psalms

The rest of the psalms that Paul quoted supported this understanding.  There were always two groups.  One group was full of arrogant, evil, lying, bloodthirsty, deceitful, boastful, violent people who renounced the name of Yahweh.  The other cried for mercy, valued the steadfast love of God, took refuge in the shadow of His wings, and knew that light and life were found with God.

Conclusion

Unless further study sheds additional light on these verses, I believe that Paul and David were not saying that every single human is unrighteous and worthless.  They were saying that every single fool is unrighteous and worthless.

Paul was trying to get the Jews to see that they were not immune from being unrighteous. And Gentiles were not automatically unrighteous.  Just as both can be under sin, so can both receive the blessing of having their sins covered (Romans 4:7-12) Both can be established in righteousness through faith in the Messiah (Romans 3:21-26).

Maybe we’ve been fools at one time, but we have the ability to change camps. We can join the camp of righteous Abel, Noah, Zechariah, and Elizabeth.  We can cry out for mercy, take refuge in the shadow of His wings, find the steadfast love of God, and receive light and life that belong to the Almighty through the blood of the perfect Lamb who took away the sins of the world.

What a merciful God! What a beautiful gospel!

Woven Scripture

I love it when all the different parts of scripture the kids and I read each day end up weaving together to paint a perfect and beautiful picture. Check this out:

Last week, in Deuteronomy 28 and 29, we read about the blessings that would come to God’s people if they loved Him and obeyed His instructions.  We also read about the curses that would come to them if they stopped loving God and disobeyed His instructions – curses like losing wars, not having rain or enough food, being sick, etc.

Today, in 1 Kings 8, we read Solomon’s prayer as he was dedicating the newly built temple. He spoke of a future time when God’s children would be defeated in war, lack rain, experience famine, and disease because they sinned against God’s instructions.  They would experience the curses God promised in Deuteronomy, but Solomon asked God to hear the people’s prayers when they repented by confessing their sins and walking rightly before Him again in love.

And then, we read 1 John 1:7-9. Verse 9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He’s saying just what Solomon said!

Is that not cool?!

We are God’s children, the children of Israel. The Bible is the story of every believer.  It hasn’t changed, except that we can now see a few things clearly.

  • We can see the means by which our heavenly Father forgives us – the blood of the spotless Lamb, Yeshua.
  • And we can see the means by which He cleanses us from all unrighteousness – the Spirit that Ezekiel prophesied would empower us to walk in His statutes and to carefully obey His rules (Ezek 36:27).

HalleluYAH!

What’s up with the all the crazy talk? (Eleven things I now believe)

According to Reformed standards, I’ve officially gone mad.

With all of this talk of loving the law and keeping feast days and all of the other weird stuff on this blog lately, I know I’ve alienated some of you.

You may be totally bewildered and at a complete loss for words, or you may be totally opposed to everything you’ve read and are unwilling to engage in a conversation because you’re convinced I’m beyond hope. Or maybe you’re just curious about exactly what I believe now.

What You May Be Thinking

I have a guess as to what you may be thinking because I used to think the same things when I heard others talk like I’m now talking.

You might think I’m placing myself under a yoke of slavery. You might be worried that I’m trying to be justified by works of the law. You might fear that in my foolishness, after starting with the Spirit, I am trying to be perfected by the flesh. You may believe that I have placed myself under a curse by relying on works of the law.

I’m hoping that by sharing the understanding I have now, it’ll assure you that none of those things are true.

What This Shift in Understanding Has Done for Me

In the following list of eleven beliefs I now hold, you’ll notice that some things fit exactly in line with what any good-reformed-minded-person thinks, while others don’t quite.  The things that don’t quite fit that reformed mindset are the pieces to the puzzle that were missing for me for so long.  Having them in place has blown open the word to me in these last several months.

And I mean blown open.  I have been reading like crazy, and what’s greater, I’ve been understanding what I’m reading in a way I never have before.

I’m guessing at least some of you know what I mean.  You read through Isaiah or Deuteronomy or Zephaniah because it’s part of your Bible reading plan.  You find some cool verses here and there.  But ultimately, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to your life. There’s not much connecting those books to the vital “meat” of the New Testament.

That’s how it was for me, anyway.  There was a disconnect between the Old Testament and the New that always left me uneasy.  But I praise my God and Savior that it is not that way anymore!

So, without further ado, here’s how I see things now.

Eleven Things I Now Believe

This is not an exhaustive list of beliefs, but it covers the biggies and will hopefully answer a lot of questions.

1) The Savior was the word made flesh.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

This is perhaps one of the most critical clarifications that I have come to see in the scriptures: The written law and our Savior were not two separate things.  Our Savior is the written word in the flesh.

He lived a sinless life, walking out the law of God perfectly, both in letter and in spirit. He taught and displayed the law in its fullness, as it was always intended to be.  He stripped away the fences that man had erected to “protect” the law, which actually hindered people from properly understanding it.  He dismantled the traditions that had overturned the law. He even went so far as to commend those who would teach the law without relaxing even the least of its commandments (Matthew 5:17-19).

Because the law reveals God’s very nature so that by knowing the law we know Him (Jer 9:3, 5-6, 13-14), our Savior, who embodied the law in perfection, was the visible manifestation of the invisible God (Col 1:15).

2) We are saved freely by grace through faith.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8)

After He restored the law to its proper state and demonstrated perfect obedience to it, He then bore the penalty we deserved for abandoning and spurning it.  The sinless Messiah took the punishment we deserve for our disobedience to God’s instructions. Because of His atoning death, we can be fully reconciled with our Father (Is 53, John 1:29). We cannot do any works that will compel God to save us (Rom 3:20). Our faith in the Savior’s atoning death and resurrection three days later is what reconciles us to the Father. But the story doesn’t end here…

3) Being reconciled to the Father means being grafted into the olive tree of Israel, God’s chosen people.

“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:12-13)

This is one of the other main clarifications I’ve come to see: If we remain separate from Israel, we remain strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God.  But praise Him that we are no longer stranger and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God! Citizenship is granted to us through the blood of Christ (Eph 2:12-13, 19). We, who were once not a people (Hosea 1:8-10, 2 Peter 2:10), are grafted into His people Israel (Romans 11).

Genetic connection to Israel doesn’t equate to citizenship in Israel (Matthew 3:9), nor does lack of genetic connection prevent citizenship (Ruth). Citizenship in Israel is open to all.

4) Citizens of Israel show their fear and love for God by following His everlasting teaching and instructions.

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deut 10:12-13)

The instruction was given to all 12 tribes of Israel and the mixed multitude who joined themselves with Israel (Ex 12:37-38). It was not given just to the tribe of Judah, otherwise known as the Jews. The law was always (“forever throughout your generations”) meant for both the native and the foreigners (Num 15:15).

Once I understood that my Savior was the written word made flesh and that I was part of Israel – the body of people to whom the written words were given and to whom the Savior was sent – those written words took on a much more critical importance for me.

5) The instructions, originally written down by Moses, were not an impossible standard set by God simply to show His people how wickedly deficient they were.

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deut 30:11-14)

This was one of the other major game-changers for me.  I remember coming across this verse in my reading one day and being completely shocked.  I had always believed, and been taught, that the law’s purpose was to show us that striving after it would avail us nothing – that God’s standards were impossibly high.  But this verse tells a completely different story. From God’s own mouth we hear that the law is not too hard or far-off.  It is close and it can be done.

6) The instructions were a manifestation of God’s merciful kindness for creating a set-apart people who benefited from the Creator’s magnificent wisdom and who would serve as a light to all nations.

“See ,I have taught you statues and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statues, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statues and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today.” (Deut 4:5-8)

Among other things, God’s instructions were given to them for their good (Deut. 6:24), to provide them with wisdom (Deut 4:6-8) and to prolong their days (Deut 4:40).

7) These instructions were never intended for salvation, but were given to an already-redeemed people to show them how already-redeemed people should live.

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” (Deut 15:15)

Passover (the day Israel was redeemed by the blood of the lamb – Ex 12) preceded Pentecost (the day God spoke His instructions to Israel – Ex 19-20).   God had already rescued His people from death before He spoke the Torah to them.

We should obey those instructions not because we are constrained or fearful, but because we delight in the law-giver and treasure His grace and wisdom (Psalm 119). We should position ourselves as already loved children who obey our Father, not because we want to win His affections but because we are overwhelmed with His affection.  Our obedience doesn’t secure our salvation, it demonstrates it (James 2:14-26).

Those who use the law as a means to be saved (or justified) before God show that they do not understand its true purpose. They are severed from the Word and thereby severed from the Word made flesh (Gal 5:4).

(Many of you might find this similar reformed perspective very interesting.)

8) With the New Covenant gift of the Holy Spirit, the law of God gets written on our hearts.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:31-33)

This was yet another clarification that made a big difference in my understanding: The spirit and the law work together, not separately.

The giving of the Holy Spirit, which writes God’s instructions on our heart, doesn’t mean that we can now disregard the words of the law.  To the contrary, we uphold the law (Rom 3:31). The Spirit causes us to walk in the Father’s statutes and to carefully observe His ordinances (Ezek 36:27). The Spirit enables us to follow the Savior and to walk as He walked (John 8:12, Col 2:6). Again, this walking is not what saves us. It simply evidences our faith, trust, and love (James 2:14-26).

Interestingly, the New Covenant was promised to only the House of Israel (northern 10 tribes) and the House of Judah (southern 2 tribes). This again shows us how important citizenship in Israel is.

9) Salvation sets us free from sin.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Rom 6:22)

We are free from sin in two ways:

As we talked about earlier, when Christ died our death we were freed from the law of sin and death. We no longer owe the penalty of sin, which is death (Rom 8:1-2).

We are also now free from lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).  We are no longer slaves to breaking the law.  Now we are slaves to righteousness. We are obedient from the heart to the law of God (Rom 6:16-18).

10) No one person or group has arrived in perfection.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14)

All true children are still growing, learning, and being corrected in various ways. The Father doesn’t write the instructions in our hearts all at once, just as the Savior didn’t reveal all things to His disciples all at once. He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). We serve a merciful, patient God who leads us gently into a deeper, more intimate knowledge of Him and His ways. He works with us over our lifetimes to conform us to the image of His son (Rom 8:29) and promises to bring us to completion (Phil 1:6). Praise Him!

The Father has children in many different places and in many different stages of understanding (Phil 3:15-16). This is why we must walk in a manner worthy of our calling and bear with one another with humility, patience, love, and unity (Eph 4:1-3).

11) The Bible is the tool that provides our ongoing teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)

It’s interesting to note that the only scriptures that existed when Paul penned these words to Timothy were the Old Testament ones. We need to hear and appreciate what Paul is saying: The Old Testament scriptures – the law, prophets, and the writings – were breathed out by God.  They are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I believe that the New Testament is also part of the total revelation God intended for His children.  The Bible, including both Old and New Testaments, is the ultimate authority in a believer’s life.  In its original form, they are the inspired word of God (1 Thes 2:13, 2 Peter1:21). Because thousands of years, at least one language, and an entire cultural chasm separate us from the original text, we have to work diligently to be sure that we properly understand the original words and meaning.

I think that the writings of Paul have been particularly susceptible to misinterpretation because of this distance of time, language, and culture. Peter warned people in his own day, who spoke the same language and lived in the same culture to handle Paul’s writings carefully lest they fall into lawlessness (2 Peter 3:15-17). If they ran the risk of misunderstanding Paul, how much more do we?

(If Paul is of particular interest to you, you may like these posts: Paul’s (Dueling?) Perspective on the Law, or Reconciling Paul – Laying the Foundations)

Did that answer questions or just bring up new ones?

Aaand that sums up some of the biggies of this new way of thinking.

I realize that while this may have answered some questions it probably brought up many more. As always, I invite your questions, challenges,  and perspective.  I have not arrived in perfection or to a fullness of knowledge.  I’m just trying to be faithful to test everything to the word and to stand firm in truth.

Like I said in another post, as the Spirit  saturates my mind and heart with more truth, my understanding of the Word is constantly being tweaked and clarified.  The Father uses others to help do this tweaking and clarifying work.  So please, offer insights, ask questions, or share concerns if you have them. I am blessed by all who walk alongside me to sharpen, challenge, and encourage me.

Biblical Feast Days: For Today?

This is the conclusion of the Biblical Feast Day series that began here.

This series has attempted to answer lots of questions about the feast days.  But now that we’ve processed through all of those, we’re faced with new questions:

  • Are the feast days required for today?
  • Is it wrong, sinful, or dishonoring to God to not observe them?
  • Do we have freedom in Christ choose whether or not to keep the holy days?

These are important questions, ones I spent about a decade wrestling with. To answer them I’d like to line up the conclusions I’ve drawn for each post in this series.

Reviewing the Series to Answer These Questions

If we belong to the Lord, then the feast days belong to us and we should keep them joyfully. The feast days belong to the Lord.  He passed them to His people, Israel.  The people of Israel have always included all 12 tribes (not just the tribe of Judah, otherwise known as the Jews) as well as all any foreigner who chose to follow God. Followers of the Savior are part of Israel, which throughout all of scripture is the group of people for which salvation and membership in the kingdom is provided.

If we want to walk as the Savior walked, we should keep the feasts. Not only did the Savior keep the days, but New Testament disciples (both Jew and non-Jew disciples) kept the days even long after the Savior was resurrected from the dead.

Since we’ll be celebrating them in the future, we should keep them now. There is simply no scriptural evidence of the feast days coming to an end.  To the contrary, a few are mentioned by name as continuing even past the Savior’s second coming! 

If we want to walk in the commandments of God instead of nullifying them by the traditions of men, we should keep the feasts.  The feast days only ended because traditions of men nullified the commandments of God, something our Savior often spoke against.

The feast days serve as eternal memorials for the great things God has done for His people throughout history, so we should gladly keep them. He saved us by the blood of the lamb, delivered us from bondage with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, provided a harvest, and more!

AND…

Half of the feast days have yet to be fulfilled prophetically, so we should still keep them with great anticipation of what is still to come.  The spring feast days prophetically pointed to His first coming and the fall feast days prophetically point to His second coming. The Savior perfectly synchronized the saving work of His first coming with the spring feast days. He died as the Passover lamb on Passover, rose from the dead on the Firstfruits, and poured out His Spirit in a powerful way on Pentecost. Given how perfectly He fulfilled the spring holy days, shouldn’t we also expect Him to perfectly fulfill the fall holy days?  As long as we are still waiting on His second coming, the feast days hold critically important value for us.

Conclusion

So, yes, I believe all of God’s people should remember His set-apart feast days, even today.

But I know my primary audience, hearing about a “requirement,” most likely has warning bells, flags, and verses written by Paul that seem to be completely contrary to my conclusion flashing in their brains right now.

I want to say a couple of words to those of you in that group before I end this post.

Didn’t Paul call these days “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world?”

One particular verse that  you may be thinking of to question my conclusion is this:

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” (Galatians 4:8-11)

Does this mean that the days and months and seasons and years given by God in the law (Torah) are “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world?”  That’s the way we usually read it, but does this interpretation fit with the rest of scripture?

I’ve written about my understanding of how to reconcile Paul to the rest of scripture in another post. But for this particular section of scripture, I found another helpful post.  If this verse hinders you from observing the Biblical feast days, I encourage you to explore this passage further.

Two things I’m not saying

I also want to be clear about what I’m not saying when I say that I believe the days should be kept by all believers today.

1) I am not insinuating that people who are not keeping the feasts are not truly His people.

I still have plenty of things to learn and plenty of ways to be conformed to the image of my Savior. Just because I keep the feasts does not mean that I have arrived in perfection. All true children are still growing, learning, and being corrected in various ways.

The Father doesn’t write the instructions in our hearts all at once, just as the Savior didn’t reveal all things to His disciples all at once. He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) We serve a merciful, patient God who leads us gently into a deeper, more intimate knowledge of Him and His ways. He works with us over our lifetimes to conform us to the image of His son (Rom 8:29) and promises to bring us to completion (Phil 1:6). Praise Him!

2) I am not attacking salvation by grace.

Keeping feasts will not earn salvation any more than remaining faithful to your spouse will earn salvation. The obedience our Savior requires does not secure our salvation, it just demonstrates it.

The obedience that He requires is never a heavy, burdensome, favor-seeking kind of thing.  He doesn’t want us to obey because we are constrained or fearful, but because we delight in the law-giver and treasure His grace and wisdom. We position ourselves as already-loved children who obey our Father, not because we want to win His affections but because we are overwhelmed with His affection. We obey His instructions because we adore Him, because we want to be like Him, because we want to walk as He walked.

These precious days, like all of His instructions, are a gift to us.  We should position ourselves to receive all we can from His wise and mighty hand.

Biblical Feast Days: Prophetic Rehearsals in the Fall Days?

This is a continuation of the Biblical Feast Day series that began here. So far in the series, we’ve explored answers to several questions relating to the feast days.  You can find those questions as well as links to the conclusions I’ve drawn from scripture by going back to the introduction post linked above.

In the last post we saw that the day the Passover lamb was sacrificed for the Israelites in Egypt was the same day that our Savior was killed hundreds of years later.  We saw that the day God spoke his law for the Israelites on Mt. Sinai was the same day that He poured out His Holy Spirit hundreds of years later.  The parallels went on and on.

I grew up keeping the feasts, so I knew the parallels of the spring feast days to our Savior’s first coming. But for some reason, it was only last year that a new realization revolutionized my view of the necessity of the feast days.  Before I reveal that realization, it might help to give a short back-story.

Some Personal Back-Story

Like I said, I grew up keeping the feasts.  I loved the rich meaning and Biblical origins of our celebrations.  Nonetheless, there was a self-righteouness and a lack of fruit that caused me to turn from the church in which I had grown up.  I met my future husband who was a “regular” believer.  We (well, mostly I) wrestled through our differences in practice for a long time.  We visited lots of different churches – some Sabbath ones, lots of “regular” ones.  Neither of us felt at home until we ended up landing in a “regular” Christian church where we spent the next decade of our lives.

During this decade, I reasoned away the necessity of feast-keeping.  I spiritualized their meaning and trivialized their practices. Things were going okay for a while.  My secret inner struggle was held reasonably in check.  That is, until I reconnected with an old friend who opened up those questions I had suppressed for so long.  Suddenly my inner struggle became my inner nuclear war.  The battle raged until I came to a spot where I finally felt free to listen to my “inner count” instead of trying desperately to suppress it.

It was during this new listening phase that I encountered the revolutionary realization I mentioned earlier. It was this:

If the Savior precisely and perfectly fulfilled each of the spring feast days during His first coming, would He not also precisely and perfectly fulfill each of the fall feast days during His second coming?

Relevance of the Feast Days Today

Suddenly, the feast days became something that couldn’t be spiritualized away.  As long as we are still waiting on the second coming our King, the days still hold great significance.

The spring feast days were prophetic rehearsals of His first coming.  They launched the priestly calendar.  At His first coming His purpose was to set up superior priesthood as our perfect high Priest. He came as the humble servant, Messiah ben Joseph (son of Joseph).

In the same way, the fall feast days are prophetic rehearsals of His second coming. They will launch the civil/governmental calendar. At His second coming, His purpose will be to set up the supreme government in a perfect kingdom. He will come as the conquering King, Messiah ben David (son of David).

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

(Isaiah 9:6-7)

It goes something like this:

Image by Bruce Timpany

I can’t say that I know for a fact that the future events listed in the chart above will happen exactly as it says.  But I believe with all my heart that He will come again, that He will reign as King over the earth one day.  And I believe with all of my heart that He will finish the work of redeeming and restoring the earth in perfect sync with His feast days.

But what about all the talk of that day coming like a thief in the night?

One of the first responses you might have to this post is to say, “Okay, Erika.  I see what you’re saying about how Jesus perfectly fulfilled the spring feast days.  But we can’t possibly know that He will return on one of the fall feast days because the scripture says the day of His return will come like a thief in the night.”

Interestingly, the day only comes like a thief for those who are not aware of the feast days.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

This may seem a bit tedious, but a quick word study here will bring to light a massively important point Paul is trying to make.  The word for seasons here is the Greek “kairon,” (Strongs #2540) which is directly related to the Hebrew word “moed” (Strongs #4150).  The word “moedim” is used to refer to the Lord’s feast days.  They are His appointed times.

Did you process that?  It’s HUGE!

Paul is saying that he doesn’t need to teach them again about the Lord’s feast days.  They already know about them.  And this knowledge will keep them from being in the dark.  The day of the Savior’s return will not overtake them like a thief in the night, because they know about the appointed times already.  They are in the light and they will not be surprised.

This is just like the warning given to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-3.

I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

He will come as a thief only to those who are not remembering and keeping His ways.

Oh, friends! I am positive that I have only just begun to unpack the parallels that God has built into history.  He has given so many events to serve as types so that we would recognize bigger things and see so many details in his perfection that we would otherwise miss if we didn’t study the foreshadowing types.

Every major event in Biblical history occurred on a feast day. The precise dates of Noah’s Ark landing on Mt. Ararat, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, the birth of the Word made flesh, His death, burial and resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, are all prime examples of God’s faithfulness to His appointed times and seasons. Proper recognition of these special days of memorial is being restored to the body as a vital part of worship and celebration.

Conclusion

When we see how perfectly He fulfilled the meanings of the spring feast days, which prophesied of his first coming, we anticipate how perfectly he will fulfill the fall feast days, which prophesy of His second coming.  Since half of the feast days have yet to be fulfilled prophetically, we should still keep them with great anticipation of what is still to come.

Further Study

Here are two videos you can explore for further study.

This 20 minute video provides a wonderful, quick recap of what we’ve covered so far and introduces the prophetic elements of the fall feast days. The first 3 minutes and 30 seconds are introduction.


And here is a more in-depth video on the feast days. I love how systematic and orderly Jim Staley’s teachings are.

As I said in the last post, if you don’t think you can make it through an hour and 42 minute teaching, please consider at least watching some.  Here’s the breakdown of what he covers and when.

  • In the first 26 minutes he answers some honest questions head-on that most Christians have when approaching this topic, like: If I’m saved and already know the Savior, why should I study the feasts? Aren’t they just for the Jews? Didn’t the shadows end at the coming of the Messiah?
  • Then he touches on Holidays/Holy Days and the value of cyclical traditions.
  • Somewhere around the 40th minute he talks about the meaning of the word “prepare.”
  • Around the 45th minute he does a 10 minute teaching about the words “appointed times” and “seasons.” These are very important words to understand!
  • In the 52nd minute he begins talking about the spring feast days.
  • At the 1:10 mark he begins talking about the fall feast days.


Happy studying! 🙂

Biblical Feast Days: Prophetic Rehearsals in the Spring Days?

This is a continuation of the Biblical Feast Day series that began here. So far in the series, we’ve explored answers to several questions relating to the feast days.  You can find those questions as well as links to the conclusions I’ve drawn from scripture by going back to the introduction post linked above.

(Note that Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication, is not a feast day given by God, but a remembrance of a historical event mentioned in the New Testament in John 10:22-23.)

Now, I want to turn to the days themselves.  We’ll start with the spring feast days.  What exactly are they? When do they happen? And more, importantly, are there prophetic meanings to these days?

The Savior Himself said that the law and the prophets spoke of Him (Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44-45).  Paul said that the substance of the feast days was Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

So, I want to jump right in and show some of the ways the spring feast days spoke of Him.  We’ll look at parallels between the instructions regarding the spring feast days and the Savior’s first coming.

Please don’t gloss over these parallels.  They are purposeful and exact by God’s design.  Our understanding of the precise fulfillment of these spring days will affect our understanding of the fall feast days when we get there.

Passover
14th day of the first month (Leviticus 23:5)

  • Lamb without blemish was selected on the 10th day (Exodus 12:3).
  • Our Savior, the Passover Lamb, entered Jerusalem on the 10th day. (John 12:1 says six days before the Passover. This would have been the 9th day of the first month. Then John 12:12 says the next day they entered Jerusalem. This would have been the 10th day of the first month.)
  • Lamb was held for 4 days, presumably partly to ensure its perfection (Exodus 12:6).
  • Our Savior endured inspection for the next four days proving His perfection (Matthew 22:15-46, Luke 23:4).
  • A morning sacrifice was commanded (Exodus 29:38-39). It was made at the third hour, or 9am.
  • At the third hour, our Savior was crucified (Mark 15:25).
  • An evening sacrifice was commanded (Exodus 29:38-39). It was made at the ninth hour, or 3pm.
  • Our Savior breathed his last at the ninth hour (Luke 23:44-46).


Unleavened Bread

15th – 21st days of first month (Leviticus 23:6-8)

  • No leaven was to be found in any of the houses (Exodus 12:19).
  • Our Savior helped in cleaning the leaven (sin/incorrect teachings) out of His Father’s house when he cleared the temple (Matthew 21:12).
  • Anyone who ate anything with leaven in it must be cut off (Exodus 12:15,19).
  • Our Savior who was without sin (symbolized by leaven), became sin (became leavened) for us and was cut off on our behalf (Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, God delivered his people out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 26:8, Exodus 13:3).
  • With a strong hand and outstretched arms (literally), our Savior had delivered his people from the present evil age (Galatians 1:3-5)
  • The Egyptians buried their firstborns on the 15th day of the month (Numbers 33:3-4).
  • The Father buried His firstborn the evening of the 14th, when the 15th day officially began (Matthew 27:57-60). [Remember that on God’s calendar, days begin and end at sunset.]


First Fruits

Day after Sabbath during Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:9-14)

  • First fruits of the harvest were to be presented to God on the day after the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:10-11).
  • Our Savior rose from the dead as the first fruit of God’s harvest on the day after the Sabbath (Matthew 28:1).
  • The purpose of presenting the first fruits was so that the people may be accepted (Leviticus 23:10-11).
  • Our Savior’s resurrection from the dead on this day confirmed that His sacrifice was accepted, insured that those in Him also would be accepted, and served as a pledge that the rest of the harvest would be realized and would rise at their appointed time (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).


The Counting of the Omer between Firstfruits and Pentecost

(this is not an actual feast day, but a time to determine when the next feast day will fall)
(Leviticus 23:15-16)

  • Starting on the feast of first fruits, the Israelites were commanded to count 50 days (Leviticus 23:15-16).
  • It was during this counting that our Savior made all of His post-resurrection appearances:
    • to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on the first day of the count (Matthew 28:9-10)
    • to two disciples as they were on the road to Emmaus also on the first day of the count (Luke 24:13-35)
    • to the 11 disciples in Galilee on the evening of the first day of the count (Matthew 28:16-17, John 20:19)
    • to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-14)
    • to the disciples on the fortieth day of the count (Acts 1:3)
During the last appearance, He instructed them to stay in Jerusalem for a few days longer so that they would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  This happened (not coincidentally) on the day of Pentecost, which happened ten days later, on the 50th day of the count.


Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)

50 days after First Fruits
(Leviticus 23:15-21)

  • God began speaking His instructions, the law (Exodus 19). The people couldn’t bear to hear any more, so they asked Moses to be their intermediary (Exodus 20:18-21). Moses received the rest of the instructions by himself and brought them back written on tablets of stone.
  • God gave his spirit, writing his words directly on willing, fleshy hearts (Acts 2:1-5 fulfilling Jeremiah 31:31-33, Ezekiel 36:27)
  • Three thousand were killed for their disobedience to the word. (Exodus 32:28)
  • Three thousand were saved by their faith in the word. (Acts 2:41)


Conclusion

I find it incredible that God created set-apart days to mark His Son’s death (Passover), burial (Unleavened Bread) and resurrection (Firstfruits) thousands of years before the our Savior was ever born. Believers who had faith in a future Messiah kept the days in hopeful anticipation of their fulfillment. We can celebrate these same God-given days today in joyful remembrance of their fulfillment. What an amazing, precious thing!

Further Study

Here is a great video introducing the spring feast days.  I love the gentleness, grace, and joy conveyed by the speaker, Mark Biltz, in this message. Add on top of that wonderful scriptural connections and this is one great message!

If you don’t feel like you can make it through an hour long video, I encourage you to at least watch some.

In the first eight minutes he covers the major verses where information is given regarding the Lord’s feast days and digs into the original language to offer some great insight to them. I have linked to the Strong’s definitions below if you want to check them out for yourself.

By the conclusion of the 13th minute, he has finished summing up the spring feast days.

He spends the rest of the video revealing Messiah in the spring feast days, showing the prophetic meanings in both the instructions given by God and in the traditions used by God’s people throughout the generations to keep the commandments.


Season/Feast – Moed (Strong’s #4150) = an appointment. Not seasons as we typically think of them (spring, summer, fall, winter), but divine appointments.

Signs – Oth (Strongs #226) = a signal.

Convocation – Miqra (Strong’s #4744) = a rehearsal.  These feast days are dress rehearsals.

In the next post, we’ll look at the prophetic nature of the fall feast days.

A look at seven biblical covenants and what they mean for us today

My family receives a magazine called Yavoh each month.  It’s always fun for me to read articles included in it.  Though I don’t always agree with everything written, I appreciate many scriptural connections it brings to light. I have come to see that many men have good insights into the Word, and few can possibly agree on every matter.  It is up to every believer to test everything we read, hear, and see to the Word of God.  We must be willing to let incorrect words we encounter from men to fall away so that only the Word of God stands.

With that disclaimer made, I wanted to highlight an article included in the October 2011 issue that fascinated me. It was based on Romans 9:4-5:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The article addressed each of the seven underlined sections above. The whole thing was enlightening, but one particular section struck me more than the others.  It was about the covenants contained in Scripture.  I am going to re-post that section in this post, but you can read the full article here. (Scripture references and emphasis were added by me.)

Many Christians have been taught there are only two covenants: the Old and the New. However, Scripture tells a much different story. There are not two covenants, there are seven. Only the book of Hebrews and Christians lump the first four together and call them “old.” Let’s review those covenants.

God made His first covenant with Adam. He would have to labor by sweat and his wife would bear children in travail (Genesis 3:16-19). The world we live in today is the same that was for Adam and Eve with sweat and travail. This covenant remains to this day.

God made a covenant with Noah at the conclusion of the great flood. God judged the world by water then, but He promised Noah that He would never judge the world by water again (Genesis 9:8-17). To seal this covenant, God placed a bow in the sky for everyone to see. We call it a rainbow. To this day, a rainbow means exactly as it did when God showed it to Noah for the first time. God is still promising not to judge the world by water. The Remnant today is reminded of God’s promise every time they see it as well. This covenant remains to this day.

God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8), Issac (Genesis 26:1-5), and Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15). This covenant included the promise of a kingdom. The kingdom is defined by three things: the land of the kingdom, the servants of the kingdom, and the King of the kingdom. Abraham was shown the land of the kingdom, the land of Israel. Abraham was promised a son. Isaac was the first of those promised sons. Finally, Abraham himself promised the “Lamb of God” who would be the king (Genesis 22:8). This is the same place that Abraham offered Isaac, where God placed His name – Mount Moriah at Jerusalem. You cannot be the Remnant of Israel unless you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as your fathers and yourself as their promised descendant (Ephesians 2:12-13, 19). This covenant remains to this day.

God made a covenant with Moses and the children of Israel when they left Egypt. This covenant was made at Mount Sinai where God gave His commandments. This is when He made the Sabbath to be a sign between the children of Israel and Himself. God defined this covenant as eternal extending to all generations (Exodus 31:12-18). The Remnant of Israel may be small at times, but they remain to this day. This covenant also remains to this day.

God made a covenant with King David (2 Samuel 7:1-17). It involved the city of Jerusalem, the temple mount, and the permanent alter where the temple was built. While David did not build the temple, he was responsible to acquire the land and the materials. David was also promised that a son from him would be the Messiah. It was the “son of David” Solomon who actually constructed the temple in Jerusalem. In the same way, it was the “Son of David” the Messiah who built the temple of God in believers’ hearts. The Remnant of Israel must hold to the city of Jerusalem and God’s promise to King David. The city of Jerusalem still remains and this covenant still remains to this day.

The Messiah brought us the New Covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31. The redemptive work of the Messiah is the fulfillment of the PROMISES God made to those previous including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David. But the fulfillment in no way renders the promise null and void. Nor does the “New” covenant replace an “Old” covenant. There is no “Old” covenant to replace. Instead, the Messiah made the PROMISES even greater. On those promises our faith in the Messiah is established which leads to forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life. Without the promises there would be no Messiah. Without the Messiah there is no forgiveness or hope of eternal life. The Remnant of Israel believes in those promises and in the deeds of the Messiah. Therefore, their faith is counted for righteousness just like Abraham and everyone following his example. To this day, men are acquiring this same faith in God’s promises, coming to know the Messiah, and proclaiming His work of redemption and hope for the kingdom. Therefore, this covenant remains to this day.

There is a final covenant promised by God that has not yet been revealed. It is called the Covenant of Peace (Isaiah 54 and Ezekiel 37:15-28, specifically mentioned in verse 25). According to the prophets, the Covenant of Peace will be part of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom upon His return. This promise still remains to this day.

The Remnant still believes in the promises of God, the ones of the past, the present, and the ones yet future. The future covenant still awaits us according to God’s plan.