Of the billions of Christians around the world, only a few fast on the Day of Atonement nowadays. Centuries ago, when they were in the heyday of their first love for Jesus Christ,1 all Christians fasted on that day. What did the early Christians understand, and why don’t so many in this day and age seem to know anything about it?
It’s simply called “the Fast” in Acts 27:9. The New International Version has in footnote b to verse 9, That is, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
It fell on the 5th October in AD 59,2 the year Paul was shipwrecked on his way to Rome. We should note that Luke, a Gentile, and author of what we call the third Gospel as well as the book of Acts, did not give his readers – a man called Theophilus, and the early Church – a date from the Roman calendar, but the Christian date, describing it as “the Fast”, because he knew that his fellow Christians would understand it and identify with it as part of God’s plan of salvation, just as he always gave other dates they were familiar with, such as “Passover”, “Unleavened Bread” and “Pentecost”.3
When many modern Christians call the Day of Atonement a Jewish date, they are not only right but more so than they think, because early Christianity was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,4 and they were all Jews who worshipped God on the Feasts of the LORD, on the weekly Sabbath and on the annual Sabbaths, including the Day of Atonement.
It’s easy for a Jew to fast on that day; he has done so all his life. What about a non-Jewish Christian, also called a Gentile? What has this day got to do with Jesus Christ? Well, just the fact that Jesus was a Jew, and therefore even a Gentile Christian does what Jesus did when He was on earth. After all, the early Christians – Jews and Gentiles – were encouraged to imitate their Lord and Saviour; as Paul, a Jew sent to the Gentiles, put it:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (I Corinthians 11:1)
Apart from simply imitating Jesus Christ, how did the early Christians see Him in the Day of Atonement? Modern Christians have the New Testament, and we believe that Jesus also came to fulfil everything that was written in the Law and the Prophets; as He Himself said:
Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)
So the Day of Atonement, being part of the law, will be around till heaven and earth pass away.
The only scriptures the early Christians had were what we call the Old Testament, and Paul tells us:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
What encouragement do we find in the scriptures and what hope might we have in the Day of Atonement? And hence, what does Jesus Christ fulfil and accomplish on this day, as He said He would?
For a student of the Bible, the scriptures that come to mind describe what took place on that day, earlier in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple, and when you read them, one thing stands out that makes the Day of Atonement memorable, namely that the only one to do the work of atoning for everyone was the high priest. The rest of the people did nothing. They did no work, and they didn’t eat or drink.5Now we are getting to the answers to our questions: Israel had a high priest who did all the work of atoning for the Israelites and for the strangers who lived among them.6
We Christians, and ultimately everyone, have a high priest in Jesus Christ,7 and He does all the work of atoning for us and for all people, many of whom don’t even know what He is doing for them.
After all, God came to earth to live among us as the man Jesus Christ, He died for us, and He takes away all our sins, and indeed the sin of the world,8 and He is still working for us on the throne in heaven where He intercedes for us at all times.9
What better way to thank God and to acknowledge that on our own we can’t do anything, and that our Lord and Saviour is doing all the work – for us and for our fellow men – than to refrain from all labour for 24 hours, and not even eat or drink,10 on the Day of Atonement which is still with us and will be until heaven and earth pass away.
And that’s why I fast on that day.
(Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version)
1. Revelation 2:4-5
2. THE NEW BIBLE COMMENTARY REVISED
3. Passover: Luke 2:41, 22:1, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15, Acts 12:4. Unleavened Bread: Luke 22:1, 7, Acts 12:3, 20:6. Pentecost: Acts 2:1, 20:16.
4. Ephesians 2:20
5. Leviticus 16, 23:26-32, Numbers 29:7-11
6. Leviticus 16:29-31
7. Hebrews 9:11-14, 24-28
8. John 1:29, Hebrews 9:28
9. Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:24-25, 9:24
10. Leviticus 23:31-32
One of my friends recently commented that the weekly Sabbath rest has been eclipsed by Jesus Christ Who has become our ultimate Rest. They explained that they experience spiritual rest in Christ everyday, and therefore didn’t see any value in “the shadow” of weekly rest. “Every day is holy,” they chimed.
I agreed that even now we are already “seated in the heavenly places”, that is spiritually… or are we there yet?! Ever so dearly I look forward to the fullness of Christ appearing, and being closer to that promise.
But this week I’ve worked hard. My knuckles bled where I damaged them while concreting, and the heavy steel beams I lifted around last weekend made my legs feel like rubber for a few days. I lay awake last night, after a stressful day solving other people’s IT issues.
So when Friday evening comes, and our family stops from servile work and shares a nice meal together preceded by prayer, it comes as a genuine relief to simply cease from the rigours of work and just rest. In the busyness of life, play and work, we sometimes neglect the recurring rhythym of rest that God Himself instituted at creation. And how we respond physically in those small, day to day responsibilites reflect a faith that only God knows the value of.
So the Sabbath brings with it’s weekly arrival not only rest, but in lacking the spirit of servile work allows us to meaningfully meditate on and experience those Godly things that may otherwise lose their significance.
Don’t let anyone suggest to you that the weekly Sabbath blessing is irrelevant. Those who have really laboured during the week know what true rest means.
I encourage you to stop and rest this weekend – on the Lord’s Day. Which day? To his Jewish critics, Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath is the Lord’s Day.
In the past few months, we’ve experimented by uploading a few sermons online in streaming format. The topics that have finally made it online have complimented the material we’ve been presenting on MessageWeek, and we’ve found that the longer messages are able to perhaps a little more deeply explore each subject.
One of our key themes over the past decade has been The Hope of the Resurrection. It’s amazing how many different views there are on this. Some years ago now I began to work on a more comprehensive work in the form of a book, and for various reasons, those synoptic notes have only now moved on to forming a text that, we hope, will help in exploring a subject that’s core to the Bible’s message.
The most recent sermon online looks at John’s testimony of Lazarus being resurrected by Jesus. We hope you find this message helpful and encouraging.
The Gospel began to reach various parts of the world some 2000 years ago via dusty roads and wooden sailing ships. Stories of Jesus were transmitted from parchments by the literate and told everywhere. With the invention of the printing press, Bibles eventually became available, and wider education meant more people could read.
Early last century, radio together with print media proved effective in sharing the gospel. Television has also played a role, albeit with mixed results. Perhaps surpassing everything to date, the internet has revolutionised the way we communicate and acquire information. And, media streaming to date has only just “scratched the surface” of what yet lies ahead.
MessageWeek has been a part of that revolution, having produced over 360 good news, short, streaming films over the past decade. From PNG to the Netherlands, Germany to South Africa, Thailand to Portugal, it is a unique perspective to know that someone’s faith has been strengthened by the “best news you could ever hear” – available with only a few mouse clicks.
By John Klassek
WHY I KEEP THE HOLY DAYS
In the King James Version of the Bible, the term Holy Day occurs in eight verses. In Exodus 35:2 it refers to the weekly Sabbath, in Nehemiah 8:9, 10, 11 to the Feast of Trumpets, in Nehemiah 10:31 to the weekly Sabbath and any annual Holy Day, in Psalm 42:4 to an annual Holy Day, not specified, in Isaiah 58:13 to the weekly Sabbath (maybe also to the Day of Atonement), and in Colossians 2:16 to any one of the Holy Days.
When someone asks me why I keep the Holy Days, I give the short answer: “Because they form the only worship pattern that God gave to mankind, Jesus and His followers lived by that worship pattern, and so did the early church”.
People will ask: what do you mean, God gave His worship pattern to mankind? Jesus answered that question when He stated: “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), the word man describing all mankind. We only get to read about the time in history when He gave His worship pattern to ancient Israel through Moses, and if the Israelites had been faithful to God, neighbouring nations could have imitated their way of worshipping Him, as Moses pointed out to the Israelites: “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say:, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Sadly, the Israelites by and by began to imitate the way in which the nations worshipped their gods.
Whenever somebody asks me to elaborate on God’s worship pattern, I begin by saying: “If you want to know how God wants to be worshipped, you read His book, the Bible, and you find that He wants people to rest from their daily chores and congregate on the seventh day of the week, called the Sabbath, and He also wants us to get together to worship Him on certain days during the year”.
To anyone who would like to see those days – the weekly day of worship as well as the annual days – I say: “Look at Leviticus 23, where you have the package” (as we put it nowadays).
The introduction to the package is in verses one and two: The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.I sometimes stress that these feasts are not “the feasts of the Israelites”, or “the feasts of Moses”, as some like to call them, but the appointed feasts of the LORD. The LORD calls them my appointed feasts.The first of the appointed feasts of the LORD is the weekly Sabbath, verse 3: ” ‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD.The annual Holy Days – when and how to keep them – are listed in verses 4-43, in the New International Version under the neat subtitles The Passover and Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles. By way of emphasis, verse 44 again refers to them as the appointed feasts of the LORD.
Some – who have looked at Leviticus 23 – ask: What about all the rituals and sacrifices? Do you carry those out, too? My answer is: The early church we read about in the book of Acts and in the epistles, did not have those rituals and sacrifices. Before the Romans destroyed the Temple, the early Christians in Jerusalem would attend services at the Temple and witness the rituals and sacrifices, but after that time, from 70 AD onwards, they could only attend at synagogues – or in their own house churches – where neither the rituals nor the sacrifices took place. The early Christians understood the significance of Christ’s death, the one and only sacrifice that could atone for the sins of mankind, and a couple of verses in the letter to Hebrews (Jewish Christians) put it in a nutshell under the subtitle Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All: Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus Christ] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:11-12).
Some – who are eager to learn more — I encourage to read the four Gospel accounts and find out about Jesus and His followers keeping the annual Holy Days.
Jesus grew up in a family that observed the feasts of the LORD: Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:41-43). The expression Feast of the Passover would encompass the Passover day as well as the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
We read about Jesus going to Jerusalem for the Passover when He would have been in His early thirties: When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went to Jerusalem. (John 2:13). Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. (verse 23).
Luke recorded what we might call an exceptional Sabbath: One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. (Luke 6:1). That scenario brings back memories of my boyhood when I would roam about the fields with some friends during the early (northern hemisphere) summer holidays. Going through a field of grain that was still green meant following a narrow path through a crop of barley or rye, and we would do just what the disciples of Jesus did, pick a head – or ear – on either side, rub it in our hands and eat the kernels. We were always careful not to stray into the crop. That would have brought on the ire of its owner, who didn’t mind us helping ourselves to a few heads from the edge of the path. At 32 degrees latitude, in the Holy Land, a crop with green heads of grain would have been a couple of months earlier than in Central Europe. It would have been late March or early April when the disciples of Jesus picked the heads and ate the still tender kernels.
What’s so significant about that? Well, the King James Version features a reading of Luke 6:1 that is not found in a number of Greek texts: And it came to pass on the second Sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; . . . Considering the time of year – the Passover season usually falls on what we call March or April – that second Sabbath after the first may well have been the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, one of the Holy Days. Luke gives us some fascinating clues on Jesus observing yet another Holy Day in the early part of the year, the Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost: He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. (Luke 4:16). The first clue comes in what is rendered, here as in many other English versions, simply as on the Sabbath day. The Greek reads: on the day of the Sabbaths. For the timing of the Feast of Weeks, we read: From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, . . . (Leviticus 23:15-16), and as each one of the seven full weeks – 49 days – ends with a Sabbath, we are to count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, placing the Feast of Weeks on what we call a Sunday. Pentecost, appropriately, derives from the Greek for “the fiftieth day”. We discover the next clue when we read: The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: (Luke 4:17).
Ask any orthodox Jew who knows the history of his people, and he will tell you that the verses Jesus was about to read from the Isaiah scroll were traditionally read in the synagogues on the day of the Sabbaths, or Pentecost: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Verses 18 and 19, quoted from an adaptation of Isaiah 61:1-2).
Jesus stopped there and did not end the quotation: and the day of vengeance of our God, which looks ahead to the time leading up to Jesus’ return.
Verses 20 and 21: Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was giving the people in the synagogue the present fulfilment of what the prophet Isaiah had foretold; it was now coming true. The one with the Spirit of the Lord was Jesus Himself, an era of God’s salvation had arrived.
The heading of John 7 is: Jesus Goes to the Feast of Tabernacles. Verse 10: However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. Under the next heading, Jesus Teaches at the Feast, verse 14: Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. Verses 37-39: On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in aloud voice, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. Again Jesus was telling people that He was fulfilling the scriptures.
While Jesus observed the weekly Sabbath, He was showing His generation that doing good on the Sabbath was the right way to keep it, though He was severely criticised by the religious establishment, who had made rigorous – and non-scriptural – rules for its observance. (Luke 13:10-17; The healing at the Pool, John 5:1-18, took place in Jerusalem on an unnamed feast of the Jews, which they referred to as the Sabbath. According to one of the Sabbath rules in the Mishna, a mat could only be carried if it had a man lying on it.)
Jesus never worked for money or reward on the Sabbath. Had He so much as picked up a saw or a hammer between Friday sunset and Saturday sunset (as we would put it these days), His detractors would have kicked up such a racket we would be reading about it in one of the Gospels at least.
The church we encounter in the Book of Acts was clearly observing the seventh day of the week, the weekly Sabbath:
In Acts 13:14-44, Luke writes about Paul and Barnabas in the synagogue in the Pisidian Antioch. A word for word translation of the last part of verse 14 reads: and going into the synagogue on the day of the Sabbaths, they sat down. Verses 42-44: As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. Neither Paul nor Barnabas asked the people to meet again on the day following the day of the Sabbaths (verse 14), maybe at another venue.
In Acts 15:19-21 Luke tells us that Gentile Christians were attending synagogues: For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those proclaiming him being read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
In Acts 17:1-12 he writes that many Greeks in Thessaloniki and in Berea also believed when they heard Paul preaching in the synagogues on Sabbath days.
In Acts 18:1-11 he records that Paul during his stay of a year and six months in Corinth worked as a tentmaker – to make a living probably six days a week – and he lectured in the synagogue on every Sabbath; he persuaded both Jews and Greeks. Here we also read Paul’s famous “from now I will go to the Gentiles.”
In Acts 18:24-26 we read about Apollos, who began to speak boldly in the synagogue in Ephesus where two Christians, Priscilla and Aquila, heard him.
When Paul came to Ephesus, he entered the synagogue, over three months spoke boldly, lecturing and persuading concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)
It should go without saying, but I stress it anyway: that Paul, Barnabas and Apollos were invited to speak in synagogues means that they were Sabbath-keepers. So were the Jews, the converts to Judaism (Greek: worshipping proselytes) and the two Christians mentioned by name, Priscilla and Aquila.
People have said to me that Paul never taught Sabbath-keeping. I told them that he didn’t have to reinvent the wheel so to speak; among the Jews, their adherents, and in the early church, the only weekly day of worship was the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath.
The same was true for the annual Holy Days: the writers of the New Testament didn’t have to stress their observance. The Christians of the first century knew all about them; they were part and parcel of their worship calendar. When they read the following verses mentioning the Passover and Unleavened Bread, they were wholly familiar with the terminology and its meaning:
Matthew 26:17 Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do you want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?“
Mark 14:1 After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.Mark 14:12 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”Luke 22:1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.
Luke 22:7 Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed.Acts 12:3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread.Acts 20:6 But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.I Corinthians 5:7-8 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us..
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth
(Verses from The New King James Version)
Pentecost gets a mention in three verses:
Acts 2:1, When the day of Pentecost came, they were altogether in one place. Verses 2-40 tell of the dramatic and miraculous official beginning of the church, culminating in the baptism of about 3000.
Acts 20:16 tells us how Paul was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.In I Corinthians 16:8, Paul wrote: But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost. The largely non-Jewish Christians at Corinth knew this Holy Day and when it was observed.
Acts 18:21 in the King James Version has a sentence – not found in many other English versions – here underlined, and occurring in several Greek manuscripts: But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
A lengthy question I often hear is: What about the church after the first century, and why are there so few in this day and age that still keep the weekly Sabbath and observe the annual Holy Days as well?
Well, I found part of the answer in a book titled: Early Christian Fathers, by Cyril C. Richardson, Washburn professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary, New York City.
Under the heading The Life of Irenaeus, who was a Greek and the bishop of Lyons late in the second century, I read on page 348 the following: In the Refutation and Overthrow, Irenaeus continues the list of Roman bishops down to Eleutherus, who was succeeded by Victor about 189 or 190. He thus dates approximately the composition of that work. His other preserved work, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, refers to the Refutation and is therefore later. Irenaeus last appears in history when he addresses a respectful but firm letter of protest to Pope Victor for his threatened excommunication of the Asiatic churches on account of their loyalty to the observance of the paschal feast on the Jewish date, the fourteenth of Nisan, instead of the following Sunday. Eusebius takes leave of him with the note that he was indeed a promoter of the peace, as his name suggested, both in this and in his other letters on the subject. Having been more than an infant when he knew Polycarp, Irenaeus was probably over sixty by the end of the second century. He would scarcely have been silent in the controversies that arose after the death of Victor (A.D. 198), and probably passed away himself about the same time. Instead of the Babylonian Nisan, I prefer Abib (Exodus 13:4 and five more passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy).
What particularly struck me was that as late as the end of the second century, the churches in Asia (Minor) were still observing the biblical calendar. I then couldn’t help deducing that, if they kept the paschal feast (pas-cha is Greek for Passover), they would naturally also have been Sabbath-Sabbatarians and would have been keeping all the other feasts, besides heeding God’s loving advice about clean and unclean meats, and how and when to enjoy various wines (Deuteronomy 14:26).
The above also seems to shed more light on Colossians 2:16, where Paul wrote: Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration (such as the Feast of Trumpets) or a Sabbath day.
On page 121, I read some more about Polycarp (his name means much fruit).
Under the heading The Letter of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, to the Philippians, Introduction: At the time of his martyrdom Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, confessed that he had been a Christian for eighty-six years. Since the date of his martyrdom can be fixed with reasonable certainty as occurring in A.D. 155 or 156, his birth could therefore not have been later than the year 69 or 70.On page 123: He is not versed, as he himself admitted, in the Scriptures, i.e., the Old Testament.
And yet Polycarp knew about and kept the Passover on the 14th Abib!
On the same page: Of his later years, we possess only a few reminiscences of Irenaeus, who as a young lad came under Polycarp’s tutelage. Only a year or two before his martyrdom the aged bishop made a journey to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus regarding the disagreement between the Asian Christians and the church of Rome over the proper date for the celebration of Easter (or paschal feast, as above). Though neither bishop could persuade the other to change his own tradition they both maintained in amicable unity the fellowship of communion.On page 125: Irenaeus repeatedly states that Polycarp had received his tradition of faith from John, the disciple of the Lord, and other apostles, and that “apostles in Asia” had appointed him to his bishopric. For Irenaeus this was sufficient guarantee of the attribution of the corpus of “Johannine” writings in the New Testament to the apostle John, son of Zebedee. Yet he never, in so many words, made this identification. There is certainly no reason to distrust the information that Polycarp had enjoyed personal converse, as did also his contemporary Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, with companions of Jesus, including a disciple named John; though Polycarp himself never mentions his name.
While God seems to give us mere glimpses of what lies ahead, there is enough to show that His worship pattern will be around for a long time to come. All nations will eventually be keeping the Feasts of the LORD. The prophet Zechariah tells us about one of them, the Feast of Tabernacles. In chapter 14, under the heading The LORD Comes and Reigns, we read in verses 16-19: Then the survivors of all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The LORD will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
The prophet Isaiah was inspired to give us a gleam of infinite time: “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me.” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:22-23). These verses were written for Israel, yet God adds that all mankind will bow down before Him on the New Moons and Sabbaths – Holy Days – and when we read about a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21:1–12, we also read about twelve gates into the new Jerusalem with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them, and they will be there forever.
The choice for individual Christians – who also study their Bibles – is a personal one that only he or she can make by asking: do I want to worship God as Jesus and His disciples and apostles did as described in the New Testament, as attested to by the early church, and as foretold for all eternity?
Well, about 45 years ago, I read an exhortation the apostle Paul had for the saints at Corinth (many of them probably wharfies) in I Corinthians 11:1, King James Version (the only one I had at that time): Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. When I learned that the Greek for followers may also be translated imitators, I wanted to become one, and that is why I keep the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
Our old hymnal had a song titled, “God Bless America” and as a boy I delighted in joining the chorus that instead mischievously sang “God Bless Australia”.
For me, it was a savoured patriotic moment tempered by the ongoing friendly rivalry between the English speaking brothers of USA and Australia. Nothing more. Nothing less.
You see, the general perspective from “the land down under” is that America is a jigsaw of enigmas. My father often reminisced of his boyhood experiences during World War II when the “Ummies” (US troops otherwise known as Kaugummisoldaten [Chewing Gum] soldiers) helped liberate Europe from years of war. What followed was an international aid program probably never previously equalled.
For me, the closest I have gotten to see the iconic Statue of Liberty was in the glossy pages of a holiday magazine. The sheer dominating size of this bronze statue and what “she” represented for millions of migrants who for the first time set their eyes on “the land of the free” was enough to ferment any boy’s imagination.
America seemed so big, rich and yet fair and friendly. And yet, I couldn’t understand why such a freedom loving country would allow it’s citizens to bear arms; we used to hear as much about the starving people in India as we did the shootings and muggings on the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In recent times, I have also wondered about the United States’ inability, in spite of its greatness, to meet the needs of so many homeless people on its own turf following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Then there’s the USA’s ailing international profile – especially in the light of it’s military forces being unable to extricate itself from the bloodbath in Iraq.
Further, how can you understand that three percent of the world’s population could inherit forty percent of the world’s wealth? It’s unprecedented! Surely there was a Divine connection, an inheritance somehow connected to the imprinted words featured on US currency, “In God We Trust”?
And it is in this thread that an answer may exist. You see, the same God the USA prints on its currency told Abraham millennia ago that he would become the father of many nations, having descendants like the stars of the sky and as numerous as the sands on the seashore. Because of Abraham’s faith, God said that all other nations would be blessed.
And in many ways, in a physical sense, that is true today. But with greatness, wealth and considerable military might comes moral responsibility and an ongoing faith in the ageless, God-given values at the heart of national/family life.
Last year I had the privilege of visiting the USA, and among thousands of fellow believers sang a gutsy chorus of “God Bless America”. (And what’s more, it didn’t even occur to me to try to substitute the word “Australia”).
Whatever parochial differences I perceived as a boy are now superceded by a growing awareness that with wealth and prominence comes responsibility and leadership, something both Australia and the USA are still learning.
By John Klassek
When a leading theologian and pastor confided that there’s no scriptural support for the belief of the “Trinity”, it was hard to tell whether he was joking or not.
He was serious.
The Trinity (God as three distinct, co-equal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit) often appears as the primary doctrine of mainstream Christianity.
And yet, when you study the scriptures – the words of Jesus as well as the writings of the apostles – you can see that our attempts to understand and articulate God fall disappointingly short.
So where do we go from here? How can we understand God as He reveals Himself to us?
Because we try to articulate truth in a variety of creeds and belief statements, we should perhaps first ask, what does the Bible teach, and further, how does it present what is of greatest importance?
When God came and lived among us some 2000 years ago as Jesus Christ, a religious lawyer once asked Him, “Which is the greatest commandment?” (Matthew 22:36)
What he was asking, in other words, was: what is the most important priority in our relationship between man and Maker?
Listen to how Jesus answered:
“The first of all the commandments is, ‘…the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:29-30)
The lawyer remarked, “Well said, Teacher! You have told the truth that ‘God is one, and there is no other besides him.’” (Mark 12:32)
In being privy to this interesting conversation we gain some remarkable insight into how the Scribe understood from the scriptures, particularly that God is one.
The earliest record when God first made us, states:
And God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
Genesis is the first place where we note the distinctive plurality of, “Us?” and “Our” – where God’s self-revelation begins in plurality.
Listen to how Jesus elaborated on this:
“My Father… is greater than all,… I and the Father are one!” (John 10:29-30)
Jesus explained the Oneness in the relationship between Him and the Father. Not two, not three, but one.
Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?  If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came–and the Scripture cannot be broken–what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:31-38)
So how can we understand this? Of course, God knows our limitations in trying to comprehend the eternal – and so He didn’t leave us clueless! God tells us it is He who joins a man and a woman in a lifetime union called marriage, of which Jesus said, “They are no longer two, but one.” (Matthew 19:6)
Jesus deliberately used the same word “one” to describe the relationship in marriage, as a metaphor if you like, echoing the divine oneness between God the Father and Jesus the Son.
The Father loves Jesus the Son. We read in the scriptures of the Son’s love for the Father. Except for human marriage, this unique relationship is not equalled anywhere else.
One of Jesus’ closest followers, John, wrote:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2) Numerous other scriptures affirm the pre-existence of Jesus – the very God who spoke at creation, “Let us…”
John later penned in a letter: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We write this to you to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:3)
This is quite a testimony. John explored that the divine love between the Father and Son also includes us. Jesus prayed, “That they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
In sending greetings to the faithful, John wrote:
“Grace will be with you, mercy and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” (2 John 1:3)
Likewise, the early Christians were often greeted by their leaders with the familiar words of:
“Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are greeted by God the Father and Jesus Christ! [And they are ONE, not two!]
We are specially invited into this Godly relationship. Jesus said that He no longer calls us servants, but friends. The actual depth of friendship is no better conveyed than in Jesus’ prayer just prior to His crucifixion:
“And I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who shall believe on Me through their word, that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)
The Biblical subject of Oneness is important, because it establishes the kind of relationship we’re invited into. God is one. This was what the patriarchs of old understood thousands of years ago.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Later, in the early Christian era, Paul addressed the idolatrous problem of many gods that existed in Corinth. He wrote:
“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone knows this…” (1 Corinthians 8:5-7)
Even today, not everyone knows this. Biblical scholars are often divided in thought, offering varying explanations that have developed from creeds convened over the centuries. For example, Trinitarian thinking and documentation emerged hundreds of years after the final passages of the Bible were canonised.
Amidst historical controversy and dishonest manuscripts – the insertion of 1 John 5:7 KJV being just one well known example – an explanation emerged asserting the nature of God.
And yet, to suggest that God is triune in nature – three co-equal persons – simply goes beyond what the scriptures reveal; anything else only reflects our limited capacity when attempting to construct “a model” using mere human terms of reference. How we try to adequately understand the Holy Spirit! It is not better to simply admit that we know a little, and the rest must be left for the fullness of time.
God is perhaps best understood and taught as being “One”. God the Father and Jesus Christ are one, distinct but not separate. The best we can illustrate this is that husband and wife are one; we may see two people, but in God’s eyes, they are one. Anything beyond this lacks credibility.
Jesus Christ revealed the Father, saying, “The Father is greater than I”. (John 14:28) The mystery of “Us” and “Our” found in the opening words of Genesis, is resolved in Jesus words when He said, “I and the Father are one.”
Jesus Christ promised He would send the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit comes from God, conveys His words and will (and brings to mind Jesus’ teaching), empowers us, and enables us to become a new creation in which the image of Christ grows. In a letter Paul wrote we read: “And the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:13)
A little later, he wrote:“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
That’s as far as Paul could go. In this passage there is no explicit acknowledgement of the God the Father, just Theos in Greek meaning God. [Other manuscripts still have further variations on this].
So, what is our relationship with God? Jesus explains: “At that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” (John 14:20)
This is not as complex as it seems.
Remember, that we are created in God’s very own “image and likeness”. Unlike the animals, God created man differently, receiving the very breath of life from God. Then, woman was created even more amazingly, coming from man. How amazing it is that we’re invited to share in the oneness of God.
The Holy Spirit comes from God, and dwells in us. In a graphic example of this, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) The intentional breath of Jesus conveyed the Holy Spirit to His followers in an unique personal way. Perhaps we can better understand what had happened at creation when God had breathed into the first man the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7) Now, when hands are laid on a new convert at baptism, he or she at that moment receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit then lives in us. Paul wrote:
“Or do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit in you, which you have from God, and you are not of yourselves. (1 Corinthians 6:19) LITV
“But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
The Holy Spirit comes from God, and is given to each of us who believe with works of repentance and faith. The Holy Spirit is given to us from the Father. A follower of Jesus has the Holy Spirit in them.
Within weeks of Jesus ascending into heaven, many more believers received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, when they heard a rushing wind, and the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire that came to rest on each of them. Then, as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit, foreigners heard the gospel being preached in their own native languages. It was a miracle that has never since occurred.
And yet today, the Holy Spirit enables us to understand that which is spiritually discernable.
The Holy Spirit is given to us as a gift; according to scripture, we can drink of it, partake of it, and we can quench it.
The Holy Spirit renews us, and must be stirred up within us.
The Holy Spirit is likened to a dove and fire, (and depicted as such in Christian art, yet never as a “person”) also to water, wind and oil.
In rare cases, the Holy Spirit is given from birth.
The Holy Spirit is a down-payment on eternal life.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak on its own – but only conveys what Jesus says.
In Revelation, when the Spirit speaks, we hear the words of Jesus.
(The word “Spirit” in the Greek language [as used by God to have the New Testament recorded], is in the neuter gender, whereas “Father” and “Son” are in the masculine gender. The Hebrew word for “Spirit” in the Old Testament also means “breath, air and wind”).
A clear, Biblical understanding of what the scriptures actually say can help us discern truth from error. It’s not the sort of subject to take lightly. Jesus said that, “everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10)
It’s a subject that really demands our attention, as well as humility.
A well-known theologian recently discussed the “nature of God” by saying, “The divine Father and Son are consistently mentioned in the salutations, benedictions and doxologies of New Testament epistles; the Holy Spirit is rarely mentioned there. The Father and Son reign on heaven’s throne, as seen in vision; the Spirit is not depicted as reigning there. The Father and Son engage in dialogue of “I-You” sort, and love for the other is expressed; the Holy Spirit never enters this dialogue.”
He explained that, “The Holy Spirit is not addressed in prayer or worship as are the Father and Son, nor are we taught to worship the Spirit as a distinct divine person. Given the importance traditionally assigned to the Trinity doctrine, these omissions are so striking that they can hardly be dismissed as arguments from silence. They suggest to us that the Deity may exist in two personality centres rather than three.”
“I think of the Spirit as the personal presence of the Father and Son among and within God’s people, rather than as a third person of the Trinity. Our trust is that God has bestowed salvation by His grace in the person and work of Christ and that salvation is realised in human experience through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, not by the affirmation of any extra-biblical creed.”
How honestly articulated!
The Holy Spirit is very much at work in faithful believers today, guiding, comforting, and strengthening us. Because of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are living in the express image of Jesus Christ. And so we can pray, “Our Father in Heaven…”
Today’s message is just an introduction to an enormous subject. It’s a subject that has been discussed and debated for thousands of years, and will probably continue to do so until Jesus returns.
Nonetheless, it is our hope that what we’ve covered here has been thought provoking as well as a blessing to you. It is important we respect the work and beliefs of those whose scholarly research may lead to different conclusions, but it is equally important to probe what we believe in the light of scriptures that we do have, and then the courage to live and share them.
Until next time, on behalf of the MessageWeek team, take care, and God bless.
In reflecting about the work of MessageWeek over the past decade, we have focussed on three areas of distinction – perhaps not by our intentional design – but they have been subjects that we’ve revisited many times, and interestingly subjects that don’t usually get preached with the frequency they perhaps deserve:
1. The Hope of the Resurrection
2. The Rest of God
3. The Return of Jesus Christ
I believe the three “R”s of Resurrection, Rest and Return are perhaps more important than what credit they are generally given. They centre on Jesus Christ, are crucial to salvation history, are filled with extraordinary hope, and unfortunately in some circles are neglected from core theological premises.
RESURRECTION: I recently listened to an “uncommonly powerful preacher” who talked about Heaven and Hell, and his judgmental attitude of those who don’t really know Jesus quite candidly sent all those people to Hell. He had no practical or discernable knowledge about the hope of the resurrection, even though it is plainly articulated in scripture.
REST: Few today experience rest as God ordained it. We feel certain we know better than God, choosing to work incessantly, or indulge in excessive leisure, or justify and designate any other day as the optimum day of worship rather than Sabbath – and then even that time is plied with distractions and commitments. Our societies generally ignore the gift of rest God has given us. Some, however, have come to recognise the need for rest, and so choose Thursday, or Monday to rest. In missing the divine beat of time, of which we’re subject to, we so easily neglect the Sabbath gift and blessing of rest, and so become further enslaved to various distractions and delusions, all under the sway of the god of this world.
RETURN: Jesus’ literal return doesn’t feature largely in preaching nowadays, nor does it occupy the necessary space in our thoughts. We may talk about the millennium as simply a metaphor, or suggest we’re living in that time now. We talk a-plenty about “going to heaven”, rather than Jesus returning to save us and resurrect the dead. In fact, very few think or talk about Jesus’ return at all; it seems far-off and irrelevant.
These are, however, core pillars as expressed in God’s word. They are bastions of hope and blessing that ought to find authentic expression in today’s Christian orthodox and evangelical climate. While we have covered many topics over the past ten years, these three “R”s will continue to feature prominently, and it is our hope you’ll find blessing and encouragement as we more carefully continue to explore God’s word.
By John Klassek