Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Show Faith

Many people like to escape their present world and dream of better things, picture a more pleasant way of life, and develop a utopian mindset. When this happens, and they then begin to share their thoughts, someone will inevitably talk about their need for a “reality check.” Reality is where we live, and while it takes more than a dream to make something better, all progress does begin with a thought, an inspiration, and a hope that something better is possible. We need not live only in reality for, if we do, we will not see the possibility of a brighter future.

For one who believes in God, another kind of check becomes evident. Like with the reality check, many dream of better things, a better place, and a perfect life. But then something happens, perhaps something traumatic, and we get a “faith check.” In these moments, many people turn to God in an earnestness that is lacking through much of our lives. I know this is true for me. But it is in these times that we often grow and discover what true faith is. True faith is not about realizing what God has promised, it is about living our lives knowing a promise awaits from a God who is true. Consider the title of a song many hold dear – Living for Jesus. We sing, “Living for Jesus a life that is true” not “Living with Jesus a life that is done.”

In today’s passage, we see evidence of what true faith is. We see evidence of what true faith can bring. But we begin by seeing what assumed faith cannot do.

A Short Review

Because of our three week break to review the Fall Feasts of Israel, let me begin with a quick review of Mark. Jesus has called a group of men to be His disciples. They struggle to understand much of what is happening, but hopefully are turning a corner (although not completely as we see in this post!). Jesus has healed many people, engaged in conflict with the religious leaders, fed large groups of people – which led to more conflict with the leaders and revealed the lack of understanding of His disciples. Then, Jesus heals a blind man which is followed by Peter making the Great Confession that Jesus is Messiah. But just as things seem to be getting better, Jesus tells them He must suffer and die, and that if they are to follow Him, a similar fate awaits. Finally, in my last post from this series (LINK), I also discussed the event known as the Transfiguration when Jesus was seen in all of His glory on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah present as witnesses by Peter, James, and John. As they begin to descend the mountain, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone what has occurred. It is here that we pick up the story.

Jesus comes down and finds the other disciples (not Peter, James, and John who were with Him) arguing with the scribes while a great crowd has gathered. Jesus assesses the situation and asks about the cause of the argument. This leads us to the first point of focus.

True faith demands purpose.

Many people are represented in this story, but only two have a real purpose – the father of a boy and Jesus. The father has a purpose to be there – to get his son healed. Jesus’ purpose is to resolve whatever issue is present before Him. The others are present in the story, but not because of any real faith.

The man’s purpose was because He had a great anticipation for the healing of his boy. He brought the boy, and turned to Jesus’ disciples, when He wasn’t there, but they couldn’t heal him. His purpose didn’t change and now he has the attention of Jesus. This man has a purpose and understands a premise that James would write this many years later, “You do not have because you do not ask” with the inference being that we are to ask God (James 4.2). This man has high expectations that can only be met by God.

For us, we should not be be duped into having low expectations of God. He is a mighty God. The reality is that too many people have low expectations of God which has led to a new “faithless generation.” Let us seek God with great anticipation. But to do so, we need sincere faith.

True faith discerns properly.

In this case, the discernment is two-fold. Jesus takes time to discern and then causes the man to do the same.

In verse 20, the demonic spirit throws the boy down into convulsions when the spirit saw Jesus. Jesus asks how long the boy has experienced this. But Jesus is seeking more than facts, He is listening to the father’s heart. This lets Jesus discern the true nature of the father and the relationship with his son. I believe what Jesus hears is something like this, “I love my son and I believe you are a man of compassion and may be able to do something.”

Jesus response then causes the man to discern something about himself. The man has laid out the facts about his boy. He has revealed his heart to Jesus, and now Jesus essentially says, “If you believe, your boy will be healed.”

The man has to discern the truth of his faith. Many might try to manipulate Jesus with a response such as “Oh, yes, Lord, I believe!” But that is not what this man does. He has been forthright, and now remains so. He confesses his belief. But he also confesses that believing is hard. His statement is also very generic – as is Jesus question. It forces us to ask – believe in what or whom?

Of course the answer here is God, but we must also clarify belief. As I have said many times, belief is not just knowing (the brain), belief requires trust (the heart). The word has come to mean something we think is true, but the original wording says it this way. Faith (and thus belief) is a verb in this instance.

Jesus – Mark 9.23 “All things are possible for one who faiths.”
Father – Mark 9.24 “I faith; help my lack of faith.”

Here is the crux. This father is honest. His faith is not full and complete. But he has something. He has a start, and he can build on that, and so can Jesus. Jesus seeks faith that is obedient and expectant. He does not demand that it is full or mature. He will guide our steps by faith if we just have enough faith to trust Him.

After healing this boy before the crowd engulfs the man and Jesus, Jesus withdraws to a house where His disciples ask a question. Jesus’ response is very simple, but it is incredibly profound.

True faith dependently prays.

The passage is about faith. And the problem is that the disciples were faithless. We have seen this countless times in this study so far, but here we see what the result of this lack of faith. We need to quickly remind ourselves of two verses in Mark.
  • Mark 3.15 specifically mentions that they disciples would receive authority to cast out demons. 
  • Mark 6.13 shows they exercised this authority successfully in the past

And I believe their previous success is the problem. I know this can be an issue for me. Perhaps you can relate as well. Has you experienced a time when God has provide what you need, and later, instead of relying on His provision and power, you believe you can handle the situation yourself?

In our passage today, the disciples obviously could not cast out the demon from the boy (9.18). Jesus could (9.25-26). Is this because Jesus is Jesus and the disciples are not? In part, yes. But that is not the reason that Jesus gives. He says prayer is needed for this kind of demon. The implication – the disciples were trying to cast out this demon/heal this boy on their own – not with the power of God.

A colleague of mine says “Prayer = Power.” He says it not because it is a cute saying, but because the Bible reveals such a statement to be true. The disciples did not have the necessary power because they had not spent the necessary time with God. And to continually experience (if not invoke) God’s power our prayers must be persistent. The disciples had seen Jesus pray and witnessed the effects of His praying. Because of this, they asked Him to teach them to pray. But knowing how to do something and doing it are two different things. Praying not only shows we have faith, but when we pray to God we are honoring the very source of our faith. We are showing that we desire to talk to Him!

One more thought. I am making an inference here, but if it has any truth to it, then it is more than a little scary. Remember, the man came seeking Jesus to heal His boy (9.17). Jesus was still on the mountain so the man calculated that Jesus the disciples would be able to cast out the demon. Yet, as we know, they were unable to do so. So, here is my question of inference?

Was this man’s faith stronger before he went to the disciples? The man said, “I believe; help my unbelief” after the disciples failed. Was his lack of faith in part because of the disciples lack of prayer? Did the very disciples of Jesus almost prevent this man from having faith in God? (Again, this question is inferred; the Bible does not declare this is so.) However, if it was true for the disciples then, it can certainly be true for His disciples now? May it not be true of us!


I believe; help my unbelief! Those words are so honest; and probably represent a part of each of us. What do you need help believing?

Do you need help believing:
  • God can guide you through some challenge?
  • God can take away the pain (physically, emotionally, spiritually)?
  • God could love you or that He still does love you?
  • God cares for you?
  • God died for you?
Or maybe it is something else like believing:
  • This country could still have a bright future?
  • This country could be better off 50 years from now than it was 50 years ago?
  • God is still in control regardless of the upcoming election?
Or what about believing:
  • God desires to use you to make a difference in someone’s life?
  • God desires to use you to make a difference in this world?


The JOURNEY letter for today is: R – Revere.

We revere God because of His immeasurable greatness and power. I encourage you to read Ephesians 1.15-23, paying careful attention to verses 19-20.


This week, our opportunity is two fold:

  • An opportunity to show our faith to others through our lives.
  • An opportunity to show our faith to God through our prayers.

How much different would most lives be if they had the faith of this man? So how can we develop this kind of faith and share it with others.


Learn what your expectations are – from God, from yourself, and from others. Then determine what you need that can only be met by God? Read Psalm 37.4. God will give us the desires of our heart, but only if we delight ourselves in Him. God wants to give to us, but what He will give is ultimately for His glory not ours.

Live purposefully. We can do many things on purpose (sit down to watch tv), but what do we do that is done with purpose? It is only what is done in faith which will please God (Heb 11.6), and as we have discovered, true faith requires purpose.

Love properly. Trust God completely, but be discerning in how He wants you to participate in His work. We are all called to serve, but not everyone is called to serve in the same way. Loving God and loving others is best done when we each serve (properly) from our strengths.

Lead prayerfully. As you succeed (or are learning to) in the areas of Learn, Live, and Love, ask God to show you His power in leading others to follow Jesus by learning from you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"I Believe, Help My Unbelief", A Closer Look by Roger Martin

“… I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24

The situation described here in Mark is Jesus healing a boy with an unclean spirit. Jesus, Peter, James, and John were coming down the mountain after the Transfiguration described in Mark 9:2-13. As they approached the disciples they observed a great crowd around them and scribes or teachers of the law were arguing with them.

The discussion centered around the child suffering from an unclean spirit which seemed to manifest itself in the child with symptoms that we might associate with epilepsy or seizures. Maybe the scribes were disputing the disciples’ ability to cast out spirits. In Mark 6:7 Jesus had sent out the disciples two by two with authority to drive out demons. In verses 6:12-13 Mark indicates that they were successful in going out and preaching that people should repent, in driving out demons, and in anointing many with oil and healing them.

This concerned father had brought his son to them with anticipation that the affliction of his son might be cured. The disciples, however, were unable to remove this demon from the child. When Jesus asked them the problem the man came forward and said that he brought his son to Him because he had a spirit that made him mute; he also described the other life-threatening symptoms.

Jesus then asked that the boy be brought to Him and described those nearby as a faithless generation. Upon seeing Jesus, the spirit caused the boy to convulse. Jesus further inquired of the father of the history of the affliction and the father responded with further description. The he said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

In verse 9:23 Jesus responded, “‘If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.” The father cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The father’s response might be typical of both you and me. He brought his son before Jesus and the disciples, perhaps grasping at straws in an effort to cure his son. But in his mind, the father may have been thinking, “I’m going to do this but it probably won’t do any good.”

Too often I find myself hearing, reading, or thinking of God’s power but in my finite mind I think, “How could that possibly happen?” or “How could God be concerned about my problem?” I tend to want to know how or why something works or what the motivation is behind the response I am receiving or expecting.

Hebrews 11 describes the necessity of faith and verse 6 says that without faith we cannot please God and to draw near to Him we must believe that He exists. Hence, the dilemma, faith is never perfect. As believers in Christ we often falter. God anticipated our lack of faith because in Matthew 17:20 Jesus describes, “… if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed…” you can do great things like move mountains. Also in Luke 17:6, Jesus says that with faith you can uproot mulberry trees and cast them into the ocean. 

I find great solace in realizing that though we are far from the perfection that God desires for us, He is still able to do great things in and through us. Romans 8:26-28 says that the Spirit helps us in our weakness; when we do not know what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. That is very comforting.

Back to the miracle at hand, when the disciples asked Jesus why they could not drive out the demon, He responded that “this kind can come out only with prayer.” Andy covers this in more detail in the blog post here (available on Oct 26)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Feasts of Israel: "Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles)"

The primary passages for the Feast of Sukkot can be found in: Leviticus 23.33-43, Numbers 29.12-38, Deuteronomy 16.16, and Nehemiah 8.14-17.

This week, our focus is on the third and final major fall feast that Israel celebrates and has celebrated for some 35 centuries. Consider that statement for a moment. This holiday which is a holy day has been celebrated for over 3400 years. In America, some of the most celebrated days are Mother’s Day (officially a holiday beginning in 1914), Thanksgiving (official in 1863, though first celebrated in 1621), Independence Day (declared in 1776), and Christmas which although it hasn’t been celebrated for the full time, was initiated about 4 BC.

These are four of the most celebrated holidays in America today. However, none of these comes close to matching the length of time that the feasts of Israel have been celebrated. And while we may not commemorate the Feasts specifically, Christians do recognize them yearly on days such as Resurrection Day and Pentecost, especially. Furthermore, it is possible that the first Thanksgiving coincided with the dates of the Feast of Sukkot. The reasoning for the observance may have been different (the Jews celebrated the harvest while the Pilgrims were preparing for a harsh winter), but one former vice-president of the Plimoth Plantation suggested the date was Sept. 29, and was almost certainly between Sept 21 and Nov 11, 1621. Any of these dates until October 20th would fit the necessary requirements of the Hebrew calendar.

So what is this feast and why is it significant? Let us look at a few crucial elements and then turn to the Bible to see how Jesus fits into the equation.

The Origins

The feast is called Sukkot. We usually refer to the feast as the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles, which are a translation of Sukkot. However, the feast is also known as the Feast of Ingathering because it represents the final harvest of the Fall. It is the greatest harvest of the year – the fruit is brought in (mainly grapes, olives, pomegranates, figs, and dates) and the rest of the wheat is harvested as well.

The date for this feast begins on the 15th day of Tishri, which is five days after the Day of Atonement. By the time Jesus was born this holy day was a major time of celebration, yet the celebration of God’s goodness in the present contains a definite reminder of His faithfulness in the past. And that is where this feast derives its name.

In Leviticus 23.42, God commands that “all native Israelites shall dwell in booths for seven days.” This is to be done throughout all generations as a reminder that the people dwelled “in booths when I brought them out of Egypt” (v. 43). These booths (or sukkahs) were what the ancient people lived in in the wilderness, and the annual celebration is a reminder to each generation since. Imagine, decades later when the Israelites were in the Promised Land, tents popping up everywhere in remembrance of their time in the wilderness. Consider an older woman walking to get some water when a young girl (perhaps a granddaughter) asks why all of the tents are up. The woman would walk along and tell stories about the faithfulness of God to His people – including her and that she was there to cross the Jordan. Perhaps a grandfather sat down with his grandchildren in one of these tents/booths before a meal and told them of the mighty acts of God and that he, personally, was there when the walls of Jericho fell. Such reflections and stories being passed to subsequent generations were a major concern of God for the celebration of this feast.

The Traditions

According to the Bible, three specific commands are given in the Torah with regard to Sukkot. The people were to dwell in their sukkah, gather four species of plant, and rejoice. Subsequently many traditions were added including various recitings and readings (including the Book of Ecclesiastes), inviting symbolic guests from Israel’s past (ushpizin) to the sukkah, and other rituals associated with the seventh day of the festival (Hoshana Rabbah). (1)

The Sacrifice

Over the total of the eight days, the following would have represented the full number of sacrifices during the festival, all of which were to acknowledge God’s sovereignty:
71 bulls
15 rams
122 lambs
22 bushels of fine flour
65 gallons of olive oil

The Sukkah

A Sukkah

A Sukkah

The Sukkah has been declared to be a temporary structure with a minimum of three walls. The dwelling is often decorated with flowers, leaves, fruits, and vegetables. The wind must be allowed to pass through to some degree and the roof must have a gap in it in order to see the stars. Seeing the sky above and feeling the wind blow through is reminder that security is not from the walls or ceiling but, rather, true security is from the Lord. 

The command was to live in it during the time of the feast. Some do live in it for this week, but many just eat meals there. Harvesters in the field often build “field shelters” in order to remain near the crops to protect them. Additionally, synagogues even today may build a sukkah for the benefit of those congregants who do not have their own. (2) 

Four species of plant were probably originally used to build the sukkah. Leviticus 23.40 mentions fruit of splendid trees, branches of palms, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook. For those who build today, the trees are primarily – olive, myrtle, palm, other leafy trees. These four species were used to construct a lulav (an unfolded palm) in a separate ceremony which were used to “rejoice before the Lord” (also Lev. 23.40). This is done by waving the lulav and singing the Hallel Psalms (113-118). Hallel is simply a word for praise and is the root of Hallelujah. These 6 Psalms are recited in their entirety.

Now, think ahead to the Spring. Each year, we remember the day that Jesus enters Jerusalem on the Sunday before His death. We call this Palm Sunday because of the text which says they waved palm branches. It is important to remember (or realize) that all Jewish males who were able were required by God to travel to Jerusalem at the time of Passover in the early Spring, Shavuot in the late Spring, and during Sukkot in the Fall. Thus, the custom of waving branches is not just something that the people did for Jesus, it was something that Jesus would have done in rejoicing before the Lord for much of His life.

The Ceremonies

The two primary ceremonial rituals have to do with water and light. The climate of Israel is very dry between May and October (which is largely between the two times of harvest). The ground becomes dry and barren in many places and the people realize their need for God so they cry out for rain. Thus the first ceremony is a water drawing ceremony which is called Simchat Beit Hashoevah.

The water ceremony consists of the following elements (3)(broadly):

  • A priest filled a golden pitcher with water from the Pool of Siloam. (pics) while the choir sang Isaiah 12.3
  • The priest then carried water from Siloam to the Water Gate.
  • Once inside the gate, it was taken to the temple which symbolizes the whole world will know God when Messiah comes. (Isaiah 11.9)
  • The Priest climbed altar steps and poured water on the alter with the crowd singing around him. (The pouring of the water came to symbolize the water flowing from the rock in the wilderness.  See Exodus 17.1-7 and Numbers 20.8-13.)

After the completion of the water portion, the focus turned to light.

  • Golden lampstands were lit in the temple courtyard.
  • The people carried torches around temple, and then set the torches around walls of temple to show that Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles (Is 49.6)
Keep these ceremonies in mind as we move from tradition (as rich and symbolic as it truly was) to the truth of Jesus!

Beyond Tradition

We do not have a great deal of information in the Bible about Jesus celebrating at the various feasts, and what we do have often causes a bit of debate. But very clearly, Jesus was present at the Feast of Booths as we find in John 7. Let me provide a quick overview of this magnificent scene, by drawing attention to a few specific verses. As I begin, remember, that if this is like a typical year, it is very dry. Perhaps it has not rained in months. The people are in the midst of celebrating the harvest, but also praying for rain – that is, for water to come down and nourish them and the land.

John 7
v. 2 Jesus was preparing to go to Jerusalem for Feast of Booths.
vv. 3-5 His brothers are seemingly taunting Jesus to do something significant to show He who thinks He is.
v. 10 Jesus sends them on to Jerusalem, but goes later in private.
v. 14 In the middle of the feast, Jesus is teaching and the people marvel.
v. 16 Jesus claims He is from God. (In verse 33, He says He is returning to God Himself.)
v. 20 The crowd claims Jesus has a demon.
v. 25 Some people wonder if Jesus might be Christ.
vv. 30, 32 Religious leaders try to arrest Jesus.
vv. 37-38 Jesus stands up and announces Himself.
vv. 40-44 Different opinions about who Jesus really is.

Now, the important part is found in considering verses 37-38. In the middle of the water ceremony described above, while the Jews are focused on pleading for God to send them water, Jesus proclaims that He is the source of their refreshment. And all who believe will have living water (i.e the water that does not grow stagnant, it is flowing and moving). This is stunning!

I mentioned above that a part of their tradition was taking the water into the temple to show that the whole world would know when the Messiah comes. Jesus is basically announcing “I am He. And I am here.” And yet they miss it.

But that isn’t all.

Remember I also just mentioned a ceremony involving the lighting of torches. These torches were left to burn overnight. And the next morning, as Jesus walked through this very area, while the torches burned nearby, Jesus proclaimed that He is the “light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8.12). Again, it is a stunning declaration and even more stunning that no one understood!

In a matter of less than a day, Jesus has announced to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Sukkot – the feast of our focus today – that He is both the living water and the light of life. Like the people in Jerusalem that day, it is our choice to believe this claim or not. But if it is true, it is true because of one other aspect – that Jesus chose to dwell with us. Remember, God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle (the Tent of Meeting) for God to have a place among the people. But John 1 says that Jesus came to dwell among the people.

“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

The word translated as “dwelt” is the same word for “tabernacle.” So Jesus tabernacled among mankind and at the Feast of Tabernacles announced His presence as both the water and light of life. That life is not just for the Jews, but for all who believe. Remember, it is not just the Feasts of Booths, but the Feast of Ingathering. And Zechariah 14.16-19 talks about people from every nation coming to Jerusalem to worship the King during this time of the Feast.


During each Feast I have mentioned three main lessons: God’s Protection, God’s Provision, and God’s Promise. Let’s review these now and then  will also see how these lessons apply to us.

Protection: God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness – the tents were to serve as a reminder.

Provision: The abundance of offerings were a reminder of the blessings of the Lord.

Promise: Just as He brought the Israelites out of Egypt, God will deliver His people again.

One Word: Joy

The previous week’s words were: Dedication (Rosh HaShanah) and Mercy (Yom Kippur).

Arrangement of the Camp of Israel
Our joy comes from knowing God. Our hope comes from trusting Jesus. And our assurance comes in knowing that God always has a plan and is working it for His purposes. As an example of just how purposeful God is, look at the picture here. This is the layout of the Israelite camp as they traveled in the wilderness. Whenever they would stop, each of the twelve tribes was supposed to locate on one of the four sides of the tabernacle – three on each side. Because of the differences in the the population, one side extended much further than the other three. Viewed from above (from God’s vantage point), the proportions of the people would have roughly formed an image of the cross as they dwelt in their tents.

God always has a plan. And each of the feasts will be fully realized according to God’s plan. Jesus first coming fully satisfied the feasts of Passover and Firstfruits. The Feast of Pentecost was satisfied when the Holy Spirit came. However, even though elements of the three Fall Feasts have been satisfied (e.g. Jesus in John 7), the full realization of their meaning awaits. The Feast of Trumpets will coincide with the event many commonly refer to as the rapture. After that all will be judged and those that have accepted the atonement made for them (by Jesus) and will thus tabernacle forever with Him. 

Our church concluded the service this week by considering the water and light ceremonies described above. In a symbolic way, each person poured out water and then lit a candle while reflecting on Jesus fulfillment of this feast. I then mentioned Jesus words about us praying to the Lord of the harvest for harvest workers with a focus (during this actual harvest season) on the people who need to be a part of the ingathering (Matthew 9.37-38).

My encouragement to you is to consider how God might use you to work in His fields in the coming days, weeks, months, and years ahead. We get to share in that harvest. We get to be the workers of that harvest. We have been called to work the harvest. But the question is: how will we respond?

1. Eisenberg, R. L. (2004). The JPS guide to Jewish traditions (1st ed., p. 228). Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.
2. Ibid., 230.
3. Gary M. Burge. Jesus and the Jewish Festivals (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2012, 67-82).

Next week, this blog will return to the series from Mark – Follow Me...In the Footsteps of Yeshua.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Feasts of Israel: "Day of Atonement"

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is not a day of feasting; rather, it is a day of fasting. However, the day before is a day to feast and the instructions for this holy day are in the midst of God’s directions to the Israelites in both Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29.

Last week, I posted on the first of Israel’s three Fall Feasts – The Feast of Trumpets which also marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year – Rosh HaShanah (click here). I mentioned last week that the belief is that God decides the judgment on Rosh HaShanah, but the verdict isn’t sealed until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). During the time between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the people examine their deeds, pray, fast, and repent. Yom Kippur begins the tenth day of the 7th month, and these ten days are known as The Ten Days of Repentance or the Ten Days of Awe.

The purpose of these ten days is to examine yourself, and pray for forgiveness, fast to show you mean it, and seek repentance to reduce the severity of the judgment that God has for you. What is expected is to first seek the forgiveness of others before seeking the forgiveness of God. It is thought that if we are not willing to seek forgiveness from those we can see, how can we truly seek forgiveness from God, whom we can’t see. Actually, this thought has a parallel in 1 John 4, where John wrote that how can we love God (whom we can’t see) if we are unable to love others (whom we can). Back to the idea of forgiveness, it is said that forgiveness must be sought, we cannot make others forgive. However, the Jewish rabbis long ago made it an expectation that if a fellow Jew seeks forgiveness during these ten days, you are commanded to graciously forgive.

Once forgiveness has been sought from others, one can then turn to ask God for forgiveness. Now, given this thought process, put yourself on the date of Yom Kippur – the actual date, the day that the judgment is sealed – in 1973. Israelis are fasting and observing their various ceremonies when news comes to them that Egypt is crossing the Suez Canal and making their way into the Sinai Peninsula. To the north, the Syrians have entered the Golan Heights and are making a march on Israel. Has God’s judgment come in the form of two enemies who coordinated their attacks during the holiest day of the year?

It is interesting to consider this question, especially in light of the fact that Yom Kippur is about the covering of sins. That is what atonement (or Kippur) means – covering. Of course, we know that our sins were paid (covered) by Jesus on the cross at Passover (Pesach) which reflects the lamb’s blood covering the door of the Israelites in Egypt. So, a good question is: Why did the Israelites, and later the Jews celebrate this Day of Atonement in the 7th month rather than in the first month (at Passover). It is a good question, and I have the perfect answer. God told them to do so. So what does it mean to have this separate day of covering? Well, hold on until the end, and I will try to answer that question. First, however, let me share a few more of the traditions related to this day, and then explain what God commanded for this day.

The Traditions

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, many Jews go to the cemetery to ask for their ancestors to intercede on their behalf. The problem is that we are not to pray for the dead because their fate cannot be changed (Luke 16.19-31), nor to the dead for they know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9.5). We are appointed to die once and then face judgment (Hebrews 9.27), and have but one Advocate and that is Jesus (1 John 2.1).

I mentioned last week that Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. (Rosh HaShanah is second most holy day). The prayer, the fasting, and especially the repentance is not just for the individual, it is for the community. While God certainly holds the individual responsible for their sin, the Bible clearly shows that one person’s sin affects the entire community. So a big portion of this day is not only make sure that you are ok with the Lord, but that others are as well.

Yom Kippur was crucial in understanding the tabernacle and later the structure of the temple. However, after the temple was destroyed, the sacrifices were no longer possible – as God had decreed – and prayer became the central element. On Yom Kippur, the synagogue took an important role. Additionally, the concept of afflicting the soul (Leviticus 23.27) was interpreted for clarity. According to the sages, the duty of afflicting the soul requires the prohibition of (1) eating and drinking, (2) bathing for pleasure, (3) anointing of the body with oil, (4) wearing leather shoes, and (5) engaging in sexual relations (Yoma 8:1). (1)

The synagogue ritual of Yom Kippur is structured around its five services, one more than is usual for a Sabbath or festival:
Kol Nidrei, the evening service.
Shacharit, the morning service.
Musaf, the additional service that includes the martyrology—remembering those who have given their lives for kiddush ha-Shem (sanctification of God’s name) and whose memory we invoke to ensure God’s blessing—and the Avodah, a description of the temple ritual for the day (see p. 218).
Mincha, the afternoon service.
Ne’ilah, the concluding service). (2)

With a brief look at the traditions of this Jewish holy day, let us now return to its primary purpose – atonement – the “covering” of our sins when we repent. And this is not just a part of tradition, but a command directly from God.


The primary passages about this day are from Leviticus 23.26-32, Numbers 29.7-11, and Leviticus 16. Leviticus 23 gives some important generalities – such as which day and instructions not to do any work,  Numbers 29 provides specifics on the sacrifices for the day – such as a bull, a ram, and seven male lambs plus the necessary grain and oil and the other elements for the various offerings due. But Leviticus 16 provides some details that we will quickly review today. Again, I think it is important that we see how these details came to be and what they meant. I will provide a brief understanding about Jesus fulfillment of this day, and then a bonus post late next week will provide further insights.

The Holy of Holies

Tabernacle as Described in the Old Testament
This area was the centermost of the tabernacle and later the temple. God’s promise was to be in the cloud above the seat of mercy one day per year. That is why the desire for mercy begins on Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh HaShanah, the Jews pray mentioning the 13 Attributes of Mercy as found in Exodus 34.6-7. All of that is prelude to God being at the mercy seat at the Day of Atonement.

Only one person could enter this place each year and only on this day of the year. The duty fell to the high priest and before he could enter he had to purify himself. The glory of God was present so anyone who was not worthy – or if they did anything wrong while in the presence of God would die. In fact, to prevent this, in much later times (from when God decreed the day), the Jews tied a rope with a small bell on the high priest so that if they stopped hearing the bell move, they would know the man had died and they could pull him out by the rope.

The Process of Atonement

The Jews added a couple of elements to this process to make sure that the high priest was ready for his assignment:
First, the high priest (Hebrew – Kohen gadol) was put into seclusion for one week. This was done so he wouldn’t accidentally touch or eat anything unclean.
Second, on the night before, the priest stayed up all night praying and reading God’s Word to purify His soul.

Then came the day of Atonement. On this day, many rituals were put in place – BY GOD – to make the process complete. You can read the full account in Leviticus 16, I am only highlighting the process.

1. Bathed from head to toe and dressed in pure, unstained white linen (Leviticus 16.4)
2. Make atonement for himself and his family (v. 6)
3. Burning of incense (vv. 12-13)
4. Sprinkling of blood (v. 14)
5. Make atonement for the Holy Place (vv. 15-16)
6. Make atonement for the tent of meeting (vv. 16-17)
7. Make atonement for the altar (vv. 18-19)
8. Lay hands on a goat to lay the sins of the people upon it (vv. 21-22)
9. Remove clothes, completely bathe and put on new white linen garments
10. Make atonement for the priests (v. 33)
11. Remove clothes, completely bathe and put on new white linen garments
12. Make atonement for the people of Israel (v. 24, 33)

This was nearly all done in full public view although the mikvah (where the ritual bathing took place) had a thin screen, so people could make sure it was done right.
One commentary describes the scene this way:
During the course of the day, he immersed himself and changed his clothes five times and washed his hands and feet 10 times.

The Kohen Gadol first offered a bull as his personal sin offering. He confessed his sins and those of his family, then the sins of the tribe of Aaron (the Kohanim), and finally those of all Israel (Leviticus 16:17). Every time the Kohen Gadol uttered the holy name of God (the Tetragrammaton), which was spoken only on Yom Kippur, the people prostrated themselves and responded: “Praised is His name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever.” (3)

The Scapegoat

This portion has always been intriguing to me. God tells Moses that two goats are to be given by the people and the high priest is to cast lots to determine which one is killed and which one will be set loose. Now, when you first hear this you might think that the one set loose is better off – but that is actually the opposite of the truth.

  • The goat that is killed has its blood used as a part of the atonement process.
  • The goat that is set loose into the wilderness is only set loose after all of the sins of the people are placed upon it.

Thus, each year, one goat is chosen to bear the entirety of all sin for all of the people of all of Israel. This goat is then sent into the wilderness to Azazel. No one is fully certain what Azazel represents? Some believe it is a place, others believe it is a demonic presence. A great deal of thought has been put forth regarding the concept of a goat-demon and this story feeds into that thought process. Regardless, this goat was sent into the wilderness.

The goat is said to BEAR the sins of the people and is sent into wilderness never to return (Leviticus 16.8-10, 20-22, 29-34). This notion is where the concept of the scapegoat originates. The goat does escape, though it carries the burden of guilt on behalf of others. The interesting aspect here is that as we think of atonement, we have been taught that Jesus is our atonement. And He is! Here, we might consider each goat as representing a portion of who Jesus is – the goat that is slaughtered to make atonement is the perfectly, divine part of Jesus. The goat that bears the sins represents the humanity of Jesus – who though sinless Himself bore our iniquity. Yes, Jesus was the spotless Lamb, but the goats represent a part of the idea of atonement as well.

Three Lessons of Yom Kippur

Each of the feasts has three main lessons: God’s Protection, God’s Provision, and God’s Promise. Let’s review these now and we will see one means of how these lessons apply to us.

Protection: God’s mercy is real. (Leviticus 16.2b)

Provision: God has made a way for us to receive His mercy. (Leviticus 16)

Promise: God made a permanent – once and for all way – to receive His mercy. (Hebrews 9.11-28)

The one word that should come to mind for this day is mercy. Yes, it is the Day of Atonement. But God made a covering (atonement) for us because of His mercy. Many know the definition of mercy to be not getting something we deserve. That is what this day represents with God upon His seat of mercy – our sins being covered because of His great mercy.

The Real High Priest

Tim Keller, in his book, King’s Cross (see pages 81-84), provides a look at Zechariah 3 and how the high priest Joshua was shown to the prophet in a vision. Keller captures the essence well and I will borrow from him and from Zechariah 3 directly to help paint one more picture of this day.

The vision Zechariah sees would have been unbelievably disturbing to a Jew. First, the vision begins with the Lord and Satan on either side of Joshua, but the truly disturbing part would have been how Joshua is described – He is wearing clothing described as “filthy garments.” Although this Hebrew word is unique within the Old Testament, many times the idea of filthy relates to excrement or menstrual filth. Why is this significant? Remember, the high priest was to be fully bathed and in pure white linen garments when performing his duties on Yom Kippur.

But Joshua is not presented in this way. Instead, look what happens, the angel of the Lord (that is an OT notation for the Son of God) says, take off his clothes, because I have made you clean and I will give you clean garments (v. 4). He goes on to say that the “iniquity of the land” will be removed “in a single day” (v. 9, that is, the Day of Atonement!). The significance of this is astounding! The high priest, in this case, Joshua, could never truly make atonement. He could cover up the sins from the prior year, but the process had to be repeated the following year. And the year after that and after that, etc. But our high priest – Yeshua – makes atonement for all time – for the high priest, for the assembly, for everyone. (Incidentally, Yeshua and Joshua are the same spelling in the Hebrew.) So, it was another Joshua, or Yeshua, that came to truly make atonement for us.

Consider a few more aspects of the high priest and Jesus.

Like the high priests:
Jesus was prepared the prior week  (John 12.1, 3)
Jesus stayed up the night before praying (John 17)
But Jesus was spotless, yet He took our sins (John 1.29)

But unlike the high priests before Him, Jesus was the:
Ultimate Fulfillment (1 Peter 1.19)
Superior High Priest (Hebrews 7.22-28)
Once-for-All Sacrifice (Hebrews 9.11-28)
Redemptive Cleansing (Hebrews 10.19-22)

At our church this week, we remembered Christ’s sacrifice by partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Rather than the usual Steps, let me encourage you to confess your sins, seek God’s mercy through repentance, and reflect on what Jesus, as our great high priest did for us by becoming the once-for-all sacrifice.

1. Eisenberg, R. L. (2004). The JPS guide to Jewish traditions (1st ed., p. 206). Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.
2. Ibid., 208.
3. Ibid., 220.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Feasts of Israel: "Feast of Trumpets"

Each major Israelite feast recognized a specific aspect of God’s saving work. Since sharing a table signified peace or fellowship, feasts as religious observances demonstrated a peaceful relationship between God and Israel. The most significant texts regarding the feasts of Israel are found in Leviticus 23 (describing the festivals), Numbers 28-29 (emphasizing the offerings), and Deuteronomy 16 (focusing on the pilgrimages).

As we consider this first feast of the Jewish year, we must realize this month is an especially holy month for the Jews. Not only do they celebrate three particular feasts, but because of God’s decrees, four additional Sabbaths are to observed as well. Remember Sabbath indicates a day of rest, not just a day of the week.

The first of these feasts is what is commonly known as the Feast of Trumpets. The Jewish word is Teruah which means “blowing.” We will come to the biblical relevance of this feast in a moment, but for now, let me take a few minutes to discuss the current observance. Most Jews today refer to this day as Rosh Hashanah. Rosh means “head” and shanah is the term for year. This term is used in Ezekiel 40.1, and was celebrated after the exile as we find in Nehemiah 8.2. The Bible says that by the end of the day they were rejoicing because they had heard the Word of the Lord (Neh. 8.12).

This holiday is meant to show Israel’s acceptance of God as their King and to plead for His mercy. It is the second most holy day of the year. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the holiest day of the Jewish year and we will observe that holy day next week.

In America (and elsewhere), many people make resolutions for each new year, but the Jews have distinct beliefs ascribed to the day as they begin their new year. What they believe, and therefore what they pray, is often based upon how they interpret Deuteronomy 11.12 – specifically, that “The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it (the land), from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

One thought on this verse is that God decides at the beginning of the year what will happen by the end of it.
Let me state that this is a less than complete understanding of God’s omniscience. Ephesians 1.4 says that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. God does make decisions seemingly ahead of time, but that is because God is outside of time. He is not bound by time; He created it! Thus, God does know what will happen one year from now, but not because He is making that decision now. And also not because He is enforcing it upon us. God can know (and does know) because He is not fixed to a moment in time like we are. I cannot fully fathom this concept, but the reality is that as you read this, God can be present before Creation, at Creation, at the cross, here with you, and waiting for us to join Him tomorrow, next week, next year, and for eternity. For God, none of those fixed points in time matter. They only matter for us – and that is one reason we can trust Him – forever God is faithful!

Another central idea for this day (which is related) is that God decides on Rosh HaShanah what each person will earn that year. That is, what your harvest will be, and even whether you will live or die. Thus, many of the prayers concern having a name being written in the Book of Life. Here is a writing from a rabbi (Rabbi Keruspedai said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan) based upon this concept:

Three books are opened [in heaven] on Rosh Hashanah: one for the completely wicked [whose bad deeds definitely outweigh their good], one for the completely righteous, and one for the intermediate [average persons]. The completely righteous are immediately inscribed in the Book of Life; the completely wicked are immediately inscribed in the Book of Death; the doom of the intermediate is suspended from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Death (RH 16b).(1)

Again, an understanding of the gospel of grace will dispel this as myth. Why? Because it is not about what we do to earn salvation. Our salvation comes from God and is made possible by the death of Christ. We will see more of this next week when we talk about the atonement. What you might remember from this text is the last portion. The idea of judgement begins at Rosh HaShanah, but it is not complete until Yom Kippur (which again, we will review next week).

So, I have just dispelled two major thoughts related to how Jews celebrate this holy day although both are derived from an interpretation of Deuteronomy 11.12. I hope that leads you to ask a question? Why, then, should this day be studied? Before I answer that question, let me provide a couple of distinct reasons that Jews consider this holiday so important.

1) They consider Creation to have begun on this day.
2) They consider the sacrifice of Isaac to have happened on the second day (their holiday is two days long).
3) They believe Hannah became pregnant with Samuel on Rosh Hashanah.

So, if those beliefs are true, this is an important day to the Christian faith as well. But whether or not those events happened on this day, the people of God were told to commemorate this day. So, I want to share a little about this feast that the Lord prescribed to Israel, and then determine what, if anything, may apply to us today.

The Bible provides four main elements to this holy day. Let me provide a little insight.

1. The feast is to begin on the first day of the seventh month (Lev 23.24; Num 29.1).

Realize God provided the ancient Israelites with the times for their years, and our celebrating of January 1 as the new year did not begin until 1753. The Jewish New Year begins at sundown and continues for two days – this year’s dates being Oct 2 – Oct 4.

2. The feast is a memorial proclaimed by the blowing of the trumpets (Lev 23.24).

The feast itself is the Feast of Teruah (“day of blowing”). This is not the same trumpets that were called for gathering the people’s together; rather these trumpets were usually used for war. In ancient times, that was a primary purpose for the trumpet – a summons for war. Numbers 29.1 calls for a blowing of the trumpets, but not because of war, although the idea of judgment was at hand and thus creating a war-like urgency was a part of the concept.

As for the memorial, “the trumpets were sounded as a triumphant memorial to God’s great provision for his people through the Sinai covenant.” (2)

The blowing was not through a literal trumpet, but from a shofar. Blowing the shofar announces the coronation of God as King, an important theme of Rosh Hashanah. It also emphasizes two other major motifs of the holiday—remembering God as the Creator of the world (after the blowing of the shofar, a prayer is recited that begins “Today the world was born”) and the Revelation at Mount Sinai, where the ram’s horn was sounded. (3)

According to the Talmud, the ritual commandment to hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah can be fulfilled using a shofar made from an antelope, gazelle, goat, mountain goat, or ram (RH 27a). All of these are kosher animals that have horns with removable cartilage. This second feature is important because a shofar must be hollow, since it is derived from the word “shefoferet” meaning “tube.” The Talmud explicitly forbids using a cow’s horn because it is known as a “keren,” not a “shofar,” adding that it is forbidden because our advocate on Rosh Hashanah should not be a reminder of the Golden Calf, our great sin and accuser. We do not want our past transgressions to bias God against forgiving our current sins (“the accuser may not act as defender”; RH 26a). The Rabbis strongly recommended the use of a ram’s horn as a shofar because of its association with the story of the Akedah (see p. 194) (RH 16a). A ram’s horn is also desirable because it is curved, which is symbolic of our bowing in submission to God’s will. (4)

The blowing came to symbolize a return to the homeland. For instance, in Isaiah 27.13 we find, “And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.” Furthermore, in addition to the traditional belief that the shofar will announce the resurrection of the dead, according to a medieval legend Elijah will blow the shofar three days before the arrival of the Messiah. (5) This speaks a bit to the importance of the trumpet sound to Christian. More on that in a few minutes.

3. The day requires a holy convocation and solemn rest (Lev 23.24-25).

Holy means to be set apart. Convocation means a gathering of the people. Solemn is to be formal, serious, or sincere. Rest is the idea of “to cease and desist” which is really the meaning of Sabbath. Thus, on the first day of the 7th month, our holy God called His people together to rest from their ordinary labor (do no ordinary work) and be dedicated to Him. As Christians, we are called to do no less, but as we find in the New Testament, we are not limited to doing this on a once-a-week basis – the early church met daily. Regardless, we are to be a people who find our value in the Way over our value in the work. We should take our time to be holy with our God now as they were then.

4. The feast requires the people to make sacrifices (Numbers 29.2-6).

Moving to the book of Numbers, we find that this day was also a day for sacrifice. Now, the actual numbers for this feast are given, but as this was the first day of the month, they would also have had offerings for the new moon and other offerings (see Numbers 29.6). Thus, in total for this feast, the offerings (a pleasing aroma to the Lord) would have been:

  • 3 bulls, 2 rams, 16 lambs
  • 1.6 bushels of flour
  • 6 gallons of oil
  • 6 gallons of wine

So, these are the four main aspects the Lord requires for the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah). I mentioned in June at the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) that each of the feasts has three main lessons: God’s Protection, God’s Provision, and God’s Promise. Let’s review these now and we will also see how these lessons apply to us.

  • Protection: Leviticus 23.24 – Memorial – God’s Protection Through Prior Year(s) – Our Thanksgiving
  • Provision: Leviticus 23.25, Numbers 29.2-6 – Offerings to the Lord (sacrifices from His provision) – Our Giving
  • Promise: 1 Corinthians 15.52, 1 Thessalonians 4.16, Revelation 11.15 – The King will return, gather His elect, and reign forevermore!

So, what can we, as Christians, living in the 21st century AD take from a command given to Israel in about the 15th Century BC take from this?

One Word: Dedication

That is what this day is truly about. The dedication that the Creator King has for His people and the dedication that we, in turn, should have for Him. Whether we agree with the traditions or not, each tradition that accompanies this date has a defined reason. For instance, the use of honey expresses the idea of sweetness, but was also chosen because the Hebrew word for honey has the same numeric value as “Father of Mercy” (406) – the divine attribute which is prayed on this day. Likewise, pomegranates are important because of the number of seeds. The seeds themselves represent fertility and abundance, but the number – believed to be 613 – is the number of commands found in the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy). And carrots are used because the Yiddish word for “more” is – meirin which is the Hebrew word for carrot.

While we may learn some interesting facts on words and traditions, it all points back to the need for dedication. And as I said earlier, this week points forward to next week when Yom Kippur is celebrated. It is a ten-day window of opportunity to get right with God before His judgement for the year is sealed.

Again, that may not reflect our understanding as Christians, but some principles do overlap. And we should be most concerned with being right with God before our judgement is announced. God is a merciful God (cf Exodus 34.6-7), and Jesus did promise an abundant life, but such a life if only made possible through, and in Him (John 10.10; 15.5).

Learn: As you reflect on these feasts take time to consider how the promises of God are fulfilled in the feasts He has prescribed for the people of Israel. Then consider how Jesus came to fulfill those ideas the first time, or how He will when He returns.

Live: Seek God’s mercy today. Confess your sin to Him and ask for His mercy upon you.

Love: Realize God provided instructions for these feasts in order that the Israelites honor Him. How can you better love and honor God today?

Lead: Lead others to better understand how the feasts instituted so long ago can still have some relevance.

1. Eisenberg, R. L. (2004). The JPS guide to Jewish traditions (1st ed., p. 185). Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.
2. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 785). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
3. Eisenberg, JPS guide to Jewish traditions, 195.
4. Ibid., 191-192.
5. Ibid., 191.