A Holy Calendar
Based on a sermon by Peter Shee—Singapore
Every year, around October or
November, we see calendars for sale in stores. Most of us will have one at home
or in our office, reminding us of significant dates, such as public holidays, annual
leave, school holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and appointments.
Different countries and cultures may
have different calendars, depending on whether they follow the cycle of the sun
or the moon, and which take into account local customs. The calendar of ancient
Israel particularly stands out, because it was devised by God to include seven
feasts to be observed by the chosen people each year in order to commemorate
significant events in their history.
We may wonder what relevance Israel’s
history has for us today. Indeed, it has great relevance, because Israel was
God’s channel of blessing for the whole of mankind. Through them, we have come
to know the one true God and Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind. The seven
feasts in the holy calendar point to the story of God’s salvation and His love—how
He sent His only begotten Son to die for us, and how He has prepared a glorious
eternity for us to enjoy.
THE PASSOVER AND THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD
“On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth
day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened
bread.” (Lev 23:5–6)
For those of us with Jewish friends,
we understand the importance of the Passover for their community. In the Bible,
it is listed as the first feast in the Hebrew calendar, celebrated on the
fourteenth day of the first month, marking the beginning of the year (Ex 12:2).
The Passover is followed immediately
by the Feast of Unleavened Bread from the fifteenth to twenty-fourth day. Hence,
these two feasts are sometimes mentioned together as if they were one. They are
important because they commemorate one of the most significant events in the
history of the Jewish people.
On the day of the Passover, God
delivered Israel out of Egypt and the bondage of slavery. That evening, just
before they departed, every Hebrew household had to slaughter a lamb without
blemish at twilight and smear the blood on their doorposts and lintel (Ex 12:5–7).
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will
strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against
all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. Now the blood shall be a sign for
you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over
you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land
of Egypt.” (Ex 12:12–13)
Since God had warned Pharaoh nine times
without success to allow Israel to leave Egypt, God resolved to kill the firstborn
of Egypt, both man and beast. Even Pharaoh’s firstborn son would have to die. However,
since the Israelites obeyed God to smear the blood of the Passover lamb on
their doorposts and lintel, God protected them, and the angel of death passed
over their houses. For this reason, this first feast came to be called the Passover.
The sacrificial lamb prefigures
Jesus Christ, who was crucified on the day of the Passover. He shed His blood
and died to deliver the people of the world from sin and death (Ex 12:5–13; 1
1 Pet 1:18–20). Through the
Passover, God delivered Israel, His firstborn (Ex 4:22–23), out of Egypt.
Today, Christians experience spiritual exodus when they are delivered from sin’s
bondage through baptism. In God’s eyes, they are His firstborn (Heb 12:22–23).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Israelites ate the Passover meal
in a great hurry. As soon as they were to hear the sound of the Egyptians weeping
and wailing over their firstborns, Pharaoh would decree that Israel should depart.
Therefore, God instructed them to be ready: they were to put on their sandals
and belts and hold on to their walking staffs while eating (Ex 12:11).
The Israelites also had to prepare
for the journey ahead, making sure they had supplies of food to take with them,
including bread. Normally, they would bake leavened bread, but since they were making
haste, there was no time to wait for the bread to rise; they had to make unleavened
“Therefore you shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God, from the flock and the
herd, in the place where the Lord
chooses to put His name. You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days
you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for
you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in
which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” (Deut 16:2–3)
Unleavened Bread—Purge Ourselves from Sin
In the Bible, leaven refers to sin,
wickedness, pride, and hypocrisy. This was another reason why the Passover had
to be eaten with unleavened bread. We must purge our hearts and lives from
leaven so that we become like a new lump of dough—without malice or wickedness,
but having sincerity and truth.
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.
(1 Cor 5:7–8)
Since Jesus was a perfect man who
died for our sins, He was like the unblemished lamb and the unleavened bread.
He set an example for us to emulate, and so we should strive to be clean and
Jesus lived and died without sin,
although He was like us in every way (cf. Heb 2 and 4). As was evident from His
prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, He had the same human weaknesses as us: He
was afraid to suffer and to face death. Hebrews also says that He was tempted
in every way, but was able to overcome.
Seven is a complete number: the
seven days of eating unleavened bread represents the entirety of Jesus’ life. We
must follow His footsteps to flee from sin. Imagine what a pity it would be if
we had kept ourselves pure and faithful to God, only to fall at the last hurdle
by committing a mortal sin. We must take care to discipline ourselves so that
we partake of unleavened bread for seven whole days.
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves
also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from
sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the
lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Pet 4:1–2)
Sometimes, God allows us to
experience suffering and affliction to purify us. Since Christ suffered for our
sins and overcame all that came His way, we can be confident that, by relying
on the Lord, we will definitely overcome sin. In short, the seven days of the
Feast of Unleavened Bread signify the sinless life of Christ and serve to
remind us to remove sin during the course of our lives.
THE FEAST OF THE FIRSTFRUITS
And the Lord spoke to
Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you
come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall
bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to
the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the
Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’”
On a Sunday after the Passover, the
Israelites had to take the first fruits of their harvest, to wave them before
the Lord. In fact, the Feast of Firstfruits coincided with the barley harvest, and so the
Israelites would offer the first ripe sheaves to God.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15:20)
Jesus Christ died on the day of
the Passover, which was a Friday. Early on Sunday morning, when a few people
went to His tomb, they could not find His body, because He had already
resurrected. That day was also the day of the Feast of the Firstfruits.
Paul says Jesus is the first fruit
of those who have fallen asleep. In other words, He is the first person to come
back from the dead and never having to die again. The Bible records that, after
His resurrection, He ascended to heaven and will come again on the Last Day.
In God’s eyes, those who die in
the Lord have but fallen asleep. When Jesus comes, they will experience the
same resurrection as He did. He will wake them up with the shout of His voice,
and they will rise to live with Him forever. Knowing this gives us great hope.
THE FEAST OF WEEKS (PENTECOST)
“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath,
from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths
shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then
you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.”
Fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits, God’s people were to celebrate the Feast of
Weeks, also known as Pentecost.
During this time, the Israelites had to offer another kind of first fruits,
which was wheat.
Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits
of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for
the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Rom 8:23)
Paul tells us that, like Christ,
we identify with the first fruits of the Spirit. Historically, on the day of
Pentecost, when the Jews were offering up their first fruits of wheat, about
120 Christians gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem to pray. Suddenly, they
all began speaking in tongues. This event confirmed that Jesus had resurrected,
ascended to heaven, and was now pouring out the promised Holy Spirit (cf. Acts
2:1–4, 33). By receiving the Holy Spirit, we, as Christians, have the first
fruits of the Spirit.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He
who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies
through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not
to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the
flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the
body, you will live.
While we are living in this world,
we may suffer pain and sicknesses; yet we have hope, because Jesus’
resurrection assures us of what we can expect. We know that the Holy Spirit
will raise us to life when Jesus comes again. In the meantime, we should rely
on the power of the Holy Spirit to purge our lives from any leaven, not obeying
the impulses of the flesh, but walking according to the Spirit.
THE FEAST OF TRUMPETS
Then the Lord spoke to
Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'In the seventh
month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest,
a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no
customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.' "
After a three-month break, the
Israelites were to blow trumpets on the first day of the seventh month. The
purpose was to announce another two festivals within the same month—the Feast
of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The sound of a trumpet draws the attention
of people and makes a proclamation. In a similar way, Jesus came to the world
to preach and to put into action the gospel of salvation—to proclaim liberty to
the oppressed, to give sight to the blind, and to heal the brokenhearted (Lk 4:18–19). He promised to give rest to all those who
would come to Him (Mt 11:28). In this way, He fulfilled what was foreshadowed
in the Feast of Trumpets: the Messiah’s gospel call (cf. Isa 18:3; Jn 12:32;
Isa 58:1; Jn 7:37–39).
Today, we have received the
commission to continue blowing the trumpet. Hence, we must preach the gospel so
that people can enter the heavenly kingdom (Mk 16:15; Acts 26:18; Rev 14:6–7).
THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
“Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of
Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your
souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the
Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.” (Lev 23:27–28)
On the Day of Atonement, the high
priest would go into the innermost part of the holy temple, which housed the
ark of the covenant and the throne of grace, or mercy seat. This Holy of Holies
was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain. Normally, nobody was
allowed in; only on the Day of Atonement did God permit the high priest to
enter in with the blood of the sin offering, in order to sprinkle it onto the
mercy seat (Lev 16:14).
Hebrews 10:19–22 tells us that
Jesus is our High Priest. When He died on the cross, the curtain before the
Holy of Holies was torn into two, signifying that He had opened the way into
God’s presence. In a spiritual sense, that was the Day of Atonement for all
Just as the blood of the animal
sacrifice was sprinkled onto the mercy seat, so the blood of Christ is now sprinkled
onto our hearts at the point of water baptism (cf. Heb 10:22), cleansing us
from sin and enabling us to keep God’s commandments (cf. Rom 2:15). While the Passover
and the Feast of Unleavened Bread point to the historical one-time death and
shedding of blood by Jesus, the Day of Atonement points to the effect of His
shedding of blood in the lives of Christians throughout history. Since we have
been sanctified through the blood of Christ, we should strive to lead a godly
life as we wait for Jesus’ return (2 Pet 3:11–13).
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this
seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord.’” (Lev 23:34)
The final feast in the Hebrew calendar
was the Feast of Tabernacles. Aside from resting from their work and offering sacrifices,
God also commanded the Israelites to live in tents for seven days. The reason
was so that they would remember that they were once sojourners in the
wilderness (Lev 23:43). To conclude the festivities, there would be a great
celebration on the eighth day.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1–4, Paul likens
the body to a tent or tabernacle. Inside this tent, we groan in anticipation of
the time when Jesus comes again to give us a new habitation, which is a spiritual,
incorruptible body. We are assured of this because the Holy Spirit, who dwells within
us, serves as our guarantee (2 Cor 5:5). Therefore, the Feast of Tabernacles
points to the continual indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which gives us a
foretaste of heaven (Rom 14:17).
Jesus resurrected from the dead
and, on the day of Pentecost, poured out the Holy Spirit. Today, the Holy
Spirit enables us to have fellowship with God, to endure trials and tribulations,
and to give us hope in the midst of suffering. If we can preserve ourselves for
seven days—that is, for our lifetime—Jesus will take us home when He comes
again. We must therefore constantly remind ourselves that we are but sojourners
in this world, living in tents, and set our sights on returning to our heavenly
home (2 Cor 5:1; Rev 21:3–5).
Moreover, the Bible links the
tabernacle to the church—the tabernacle of David and New Jerusalem, the
tabernacle of God with men (Amos 9:11–13; Zech 14:16; Acts 15:16–17; Rev 21:3).
Those who wish to receive the Holy Spirit need to enter the New Jerusalem, which
is the true church:
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which
came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of
Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not
come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain” (Zech 14:16–17).
Jesus fulfilled the seven feasts
in Leviticus 23, which served to point to His work of salvation. Have we heard
Jesus blowing the trumpet? Have we responded to His call to take up His
commission? May we purge ourselves from sin, have fellowship with the Holy
Spirit, pursue godliness, and set our hope on the heavenly kingdom all the days
of our lives.