Imagine . . . morning in New York on a late summer day. Your husband Bob is ready to walk out the door to catch the train into Manhattan. Just before he does, you confront him about the light switch he promised to fix over the weekend but didn’t. Again. You exchange cross words. He grabs his backpack and travel mug and storms out the door without giving you a kiss. You know you’ll smooth things over that night when he gets home, but you already feel a ten-pound weight on your heart. Should you run after him? You decide not to. Two hours later, your neighbor bangs on the door, shouting at you to turn on the TV. When you do, your heart stops. A familiar reporter is making an announcement. His voice is agitated; he shuffles papers and fumbles for words. Videotape images play a continuous loop: one airplane, two airplanes, crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. (Your mind is whirling: this can’t be real; it must be a movie.) The massive towers explode, burn, and collapse in a fiery heap. But Bob works there! The phone begins to ring. It won’t stop for days.
Imagine . . . having cancer. You’re worn out, weakened by chemotherapy and radiation, weary beyond description. You’ve been in treatment for years; it has become so much a part of your life that you can’t remember not being sick. There are always tests: tests to see if your blood is back to normal, tests to find out if the treatment is effective, if another protocol will be necessary. At the beginning, the tests scared you; these days they just add to the weariness. A knock at the door. The whole medical team enters the room—that’s a bad sign, isn’t it?—but your doctor is smiling. He says simply, “Everything worked great. The cancer is gone! Go home and live a little. You deserve it!” While your driver pulls the car around, you pack fast, repeatedly looking at the door, fearful that they made a mistake and will return to correct it. You leave the building stunned and just a bit numb, but by the time you arrive at home, the shock is over. You start making phone calls immediately. News this good simply must be shared. A party is on for that evening!
Announcements like these—whether delivered in image form on TV or in person by a doctor—look back to something that has already happened and thus cause you to take stock, to reflect, to regret, to grieve, and to celebrate. But they also look forward to an unknown future. Because of one simple announcement, life changes, and your mind races with the possibilities.
The gospel—literally “good news”—of Jesus Christ is an announcement that changed everything. I don’t mean the kind of change where you commit to wearing your seatbelt regularly, squeeze another child’s soccer schedule into an already too-full life, or cut carbs out of your diet. I mean change the way 9/11 changed U.S. history; the way being cleared of cancer changes a person’s life. I mean breathtaking change—a 10 on the Richter-scale change. Jesus’ arrival on the world scene to a stable in Bethlehem did more than add a Hallmark moment to late December schedules; it announced the arrival of a king more majestic and powerful than Caesar himself, one who would make Caesar’s Rome distant and ancient history. The reports of his simple life, cruel death, and covered-up resurrection made news so incredible that it impacts the future of every human who has ever lived or ever will live. Jesus the Messiah did not merely provide a good example or launch a religion; he changed the world.
A paragraph like the previous one, with assertions seemingly so over the top, simply begs the question. “Show me how,” you may be thinking. “Tell me how this can be, how you know such a thing is true.”
The Bible does just that. More than just a book of rules and regulations or a collection of character studies from which you can learn ethics or techniques for self-improvement, the Bible is a story, and a unique one at that. It is the story of God and the history of his redemption, a God who saves people, to be sure, but also one who restores the whole of the cosmos. Jesus is the key to the story, the main character, the central thread around which God weaves the astonishing tapestry of salvation.
That can be hard to understand. It can seem harder still to believe down deep. It takes the kind of faith only God can give. Do you know what was more difficult than believing what has happened in the past? Believing that Jesus was the point of the story long before he arrived on the world scene. Yet that is just what God asked of the ancient people of Israel: to put their faith and hope in a Redeemer and Messiah who would not make his appearance for more than a thousand years.
To help his people see and identify the coming Messiah—although faintly, and still in the distant future—God made promises to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He used Moses and the prophets to point Israel’s gaze forward through the words of the Torah and the prophetic writings. One of the most significant ways he helped an ancient people to believe was by giving them a series of feasts or festivals that would shape both their daily life and their annual calendar. Each of these provided a hint, a clue, of the One who was coming. More than just information, each feast was a taste to whet their appetites and build anticipation and excitement.
God also wants people today, some two thousand years after Messiah’s appearance, to know that Jesus—and particularly his cross and resurrection—did change everything, to believe and trust in him, and to follow him with a whole heart. But people today struggle with faith’s claim, just as those in ancient times struggled to believe the promises God gave them. Belief seems difficult when all you hear about Jesus is that he was a good man, was humble, taught well, and died a horrible death. Those factoids are only bits and bytes of data that are often unconnected to the story, but they are the only pieces of information that many will ever know about Jesus.
Sadly, data processing hardly qualifies as authentic and dynamic faith. This series aims to tell you more about Jesus. Much more.
This book aims to tell you more about Jesus. Much more. By unpacking and explaining the ancient feasts, it aims to give modern people a fuller vision of the good news of God, reveal just what it means that Jesus is the Messiah, and explain how and why his coming changed everything.
These feasts, commissioned twelve hundred years before Jesus came, were in fact celebrations about him. They weren’t celebrations in the sense that the modern commercialized Christmas season has to work to be about Jesus. These were spontaneous celebrations, much like the kind of daily celebration of life that occurs for one who has been cured of cancer. The feasts didn’t just provide calendar structure to Old Testament Israel, nor do they merely provide the backdrop staging to Jesus’ life and ministry. Rather, they define his life and ministry. Each one of them shows, from a unique angle, how his life, death, and resurrection were the point of God’s redemptive story, how each changed the world, and how his followers are still doing the same thing.
Let me show you some “coming attractions” so that you’ll turn the page to join me in meeting Jesus at the feasts.
Jesus’ death on Passover needed an earthquake. After all, it announced the end of the world (at least the old one of sin and death)!
Christians may not look very different from unbelievers physically, but Jesus’ burial on Unleavened Bread explains how and why believers are already saints.
That Jesus rose—not on Easter but rather on First Fruits—needed another earthquake: a new world had dawned!
The events of Pentecost were likewise earthshaking, announcing that the Spirit, and not the law, is the driver of this new world’s order.
In the new world, the church has an urgent task: to Trumpet the arrival of the kingdom of God.
Citizens of Christ’s kingdom aren’t just better informed, but are transformed, radically cleansed of their past so as to need a new birthday: it’s called the Day of Atonement.
Christ’s followers never walk alone; the Feast of Tabernacles reminds them that they are always “at home” with God and His family.
The inheritance of believers is not only after this life ends; Jubilee reveals eternal life to be life of a different kind, heaven already breaking into earth!
Stay tuned for the next chapter of this series in the March/April issue of The Outlook, and let me show you how.
Dr. John R. Sittema is the Senior Pastor of Christ Church (PCA) of Jacksonville, Florida