Friday, November 1, 2019

Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Feasts?

Because modern Christianity tends to neglect the Old Testament, some have sought to supply this lack by returning to Old Testament practices like the food laws, the seventh-day Sabbath, and at least some of the feasts. It also seems that this movement comes as a radical reaction against the history and tradition of the Christian church. For example, the choice between the traditional church calendar and the Old Testament feasts is seen as a conflict between tradition and biblical truth. This is a bit ironic, because they usually end up adopting Jewish traditions that have continued to develop since biblical times. But it is a powerful appeal, especially to Protestants, and appears to have some truth to it - after all, Sukkoth is in the Bible, but Christmas is not. So should we return to the Old Testament ceremonies and holy days?

In his letter to the saints in Colossae, the apostle Paul wrote,
"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." (Colossians 2:16–17)
This is one of the places in the New Testament which teaches that the old covenant ceremonies that pointed to Christ are no longer binding on Christians in the present era. Now, I have seen some argue that Paul is here affirming these practices, in effect saying: "do not let anyone condemn you for practicing these things, since they point to Christ." But this is not Paul's point in Colossians. Rather, he is saying, "do not let anyone condemn you for not following these practices, since you already have the substance they pointed to - Christ!" How do I know this? Because the sufficiency of Christ, as opposed to regulations regarding what you can taste and touch, is Paul's theme (Col. 2:6, 20-21). He had already addressed the matter of circumcision, the preeminent symbol of the old covenant administration. He argued that they were already circumcised with a circumcision made without hands by putting off the flesh and being united to Christ, an event confirmed by their baptism (Col. 2:11-12). They were circumcised without being physically circumcised by having the substance, Christ. This pattern holds true for other ceremonial laws of food and times.

The laws regarding clean and unclean foods had been given to represent the purity of God’s people, in distinction from the nations (Lev. 11, Acts 10:9-29). The unclean foods were literally unclean and often unhealthy, but that is not the main reason they were forbidden (just as ritual washings were primarily spiritual in meaning, even though they did physically wash things). The true uncleanness or defilement is sin and curse. The food laws were a shadow, but the substance belongs to Christ. Christ takes away our defilement and makes us clean. In Christ, we are called to avoid the defilement of sin and to be holy. Christ taught us the true meaning of defilement in Mark 7:18-23 when he said,
“‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’” 
The festivals and new moons were holy times in Israel, observed with sacrifices and often participated in by eating. These also were shadows of Christ. The Passover pointed to Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:6-13). The Feast of Firstfruits pointed to Christ, who rose as the firstfruits of the dead on that very day (1 Cor. 15). The Feast of Weeks or Harvest (i.e. Pentecost) commemorated blessing in the Promised Land and the giving of the law. It pointed to Christ, who achieved lasting rest in the land (Heb. 3-4) and who sent His Spirit on that day to write the law on our hearts (Acts 2). The Feast of Trumpets prepared the people for the next two events in that seventh month: the Day of Atonement, which pointed to Christ’s atonement for our sins which was achieved on the cross (Heb. 9), and the Feast of Booths, which looked back to God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness and the promised land and looked forward to Christ, who is the manna from heaven, the bread of life (John 6), and the rock from which comes living water (John 4, 1 Cor. 10). And all the sacrifices on these days and on the new moons pointed to Christ, the once-for-all-time sacrifice which paid the penalty for our guilt and defilement and reconciled us to God (Heb. 9-10).

Also on this list is “a Sabbath” or “sabbaths.” This probably refers to the sabbath years, as well as the weekly, seventh-day Sabbath. The old covenant Sabbath pointed to Christ and His redemptive work. It was a day of rest, and Christ has given us rest. If we have entered God’s rest in Christ, we have rested from our works (Heb. 4:10). It was also a day that commemorated the accomplishment of redemption. In Deuteronomy 5:15, Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath in remembrance of their exodus from Egypt. It was then that God rested from the work of redemption and that Israel rested from its bondage. But this pointed to the full accomplishment of redemption in the resurrection of Christ. Thus, the seventh-day Sabbath was a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. And so we do not observe the seventh-day Sabbath of the old covenant, but we follow the example of Christ and the apostles and observe the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. The Sabbath principle is an aspect of creation and is part of the moral law, but the day has changed because a new creation has begun and something greater than the exodus has come.

Thus, all of these old covenant ceremonies of food and time are no longer required. They were tutors given to bring Israel to Christ before His coming. They were shadows, giving us the outline of the one to come, but now that He has come, we turn from observing the shadows to Jesus Christ. Jesus established new ceremonies that fit the greater clarity of the new covenant, like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Lord’s Day. While the Old Testament feasts are in the Bible, to treat them as holy days, to be observed today as such, is unbiblical.

The Old Testament is important. It is often sadly neglected today. It is still part of the Bible, God's infallible word. But it is vital to understand it and obey it in the light of Christ and the new covenant.

1 comment:

Diwakar said...

Hello PASTOR Peter. I am also a Pastor from Mumbai, INDIA. I am also blessed and feel privileged and honoured to get connected with you as well as know you as a Pastor. I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog post on "Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Feasts?" . I found it to be very useful explaination and interpretation. I love getting connected with the people of God around the globe to be encouraged, strengthened and praying for one another. I ahve been in the Pastoral ministry for last 40 yrs in this great city of Mumbai a city with a great contrast where richest of rich and the poorest of poor live/ We reach out to the poorest of poor with the love of Christ to bring healing to the brokenhearted. WE also encourage young and the adults from the west to come to Mumbai to work with us during their vacation time. We would love to have young people from your church come to Mumbai to work with us during their vacation time. I am sure they will have a life changing experience. Looking forward to hear from you very soon. God's richest blessings on you, your family and friends. Myemail id is: dhwankhede(at)gmail(dot)com and my name is Diwakar Wankhede