Return to Eden: Part 5 – The Conclusion of the Harvest

The harvest is over.  The work is nearly done.  Israel has spent the past four months working from sunup to sundown.  If they are to have enough food to provide for their needs over the next five months of autumn and winter, they had to have already gathered it.  And as night falls, all throughout the land, the sound of the ram’s horn – the shofar – is heard.  And everyone who honors the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, drops everything, puts on their white robe, and proceeds to the feast; to Yom Teruah – the Feast of Trumpets.

This appointment with God is unique in a couple of ways.  First, very little is said in Scripture about how to observe it.  There aren’t any special sacrifices or anything like that.  They are simply told to blow the shofar and remember.  Rather strange.

Second, it is the only of the feasts that takes place at the start of the month.  All of the other feasts begin at least ten days after the new month begins. This is important because the new month on the Biblical calendar doesn’t begin on a set date.  Because the Biblical calendar is a lunar calendar, it is determined by the sighting of the new moon.  The lunar cycle is 29.52 days.  Israel was instructed that the new month would begin only when the first sliver of the new moon could be sighted from Jerusalem.  That means that the month could be either 29 or 30 days long.  It depended on when the new moon could be clearly seen.  In fact, there is some evidence that by the time of Jesus, an idiomatic expression had become synonymous with the Feast of Trumpets: it had begun to be called “the feast where no man knows the day or the hour.”

The meant that every Hebrew would have to have be prepared for the feast in advance.  The only warning that the feast had arrived was the blast of the trumpet.  When that was heard, they were to drop everything and observe this feast.

The parallels are obvious.  As we near the end of the harvest of souls, we await the trumpet call of God.  All work must be completed by that moment, as the harvest will then be complete.  We don’t know specifically when that trumpet is going to sound, but we know when we hear it that we will leave what we are doing and celebrate the harvest.  But first, we must take stock of what has been done.

Ten days following the Feast of Trumpets, all of Israel would observe what is considered the most holy day of the year: Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.  It is the day where Israel would take stock of the harvest, to determine what had been gathered.  Would it be enough?  But even more importantly, it was the day where the nation as a whole, would be held accountable for its sins.  The High Priest would sacrifice the lamb for the sins of the nation.  If each individual had confessed their sin, the lamb’s death would atone for it.  If they had not, they would be expected to atone for it themselves.

At the end of the Harvest, each one of us will be held accountable for our sins.  If we have confessed our sins, the Lamb of God will atone for them.  If we have not, we will be judge for them.  And for those who have received atonement, our works will be judged.  What have we done during the harvest?  Have we gathered wood, hay and stubble that will be burned in the fire?  Or are our works gold, silver, and precious stones that will be refined?

These are the shadows of the next two feasts on God’s calendar.  We can see the shadows of prophecy in them.  But the final feast is what we’ve been building to.  It is when God restores the Kingdom.  It’s when we return to Eden.

Next Post: Paradise Restored

You Might Be A Messianic If…

You Might Be A Messianic If...

Time to have a little bit of fun.  Here’s my list of the Top 10 reasons you might be a Messianic.  Please feel free to comment below with your own reasons!  All in good fun!

  1. You’ve tried to have an intelligent discussion about “Chrismukkah”

  2. People on Facebook wonder why you always post “Shabbat Shalom!” on Friday afternoon

  3. You refuse to call the Sunday after Passover, “Easter”

  4. You own a “Micro-Talit”

  5. You always spell “HalleluYAH” with the “YAH” in all caps and with a “Y” instead of a “J”

  6. People don’t believe you when you tell them that there is a book in the Bible called “Yaakov”

  7. You have Paul Wilbur, Joel Chernoff, Marty Goetz, and Ted Pearce on your iPod

  8. You’ve had to endure that uncomfortable silence when you’ve tried to talk to another Christian about “Yeshua,” and you realized they had no idea who that is

  9. You actually know what a “Micro-Talit” is

  10. Your spouse has caught you secretly watching Michael Rood videos online

Again, this is all in good fun.

Pass this on, and remember to add your own reasons below!

Return to Eden: Part 4 – The Renewal of the Covenant

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”…On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled…Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended.  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder… Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 19:5-6; 16; 18-19; 20:18-19 ESV)

When GOD gave the Torah at Sinai, He displayed untold marvels to Israel with his voice.  What happened?  GOD spoke and the Voice reverberated throughout the world…It says: And all the people perceived the thundering; wherefore R. Johanan said that GOD’s voice, as it was uttered, was distributed into seventy voices, in seventy tongues, so that all the nations should understand.  When each nation heard the Voice in their own dialect their souls departed, save Israel who heard… (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9)

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were finally free.  After hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt, the God of their Fathers had moved mightily to bring them out.  And now, He was offering them a new life.

Part of the problem that we have due to our familiarity with the story, is that we sometimes glaze over the details.  Like the phrase “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  This is a phrase that most Christians have heard numerous times.  Both John (Revelation 1:6) and Peter (1 Peter 2:9) mention it.  But what exactly does that phrase mean?

An entire kingdom of priests is a nation or people where each individual has direct access to God.  That’s what a priest does.  He goes before God on behalf of others.  And the Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai were being given a unique role in the world: to be God’s priests.  But something went terribly wrong.

They rejected God.  Yes, they agreed to honor the covenant and obey everything that God commanded them to do.  But the unique opportunity to individually go before God – to be in personal, one-on-one relationship with the Creator – was more than they could handle.  But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The giving of the Law – the Torah – at Mount Sinai is the pivotal event in Jewish religious history.  It is the moment that Israel agreed to be God’s people.  And the legends that grew up around the events of Exodus 19 and 20 are simply amazing.  Here’s the background.

According to the ancient Jewish sages, Shavuot is more than just a feast to commemorate the beginning of the wheat harvest.  It was the anniversary of God coming down in fire and thunder and smoke to the top of Mount Sinai.  It was then that He shouted down what is known as the Ten Commandments – the summary of the entire Torah – to the people.  The people agreed to obey everything that God commanded.  It was the moment that Israel ceased being a roving family, and became a nation.

And over the centuries following this seminal moment, many stories arose about what exactly happened.

As we saw before, the Hebraic mind seeks to answer the question “why”.  And one question in particular was asked: Why does it say in Exodus 20 that all of Israel saw the thunder when God came down on the mountain?  Thunder can’t be seen; it’s a sound.

By the time that Jesus and His disciples walked the Earth, consensus had arisen among the sages.  This is how the Jewish historian, Philo described it:

Then from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven there sounded forth to their utter amazement a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see them rather than hear them. (De Decalogo. IX-XI)

The sages believed that the voice of God was so loud and powerful, that it manifested itself into fire that spoke to all listening in their own native language.  Stop and read that again.

Now back to the “kingdom of priests” thing.  The people feared what they saw.  In the core of their beings, they knew there was no way they could stand as priests before this God who so powerfully was manifesting before them.  They may have been freed from physical slavery, but their souls were still in bondage.  And they asked Moses to be the one to intercede for them.

Things went downhill from there.  When we put a person between us and God, we lose our sense of accountability to Him.  The priest; the rabbi; the preacher; they are the ones that have to answer to God, not us.  And that’s the way Israel reacted.  As Moses went to the top of the mountain to be their advocate, the people quickly turned from their worship of the One True God.  They wanted a god they were familiar with and that they could see and touch.  They compelled Aaron to make them the gods they had worshipped in Egypt.

And when Moses returned, his anger was justified.  He called on those from the tribe of Levi to slaughter all who refused to repent.

And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses.  And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.  Exodus 32:18 ESV

So we need to stop and think about the pictures these stories paint.  Fire.  Thunder.  Lightning.  The Voice of God.  The fire dividing into tongues that declare God’s covenant opportunity to every nation of the world.  3,000 lives being lost in judgement.

Now fast forward around 1,500 years.  These pictures make another appearance.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Acts 2:1-6 ESV

Astonishing.

Every picture of the giving of the Covenant to Israel at Sinai are seen at the Feast of Shavuot that took place just ten days following the ascension of Jesus back to Heaven.  As all of Israel gathered together in the Temple to commemorate the Covenant at Sinai, the pictures from their legends about what happened 1,500 years earlier manifested themselves once again: the mighty wind;  the presence of God; the tongues of fire; the languages of the nations; all of them.

Only the reaction of the people is different this time.  Rather than fearing the presence of God, they embraced it.  Rather than rejecting the personal relationship with the Creator, they accepted it.  Rather than fleeing from God’s presence, they welcomed it.

You see, things were different because their hearts were different.  Jesus had already become their eternal Passover Lamb, freeing them from the spiritual bondage that overwhelmed Israel at Mount Sinai.  Rather than receiving the Covenant on tablets of stone, the Spirit of God was able to write it upon their hearts.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD : I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

The Hebrew word translated above as “new” is “chadesh.”  While it is most often translated as “new” like in this passage, that misses the nuance of the word.  It’s the same word that is used to describe the lunar cycle, and the appearance of the “new” moon.  It is more accurately translated “renewed.”  This covenant wasn’t a new covenant.  It was the same covenant that God offered His people at Mount Sinai.  But because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, the people this time were free – in their hearts – to accept that covenant.  The covenant was renewed.

Oh, there’s one more picture that I forgot to point out.  Do you remember how Moses charged the Levites to slaughter those who refused to repent for worshipping the golden calf?  How many were killed on that Shavuot?  3,000.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  Acts 2:31 ESV

You may believe in coincidence, but I don’t.  That wasn’t an accident.  Every detail was ordained by God before the creation of the world.

So let’s regroup here.  Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven feasts of Israel in every possible detail during His first coming: Passover; Unleavened Bread; First Fruits; and Shavuot.

The Hebrew word for “feast” used in Leviticus 23 is “moedim.”  It is more clearly translated “appointed time.”  It’s God’s appointments with us.  He planned seven times each year when we would commemorate when He has chosen to move in time on His people’s behalf.

So if Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven “appointments” of God during His first coming, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that He will fulfill the remaining three during His second coming?

Next Post: The Conclusion of the Harvest

Return to Eden: Part 3 – Jesus’ First Coming

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  Matthew 27:50-53 ESV

If this is the moment of Jesus’ death, it’s a strange place to insert a discussion of His resurrection.  At the moment that the Messiah dies, Matthew notes that the preparation for Him to rise took place.

Most of us in the Western Church leave it there.  These are the facts: Jesus died.  An earthquake took place.  The veil was torn.  The graves were opened.  When Jesus rose, these graves also gave up their dead.  These risen bodies were seen by many in Jerusalem.  That’s all we need to know.  Just the facts, please.

But that’s not the way to see through the shadows, and into the face of God.   The Western Mind is obsessed with answering the question, “what”.  The Eastern Mind seeks to look beyond that; it seeks to answer, “why”.  So why did Matthew mention these events at this moment in his narrative?

We’ve already seen that the Passover shadowed the work of the Messiah on the cross.  That feast takes place on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar.  However, the Passover meal is eaten after sundown that evening, which according to the Biblical reckoning of time, begins the 15th day of the month.  This meal initiates a seven day celebration known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It reminds Israel that their release from slavery in Egypt was so sudden, that they were forced to eat bread that had not been given time to rise.  But later, leavening became symbolic of sin.  And when Jesus died as our Passover Lamb, He removed the sin from our lives.  He was placed in a tomb, and the Psalmist said that “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12 NIV)  The Feast of Unleavened Bread shadowed the removal of sin from our lives.

And then we come to the first day of the week following the Sabbath that occurs during the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This day is called the Feast of First Fruits.  But the preparations for this feast actually began at sundown on Passover.  It is at that moment that the priests would go to the Mount of Olives, and ceremonially bind 10 sheaves of barley, without cutting or actually harvesting it.  This was called “marking the sheaves.”  Then, at the beginning of the first day of the week (which takes place at sundown), the priests would return to the sheaves and in a great ceremony, harvest those first fruits, take the barley into the Temple and grind it into wheat, and prepare loaves of bread that would, the next morning, be ceremonially waved before God in the Temple, as the High Priest shouted, “If God is faithful to bring us the first fruits, He will be faithful to bring the remaining harvest!”

This is why Matthew chose to make mention of the graves being opened at the moment of Jesus’ death.  And why he also made it clear to his readers that the dead didn’t rise until Jesus did.  He was revealing the shadow of the Feast of First Fruits.

In addition to being the place where the priests would go to bind the sheaves for the offering at the First Fruits, the Mount of Olives is a major cemetery.  It was in Jesus day as well.  It was where some of the most famous and notable Hebrews had been buried.  So when the priests were going out to “mark” the sheaves for the offering, the graves of many were “marked” as well.  And at the moment when the priests harvested these first fruits, Jesus and these others were raised from the dead, as our eternal High Priest shouted to eternity, “If God has been faithful to bring us the First Fruits, He will be faithful to bring the remaining harvest!”

But the shadows of Jesus first coming don’t end there.  There is one more feast in the spring that Israel was commanded to observe.  And the pictures in it are nothing less than stunning.  In Hebrew it is called “Shavuot.”  You know it today as Pentecost.

Next Post: The Renewal of the Covenant

How to Tight-Rope Walk Niagara Falls

There really wasn’t anything else on TV.  The NBA finals were taking the night off, and I can’t stand watching baseball on TV.  So I decided I wanted to see what all the hype about the guy trying to tight-rope walk across Niagara Falls was all about.  Boy, am I glad I did.

If you didn’t see it, you should have.  Imagine seeing a guy walk on a wire the length of six football fields over the world’s most impressive waterfall, while the wire is swaying back and forth a foot or two at a time.  Nik Wallenda is being pelted by wind and mist and, at times, he can’t even see the wire.

Oh, and did I mention that his great-grandfather died walking a wire on national TV?

That’s right.  Karl Wallenda was attempting to cross between two towers of the ten-story Colorado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico when the high winds and some faulty guide ropes caused the wire to swing violently, resulting in Karl falling over 120 feet to his death.  He was the fifth Wallenda to die performing such a stunt.

I’ve got to tell you, I wondered if I was about to witness the sixth.  It was hard to watch at times.  I was ready to turn it off or change the channel when something unexpected caught my attention.

From the TV, I heard, “Thank you, Jesus.”

Nik was mic’d up as he performed this insane feat.  And the whole time he was walking across the falls, he was praying.  But he wasn’t asking God to keep him safe, or to stop the wind and the mist, or for the wire to be stilled.  He was thanking God for letting him have this amazing opportunity.  He thanked God for letting him be the first person in history to see the falls from that vantage point.

He thanked God for everything going on around him.

I promise you I’m never going to tight-rope walk anything.  Asking me to climb onto my roof is about where it stops for me.  Still–most of the time–I feel like I’m trying to walk across Niagara Falls without a net.  But I’m not like Nik.  Not even close.  Oh, I pray all the time.  I’m constantly talking to God.  But I tend to whine and complain and ask Him to take away my problems.  For me, the storm isn’t something to thank God for; it’s something to complain to Him about.

We shouldn’t be surprised when life is hard; Jesus promised us it would be.

In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world. – John 16:33b

So how do we navigate across this perilous chasm?

Maybe we should be more like Nik.  You see, Nik was in this position by choice.  He wanted to be right there, standing 200 feet above death.  He wanted to show the world that it could be done.  He never doubted that he would make it across.  So he spent the entire time praising God for every step of the journey.  He trusted that God was going to get him through, so why not enjoy and thank him for every second of it?

I wonder what my life would be like if I did the same thing.  Rather than asking God to take away my problems, what if I simply trusted that He would get me through.  What if I thanked God for giving me a perspective on life that no other human being who ever lived has seen?  What if I saw the struggles and challenges of life, as a gift from God?

Thanks, Nik.  You’ve taught me how to cross Niagara Falls without a net.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Return to Eden: Part 2 – Shadows of Things to Come

Our Father does nothing by accident.  There is no coincidence.  Before He said “Let there be light” He knew what we would become; how we would fall; that He would send His Son to fix it.

And while He is unsearchable, He doesn’t hide His plan from us.  He’s been making it clear to us since He began to repair the world in Genesis 3:

And I will cause hostility between you and the women, and between your offspring and her offspring.  He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. Genesis 3:14-15 NLT

Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure…” Isaiah 46:9-12 NASB

He wants us to know what He’s up to.  It’s not a secret.  And nothing shows this more clearly than looking at the seven feasts that Israel was instructed to observe each and every year.  In fact, the Apostle Paul described them this way:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.  Colossians 2:16-17 NIV

The feasts are a shadow of things to come.  Think about that for a moment.  A shadow can give you the outline; you can’t see the details and the faces, but you can get an idea of what is casting the shadow.  That’s what Paul described the feasts as: a way to get an idea or understanding of what was coming.

And looking back at Jesus’ first coming, it’s easy to see what was making the shadows.

Every spring, Israel was commanded to observe the Feast of Passover.  This feast commemorated the events that led to their release from bondage in Egypt.  On the 14th day of the first month of their religious calendar, each family slaughtered a lamb in recognition of the lambs slain to buy their freedom from slavery.

Four days before that, each family selected the lamb that would be their sacrifice.  It was brought into the home and examined up until the time of the sacrifice, to ensure that it truly was a spotless lamb, without any blemish.

And around 1,500 years after the first Passover lambs were killed in Egypt, Jesus entered Jerusalem in pomp and circumstance.  He went to the House of the LORD, and spent the next four days being examined by every religious and political group in the land.  He was declared faultless by Pilate.  And around 3pm on the day that the lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple, Jesus completed His work as the “Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)

There isn’t any major revelation in this.  We know that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Passover lamb.  But the story doesn’t end there.  That’s only the start.  The next three feasts complete the shadows of what Jesus did in His first coming.

Next Post: Jesus’ First Coming

Return to Eden: Part 1 – A Broken World

“What if my greatest disappointments – and the aching of this life – are the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?” – Laura Story

The world is broken.  We know that.  Watching the first five minutes of the evening newscast will convince even the most optimistic person that things in this world are not going well.

It’s been that way for around 6,000 years now.  And that’s where most of us focus.  We live in the world between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20.  But that’s not God’s original plan for Creation, and He’s not going to leave it that way.  He’s been working to put it back together since the moment it became broken.

When God finished Creation and said, “It is good,” His intention was to walk in relationship with Humanity.   Genesis 3 says that God, Himself, used to walk in the Garden with Adam and Eve.  There’s a picture in every Hebrew word and the picture in the Hebrew word translated here – “halak” – is one of relational intimacy.  Imagine God coming down in physical form, putting one arm around Adam, and the other around Eve, and walking through the Garden asking them, “How was your day?”  That’s what God created us for.

But that was “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”  We look at that as being so long ago that it’s not even real.  But it is.  And it’s what God is working to restore.  His desire is for us return to Eden.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11

Our Western mindset makes it difficult for us to understand time the way God does.  We see everything moving forward, with eternity – Heaven – at the end.  It’s a straight line.  But that isn’t God’s view of time.

His view of time has no beginning or end.  There is no straight line leading to Heaven.  Humanity existed in eternity already.  But we walked away from it.  By choice, we got off track.  What we know as “time” or “history” is simply God guiding us back to the place we were before we screwed up.

I’ve seen this happen in my own life time and time again.  I’m heading down God’s path, and then I make a choice that eventually leads me to realize that I have messed things up big time.  My life becomes broken.  So what does God do?  He brings me full circle to where I was when I made the wrong choice.  He takes my right back to where I was and says, “Let’s try this again.”

And that’s what God is doing right now.  He’s bringing us full-circle.  He’s returning us to Eden.  But to see that in what we know as “history,” we’ve got to understand God’s shadow pictures of good things to come.  We’ve got to see how God has communicated His plan to us.  We have to look in the shadows.

Next Post: Shadows of Things to Come