“These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the official days for holy assembly that are to be celebrated at their proper times each year” ~ Leviticus 23:4.
It’s unfortunate that Christianity is often seen as an un-Party. Christians often leave their party lifestyles and join churches where we do socials instead of celebrations. Unfortunate because God used Celebration and Festivals and Parties to reveal much about Himself and His Messiah throughout scripture. While some of these festivals were somber occasions for soul searching and repentance, there were also occasions where God called his people to elaborate celebration of His work on their behalf.
There is one BIG DIFFERENCE in a real Christian celebration than the world’s parties:
The world parties to FORGET and ESCAPE reality. Christ followers party to REMEMBER and CELEBRATE present and future reality.
Here’s a brief overview of the Old Testament Festivals, what they celebrated, and why they were important:
- The Sabbath – Lev 23:1-3. One day each week. A time of rest from work celebrating God’s rest at the end of creation week.
- The New Moon – Numb 28:11-15. One day each month. Celebration that included special offerings and blowing of trumpets.
- Passover – Lev 23:5. One Day. Celebrated when God spared the lives of Israel’s firstborn children in Egypt and freed the Hebrews from slavery. Reminded the people of God’s deliverance.
- Unleavened Bread – Lev 23:6-8. Seven Days. Celebrated the Exodus from Egypt. Reminded the people the were leaving the old life behind and entering a new way of life.
- First Harvest – Lev 23:9-14. One Day. Celebrated the first crops of the barley harvest. Reminded the people how God provided for them.
- Harvest or Pentecost – Lev 23:15-22. One Day. Celebrated the end of the barley harvest and beginning of the wheat harvest. Gave the people an opportunity to thank God and throw a party over the harvest.
- Trumpets – Lev. 23:23-25. One Day. Celebrated the beginning of the civil new year. Expressed joy and thanksgiving to God for the past year.
- Day of Atonement – Lev 23:26-32 One day. Celebrated the removal of sin from the people and the nation. Provided restored fellowship with God.
- Shelters – Lev 23:33-43. Seven Days. Celebrated God’s protection and guidance in the wilderness. Served as a time for people to renew their commitment to God and their trust in His guidance and protection.
These celebrations formed the story of the peoples lives, led them in celebrating God’s character and revelation, and provided a foretaste of what was to come in Christ.
Jesus often used these festivals and times of celebration to reveal Himself. It was the Festival of Shelters or Booths that Jesus used as the backdrop of several big reveals about Himself. This was a 7-day party, which celebrated God’s protection and guidance of the Israelites during their flight to the wilderness. And by all accounts this was an awesome celebration. The Roman Historian Josephus referred to this festival as the greatest of the Hebrew celebrations.
Living Water. The event climaxed with a water event at the pool of Siloam. The people would parade, with loud music, from the Temple to the pool where the priest would fill up a pitcher with water. They would then parade back to the Temple, approach the altar and pour the water along with a pitcher of wine into two basins as a thank offering to the Lord for his provision. An ancient Rabbi wrote that “Anyone who has not seen this water ceremony has never seen rejoicing in his life.” It was either at the pool or at the temple pouring ceremony that John 7:37-38 tells us, “Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, ‘Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of Living Water will flow from his heart.’”
The Light of the World. On the first day of the Festival, the Temple was illuminated with a huge candelabras that stood 75 feet tall, with 16 large blazes that burned throughout the week. This was to celebrate the Pillar of Light that God provided for the people during the wilderness wanderings. Since the Temple was on a hill, everyone could see the light from miles around. During the lighting there would have been loud music, dancing, and parades. It was this setting that most likely played backdrop to Jesus‘ statement in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
Matthew’s Table. But maybe most instructive for us as Christians, is Jesus’ unscripted parties. The New Testament tells us that after and encounter with Jesus, Matthew, a wealthy Tax Collector turned disciple, threw a party and invited all his friends to meet Jesus (see Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:13-17, Luke 5:27-32). And evidently this group would not have been invited to today’s church social. The religious leader actually called them “scum” (Mark 2:16) and Matthew himself calls them “disreputable sinners” (Matthew 9:10). It seems that part of Jesus‘ plan for reaching people was to go where they were, meet them as they are, and be Himself. To practice “active proximity” to those who needed to hear His Good News the most.
Alan Hirsch in his great book Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship quips, “not only did the social outcasts and sinners want to be around Jesus, but Jesus wanted to be around them.” When we’re seeking to be like Jesus, we’ll be looking for opportunities to reveal Him to the world. Celebration is still one great way. In our day there are still many opportunities. Here’s a few ideas:
- Invite friends to a community celebration around a holiday. Take time to share with individuals or the group how this holiday helps you worship or makes you grateful to God.
- Organize a team to volunteer at a community festival and be available to the non-profit or municipality putting it on. Intentionally build relationships.
- Throw a party in your front yard or back yard and invite neighbors who you don’t know.
- Have people over to dinner. Begin a Matthew’s Table night where you share your home and your table with people that you know who need a second chance or could never hang out at the church socials.
God wants to reveal Himself. He wants to use you. He used celebration in the past and he can today. And who knows how many of those “disreputable sinners” around Matthew’s table became followers of Christ and Church Planters that gathered at festivals and around tables and continued the Jesus story for the rest of their lives. Imagine the possibilities…
Check out the Bridge Church How to guide on Block Parties and begin using celebration to glorify God and reach out to friends and neighbors.