God's Festivals & Today's Church
Are God's Holy Days Relevant Today?
When God begins something in this present age of mankind, He nearly always starts small. In Matthew 13:33 Jesus Christ compared God's Kingdom to both a mustard seed and leaven. Both analogies start with something small that expands into something much larger. Similarly, God called only a relatively few people in Old Testament times who were willing to follow His ways.
The biblical record shows that, early in the account spoken of in the Bible, only a few people decided to obey God. However, early patriarchs including Abel, Enoch and Noah did respond to the revelation of God's plan of salvation (Matthew 23:35). After the great flood of Noah's time, God found He could work with Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Of God's obedient people of those times, Hebrews 11:13 says they "all died in faith" with the sure knowledge that they would gain eternal life (verse 40).
We should note that the plan for providing eternal life was already at work in the lives of these early people of God. The plan did not start with a covenant God made with ancient Israel; nor did it start with Jesus' earthly ministry.
God loved the world so much "that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God's love in giving His Son continued His plan of salvation from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34; Revelation 13:8). The blueprint of the Holy Days would reveal in due time the plan God had designed from the very beginning. These festival observances were not just a cosmic afterthought.
With Abraham's family we see God beginning to reveal the good news about His plan of salvation (Galatians 3:8). Genesis 26:3-4 identifies specific blessings God promised to Abraham and Abraham's descendants. The Creator pledged to bestow them "because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (verse 5). Perhaps this is why the Bible calls Abraham "the friend of God" and "the father of all those who believe" (James 2:23; Romans 4:11; Genesis 18:17-19).
A nation singled out
Abraham's descendants grew into a mighty nation (Genesis 18:18). They were named after Jacob, the grandson of Abraham whose name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28). After settling in Egypt, before long they became slaves (Exodus 1). The story of God's deliverance from their bondage and His delivering of people today is part of the intricately woven fabric of God's festivals.
In due time the Creator set in motion a series of events that illustrated for the Israelites His plan as depicted in the Holy Day observances and led to their freedom from slavery in Egypt. When Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, they told the Egyptian ruler that the God of Israel commanded him to "let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness" (Exodus 5:1).
Moses and Aaron had earlier called for the elders of Israel to assemble and had explained to them God's plan to deliver them (Exodus 3:16-18). Then Moses and his brother, Aaron, performed a series of God-directed miracles in sight of the people (Exodus 4:29-30). As a result, the Israelites (although they later faltered) believed God would deliver them and fulfill His covenant with Abraham, as He had promised (Exodus 4:31; 6:4-8).
What followed was ancient Israel's first Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. Much later the New Testament Church kept these same days as a reminder of Christians' deliverance through Jesus Christ. For instance, Paul told members of the Church at Corinth-both Jews and gentiles-that they should be "unleavened," or without sin, because "Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). In the next verse Paul said, "Therefore let us keep the feast," referring to the same festival God had instituted in ancient Israel many centuries before.
The Holy Days in the New Testament
From Jesus' earliest childhood years, He observed the Holy Days with His parents. "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover," Luke 2:41 tells us. The following verses describe Jesus, at age 12, engaging the theologians of His day in a spirited discussion during this festival season (verses 42-48). Clearly, He astonished these religious leaders with His understanding and insight. John writes of Jesus continuing to observe the annual Holy Days as an adult during His ministry (John 2:23; 4:45).
In one of the most instructive examples, Jesus risked His personal safety to attend two of the festivals, the annual Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day (John 7:1-2, 7-10, 14). "On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, [which] those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:37-39).
Many churches believe that the apostle Paul fundamentally changed the way Christians are to worship. This notion assumes Paul taught gentiles that observance of the Holy Days was unnecessary. Although some of his writings were difficult to understand, even by his contemporaries (2 Peter 3:15-16), Paul's explicit statements and actions contradict any notion that he annulled or abolished Holy Day observance.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1-2, for example, Paul told his followers to "imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ," and "keep the traditions as I delivered them to you." A few verses later he explained: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me'" (verses 23-24).
If Paul's practice had not been to observe the Holy Days, his comments to the Jews and gentiles in Corinth would have been meaningless. Clearly, evidence is lacking that Paul ever discouraged anyone from keeping the annual festivals; such a notion would have been for him unthinkable (Acts 24:12-14; 25:7-8; 28:17).
On the contrary, the biblical record of Paul's ministry repeatedly depicts the Holy Days as important observances, milestones in his life. For example, he told the Ephesians that "I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem" (Acts 18:21). In Acts 20:16 and 1 Corinthians 16:8 we find Paul arranging his travel schedule to accommodate the Feast of Pentecost. In Acts 27:9 Luke, Paul's companion in his travels, referred to the time of year as after "the Fast," a reference to the Day of Atonement.
The Expositor's Bible Commentary, in a reference to Acts 20:6, notes that Paul, unable to arrive at Jerusalem for the Passover, "remained at Philippi to celebrate it and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread ..." (Richard N. Longenecker, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, Vol. 9, p. 507). Regarding Acts 20:16, the same commentary notes that Paul "wanted, if at all possible, to get to Jerusalem for Pentecost on the fiftieth day after Passover ..." (p. 510).
Paul's ministry included observing the Holy Days with the Church. In defending the gospel he preached, Paul said he brought the same message the other apostles taught: "Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed" (1 Corinthians 15:11).
Paul and all the apostles taught a consistent message of the Christian's obligation to follow the example of Jesus Christ in all matters. The apostle John, who wrote near the close of the first century, summed up this message: "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:6).
Jewish believers continued to uphold the Holy Days, as did gentile Christians (see "Colossians 2:16 Shows Gentile Christians Kept the Holy Days" ). From all these references we can conclude only that the practice of the early Church was to continue the observance of these God-given festivals, the first of which is the Passover.