Saturday, 20 January 2018

SHOULD CHRISTIANS OBSERVE THE ANCIENT RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS?

Are modern-day believers obligated to follow the laws concerning religious festivals found in the Old Testament?

Some Christians are reviving the religious practices of God’s people found in the Old Testament. They emphasise observance of the various religious festivals as commanded by Moses. They say it helps them to understand their Hebrew roots better, enhances intimacy with God and elevates worship to greater heights. 

These festivals were observed at the sanctuary in the wilderness and later at the temple in Jerusalem. Such occasions were marked by animal sacrifices, meat and drink offerings, confession of sins and great rejoicing.

The seven religious festivals in the Old Testament are listed in Leviticus 23: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Feast of First Fruits, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles. They were held on specific days in a year and the cycle was repeated every year.

Are these religious festivals still relevant today? Are they binding on modern-day believers?

These festivals are no longer binding on believers today since they are only a shadow of better things to come. Ever since Christ, the perfect sacrificial Lamb came to reconcile man to God through the shedding of His blood, the significance of these festivals has diminished.

Long ago, the high priest had to repeatedly offer sacrifices in order to take away man’s sins. But when Christ came, He offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins through His death on the cross. Christ’s offering of Himself is superior, perfect and once-and-for-all, unlike the priest’s offerings (Hebrews 10: 1, 11-14).

In fact, the first (repetitive offerings by the priest) had to be abolished in order to make way for the second, Christ’s offering of Himself (Hebrews 10:9).

The new covenant, which God establishes through Christ, is better and superior to the old covenant, which is based on observance of the ceremonial laws of Moses.

“Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).

If the old covenant were faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second (Hebrews 8:6-7). The old covenant—including its ceremonial laws and religious festivals—has been set aside and made obsolete with Christ’s coming (Hebrews 8:13).

These festivals are merely a shadow of things to come whereas the substance is found in Christ:

“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, ESV).

“Don’t let anyone worry you by criticising what you eat or drink, or what holy days you ought to observe, or bothering you over new moons or sabbaths. All these things have at most only a symbolical value: the solid fact is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-19, J.B. Phillips).

“So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality” (Colossians 2:16-17, NLT).

What other verses tell us that the feasts are no longer binding on believers today?

When Christ came, He broke down the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles since it was the ceremonial laws (with its stringent commandments) that kept these two groups of people apart (Ephesians 2:14-15). Should we rebuild this wall again? Of course, no.

Believers should see themselves as one in Christ, neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3:27-28). Paul argued cogently that Gentile believers constitute the new Israel (Galatians 3, Romans 9-11). How can we remain united in Christ if we keep on insisting that believers should keep such religious festivals?

What was the decision reached by the Jerusalem council on the issue whether new Gentile believers had to keep the ceremonial laws of Moses like their Jewish counterparts? The Gentiles were told they had to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” and no greater burden was laid upon them apart from these requirements (Acts 15: 19-20, Acts 15: 28-29). Clearly, these were measures put in place to simplify the faith for the recent additions (Gentiles) to the fledgling church and move away from ritualistic practices. Should we then reinstate such festivals and make them normative for modern-day believers? No.

The book of Galatians is an attempt by Paul to underscore the fact that we are free in Christ, saved by grace through faith, not shackled by Jewish legalism—and that includes circumcision, observance of the ceremonial laws and religious festivals. This letter may be called the Magna Charta of Christian liberty.

Because we broke God’s laws, we owed a debt—a debt that listed all the rules (ordinances) we failed to follow. But God forgave us of that debt. He took it away and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).

What are the possible dangers of encouraging the practice of observing these religious feasts?

Firstly, there is the danger of undermining the centrality and preeminence of Christ and His work at the cross (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Secondly, it might create division within the Body of Christ. Believers who do not observe such festivals may feel that they are not up to the mark, spiritually, compared to those who do. (Actually, the former should not feel like that as Colossians 2:16 tells us that we should not let anyone judge us for not observing religious festivals; it’s a false scruple).

Thirdly, if one continually emphasises observance of such feasts, one might neglect The Gospel Commission, which is to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20).

Fourthly, it is fallacious to think that we are embracing a purer, better and “more authentic” brand of Christianity by merely incorporating these ancient religious festivals in our churches. If we are not Christ-centered, if we do not regularly seek God’s presence on the basis of Christ’s shed blood, if we fail to repent when we sin, then all the worship, dancing and rejoicing during these festivals are just a form.

Undoubtedly, religious festivals (like Passover) helps us better understand why shedding of blood is necessary for atonement of man’s sins, and appreciate the immense suffering Christ had to go through in order to redeem us from sin.

While believers should understand the significance of these religious festivals—as it foreshadows Christ’s redeeming work at the cross—it does not mean that Christians should continue to observe such practices today.

                                                                   
With the tabernacle gone & the temple curtain torn, man now has free access to God through Jesus. Yet, some want to revive the religious festivals according to the law of Moses, which reflects the old covenant. Isn’t that a regressive step?


                                                          Torn Curtain of Temple      

And Christians should not feel guilty or think that they are relegated to second-class status if they do not observe such religious festivals.

Today, those who want to revive the religious feasts of the Old Testament are free to do so according to their interpretation of scripture. After all, its effects are positive, unlike destructive heresies such as hyper-grace.

However, it would be improper to impose their convictions on other believers that they must celebrate such festivals, which are merely a shadow of the substance, Christ, who has already come to fulfil all the requirements of the ceremonial laws of Moses. 

To conclude, it is absolutely clear that everything God does is summed up in His Son, Jesus. He is to have the preeminence in everything. He is central to our Christian faith. Christians should focus on Christ, rather than put aside certain special days in a year to celebrate such religious festivals. To observe such festivals is to detract from Christ the glory and honour that rightly belongs to Him.

                                                                       
In Christ alone our hope is found. We focus on Christ alone, not religious festivals.

IN CHRIST ALONE
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

CELEBRATE THE ANCIENT FEASTS?
“Today, those who want to revive the religious feasts of the Old Testament are free to do so according to their interpretation of scripture. After all, its effects are positive, unlike destructive heresies such as hyper-grace.
However, it would be improper to impose their convictions on other believers that they must celebrate such festivals, which are merely a shadow of the substance, Christ, who has already come to fulfil all the requirements of the ceremonial laws of Moses.”
-  Porridge for the Soul


RELATED POST

GRACE AND LAW

Have God’s moral laws become irrelevant for believers saved by grace? Does grace do away with the Law? Has Jesus ever said “it’s all by God’s grace” and that the Law has been abolished for believers?

“We are saved not by keeping the Law but by grace through faith. Though saved, we are still subject to God's moral laws but not the ceremonial and ritualistic laws. The foregoing sums up, in essence, the sticky debate on the role of the Law in the life of believers. Unless one differentiates between God's moral laws and ceremonial laws, one can be pretty confused. The ceremonial laws, such as circumcision, are no longer binding on modern-day believers.”
— Porridge for the Soul

“The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law, but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.”
— Methodist commentator, Adam Clarke

EXTERNAL LINKS

“Passover reminds us of redemption from sin. It was the time when Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was offered as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. It is on that basis alone that God can justify the ungodly sinner. Just as the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the doorpost of Jewish homes caused the Spirit of the Lord to pass over those homes during the last plague on Egypt (Exodus 12), so those covered by the blood of the Lamb will escape the spiritual death and judgment God will visit upon all who reject Him. Of all the Jewish festivals, Passover is of the greatest importance because the Lord’s Supper was a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17–27). In passing the elements and telling the disciples to eat of His body, Jesus was presenting Himself as the ultimate Passover Lamb.”
Source of above Passover extract: https://www.gotquestions.org/Jewish-festivals.html

THE HEBREW ROOTS MOVEMENT
https://www.gotquestions.org/Hebrew-roots.html

Thursday, 21 December 2017

WHY DID JESUS COME?

A Christmas reflection: Nine reasons why Christ came to this world


                                                                   
Tis the season to be jolly! At least that’s what commercial Christmas is about: Shopping, exchanging gifts and dining in fine restaurants.

Amid this celebratory mood, it’s easy to forget the meaning behind this year-end celebration—to honour the coming of Christ to the world.

Let’s pause a few minutes to consider this: What made Jesus leave the comfort and security of heaven to come to earth as a man with his inherent weaknesses and limitations?

Here are NINE reasons for Jesus’ coming to this world:

To reconcile us to God

Christ is the sacrificial Lamb of God. He came to die on the cross, bearing the punishment for our sins. Sin had caused man to be separated from God. But when we believe that He died for our sins, we receive God’s forgiveness and, therefore, become reconciled to God.

Thus, the main purpose of Christ’s coming is to save man from sin, restore the broken relationship between God and man and enable him to get to heaven (salvation) one day when he expires.



  • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  • “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).
  • “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Since Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, sinners should respond quickly with joyful repentance.

To establish God’s kingdom

While Christ was on earth, He proclaimed: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Thus, the gospel (good news) is not just about saving man from sin. There is a much bigger purpose—establishing God’s kingdom.



What is God’s kingdom? It is the realm where God’s authority and dominion reside, both a present and future reality.

God’s kingdom is a present reality in that it exists within the hearts of born-again believers (Luke 17:21).

But God’s kingdom is also a future reality. This will be fulfilled when the Holy City descends from heaven; God will dwell with His people there (Revelation 21:2-3). Christ will literally reign for 1000 years on earth.

To empower us to live righteously

When we believe in Christ, the Holy Spirit who indwells us empowers us to overcome sin. It all begins when believers become identified with Christ’s death. Our old self was crucified with Christ so that we are no longer enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).

We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (Romans 8:12). For the law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

As we die to self, walk in the Spirit, seek God in prayer, and fellowship with other believers, we will be strengthened from within to overcome sin (Luke 9: 23, Galatians 5:16, Matthew 26:41, 2 Timothy 2:22).

To show us how to serve in humility, power and love

In the last Passover meal He shared with His disciples, Jesus arose and washed their feet. By this humble act, a lowly task performed by servants for visitors, Jesus showed us how we should serve each other (John 13:1-5).

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Christ also demonstrated how he ministered to people with love and power. Love alone without power is futile; power without love is just a show.

Love: When Christ moved on this earth, He had compassion on the multitudes and healed them (Matthew 14:14).

Power: God anointed Christ with the Holy Spirit’s power as He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38).

To give us purpose and meaning in life

Is life meant to be something like this? Go to school, work hard, enter university, work hard, get a degree, secure a good job, buy a house and a car, get married, have children, then grandchildren, get to play with them and then watch TV on our rocking chair the rest of our lives till we die?

No, Christ came to inject meaning and purpose into our lives. He came that we may have life, and that we may have it more abundantly (John 10:10). He introduced His disciples to a different kind of “food”, which is the will of God—that which He was sent to accomplish (John 4: 32-34).

More than food and material riches, which man hankers after, Christ promised a different kind of satisfaction and fulfillment that the world cannot match—and, in the hereafter, eternal life and rewards for good works. He told the Samaritan woman at the well that He offers living water which truly satisfies; whoever drinks of it will never thirst (John 4: 13-14).

Love and forgiveness towards others

Jesus taught us that it is important to set our relationship with others aright once we are reconciled to God.

In The Lord’s Prayer, He made it clear that before we can receive God’s forgiveness, we need to forgive others (Matthew 6:12). We are to constantly forgive others, even seventy times seven times. Since there is no limit to God’s forgiveness, we should not place a limit to forgiveness in inter-personal relationships (Matthew 18:22).

In fact, Jesus taught that love should be the hallmark of His followers: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

To destroy the works of the devil

                                                                       
The battle between good and evil not only exists in the galaxies in “Star Wars” but also in the spiritual realm. From Genesis to Revelation, spiritual warfare is evident.

It does not get any clearer than this: “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b).

By defying death, through His resurrection, Christ “disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities”. He “shamed them publicly” by His victory over them at the cross (Colossians 2:15).

Believers, now seated in the heavenly places next to Christ, rest in an exalted position over the principalities and powers (Ephesians 2:6). The battle has already been won. Our task is to have faith and enforce the victory that Christ has achieved for us at the cross (Ephesians 6:10-11).

To overcome the fear of death

Christ came that He might set free those who through fear of death were subject to life-long slavery (Hebrews 2:15).

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). Can we think of any other promise that offers greater hope to a man when he passes through the valley of death?

The resurrection of Jesus is the epitome of hope. There is life after death for believers—everlasting life in heaven. Just as Jesus’ death is not final, physical death is not final for those who believe in Him.

To restore what was lost in Creation

In the creation account, God instructed Adam and Eve to tend the fruitful Garden of Eden. However, beguiled by Satan, they fell into sin. Among the consequences of the Fall, man would need to toil to earn a living and he will die one day.

But the consolation is that Christ will come one day to undo the works of Satan.  Christ, the seed of woman, born of a virgin, will ultimately defeat Satan on the cross (by His resurrection from the dead) though Satan bruised the heel of Christ, causing His death.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
 and between your offspring and her offspring;
he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.”
(Genesis 3:15)

One day, the likes of the paradise that existed in the Garden of Eden will be restored. When God establishes the new heaven and new earth, with gates made of pearls and streets of gold, a state of glorious perfection will once again become a reality.


                                                              
To recapitulate, what is the main reason why Christ came into this world? He wants to draw us into an everlasting relationship with God, one that transcends our earthly life into eternity.

Christmas is about Jesus who came down to earth 2000 years ago to die for man’s sins. Jesus is God but He stooped low to take the form of man. Furthermore, He willingly subjected Himself to flogging, and the humiliation and excruciating pain of being hung on the cross.

In doing so, He paved the way for man to be forgiven and be reconciled to God. Now those who believe in His sacrificial death on the cross can enter into a personal relationship with God. He is ever ready to forgive us our sins if we believe in Him. 

                                                                               
And for those who already have Christ in our hearts, this season is an opportune time to pause and reflect as to whether we harbour any unforgiveness or resentment against anyone. Inasmuch as God has forgiven us, we too need to forgive; so make decisive steps to be reconciled to our friends or family members. For bitterness, if left unchecked, will destroy us more than the ones with whom we have issues.


                                                                    
As the lyrics of “Christmas isn’t Christmas” tell us:
“Christmas isn't Christmas till it happens in your heart
Somewhere deep inside you
Is where Christmas really starts
So give your heart to Jesus,
you'll discover when you do
That it's Christmas, really Christmas for you.”

Christmas Isn't Christmas (Till It Happens In Your Heart)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMurK0o2NGs

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THE REASON FOR THE SEASON
As we reflect on the various characters in the birth narrative of Jesus, we rediscover the meaning of Christmas.

THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS
Time and again God had been speaking to Francis that He wanted him to be a preacher. But he created all sorts of excuses. He thought, “Why can’t I be a successful businessman and then donate generously to missions?”

THE JOY OF GIVING
Can joy come out of giving? Wouldn’t it be better to be on the receiving end instead?

EIGHT REASONS WHY WE SHOULD GIVE
Jesus sacrificed His own life that those who believe in Him might live eternally.
Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift.
Now the One who gave us the greatest gift of all inspires us to give.
http://bit.ly/1r4EaLX