“Rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name…” (Deuteronomy 16:11)
There will be more to challenge us in this series, but today is all about encouragement. I want you to savor all that is yours in Jesus Christ, to see and to enjoy—perhaps with a fresh perspective—what Christ has done, and what he is doing in your life and in the life of every other Christian.
The people who rejoice in God
Deuteronomy records the teaching of Moses in the last weeks before his death. The old man is pouring out his heart to a younger generation, about to enter the Promised Land. Under the inspiration of God, Moses says, “When you get into the land, don’t forget the Lord. Remember to teach your children. Don’t follow other gods. Cancel debts and free your servants…” Then, right in the middle of the book, Moses tells them, “When you get into the land, rejoice! Enjoy what God is giving you! Celebrate!”
Celebrate the Passover (16:1-8)
Celebrate the Feast of Weeks (16:9-12)
Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (16:13-15)
“Rejoice before the Lord your God.” (16:11)
“Be joyful at your Feast…” (16:14)
“Your joy will be complete.” (16:15)
Reading this chapter made me think of Romans 5:11, where Paul says, “We rejoice in God.” This is the character of the Christian community, a distinguishing mark of the church. We are the people who rejoice in God, and God’s people are to observe specific occasions and events with the single purpose of cultivating joy!
These festivals were a big deal because they were held at one location. So, wherever you were in Israel, you had to go to one place to celebrate. Each celebration was one massive gathering of God’s people.
“You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town… except in the place he will chose as a dwelling for his Name.” (16:5-6)
“Rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name.” (16:11)
“For seven days celebrate the Feast to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose.” (16:15)
Where is the place God chose to put his great name? In later years, King David identified Jerusalem as that place. That means people would come from all over Israel to Jerusalem for these feasts. In the New Testament, we see how important this was in the life of our Lord Jesus, “Every year His parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover” (Luke 2:41). This was part of the rhythm of life for our Lord, growing up as a boy.
On one occasion, Jesus’ brothers told him to go to the feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, so that His disciples could see his miracles (John 7:3). Jesus said, “My time has not yet come,” but then He went secretly. And on the last day of the feast, Jesus stood up and said, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).
There are other feasts and festivals mentioned in the Old Testament, but Moses picks out these three to talk about. These feasts were tied to specific events that had special significance for the people of God. Celebrating these events every year strengthened their faith and increased their joy. What you know can leave you unaffected. What you celebrate can shape your life.
What you celebrate
What we celebrate is very important and it says a great deal about us. You can tell a great deal about a family, a church, a community or even a nation by what we celebrate. What do you celebrate?
When someone sends you a birthday card, you are glad because they are celebrating your life. We celebrate anniversaries because we value marriage.
In our culture, we also have the Hallmark celebrations—Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and, of course, we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
No other nation that I know of celebrates Thanksgiving. Our country celebrates Independence Day with fireworks and parades on the 4th of July.
In the church, we celebrate union with Christ. Baptism celebrates that union sealed. The Lord’s Supper celebrates that union sustained.
All over the world Christians celebrate Christmas—the incarnation of the Son of God, and Easter—the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The festival that seems to be growing more than any other today is Halloween. That one confuses me, because I can’t work out exactly what is being celebrated. Can you?
I’ve got better things to do than mount a campaign against Halloween. Our kids didn’t miss a chance to gather a bag of candy when they were young. We enjoyed that with them. If you want to make a big deal of Halloween, I won’t criticize you for that.
What is the great truth being celebrated? What is the great event? What is the great doctrine that is being celebrated here? You don’t need to send me an e-mail on that. I’ve read the history, and its not especially edifying. The idea of celebrating darkness or fear leaves me cold. Celebrations matter. They identify what we value.
This raises an important question for the people of God. What is worth celebrating? I want you to see how marvelously Moses’ answer speaks to us today.
Celebrate the Feast of Passover
“Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God.” (16:1) (You can read the story of the Passover in Exodus 12.)
God’s people were slaves in Egypt. It had been like that for over 400 years. They had been oppressed by a cruel tyrant who defied God and abused his people. Then God said to the tyrant, “Let My people go,” but Pharaoh cared nothing for the word of God.
So God came down in judgment and mercy. His judgment broke the power of Pharaoh, and his mercy protected his own people. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and death came to every home in Egypt on that night of God’s judgment.
It was an awful day of judgment, as the final day of judgment will be, but God said to his people, “Sacrifice a lamb, and paint the blood of the sacrificed lamb on the sides and top of the door frame of your house, and ‘When I see the blood I will pass over you’” (Exodus 12:13). That’s where “The Passover” comes from. God saved his people from the fearsome wrath of His judgment, through the blood of a sacrifice, and brought them out of slavery. Then God said, “Celebrate this!”
What would you have done if you had been among God’s people and Moses told you to paint blood on your doorframe? You are outside with your neighbors, “Are you gonna do this? Do we really need to do it? Will this really work?” Would you have taken God at His word? Would you have done what he said?
God said it. His people did it. And through the blood of the sacrifice, they were saved from God’s judgment that came over the whole land, and they were brought into a covenant where God said to them, “You will be my people and I will be your God.” Now Moses says, ‘This is worth celebrating!”
Celebrate with “the bread of affliction”
“For seven days, eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction… so that… you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” (16:3)
Imagine that you are living in the north of Jerusalem, as our Lord did, and that you are traveling on foot to this festival. When you arrive, what will you eat for the next 7 days? Dry crackers! Centuries after the Exodus, God’s people were to taste life, as it would have been, if it had not been for the mercy of God.
Celebrate with “the sacrificed lamb”
“Sacrifice the Passover when the sun goes down… Roast it and eat it in the place the Lord your God will choose.” (16:6-7)
Where does the New Testament go with this? Jesus was crucified during the Passover. And when John the Baptist first saw Jesus he said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). When Jesus gathered with his disciples for the last time before he went to the cross, Luke tells us what he said to them…
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (22:15)
“He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you.’” (22:19)
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (22:20).
Do you see what Jesus was saying? “The mighty intervention of God in the Exodus, the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of Israel, is only a shadow of what God is about to do. It points to this mighty intervention: My body will be given. My blood will be shed. I will become the sacrifice by which you will be redeemed from divine wrath and set free from sin’s power.”
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we don’t roast the lamb. The sacrifice has been made. We take the cup and remember that the blood of Christ was shed, and that by faith His blood is applied to your life. You are delivered from the wrath of God and brought out of the position you used to be in—a slave, and you are brought into the freedom of a new life with God, in which he says to you, “You are Mine, and I am yours.”
This is not a process—it’s been accomplished. God gives you this feast so you won’t spend the rest of your life wondering if He loves you. You see that He loves you in the cross. God gives you this feast so that you won’t spend the rest of your life wondering if you will be forgiven. You are forgiven in the cross, and faith sees that.
God gives you this feast so that you will not live the rest of your life as if you are still a slave. Through the Passover, God’s people saw that God had put them in an entirely new position. No matter what your difficulties are in life, you are no longer a slave! This is what God says to us in the cross: You may face all kinds of battles in life, but you are not a slave! You are redeemed! You have been set free by the blood of Christ. Sin will always be your enemy, but it is no longer you master. That is worth celebrating!
Celebrate the Feast of Weeks (or the Feast of Firstfruits)
“Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.” (16:9)
The timing of these festivals is a matter of some debate among scholars. We don’t need to get into that today. The Feast of Weeks is connected with the harvest. In Exodus 23:16, this festival is called, “the Feast of Harvest.” It is also tied to the beginning of harvest, “On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the LORD an offering of new grain during the Feast of Weeks…” (Numbers 28:26). The day of firstfruits was the day when people brought the first sample of the harvest as a gift to the Lord.
Where does the New Testament go with this?
Jesus Christ is “the firstfruit”
“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:20
The “firstfruit” was a sample of what was still to follow in the harvest. Paul says Christ is the “firstfruit.” He has been raised from the dead. That’s marvelous, but what does it have to do with us? Paul says, “He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” When Christ rose from the dead, he was the first of many who would rise from the dead.
Just as the first basket of fruit that is picked from a tree gives you a taste of what is coming from the tree during the whole time that it produces fruit, so the resurrection of Christ is the first glimpse of the day when all His people will be raised incorruptible, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (15:22-23).
The Festival of Firstfruits (or Weeks) points directly to our glorious hope in our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. He is the firstfruits. He is the hope of resurrection for you.
The Holy Spirit is “the firstfruit”
“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23
By New Testament times, the Feast of Weeks was known by another name. If you count forward seven weeks from Passover (that’s forty-nine days) the next day, the fiftieth day, is referred to as “Pentecost.”
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). Luke says, “There were staying in Jerusalem, God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Why did they come from every nation under heaven to Jerusalem? They had come to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Luke tells us how the Holy Spirit fell, not just on the Apostles, but on all of the believers. This was the beginning of the harvest from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “The Holy Spirit is given to us as the firstfruits.” [i]
The Holy Spirit lives within you, giving you a sample of the life to come: A taste of the love of God, a glimpse of the glory of Christ, a beginning of the new life that will be yours forever. That taste, that glimpse, that beginning is the pledge of all that is to come.
Speaking of our eternal dwelling Paul says, “God made us for this very purpose, and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 5:5, cf. 1:22, Ephesians 1:14). You have a taste already, just like the first basket of fruit, but there is a whole harvest to come.
The Feast of Weeks (or firstfruits) points us to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ great promise ties these two together, “I will not leave you as orphans [promise of His resurrection]. I will come to you [promise of the Holy Spirit]” (John 14:18). Christ is with us. Now that is worth celebrating!
Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (or the Feast of Booths)
“Live in booths for seven days…” Leviticus 23:42
Of all the festivals, this must have been the most fun for the kids. They actually built a shelter from leaves and sticks. This was a camp out… for a whole week, “Hey dad, when is the Feast of Booths? What are we gonna make this year? The neighbors had a really cool one last year! We’ve got to make a better one!”
The idea of the festival was to remind God’s people that when they came out of Egypt, they did not live in houses, they lived in tents (or in booths) in the desert for 40 years. You’re living in a wonderful house in the Promised Land, so live in a booth one day a year to remind you that this earth is not your home. One day this tent, which is my body, will be destroyed, but that won’t be the end of me.
Where does the New Testament go with this?
“We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
During the summer, I benefitted greatly from reading John Bunyan. He is best known for writing Pilgrim’s Progress, [ii] but he wrote many other wonderful books. Bunyan spent twelve years in prison for preaching the gospel. When he was in court, the judge said he would let Bunyan go if he would promise not to preach. Bunyan said, “If you let me go today, I will preach tomorrow.”
Bunyan had a wife and three children, including a daughter who was close to his heart and blind. He spent twelve out of his 60 years in prison. In his autobiography he said saying goodbye to them was like “pulling the flesh from my bones.” [iii] When he was finally released, Bunyan had much to teach his people about how to endure difficulties. I’d like to listen to that pastor, wouldn’t you? This is what he wrote in 1685:
“Sometimes I look upon myself and say, ‘Where am I now?’ I give myself this answer: ‘I am in an evil world, a great way from heaven… sometimes benighted, sometimes beguiled, sometimes fearing, sometimes hoping, sometimes breathing, sometimes dying… but then I turn the tables, and say, ‘But where shall I be shortly? Where shall I see myself [soon] after a few more times have passed over me? I shall see myself with Jesus.’ When I can answer myself thus… this yields glory, even glory to one’s spirit now.” [iv]
Bunyan says, “I ask two questions.” Where am I now? Where will I be soon? I am in the booth, but soon I will be in the city. I live in this fallen world. But soon I will be with Jesus. When my soul can grasp that I am strengthened.
The Feast of Tabernacles (or the festival of booths) reminds me that this world is not my home. It points to the Second Coming of Jesus, and the great inheritance that will be ours on that day. Faith will be turned to sight. Our lowly bodies will be changed to be like His glorious body, and we shall be forever with the Lord. Christ will bring us home, and when He does “your joy will be complete” (16:15). That is worth celebrating.
These three great festivals point us to Jesus and help us celebrate all that is ours in Christ. The Passover points to the death of Christ. The Feast of Weeks (or firstfruits) points to His resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. The Feast of Booths reminds us we are pilgrims in this world and soon we are going home. These things are not just worth knowing, they are worth celebrating, because that can change your life.
I will never make it as a rapper, and neither will most of you, but these words have been pulsating in my mind this week:
Christ redeemed me.
Christ is with me.
Christ will take me home.
Christ crucified! Christ risen! Christ coming again! Now, that’s worth celebrating!
[i] “The ‘firstfruits’ was both the beginning of the harvest and the pledge that the full harvest would follow in due time. Perhaps Paul had in mind that the Feast of Weeks, which celebrated the reaping of the firstfruits, was the very festival (called ‘Pentecost’ in Greek) on which the Spirit had been given.” John Stott, “Romans,” p. 242, from The Bible Speaks Today series, InterVarsity Press, 1994
[ii] John Bunyan, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Crossway, 2009
[iii] John Bunyan, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,” p. 174, Emerald House, 1998
[iv] John Bunyan, “The Desires of the Righteous Granted,” p. 24