Lesson 10: How to Celebrate God's Festivals Today
God didn't intend for people to just learn about His Sabbaths and festivals and their meanings. He wants us to celebrate them, worshipping Him and fellowshipping with other believers when we can.
Here are excerpts from a fascinating paper an 11-year-old girl wrote for
school about celebrating God's festivals:
"We do celebrate Holy Days from the Bible. These Holy Days were given to
God's people in the Old Testament and were kept by Jesus and the apostles
in the New Testament. I love God's Holy Days because they teach me to remember
things that God has done for His people in the past and His plan for saving
all mankind in the future.
"I want to tell you about the festivals that are in the Bible and what
they mean to me.
"Passover: We remember God's angel passing over the houses
of His people and sparing their firstborn sons in Egypt. We also learn that
the first step in God's plan to save us is for us to accept Christ's death
as a Passover sacrifice for us and be baptized.
"First and Last Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: We
remember God rescuing His people from slavery in Egypt and that they had
to eat unleavened bread. Unleavened bread has no yeast to puff it up, so
it is flat.
"We also learn that the next step in God's plan is to try to take the sin
out of our lives. Sin is like leavening, it puffs us up and makes us proud.
God wants us humble, like the flat bread. During this week we eat unleavened
bread and take all of the puffy bread out of our house to remind us to clean
the sin out of our lives.
"The Day of Pentecost (also called the Feast of the Firstfruits):
We remember that Jesus started His small Church with His apostles and gave
them the Holy Spirit as a comforter while He is gone.
"We also learn that the next step is that we can be one of God's firstfruits
in His harvest when He returns.
"The Feast of Trumpets: We learn that this day is the
day Christ returns to rule the earth and set up His Kingdom. It will not
be a secret when He comes, because angels will blow trumpets so loud that
the whole world will know.
"The Day of Atonement: We learn that when Christ returns,
Satan will be put away for a while and we will finally be at one with God
without the devil causing trouble. Atonement kind of means 'at-one-ment.'
On this day God tells us to fast for 24 hours, from sundown to sundown.
Fasting means we don't eat or drink anything, not even water. This teaches
us that if we do not become at one with God, we have no hope and will die.
"The Feast of Tabernacles (Feast of Booths): We learn
that next is 1,000 years of peace in God's Kingdom here on earth. God will
rebuild the earth and Jerusalem will be the capital. King David will rule
under God. All people will be taught to obey God's laws and keep these Feasts
every year. The Bible even says that people who won't keep the Feasts will
have no rain for their crops until they obey.
"The Feast of Tabernacles is my favorite festival. We must leave our house
and live in temporary houses and live like God's Kingdom was already here
for a whole week. We go to really cool places and do lots of fun things
as a family. We also go to church every day for two hours—some days twice!
"The Last Great Day: We learn that when the 1,000 years
is over, God will resurrect all the people that ever lived and died but
were not part of His Church. Billions of people will be brought back to
life and put back together as skin and bones and given a chance to learn
His laws and His way of life. God loves all His children and hopes that
'not one should perish.' Everyone gets a chance to be in God's family and
live forever as a spirit being like God. This will be the GREATEST DAY EVER,
because all friends and families will be together again and know God.
"I hope you enjoyed learning about these Holy Days and why I keep them"
(from "Why I Celebrate
God's Biblical Holy Days Instead of Holidays").
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What Does the Bible Say About Celebrating the Sabbath and Festivals?
As we have seen in the last nine lessons, the weekly Sabbath and seven
annual festivals were taught and celebrated throughout the Bible, both
Old and New Testaments. They are called "feasts of the Lord" (Leviticus
23:2). As we saw in Lesson 2, the Hebrew word translated "feasts" is mo'edim, which
means "appointed times" or "appointments." God has set up these appointments
with us! They are also called "holy convocations" or "sacred assemblies"
(New International Version).
We can learn valuable lessons by meeting, fellowshipping and singing
together on these feasts.
What are some of the reasons God wants us to meet together?
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner
of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see
the Day approaching.
As the world around us worsens, we desperately need to encourage and
be accountable to other like-minded Christians. Considering others' needs
and helping them ends up helping us. But if we don't make the extra effort
to attend church services when we can, we will begin to drift away from
God and to lose our motivation.
What is fellowship, and how does it help us grow to be more like
the Father and Jesus Christ?
1 John 1:3
That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may
have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father
and with His Son Jesus Christ.
God calls people into His Church to be brothers and sisters in a close
and growing relationship. The Greek word koinonia, most frequently
translated "fellowship," describes this relationship of communication,
sharing and caring. Fellowship is an important way of obeying Christ's
commandment to love one another. Fellowship is also a way of bearing each
other's burdens and growing and working together to become more like Christ
(John 13:34; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:15-16).
What part does singing play in our worship of God?
But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called
in one body; and be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and
admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing
with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Music allows us to praise and worship God and to encourage and strengthen
each other. Words set to music can make them even more memorable, and
in combination with beautiful musical arrangements can be very inspiring.
What Can Christians Learn From the Old Testament Sacrifices?
All of the festivals revealed to ancient Israel included ritual sacrifices
(Numbers 28-29). These are not part of the modern observance, but they
do teach us lessons.
What did the sacrifices represent?
And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and
without shedding of blood there is no remission.
Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens
should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with
better sacrifices than these.
For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are
copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence
of God for us...
The physical tabernacle and temple were "copies" of the spiritual reality,
and the animal sacrifices were intended to help us understand the seriousness
of sin and the "better" sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
So our need to have our sins paid for by Jesus' sacrifice was portrayed
symbolically through the ritual sacrifices of the Old Testament, including
those offered at the festivals. Christians today remember Christ's sacrifice
and His central role in the meaning of all the festivals. Jesus Christ
is the key to understanding God's entire plan of salvation.
How Should a Christian Today Celebrate the Annual Festivals?
Most Christians today don't observe the seven festivals God calls "My
feasts" (Leviticus 23:2). Here is information from our Frequently
Asked Question about how the United
Church of God celebrates these meaningful festivals today.
The Bible lists seven festivals to be celebrated each year (Leviticus
23), and the New Testament shows many examples of Jesus, His apostles
and the Church of God celebrating them. The first, the Passover,
is a memorial of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. This is also
when we renew our agreement to come under the blood of Jesus Christ, the
perfect Passover Lamb, for the forgiveness of our sins. We approach this
period of the year with deep spiritual introspection. We commemorate the
Passover on the 14th
day of the first month of the sacred year with a service based on
the instructions of 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 and the Gospel accounts of
the New Testament Passover that Christ instituted.
This solemn service begins with a brief explanation of its purpose, followed
by foot-washing (based on Christ's example and instructions in John 13).
Then the minister gives an explanation of the symbols of the Passover—unleavened
bread and wine—which represent the body and blood of our Savior, respectively.
Each baptized member of the Church eats a small piece of the unleavened
bread and drinks a small glass of the wine (Mark 14:22-24). Passover is
the only festival that does not also include a Holy Day (annual Sabbath).
of Unleavened Bread is symbolic of the Christian's responsibility
to strive to live a sin-free life. We prepare for the Feast of Unleavened
Bread by removing leaven and leavened products (bread or other baked
items that are made with yeast, baking powder, baking soda or potassium
bicarbonate) from our homes (Exodus 12:18-19). We also do not eat bread
products made with leaven during the seven days of the Unleavened Bread
festival in keeping with God's instructions. Two of the most common
commercial unleavened breads are Ry-Krisp and matzos. (Not all matzos
are free of leaven, however, so one has to read the labels.)
This festival begins and ends with an annual Holy Day on which church
services are held similar to the kind of services we hold on every weekly Sabbath.
However, on each of the annual Holy Days, the messages focus on various
aspects of the meaning of the day we are observing.
In the United Church of God, the meetings begin with congregational singing,
followed by a prayer. After that, an elder or someone designated by the
pastor gives a 10- to 12-minute message. This is followed by announcements
and the collection of an offering (in accordance with Deuteronomy 16:16-17).
(Offerings are not collected on the weekly Sabbath, because there are
no instructions or examples of this in the Bible.) More congregational
singing may follow, or a choir or musicians may present special music.
The main message lasts approximately one hour and is usually given by
the pastor or an elder that he designates. Occasionally, we will use alternative
formats, such as having two messages of equal length (around 40 minutes
each), between which we have the announcement segment and congregational
singing or special music. All of the messages provide guidance, encouragement
and education to the membership, as well as help us worship God. The service
ends with a final congregational hymn and a closing prayer.
The next two Holy Days are Pentecost (reminding
us of the giving of the Holy Spirit and the founding of the Church of
God) and the Feast
of Trumpets (picturing the return of Jesus Christ). All Holy Days
are "high day" annual Sabbaths, so Christians do not perform their regular
work on them, resting in the same way that they do on every weekly Sabbath.
of Atonement has a unique aspect to it, in that God instructs us
or to go without food and drink. "Afflicted in soul" (Leviticus 23:29)
is explained in Vine's Expository Dictionary as meaning to
humble oneself through fasting.
Most of the Holy Days are observed in local congregations, with the exception
of the Feast
of Tabernacles and the Last
Great Day. Church members and their families gather in centralized
locations for that entire eight-day festival season. We observe this main
festival season of the year with daily church services, including those
days that are not annual or weekly Sabbaths. This festival is also a time
of great spiritual and physical enjoyment and includes programs for families,
seniors, teens and young adults.
Take time now to look at the dates
for each of these festivals in the coming year and record them on
your calendar (or enter them into your electronic calendar program).
As you review the meanings of these festivals and the inspiration they
bring, make a plan for celebrating them in the year ahead. If you have
more questions about celebrating the Sabbath and festivals, feel free
to contact our pastor
who serves your area or to write to our Personal Correspondence
team at email@example.com. We will be happy
to serve you in any way we can.
Next Lesson: Congratulations! You have now completed Series
4, "God's Plan for You and the Entire World." You can now advance to Series
5, "What God
Wants for You." [coming soon]
Questions about this lesson? Feedback about
God's Holy Day Plan:
The Promise of Hope for All Mankind
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Christ and the apostles?
for the Annual Festivals of God This Year
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Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath
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the true Church of God?
The Church Jesus Built
This Is the United Church of