Wednesday, September 22, 2010

As I watch the moon rise

"'So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'"
Leviticus 23:39-43 (NIV)

Last night as Lisa and I finished working in the courtyard outside our bedroom, we paused to sit on our new deck and absorb the night. Lightning was flashing to our north and the moon and Jupiter rising in the east. The trees framed our view of the sky, and drifting clouds teased us at times revealing then obscuring the night sky.

I reminded Lisa that today would be the beginning of Sukkot, sometimes called the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. The Feast of Tabernacles is central to the Gospel of John. John alludes to the feast when he tells us, "the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us." John 1:14 (YLT) That is to say that Christ made his temporary dwelling among men. The Feast of Tabernacles is also the background of John chapters 7-9. The footnotes in my NIV Bible state the following, "The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Jn 7:53-8:11." There are two things we need to understand about this.

  1. These 12 verses are Scripture. The translators' remarks are simplistic. These verses appear in several different manuscripts in various places, if I recall my prior research correctly.
  2. They were probably not written by the Apostle John, and certainly interrupt the continuity of what John is trying to communicate.

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus made two assertions about himself in front of the crowd that was assembled for the feast. In John 7:37-38 Jesus shouted out to the crowd, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." John 8:12 tells us, "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"

Alfred Edersheim, a 19th century theologian, tells us that the Feast of Booths featured two specific rituals, the "Pouring out of Water" in the morning and the "Temple-Illumination" in the evening. Jesus' assertions most likely occurred in concert with the rituals of the feast. While the priest is pouring water into a basin by the altar at the morning sacrifice, Jesus stands and shouts, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink!" Likewise, in the evening, as the caldrons are lit illuminating not only the temple mount but the entire city of Jerusalem, Jesus again addresses the people saying, "I am the light of the world!"

The illumination of the temple recalls the Solomon's dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles 7 when the glory of the Lord descended and filled the temple. The fires glowing in the outer courts of the temple were merely a re-enactment of God's descending upon the temple.

When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,
"He is good;
his love endures forever."

2 Chronicles 7:3 (NIV)

At this re-enactment, Jesus tells the people that he is the Messiah. This event also recalls Simeon, in Luke 2, when upon seeing the newborn Jesus, cried out prophetically saying,

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

Luke 2:29-32 (NIV)

The Pharisees argue with Jesus, until Jesus indisputedly clarifies his identity by saying, "Before Abraham was born, I AM." Not only did Jesus claim that his preexistence, he used for himself the most sacred name for God, "I AM." At this point the Pharisees pick up stones to kill Jesus, but he slips away from the temple.

Jesus did not merely make claims regarding himself, he demonstrated his identity. Upon leaving the temple and walking into the shadows of the city, Jesus illustrates his claim, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life," by granting sight to the man born blind. Jesus did this by creating new eyes for the blind man from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7 and John 9:6).

As I reflect on the Feast of Tabernacles, I am struck by the lack of Christian holidays in Scripture. The Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy) dictated the holidays that Israel celebrates. While there are a few additional holidays, such as Purim and Chanukah, most of the Jewish holidays were determined before Israel was even a nation. Christians, depending on the flavor, have no lack of holidays from Christmas to Easter. Neither Christmas nor Easter was sanctioned by New Testament Scripture. The Apostle Paul even depreciates the importance of the Sabbath in Romans 14:5-8. Aside from the Lord's Supper, which we are supposed to celebrate often, holidays in Christianity are take-it-or-leave-it. We can marvel at the meanings encapsulated by the Old Testament holidays, but we aren't obligated to observe them.

Hebrews 3 and 4 allude to the reason: The only day that matters is, "Today."

It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts."
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Hebrews 4:6-11 (NIV)

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