Are God's Holy Days Relevant Today?

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Are God's Holy Days Relevant Today?

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When God begins something in this present age of mankind, He nearly always starts small. In Matthew 13:33 Matthew 13:33Another parable spoke he to them; The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
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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, in Old Testament times God called only a relatively few people who were willing to follow His ways.

The biblical record shows that in early human history only a small number of people decided to obey God. A faithful few such as Abel, Enoch and Noah responded to the revelation of God’s plan of salvation (Matthew 23:35 Matthew 23:35That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar.
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). After the great Flood of Noah’s time, God called and worked with Abraham and his wife Sarah. Of God’s obedient people of those times, Hebrews 11:13 Hebrews 11:13These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
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says they “all died in faith” with the sure knowledge that they would gain eternal life (Hebrews 11:40 Hebrews 11:40God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
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).

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 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
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). God’s love in giving His Son continued His plan of salvation in effect from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34 Matthew 25:34Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
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; 1 Peter 1:20 1 Peter 1:20Who truly was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
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). 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 Galatians 3:8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel to Abraham, saying, In you shall all nations be blessed.
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). Genesis 26:3-4 Genesis 26:3-4 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you, and to your seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father; 4 And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
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identifies specific blessings God promised to Abraham and his descendants. The Creator pledged to bestow these blessings “because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5 Genesis 26:5Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
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). Abraham’s faith and obedience is why the Bible calls him “the friend of God” and “the father of all those who believe” (James 2:23 James 2:23And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
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; Romans 4:11 Romans 4:11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also:
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; Genesis 18:17-19 Genesis 18:17-19 17 And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; 18 Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring on Abraham that which he has spoken of him.
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).

A nation singled out

Abraham’s descendants would grow into a mighty nation (Genesis 18:18 Genesis 18:18Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
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). The promised line of blessed descendants would come through and be named after his grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28 Genesis 32:28And he said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince have you power with God and with men, and have prevailed.
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). After settling in Egypt they eventually became slaves (Exodus 1). The story of God’s deliverance of ancient Israel from their bondage and His deliverance of people today is part of the intricately woven fabric of His festivals.

In due time the Creator set in motion a series of events involving festival observances that, illustrating His great plan, led to the Israelites being freed from slavery in Egypt. When Moses and his brother Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, they told the Egyptian ruler that the God of Israel commanded, “Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1 Exodus 5:1And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus said the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.
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).

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 Exodus 3:16-18 16 Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt: 17 And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey. 18 And they shall listen to your voice: and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him, The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us: and now let us go, we beseech you, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.
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). God then performed miracles through these two men in the sight of the people (Exodus 4:29-30 Exodus 4:29-30 29 And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: 30 And Aaron spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken to Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people.
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). 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 Exodus 4:31And the people believed: and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.
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; Exodus 6:4-8 Exodus 6:4-8 4 And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. 5 And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Why say to the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: 7 And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, which brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you in to the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.
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).

What followed was the first Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread for the Israelites who had been enslaved. 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 (non-Israelites)—that they should put out leaven, symbolic of sin, because “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
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). In the next verse Paul said to this mixed group of Jews and gentiles, “Therefore let us keep the feast,” referring to the same festival God had instituted in ancient Israel many centuries before.

The festivals in the New Testament

From His earliest childhood years, Jesus observed the feast days with His parents. “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover,” Luke 2:41 Luke 2:41Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
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tells us. The following verses describe Jesus, at age 12, engaging the theologians of His day in a spirited discussion during this festival season (Luke 2:42-48 Luke 2:42-48 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. 43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. 44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the middle of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. 48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said to him, Son, why have you thus dealt with us? behold, your father and I have sought you sorrowing.
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). Clearly, He astonished these religious leaders with His understanding and insight. John writes of Jesus continuing to observe God’s annual feasts as an adult during His ministry (John 2:23 John 2:23Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
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; John 4:45 John 4:45Then when he was come into Galilee, the Galilaeans received him, having seen all the things that he did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went to the feast.
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).

In one of the most instructive examples, we find that Jesus risked His personal safety to attend the annual Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-2 John 7:1-2 1 After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. 2 Now the Jew’s feast of tabernacles was at hand.
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, John 7:7-10 John 7:7-10 7 The world cannot hate you; but me it hates, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. 8 Go you up to this feast: I go not up yet to this feast: for my time is not yet full come. 9 When he had said these words to them, he stayed still in Galilee. 10 But when his brothers were gone up, then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.
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, John 7:14 John 7:14Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.
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). We’re told that “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 John 7:37-39 37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. 38 He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spoke he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
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).

Many churches believe that the apostle Paul later fundamentally changed the way Christians are to worship. This notion assumes he taught gentiles that observance of the festivals and Holy Days was unnecessary. Although some of his writings were difficult to understand, even by his contemporaries (2 Peter 3:15-16 2 Peter 3:15-16 15 And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given to him has written to you; 16 As also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.
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), Paul’s explicit statements and actions contradict any notion that he annulled or abolished observance of these Holy Days.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1-2 1 Corinthians 11:1-2 1 Be you followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brothers, that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
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, for example, Paul told his followers, “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’ ” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
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).

If Paul’s practice had not been to observe the feast days God had instituted, 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 unthinkable for him (see Acts 24:12-14 Acts 24:12-14 12 And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: 13 Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me. 14 But this I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
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; Acts 25:7-8 Acts 25:7-8 7 And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. 8 While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.
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; Acts 28:17 Acts 28:17And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said to them, Men and brothers, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
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).

On the contrary, the biblical record of Paul’s ministry repeatedly depicts the Holy Days as important observances and milestones in his life. For example, he told the Christians in Ephesus, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem” (Acts 18:21 Acts 18:21But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that comes in Jerusalem: but I will return again to you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
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). In Acts 20:16 Acts 20:16For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hurried, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
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and 1 Corinthians 16:8 1 Corinthians 16:8But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.
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we find Paul arranging his travel schedule to accommodate the Feast of Pentecost. In Acts 27:9 Acts 27:9Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
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Luke, Paul’s companion in his travels, referred to a particular time of year as being after “the Fast,” a reference to the Day of Atonement (on which, as we will discuss later, one was to fast).

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, in a reference to Acts 20:6 Acts 20:6And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to them to Troas in five days; where we stayed seven days.
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, 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 Longenecker, 1981, Vol. 9, p. 507). Regarding Acts 20:16 Acts 20:16For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hurried, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
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, 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 1 Corinthians 15:11Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so you believed.
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).

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 1 John 2:6He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
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).

Jewish Christians continued to uphold the Holy Days, as did gentile believers (see “Colossians 2:16 Shows Gentile Christians Observed the Biblical Holy Days “). From these references (as well as many others), we can conclude only that the practice of the early Church was to continue the observance of the annual festivals God gave, the first of which is the Passover.

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