God’s weekly Sabbath and each of His annual Holy Days have unique characteristics that distinguish them from one another, but they all share something very special. This Bible Study, will examine what it means to keep God’s Holy Convocations.
I appreciated the focus of all of the messages this week, I’m sure all of you have as well. And I think this message here will align with all those especially. We have a great privilege of coming before God in the place where He’s placed His name, as Mr. Creech said on Thursday. But there is a mindset – a focus – we have to have in doing that. In Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, God obviously commands that we observe His weekly Sabbath. And that’s a 24 hour period, but there’s also something else on that Sabbath He wants us to focus on as a group, together. In Leviticus 23, also Numbers 28 and 29, He commands that we keep His holy days. And there’s something that connects all of those. God set apart these days, as we all know, as holy time to help us to understand and appreciate these special stages in His plan.
There is a symbolism in that the weekly Sabbath, the end of that 6-7000 year period. I realize this is speculation, but we still celebrate and look forward to, on the Sabbath, the beginning of God’s Kingdom. And then, each of the holy days have their own distinctive symbolism as well. He uses things like unleavened bread, wave sheaf and loaf offerings, counting to 50, trumpets, fasting and Azazel goats, tabernacles, the Great White Throne, the water of life, and all these symbolic things to help us to understand His plan, and how we’re supposed to prepare for our part in it. Even the weekly Sabbath has a quality all of its own – very different than the annual high days.
But they all share something very special – something God commands us to do on them – something that requires our participation to fully appreciate, and something that ties them all together with every one of us that keep them. Now on each of God’s Sabbaths and holy days, He commands a holy convocation. On the eve of God’s Sabbath – tonight – during His Feast of Tabernacles, I thought it would be appropriate for us, and encouraging for us, to review what His Word – the Bible – says about a holy convocation, and see why our respectful participation is so important on these special days.
I’d like to give some background first – looking at the language. Language reflects and influences culture. If ever you’ve taken a language in high school, you recognize that as soon as you walk into the classroom – be it Spanish or German or French – it’s like walking into another country – posters….. Most of my teachers made sure that we only spoke that language as soon as we walked in the door. And they told you a lot about their dress, their music and so on. In fact, I think the only thing I remember about German and French are the songs, but don’t ask me to sing them! Maybe later!
I’d like to look first here at the English, because the word convocation is kind of an old word and we don’t use it much in our language, and unfortunately, it’s dropped out of even our description of God’s Sabbath and what we’re supposed to do during that – what I like to refer to as – the time between the prayers. Convocation – the word – has to be distinguished from the word congregation . So let me just give you some etymology and some breakdown here. To congregate is to collect or to gather . The word con means to , and combined with the word greg , which means flock , it means to gather the flock . The congregation is like a herd. It’s accumulated to share the same space, eat the same grass, flock with one another. The word gregarious means to live and move with the herd . The word aggregate is a collection of things . So that word greg is important for us to understand.
Let’s look at Exodus 12 and see how this is first used. It’s always important, in word studies in the scriptures, to see where the word is first used, because God has a tendency of building on them as He uses that word throughout the scriptures. And the first one is usually very distinctive. Exodus 12 – lets read verses 1-3:
Exodus 12:1-3 Exodus 12:1-3 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying,
2 This month shall be to you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.
3 Speak you to all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:
American King James Version× – Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, “This month shall be your beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, “On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household.”
What follows is instructions around the Passover. And the word that is translated into congregation is the Hebrew word edah , and it means just that – to gather together . This is, again, the first occurrence in scripture. So within that space, there is a collection of individuals –it’s usually used as a religious term. When you hear the word congregation , it’s usually relative to scripture or the religious term, but it’s not necessarily limited to it.
Now with that as a background of what the word congregation means, let’s look at the word to convoke or convocation . The same prefix con means to , but voc means something very different. Voc means to call . Convocation is a called assembly – a commanded rallying of the flock – usually done, or initiated by, the shepherd. So you have this congregation in a field – potentially even fenced in – but the con voc ation is a calling of the con greg ation to the shepherd for specific purposes. Let’s look at verse 16 of chapter 12, in Exodus – first time the word convocation is used.
Exodus 12:16 Exodus 12:16And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.
American King James Version× – On the first day there shall be a holy convocation – this is also the first use of the term holy convocation – a nd we’ll discuss in more detail what that means later – and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation – speaking of the first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. No manner of work shall be done on them but that which everyone must eat – that only may be prepared for you .
A convocation is a called assembly – a commanded rallying of the flock. It’s not a congregation. We’re all part of a congregation, but the convocation is a response to that calling. It actually is the calling. And in this case, as we’re reading them here, in Exodus 12, these are holy callings –a holy summoning – unique to God’s Sabbath and His holy days, at which His flock share three things – critical things. And I’ll take us to a Psalm to see that. It’s actually a Psalm that was prepared for the Sabbath day, and I’ll give you some other references too. The three things that this flock share when they convoke is: Number one, a common origin in their Creator or their Maker – and these things should be on our mind as we respond to a convocation. It’s not just wandering around in the flock and assuming we’re all together. There’s a point in time where the shepherd calls and the sheep respond. There is a reference there to Genesis 2, and we should remember that with each Sabbath and every time we convoke: Who is our Creator and Maker? The second thing that draws us together – that we share – is a parallel purpose . And we understand that parallel purpose in this day and age, though Israel may have had different ideas of that. We look forward to the work of doing the gospel and preparing for those days. In Matthew 28, verses 19 and 20, we see the commission given to the Church. Matthew 28, verses 19 and 20 – you don’t need to turn there – I think we’re all familiar with it. We are to prepare disciples – to reach out and teach disciples – in what Christ taught us. And that’s the work that we move forward to in preparing for the Kingdom. The third thing that we share at this time is a collective destiny in the Kingdom of God. Luke 12, and verse 32 is a good reference for that – a collective destiny in the Kingdom of God.
So we have this looking backward at our origins in our Maker that brings us together, a shared work that we have – a parallel purpose – that we all put our shoulders to, so to speak, and a collective destiny in the Kingdom of God that that work will eventually lead us to. I said I’d turn to that Psalm. Let’s go to Psalm 92. There were some specific songs that were sung on the Sabbath. This is one of those. In fact, this is the one that is very specific here. Psalm 92…and you’ll see as we go through this, this is not just about resting from work and staying home and kicking back and relaxing.
Psalms 92:1-4 Psalms 92:1-4 1 IT IS A GOOD THING TO GIVE THANKS UNTO THE LORD, AND TO SING PRAISES UNTO THY NAME, O MOST HIGH:
2 To show forth your loving kindness in the morning, and your faithfulness every night,
3 On an instrument of ten strings, and on the psaltery; on the harp with a solemn sound.
4 For you, LORD, have made me glad through your work: I will triumph in the works of your hands.
American King James Version× – A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath Day – verse 1. It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Your name . As we go through this, and we see these references to what we should be doing on this day – not just the day itself, but the coming together – the called assembly. We get a feel for the direction of the whole thing. At the end of it, we’ll have a nice congealed look at what we’re supposed to be doing and why it is so important. Here we’re singing praises to God’s name – O Most High – verse 2 – to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night. On an instrument of ten strings, on the lute and on the harp with harmonious sound – that’s symbolic of how we’re supposed to be coming together – one mind in one service to God. We refer to them as Sabbath services, but in some parts of the world, and in generality in Christendom, some think the service is for them. Some think they’re coming to be served. I think we’ll see, as we go through this, that we’re coming to serve the Lord our God. Verse 4: For you LORD have made me glad through Your work. I will triumph in the works of Your hands – chiefly, the people we’re meeting with and what He has made in us. The first – common origin – is in that first four verses. Now verse 5:
V-5-11 – O LORD, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man does not know, nor does a fool understand this. When the wicked spring up like grass, and when the workers of iniquity flourish, it that they may be destroyed forever . Notice the constant references to work in these verses. But You, LORD, are on high forevermore, for behold, Your enemies, O LORD, for behold Your enemies shall perish, and the workers of iniquity shall be scattered. But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox – that’s a reference to strength to do things – I have been anointed with fresh oil – given a commission to do something. My eye also has seen my desire on my enemies. My ears hear my desire on the wicked who rise up against me. That’s a whole reference to work – this parallel purpose that we share in – that we’re specifically going to a holy convocation to do together and to be reminded of. Verses 12-15, now, is forward looking. Look at all the shall’s here:
V-12-15 – The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the LORD, shall flourish in the courts of our God. This is a specific reference we need to keep in mind for the very setting of a holy convocation. Verse 14: They shall still bear fruit in old age. They shall be fresh and flourishing – or green and prosperous – verse 15: to declare that the LORD is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
This Psalm, and other Psalms very similar to it – we’ll turn to a few of them here – really help us to understand how we find our unity in God through our Chief Shepherd, who’s the One calling us to that convocation. I’ll give you a couple references here. John 10, and verse 27 – it is when Christ said, “My sheep hear My voice.” This is a specific reference to being called by Him – being drawn in by Him – for a specific purpose. So we can’t just generalize, as all fellowshipping together – a wonderful little get together in which we’re entertained by singing, and listen to messages, and so on – that we lose some of the focus and intensity of what that’s supposed to be. Revelation 14:4 Revelation 14:4These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits to God and to the Lamb.
American King James Version×is another one – a good reference here. Revelation 14:4 Revelation 14:4These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits to God and to the Lamb.
American King James Version×is where we’re told that those who are submissive to the Lamb – His people, His children, His flock – follow the Lamb wherever He goes. And largely that’s done by the Shepherd calling to the flock – them recognizing His voice and He then leads them.
Now when He calls, we come before His throne. And that’s important for us to understand. God is always on His throne. Right? That’s symbolic that He’s always ruling. We tend to see it in a visual of Him actually sitting there when we think of this. It’s an image in our brains, but we should see the symbolic. He never leaves, He never relinquishes His authority or His rule over the entirety of the universe. And Jesus Christ, as the scriptures tell us, is always at His right hand. So we should see that when we pray to Him, but we should specifically see that when we come before Him during His holy convocation. I’ll give you a few references here – Psalm 47, verse 8, also Acts 7, and verse 56 – just a couple – Old Testament and New – that make reference to Him sitting on His throne.
Now we need to recognize that He never leaves it. That being the case, when we come to His Sabbath service, we should see and recognize Him on His throne – never leaves it. He never rests from His responsibilities, as God, to rule. So responding to God’s command to come before Him is different, in that sense, than what we have when we come before Him in prayer. I’d like to make reference to this – prayer is our meeting, He gives us the privilege to set an agenda – to talk to Him about things and approach Him – and He even lets us do that in our civvies, if we want to, right? And we could go before His throne, and we can determine who’s there, or who we want to talk to, or about. He lets us set that agenda. That’s our meeting.
This is His meeting – His meeting that He calls. And we’re coming before His court in a very public way with the 24 elders singing praises to Him constantly. As Revelation 4 describes His throne…you could write that down. Revelation 4 talks about His throne as a sea of glass, the rainbow above His throne, thunders, and lightnings, and lots of stuff happening. The center of all things seen and unseen – physical and spiritual. This is what we’re approaching.
Now I know we’re trying to get much more interactive. It’s a great way of teaching. But we try to do that more so in Bible Studies – outside of between the prayers. Because we don’t own between the prayers. That doesn’t belong to any church or anybody. It belongs to God. It is His holy convocation, and we need to respect that. Now, as we go before Him in prayer, that can be more casual or more formal. We determine that. But this is different, He determines how we go before Him and what we should respect as we do that.
A holy convocation is His time and His agenda. I’ll just give you a reference to John 6, verses 44 and 65. I think many of us are familiar with those. This is where God says He does the calling. He’s the One that opens the mind, but He draws those He calls to Christ. And I like to tell our congregation, and others who are interested in this and want to understand better, how to receive new people when they come – that what they’re looking for, if God is truly calling them, is Christ in you. So you have to make sure you understand what that means, what that responsibility is, and receive them as Christ would receive them. And as they see Christ in you, they will be drawn to you – to us.
God adds to His congregation, His con- greg -ation, He adds to it. That’s His flock. But He commands His flock to con voc ation before His throne. This convocation is more about how and to whom we respond than a place that we go to. Look at John 4, and we’ll just read verse 24. This is where He is speaking to the woman by the well, who challenges Him as to where worship should be. His response to her was not only to avoid her argument in this, but to make a deeper point. I don’t know if she got it or not. We need to. In John 4, and verse 24, He said:
John 4:24 John 4:24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
American King James Version× – God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth .
God’s holy convocation must be kept in spirit and in truth. Now this is not absent of outward practice or ceremony. Our Sabbath and holy day ceremonies – the stuff that happens between the prayers – reflect a deeper understanding and appreciation of the design of God’s holy convocation. Two things happen on the holy convocation. The first one is teaching from God . As we go through this, you’ll see how incredibly important it is for us to acknowledge and recognize that. We are called before Him to be taught by Him. And then secondly, in every reference to a holy convocation – secondly – is our praise in thanks to God – not just for His teaching at that moment, but for His care throughout our lives. But specifically, in that moment, it’s how we’re being taught.
Now, United Church of God Sabbath services are not arbitrarily designed. Someone didn’t sit down one day and say, “Well let’s do this and let’s do this. That sounds like it would be fun.” There’s meaning in each of the things that we do. They are also not influenced by societal trends. What God requires at a holy convocation is the same thing He’s always required – He’s going to teach and we’re going to praise and thank Him. And there are ways in which we do that. We come to a holy convocation to serve, as I said earlier, not to be served. And, in that way, we reflect Christ. He came to serve and not to be served. That’s a mentality we must have when we go before the throne of God. That’s why we are called the “Church of God,” and that’s why these are called services. They’re called Sabbath services.
Now His word determines how we convoke and how we are supposed to respond. Look at Psalm 100 here – another one of those Psalms that is sung on the Sabbath very often in the Jewish liturgical meeting – also in recognition back in the practice of the Israelites in the Old Testament. This is a psalm of thanksgiving. Verse 1:
Psalms 100:1-2 Psalms 100:1-2 1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all you lands.
2 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
American King James Version× – A Song of Thanksgiving. Make a joyful shout to the LORD all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness. Come before His presence with singing.
Do you think that the reason we sing as a congregation is because we need to get up and stretch the legs, because we’re about to fall asleep? I’ve heard that – “It’s time now, brethren, to get up and stretch the legs.” No, it’s time to get up and stretch the heart. We had a guy visit a couple of weeks ago – Day of Atonement. Everyone is kind of down, because you haven’t eaten and the mouth is dry. This guy totally understood praising God, because, as we were singing in our normal tone, he was belting out an opera. I started smiling. In fact, I smiled every verse, because he got to this one point where he drowned out the whole room. And I loved it. It was great!. I think it was a reminder for all of us of what we were supposed to be doing – this mindset that we’re coming before the throne of our heavenly Father, as His children, to honor Him. I mean, sitting there like a dad, going…I don’t want to attribute pride to God, but certainly He feels pleasure when His children acknowledge Him for who He is, and respect Him in that setting. I mean you see that in the book of Job, He pointed out to Satan – “Hey, Satan. Look at Job – a man blameless. Look at him.” Now that was all part of a bigger plan to help Job overcome something – kind of remove some scales from his eyes, so he could actually see God instead of just hearing about Him.
We have that same approach and that same opportunity. And He wants to do that. He wants to show the 24 elders, He wants to show the heavenly hosts, “These are My children. Look how they honor Me.” Verse 3 now:
V-3-5 – Know that the LORD, He is God. It is He who has made us – there’s that reference again – and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name. For the LORD is good. His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. There you see this going before Him to be taught, and going before Him to praise Him for what He is doing with us.
Now I mentioned the structure of the service, and I noticed the church has about four or five different options in which we can structure that holy convocation between the prayers. But, in every one of those cases, those two elements are always there. There’s teaching from God – the number one purpose for going – and secondarily, there’s praise to God. We start with, usually three hymns – the standard service is three hymns. It kind of rallies everybody, puts us in the memory of what we should be doing, and being there to praise God. He’s about to teach us, and we should be excited about that. That moves then into an opening prayer.
Now I have given opening prayers, where I have asked, “Father, please be here to teach us.” Please be here. Now if you’re invited to someone’s house, do you have to ask them to be there? We have come before God in His presence. He’s invited us. We’re standing before His heavenly throne, and we’re asking Him to be there? Shouldn’t we be asking, “Help us all to know why we’re here?” That question, “Why are we here?” is better answered when we understand why God is here. That’s what this is all about. So that opening prayer is a prayer on behalf of the congregation. Somebody prays. Because all things are done decently and in order, if we all did our individual prayers, it would be an absolute mess. So when you’re asked to do opening or closing prayer, men, you are representing the congregation. I had a guy once ask me, “Well, why do I need to wear a tie and a jacket to give opening prayer?” I said, “Are the other people in the church service – I should say, Sabbath service – wearing ties and jackets?” “Oh, well yeah, usually.” “Well then you need to represent them in a prayer.” And it connects everyone in the congregation – if it’s done right by one of His children, hitting on all the points they need to – praise, thanks for the message we’re about to receive – He’s going to give – that it connects everybody to God and it sets the stage. Then you have teaching, in sermonettes and in sermons, and then you close with prayer and hymns. And there are opportunities for the congregation to stand up after that teaching and thank God for that teaching.
There’s also something called special music. Do you know what makes special music special? If you had listened to my sermon on that you would probably know, but I’ll just summarize that for you. What makes special music so special? Well, three things. It’s its direction – it has to be to God, not the congregation – its intent – what is going on in the heart of the one that is presenting it on behalf of the congregation – and third, it’s effect. If it’s done right – when it’s truly special – it has that convocation effect. God is the special recipient of all of our music at services, whether it’s singing hymns with our joyful noise, or someone whose been given special skill in instrument or voice who can sing better – who can make a more pounded down and prepared offering of sacrifice to God. And the individual who recognizes they’re singing directly to God, not the congregation – this is not dancing and singing and trying to entertain everybody, but the direction of their music is toward God – and the congregation gets that, something special happens. The third thing is our special involvement, in its effect. The congregation respects both the skilled offerer – the one making that sacrifice of praise – and the recipient – God only – and that congregation then shares in that presentation and participates in it – in heart – and then you have the result. What’s the result? Spiritual convergence – holy convocation. It’s a unifying factor. God’s children, kind of scattered all throughout the week, now coming together in unison to learn from Him and to praise Him. That’s special music.
Then, as I said, we then close with prayer. You don’t have to summarize the message. I’ve heard really long closing prayers, where…and people panic, because they think they’ve got to summarize all the points of the sermonette and sermon in their closing prayer. You don’t have to repeat any of that. How did that make you feel? How did you respond to the message that God gave you? It should be more thanks – and the very fact that God is so concerned about us that He calls us before His throne and teaches us. That’s looking at the language, within English, of the holy convocation.
Let’s look at the Hebrew now, because as we examine the Hebrew in scripture, we see even more and get a deeper feel for what God intends – what He expects in a holy convocation. And it’s incredibly encouraging. It does re quire something of us, but we also recognize, in God’s requirement, He’s expecting something from us. It elevates us. We say as parents, “The children will live up to the parents expectations.” And we say that a lot. Well, God is no different as our Heavenly Father, He knows that we will live up to His expectations. And when we recognize that His expectations are not frivolous, and that we can actually achieve that, that’s incredibly encouraging. The Hebrew for holy convocation is this phrase – and you can write this down – qodesh miqra . (I actually won two bucks from my second grade teacher because she said, “You’ll never find a word in English that has a q in that doesn’t have a u after it.” So I went home and I was going to get two bucks. I went into the dictionary and I found one. I don’t remember what the word was, but you can probably find this in the dictionary, even though it’s Hebrew. It probably has a use within English, so you can make two bucks or more – inflation being…maybe it’s twenty now. I don’t know.)
Leviticus 23, verse 1 through 4 – turn there. WE already have mentioned the first reference of this phrase holy convocation . It was qodesh miqra in Exodus 12, and verse 16. But this term is only used 19 times in 18 verses – all in the Old Testament. It’s mentioned in Numbers 28 and 29 – all in reference to the holy days. We read Exodus 12 in reference to the Passover – actually it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Leviticus 23 it is mentioned 11 times – all in association with either the weekly Sabbath or the holy days – and in this sense, it ties all of them together, which is why they’re mentioned here. Verse 1 through 4 in Leviticus 23:
Leviticus 23:1-4 Leviticus 23:1-4 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
4 These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons.
American King James Version× – And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the LORD – really critical – feasts of the LORD …. I think we’ve said that already this week – that this is not the Feast of the United Church of God. I just listened to a sermon by Steve Myers from the Home Office as well. He was talking about the Sabbath and the summoning concept of the Sabbath. And he made that bold and clear to everyone: This is God’s Sabbath. It’s not our Sabbath. It’s not the Sabbath of the United Church of God. It’s God’s Sabbath. We always need to keep that in mind as we approach a qodesh miqra – a holy convocation. …the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations – that’s qodesh miqra. These are My Feasts. He emphasizes that over and over. Don’t take that for granted, because it’s really easy, with our human nature and the world that we live in, to usurp some of that meaning and lose our understanding of this special convergence – spiritual convergence – we’re supposed to have. Verse 3: Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation – qodesh miqra. You shall do no work on it. It is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. These are the feasts of the LORD – holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.
And each one of them is assigned a holy convocation – in some cases, it’s mentioned twice. Again, used 19 times in 18 verses to emphasize the special thing that believers are to be doing on God’s Sabbath and holy days. Let’s look at these words individually now. The word qodesh – the Hebrew word qodesh means or describes the set apart – sanctified – condition of God. Most often it’s translated holy . God, as we know, is special. He is extraordinary. He is unique. And thus, He is set apart from all His creation – seen and unseen. He also defines holiness. We don’t do that. We don’t define what is or is not holy. He alone is holy, and He alone extends it to what He calls holy. When He brings it into His sphere, His court, His possession, and begins to own it, it then becomes holy, because He is holy.
These days that we celebrate are holy because God makes them so by His decree and His presence here. Let’s look at Leviticus 10 here. Mr. Creech went here the other day, and when he announced it, I went, “Oh no!” But it’s only three verses, and he only read verse 3, so I’ll just expand on this.
Leviticus 10:1-3 Leviticus 10:1-3 1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.
2 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
3 Then Moses said to Aaron, This is it that the LORD spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
American King James Version× – Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron – this is Leviticus 10, verse 1 – each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them and they died before the LORD. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy. And before all the people I must be glorified” – all the people that come near Him – even those He calls to come near Him. There’s a standard that must be set – His standard for holiness. Now the reason they were destroyed is because they took on the job of a high priest. God said incense is supposed to be offered by the high priest. And they stepped in and did it – casual: “Hey, let’s do it. Looks like fun. I like the smell of it. I want some of that duty of the high priest and look really sharp, and big and important.” Dead. It’s that important to God. Think of this in terms of us coming before Him at His holy convocation and honoring His presence in His court – how important that is for Him.
Look at another example. This is Numbers 16. I love this story. Numbers 17, and we’ll read verses 3 through 7. This is the story of Korah and the rebellion in the wilderness. Korah was a Levite. We see that in verse 1. So he had duties as a Levite, but he didn’t like his duties. He wanted other duties that, for some reason, seemed more important. And again, it comes back to the offering of the incense that he offered. But look at the phrasing here, verses 3 through 7 – we won’t read the whole story.
Numbers 16:3-7 Numbers 16:3-7 3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, You take too much on you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: why then lift you up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?
4 And when Moses heard it, he fell on his face:
5 And he spoke to Korah and to all his company, saying, Even to morrow the LORD will show who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near to him: even him whom he has chosen will he cause to come near to him.
6 This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
7 And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the LORD does choose, he shall be holy: you take too much on you, you sons of Levi.
American King James Version× – They gathered together against Moses and Aron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them .” I hear this attitude even today – “Who assigned you to be a minister? Why can’t we all discuss, why can’t we all talk and make presentations? Why can’t we all get together…?” Because that is not God’s design, He appoints somebody that He speaks through – again, decency and order. That’s 1 Corinthians 14:40 1 Corinthians 14:40Let all things be done decently and in order.
American King James Version×– the church is supposed to mirror what happens before His heavenly throne. He does things for a reason and we can’t question them or change them on our own. We can do this in a Bible study, but between the prayers, to honor His holy convocation, we must keep this in mind. They gathered against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You take too much on yourself, all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” Korah and the ones that followed them had a real problem with authority. So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face. He’s probably seen it so many times. He knew what was coming. Because they’re not challenging Moses, they’re challenging God , just as Pharaoh did, and he knew what was coming. Verse 5: And he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show you who is His and who is holy – that is qodesh – it’s a derivation of qodesh actually – and will cause him to come near to Him, that one whom He chooses, He will cause to come near to Him. Do this: Take censers, Korah and your company, put fire in them and put incense in them before the LORD tomorrow, and it shall be that the man whom the LORD chooses is the holy one. You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi!”
You don’t approach God with your agenda. God has a standard. He has a decorum. He has a protocol that needs to be respected by everyone He calls before Him. He gives us time and understanding to learn that, but we’ve got to learn it. We have to learn it in respect of His throne. Those who irreverence God by ignoring or treating lightly His holy, set apart, distinct state of being, inevitably must learn about holiness the hard way. This is really what all our choices lead us to in this age. You can learn that God is God and the Bible is His word the easy way – that is, by acknowledging Him and doing it – or you can learn the hard way, but you’re going to learn this. The easy way is much better.
Ultimately God is the origin for everything that is holy. His presence, again, introduces it and only by His will does He share it. Only God is holy and only what is His is holy. Let’s look at Leviticus 19 here, I think we may have touched on this this past week as well.
Leviticus 19: 1 – And the LORD spoke to Moses , verse 1, saying, “ Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. ’
So He’s extending this to Israel, but it’s not an extension apart from their participation in it. From them understanding what holiness is, what it means and how they should respect it. Obviously we’ve seen what happens to those who don’t. God sets every standard for holiness, for what is described as qodesh and He expects all that He calls holy to respect those standards. He especially expects His kings and priests not to just know this, but to model it and to teach it. Ancient Israel really struggled with this and obviously so, He would expect more of those who are led by His spirit. Look at Ezekiel 22 here and we’ll read verses 23-31.
Ezekiel 22:23 Ezekiel 22:23And the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
American King James Version× – And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, say to her: ‘ You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation. Conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasures and precious things, they have made many widows in her midst. ’ Does this describe the condition of the Church of God in this day and age?
V-26 : “ Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy …
Oh, it doesn’t matter, God is forgiving, He’s merciful, don’t worry about it. No! The priests, the teachers that He assigns are supposed to teach this and model it. You think I enjoy wearing one of these? (Necktie) In fact if any of you want to join me in the Millennium, if the guy gets resurrected or maybe it’s the Great White Throne Judgment, would you like to find this guy with me that invented this? You don’t think I want to be comfortable? This is not about our comfort, this is about respect for God , our host. It’s about a respect for the occasion, that He established, and His standards, by which keeps that occasion that occasion. Mr. Bornhorst talked about keeping the holy days on the opening night. A holy convocation needs to be kept as well. We do some of the basics with the scriptures – not our opinions. Again, verse 26:
V-26-31 – “ Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and the unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them . Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people and to get dishonest gain. No service here – only coming to be served. Seeing the flock as someone that’s going to feed them, instead of them taking care of the flock. Her prophets plastered them with untampered mortar, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD had not spoken. The people of land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it. But I found none. Therefore I have poured out My indignation upon them; have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the LORD.
When God calls us to assemble, before His holiness, He expects us to do it in His holiness. We are to comply by His standards and not allow our limited reasoning, our preferences, or our experiences to modify them in any way. In Leviticus 19, and verse 30 – I’ll just read this for you:
Leviticus 19:30 Leviticus 19:30You shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.
American King James Version× – You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary, I am the LORD .
This building is not God’s sanctuary. We are His sanctuary – His spirit in each of us. And there’s an acknowledgement that must happen, that that God – the God – is in each of us. It’s the respect we show one another in that same vein.
Let’s go to Amos, chapter 5 here, verses 21-24. The word miqra is used here, but in a totally different context. Amos 5, and verse 21 through 24 – what happens when we forget the holiness of this occasion, when we forget that we’re coming before the throne of God, when we’re thinking only about the people we’re going to meet, or what are they serving in the potluck afterwards, or any of that stuff. Verses 21 through 24 – He says:
Amos 5:21-24 Amos 5:21-24 21 I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.
22 Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
23 Take you away from me the noise of your songs; for I will not hear the melody of your viols.
24 But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
American King James Version× – “I hate…. We know that God is love. We know God loves us – all human beings. He cannot not love. He is love, but He also hates certain things – not a lot of things – hates liars, hates causing division – certain things He tells us that He hates. He hates, He despises your feast days. I hate and I despise your feast days – that’s significant. Remember He called them My feast days? He’s calling these your feast days, He’s talking to ancient Israel here. And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings …those are ceremonies they were using to honor Him, but because the heart is off, because they’ve absconded, they’ve ignored what is holy, He doesn’t accept them. He hates them. Verse 23: Take away from Me the noise of your songs…. It doesn’t matter if we can sing like Pavarotti. It’s noise to Him. Why? Because the heart is not acknowledging Who it is singing to. Do we just casually go through that song service? I know I’ve done that before. I’ve got other things on my mind. It’s putting a sermon together last minute, or just talked to somebody else, and I grab the hymnal at the last minute, but I try to stiffen up and realize what we’re doing there. You’re coming before the throne of God, as His child, with His other children praising Him in his courts. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments, but let justice run down like water. Where do you learn and exact justice? At court. Where do we learn to rule and judge as God does? During His holy convocations at court. … and righteousness is like a mighty stream .
We could go on there, but lets just move on from there, I think we get the point. When we change the when , or the where , or the how or the why that make God’s Sabbath and holy days holy, they cease to be holy. Look at Psalm 99 here as well. Psalm 99, and we’ll read verses 1 through 9.
Psalms 99:1-9 Psalms 99:1-9 1 The LORD reigns; let the people tremble: he sits between the cherubim; let the earth be moved.
2 The LORD is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people.
3 Let them praise your great and terrible name; for it is holy.
4 The king’s strength also loves judgment; you do establish equity, you execute judgment and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Exalt you the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call on his name; they called on the LORD, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them in the cloudy pillar: they kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them.
8 You answered them, O LORD our God: you were a God that forgave them, though you took vengeance of their inventions.
9 Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy.
American King James Version× – The LORD reigns. Let the peoples tremble . Isaiah 66:1-2 Isaiah 66:1-2 1 Thus said the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that you build to me? and where is the place of my rest? 2 For all those things has my hand made, and all those things have been, said the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.
American King James Version×– we covered that the first day. Do you tremble at services? Do you tremble when His word is read? Do we tremble in acknowledgment that we are appearing before that throne that’s described in Revelation 4? Let the peoples tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; let the earth be moved! – shaken. The LORD is great in Zion, and He is high above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name – He is holy . The King’s strength also loves justice. You have established equity. You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool. He is holy. He’s repeating this. Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel was among those who called upon His name. They called upon the LORD and He answered them. He spoke to them in the cloudy pillar. They kept His testimonies and the ordinance He gave them. You answered them, O LORD our God. You were to them God-Who-Forgives, though You took vengeance on their deeds. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy hill, for the LORD our God is holy.
God can bridge that great gulf that we created with our sins that’s a fix between us and Him and Him and all of humanity. When He gives us the means, though, to bridge that gap, when He shows us, “This is the bridge you must cross,” this is what it looks like. These are the standards. This is how it must be walked. This is holy. We must respect those means. When we don’t, the bridge collapses. This is what holy means. This is what qodesh means in the holy convocation.
Let’s look at the Hebrew word miqra now. I spelled it earlier – M-I-Q-R-A – miqra . In the Hebrew it means, convocation, convoking, reading. It’s also translated reading and it’s also translated a calling together or an assembly. Miqra comes from the root Hebrew word, qara – spelled Q-A-R-A. That means to call or to proclaim or to read. It’s not just a gathering. It’s not just an assembly. It’s something very purposeful that is going on. Miqra describes a purpose-filled assembly, specifically to hear a proclamation, a recitation or a reading. I’ll give you three references for those who do word analyses books. The first one is Vines , in word usage in the scriptures. Vines focuses on the term summons to describe this purpose. So this holy convocation, this coming together, this miqra has a special purpose. And it’s not a request. A summons is not a request. If you get a summons from the court in your local county, don’t consider it a request, because the police may just come by and pick you up one day, and drag you in, and you may be held in contempt of court. A summons is an order. It is a command. It is a mandate. We see that in our society, and in almost every society, where law is practiced. It’s no different before God. It’s a summons. There’s no option here. In Leviticus 23:3 Leviticus 23:3Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×– I’ll just read you a couple of references here.
Leviticus 23:3 Leviticus 23:3Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×– Six days shall work be done but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a holy convocation – some translate that assembly by summons – yet you shall do no work on that day, it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.
Isaiah 1:13 Isaiah 1:13Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
American King James Version× – Bring no more futile sacrifices. Incense is an abomination to Me. The new moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – miqra – this assembly, the calling, coming together – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. That word for sacred meeting is atsarah – we’ll talk about that in a moment.
Mounce is another one that does word studies. Mounce focuses on the word miqra in terms of translation of an ordered assembly – less a summons, but more of the order by which we come together – the structure, the protocol, the decorum – like an army mustering in response to an authoritative call by a commanding officer or something. I’ll give you another reference here.
Numbers 10:2 Numbers 10:2Make you two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shall you make them: that you may use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps.
American King James Version× – (This is the instruction of making the silver trumpets) Make two silver trumpets for yourself. You shall make them of hammered work. You shall use them for calling – miqra – the congregation and for directing the movement of the camps – like a mighty army. That was a reference – miqra – to that calling. It’s an ordered assembly. We’ll develop each of these a little bit more. I wanted to give all three of these to you first.
Strong’s Dictionary and Hebrew Words lists the concept of rehearsal as a translation for miqra as one of its meanings – in terms of practice for a future event. And we’ll develop this more. I’ll just give you this reference here – Nehemiah 8:8 Nehemiah 8:8So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
American King James Version×.
Nehemiah 8:8 Nehemiah 8:8So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
American King James Version× – So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God. And they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading . It’s a rehearsal. “Here’s what this means. Here’s what we must learn by it.” This is what we must do together as a result of what this says – more of a rehearsal.
Those three are key – summons, ordering, rehearsal. These all reveal that a qodesh miqra is not just an invitation for socialization. We don’t gather just for fellowship or for celebration. But it has a very focused purpose of proclamation. God is delivering a message. It’s the whole reason we gather. He has something to say to His children. That’s why we come before Him in court. Those who miss this may come together, but the gathering deemphasizes biblical instruction – minimizes it – down, sometimes even, to 20, 15, 10, 5 minutes. That also disrespects God as their host and teacher. It’s like all the kids coming together and partying before the throne of God, even as He’s talking, or trying to speak to them. Is that the right approach?
These also – summons, ordering and rehearsal – strongly suggest that a qodesh miqra is not something done independently of the flock or the body, but is something that is to be done together. He wants to teach us together. He wants us to share in that teaching. Those who miss this may spend more time in study and in prayer on the Sabbath or holy days. but disregard coming together. It’s easy to do today, I mean you can pull down well over 100 sermons every Sabbath, if you want to, and if you’re too tired from work in the past week. You listen to a sermon and you think you’ve answered the qodesh miqra ? God’s invitation to appear before Him with His children? Doesn’t work that way. I recognize there are some who can’t do that. They’re days away from the local congregation where that’s happening, or they don’t have internet access, or they’re sick or something, and they have to access by a webcast or something. God doesn’t hold them responsible for that. I’ve known people – too many – who had to stay home, because they were sick, and if they could, they would crawl there. It’s all about what is going on in the heart. Those who miss this concept may spend more time in study and prayer, but disregard the coming together with the body under the loving care and instruction of their heavenly Father. I’ve done this as well before. I’ve been sick before, didn’t go to services and I tied into a webcast. In Minnesota, you also have snow days – tuning into a webcast. I know many of you have done this. Do you sense the difference between a live message and a recorded message? See, God has something specific for a congregation, and He’s put somebody specifically there to teach them. Now that message may be recorded, and goes out to the entire world, and it may be a great message, but it is specific to that group that He’s called together.
Do you remember the days, years ago, when we used to record using cassettes? How many here do not even know what a cassette is? Good. What about an 8-track? What about an LP? They’re afraid to raise their hands. Anyway, do you remember the instruction we had in individual churches? You can take out as many of these cassette tapes as you want, but don’t share them with other congregations. Remember that instruction? How many remember that instruction? Do you know why that was? Did you think that was heavy-handed? Because a message given to one congregation doesn’t necessarily apply to the other. It’s like it’s taken out of context. The whole process of God speaking, through the one He’s chosen, to the people He’s chosen – called before Him – is off a little. The accuracy of the message, the inspiration in the message, all that is probably still there, but there’s something missing. We have to sense that. We’ve got to know that.
Now some today emphasize the assembly aspect of the qodesh miqra , yet forget the reading, because they want to fellowship, or they want to diminish the instruction part, so that they can fellowship. For them the holy convocation has become more of a social club than a school for the training of the kings and priests, which is what we are. Because that’s what this is. Every holy day, every Sabbath, it’s training for kings and priests.
Still others commit themselves to the reading aspect of the qodesh miqra , and forget the assembly. For them, the holy convocation is just between them and God. No it’s not. That leads to independence – the wrong kind of independence. It leads to exclusivism and it eventually leads you down the wrong road. I’ve seen that too often as well. But for them the holy convocation is just between them and God. They do not respect the body of Christ.
You know – you can probably talk to any minister here – you know when we get the most calls from people who want to attend? It’s usually before the spring holy days or before the fall holy days. In the fall, they’re usually looking for money so they can attend the Feast, because the Feast is fun, but they haven’t attended with us all year long. I get a call from people who want to come and be at Passover. I don’t even know if they attend any United Church of God anywhere, or any church of God that I know of. They have a history in the past, but they know they need to keep the Passover. Can they come? This individual is not respecting the body of Christ. It’s not just about the bread. That statement in 1 Corinthians 11:29 1 Corinthians 11:29For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
American King James Version×, when Paul writes, “Those who don’t respect the body of Christ are taking the body of Christ under judgment,” that’s serious. It’s not just the bread. We are the body of Christ. Christ is in us. How can you ignore the body of Christ all year long and on one day of the year show up? They don’t respect the body of Christ or the teachers that God appoints. And that’s Romans 10, and verse 14 – how shall they learn if they don’t have someone God sends them to teach them? You know, the context of the use of qodesh miqra in scripture – both of these are required – a coming together and a proclamation of teaching. And that’s the priority – the second one. In the holy convocation, God is gathering His children to Himself to give them a message, to teach and train His future kings and priests in His holy royal court. For this, He expects an appropriate response, kings and priests.
The term qodesh miqra is more the invitation than it is the response. It’s the call that goes out. But a modest study of the commanded responses that God expects of those keeping His sacred assembly reveals the importance He places in them. I mentioned one of these earlier. It’s the word atsarah . Atsarah is spelled A-T-S-A-R-A-H.This refers to restraint in the sacred meeting. The root Hebrew word for atsarah is atsa r – A-T-S-A-R – and it means to restrain or to refrain from something. So when we recognize and understand we’re going before the court of God – meaning to respect His holy standards – that come with a degree of restraint. Put aside your ideas, put aside your experience, put aside what you want to accomplish there and focus on what God wants. This word atsarah is used 11 times in the Old Testament, between Leviticus and Amos. And where we just read Amos 5:21 Amos 5:21I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.
American King James Version×, it’s used in a negative sense. For the annual holy days, and this is interesting, this word atsarah is only used in reference to the Last Great Day and the Last Day of Unleavened Bread. Think about it – restraint, refrain.
So it’s a command to be more serious after a week of fasting. The Last Great Day, or the Eighth Day – it’s called the Eighth Day because it’s the 8th day of the Feast of Tabernacles, but it is a separate mindset to it, a separate approach to it – sober up, there’s work to do. And when you hear of the 40-100 billion people that are going to be resurrected on one day at the end of the Millennium, you know what that work entails. Not that we’re all drunk during the week. I’m not saying that. But there’s this…and we’re still rejoicing, but we move away from the celebration of the Millennium and recognize the tremendous amount of work we need to prepare for throughout the Millennium. This word atsarah describes a deep respect for the host – restraint – not just the host though. It’s the occasion and the decorum of His court.
When you go to someone’s house, you have restraint. I mean, when you’re in your own home, you can kick your feet up. You know what furniture you can put your feet on, you can turn on the TV, or the stereo, or whatever you want, to listen to music or whatever you’re doing – that’s your house, you’re comfortable. You go to someone else’s house, you exercise restraint, because you’re not going to do that kind of stuff with their stuff. That’s what this word means, atsarah .
The second word that’s used to describe a response is shimmur – Hebrew word, shimmur – S-H-I-M-M-U-R. It’s only used once in scripture. It describes the keeping of a watch or a vigil – a sense of attentiveness for what’s going on – like you’re a guard on a castle wall and you know the enemy is about to attack. You’re not going to nod off. You’re going to focus on what your job is and you know how important it is. It is only used one time, as I said. You know what it describes? The mentality of the Night to be Much Observed, which is affixed to the First Day of Unleavened Bread. So it’s a connection to that holy convocation – a mindset that needs to be developed the night before. If we tie this to what it pointed to – the death of Jesus Christ – we understand the sobriety we’re supposed to have. I know it is a rejoicing thing, but this happens all the time in scripture. There are all kinds of occasions where we have to combine sobriety and seriousness with rejoicing. We talked about that on the first day. This word shimmur describes a heightened degree of awareness of Who we are coming before, why we are coming before Him and what He has to say – pay attention!
The third word that is used to describe the response to qodesh miqra is shabbathon – S-H-A-B-B-A-T-H-O-N - shabbathon This describes, literally, a Sabbath rest, but it doesn’t just mean to cease or desist from work. We know that that is deeper. It’s used ten times, all in Exodus and Leviticus – only those two books – and it makes reference to these things: the weekly Sabbath, Trumpets, Atonement, first day of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day. None of the spring holy days are mentioned. Why? It points to a future rest – a future rest that defines what our rest is supposed to be on the Sabbath and, specifically, between the prayers. It’s guided by the future rest. Israel never understood this. Let’s look at Hebrews 4 here. I’m going to speed up now, because I’m really falling behind . Hebrews 4:1-11 Hebrews 4:1-11 1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
2 For to us was the gospel preached, as well as to them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
4 For he spoke in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.
5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.
6 Seeing therefore it remains that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
7 Again, he limits a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
9 There remains therefore a rest to the people of God.
10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
11 Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
American King James Version×– I may just skip through this as much as I can. Hebrews 4 describes this whole future rest and the Greek word katapausis – looking forward.
Hebrews 4:1 Hebrews 4:1Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
American King James Version× – Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest – that word is katapausis – it is future oriented – let us fear lest any of you seem to come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them – referring to Israel – but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith – hearing God’s Word and believing it enough to do what it says – in those who heard it . For we who have believed do enter that rest – katapausis – as He said, “So I swore in My wrath, that you shall not enter My rest ” – katapausis – although the works were finished from the foundation of the world . This is the plan of God – to get to this point. And the holy convocation facilitates that, but not if we don’t recognize the connection there. That’s why the Sabbath is mentioned here, not just those fall holy days. Verse 4: For He has spoken in a certain way the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works,” and again in this place, “They shall not enter into My rest” – all katapausis . Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” – by lust, by fear, by pride, as ancient Israel did. Verse 8: For if Joshua had given them rest – katapausis – then He would not afterward have spoken of another day – a future fulfillment of that. There remains therefore a rest – that is not katapausis . That’s Sabbatismos . And it’s referencing what we’re doing right now, on the seventh day of the week, in response to the commandment. For he who has entered His rest – katapausis – has himself also ceased from his works, as God did from His. Let us, therefore be diligent to enter that rest – this is in the context of Sabbatismos. Think about where this is going – what the rest is that God wants to bring – not just in the millennium, but in the spiritual family of God well beyond the Last Great Day. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest – every Sabbatismos , every keeping of it – lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
We don’t see this if it’s not part of our current practice – that it’s pointing to a future fulfillment and an understanding of what that rest is – we’ll fall. We’ll take it for granted – what we’ve been given – this treasure of the Sabbath as well as the holy convocation. This rest, katapausis , describes the sense of settled peace that we are to have when we come before God. Certainly we fear Him – certainly, at least, an image is frightening – but we’re supposed to be settled in His love for us and our faith in Him – faith in His election of us and faith in the destiny He’s given us – that future look. Again, these are all mindsets – restraint, vigilance. God expects us to have, at a specific qodesh miqra ,certain ideas, certain things that we do specific to certain days. And I mentioned those by those Hebrew words. But every command to have a sacred assembly requires two responses. And I’ll just reference the scriptures here so that we can save some time. Number 1 – and we read this in the Sabbath command – the number one thing that all of these include – all the responses include these two responses:
- Do no customary work. And we know, when we read Isaiah 58:13 Isaiah 58:13If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words:
American King James Version×and 14, that expands well beyond simply putting down our tools or coming home from our job at the end of the week. We are to put aside our pursuits to embrace God’s pursuits. There has to be a trade-off there for that rest to take place. We are to serve Him only. When people – anyone – I shouldn’t say people – anyone appearing before the court of God, everyone’s eyes are on the King – everyone. No distractions. You can’t have something else going on in your head when you’re standing before the throne of God as His child. We honor God and not ourselves at court, just like it would happen with any king on earth. The Sabbath is not defined by categorizing the kind of work we are to cease from, but rather is only truly understood by those who know the kind of rest we are to enter into – sabbathon , sabbatismos , katapausis . The qodesh miqra is the focal point of that rest, so we put aside all of our pursuits. Do no customary work.
- The second thing that happens at every qodesh miqra is an offering is brought. We are to bring an offering. We are to respect the holy set apart stately nature of God’s majesty. Now in this age, it is stately protocol to bring a gift whenever coming before a king at court. And it’s the same with God. This is, of course, less about the gift itself with God and more about the mindset of the one that is offering the gift. We see that in Genesis 4, when we are comparing Cain and Abel and the offerings that they brought. You can also write down a few other references - Jeremiah 7:22-24 Jeremiah 7:22-24 22 For I spoke not to your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:
23 But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people: and walk you in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well to you.
24 But they listened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.
American King James Version×, and a second reference – New Testament – Matthew 5:23-24 Matthew 5:23-24 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you; 24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
American King James Version×, where He says, “You have a gift to give Me? But you know somebody’s got something against you, go work that out first.” The heart’s got to be right.
Let’s go to Isaiah 1 here. I made reference to verse 13 here, but I’d like to read verses 10-17 in this context . Isaiah 1, verses 10-17 – he’s making reference here to Judah and Jerusalem. I may have misspoke earlier and said Israel, but they were a part of ancient Israel. Now they’re separate. And He’s calling them, and making reference to them as, Sodom and Gomorrah. So when you hear this, he’s not talking about the destroyed cities. He’s talking about the spirit they had taken on – the mindset they had taken on.
Isaiah 1:10-17 Isaiah 1:10-17 10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah.
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? said the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
12 When you come to appear before me, who has required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates: they are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them.
15 And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you: yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
American King James Version× – Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom. Give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. “I have had enough burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls or lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts?” Notice the connection there. “ When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts?” To come with any kind of disingenuous approach – that “I’m going to show off by making this great offering,” but you’re feigning worshipping Him the other six days a week. He sees this and the offering – however big it is. It doesn’t matter. I tell the brethren this all the time on holy days. It really doesn’t matter what the amount going into the green envelope is. The heart behind that gift is what matters to God. Verse 13: “Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The new moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity in the sacred meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates. They are a trouble to Me. I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. Seek justice – rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” – a number of sermons in just that one verse.
The gift God wants from us is a contrite heart, submitted to His will and involved in His work. That makes the offering fitting. And again, that reference to “trampling My courts when we appear before Him” is extremely important. We’re not really here – and I don’t care where you meet on your weekly Sabbath – wherever you’re at…. You may own that hall, you may not – the building means nothing. You, to God, mean everything. We bring His name to the place He puts His name. He puts His name on us and He brings us together. That’s what makes it the place where He puts His name, because we respond. We bring it here. It’s not something that happens to us, brethren. It’s something that, through us, He makes happen. But we’ve got to participate.
Okay, what are the implications of this response? Ten minutes.
Okay, I mentioned earlier, the shepherd calls his dispersed flock. They’re grazing or doing something. They’re all spread out over a field. When he does so, he calls them to him for special care, Okay? And there are spiritual analogies for all of these – trimming, because they sometimes just get sticks and dirt and stuff stuck in the hair, and quite often they have to be shed, just so the wool can be used; medicinal treatments, so there’s some bug going around or something and they’ve got to be given some medicine. He may want to move the flock to a different place – greener pastures. He may want to protect them, because there’s something attacking. The one that my congregation laughed at was delousing – he calls us to him for a delousing. But you can make the spiritual connection to all of those.
God’s qodesh miqra is no different than the shepherd’s call. At His holy convocation God gives us special care. He has a specific purpose in calling us to Him, and it’s designed to produce very special results. Let’s look at this from the standpoint of the summons, okay? The summons is an authoritative call issued by a court or governing body enforced by law to be in attendance at certain places at a certain time. On God’s Sabbath and holy days, God is summoning His offspring to appear before Him in His royal court, I’ve described to you what that looks like. And He describes it through the apostle John in Revelation 4:1-11 Revelation 4:1-11 1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter.
2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
3 And he that sat was to look on like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like to an emerald.
4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and on the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
5 And out of the throne proceeded lightning and thunder and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
6 And before the throne there was a sea of glass like to crystal: and in the middle of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
9 And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who lives for ever and ever,
10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that lives for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.
American King James Version×. Read that tonight, before we gather tomorrow. Read it every Friday night to remind yourself of what we’re doing, who is calling us and how we should respond. Again, He wants us to see Him ruling His creation. That’s part of His instruction, because He wants us to emulate that and learn how He does that. He wants His court, as well, to see His children. “Those are My children. Those are My offspring. See how they love Me. See how they’re learning, how they’re growing. They will be gods one day. They will be in the God family one day.” Can you imagine what He does or how He responds – and Christ at His right side – when someone appears that doesn’t get any of that. That’s unruly. That doesn’t follow His standards. Again, this is different than personal prayer – again, which we initiate on our time – but this is His time and place. I’ll give you a reference of Job 1, as well, verses 6-8, when He’s pointing out Job to Satan. Like any delighted Father, God speaks very highly of His children and wants His court to see how we love and honor Him.
So how do we respond to God’s summoning? What are the two keys we bring to every qodesh miqra ? Number 1: We put aside our pursuits to embrace His. We leave our life, we leave our homes, we leave our work, we leave our hobbies, we leave our dress, we leave our activities and interests – all in respect of His. Isaiah 58 describes that very beautifully. We do not bring our agenda to His meeting. We should be mindful that before His throne there is nothing but His will and His purpose. Secondarily, we bring an offering – not every week. United Church of God takes them on the holy days – the seven holy days – the three seasons of the year as the Bible instructs us – but in those seasons, we try to reflect monetarily, the same gift of the heart – that sacrifice of praise and service that we bring each Sabbath. And it’s a great privilege to be able to do that – the gift that should be representative of our involvement in His Work, that reflects appreciation for His plan. It doesn’t have to be monetary. Seven times a year – three seasons a year – yeah, but not each Sabbath. We’ve responded to the summons.
The second one – the ordering. We respond to His command to come together before Him orderly. There is a design in this. There is a structure in this. There is timing in this. There is decorum in His court that we need to acknowledge and respond to and respect. We should be preparing for the formality of kingship, brethren. To be taught as kings, we need to recognize the importance of that.
In 1 Samuel 10:25 1 Samuel 10:25Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.
American King James Version×– I’ll just refer you there – 1 Samuel 10:25 1 Samuel 10:25Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.
American King James Version×is when the Israelites asked if they could have a king and God acknowledged, “Okay, yes.” He then gave Samuel instruction on how royalty works. Don’t pooh-pooh that. God is royalty and when we become kings and priests in His family, we will be as well. We need to learn that formality. That’s why we dress like this, okay? If we’re going to become ambassadors for Christ, we need to train as ambassadors for Christ. We need to learn to be comfortable with formality, royal protocol, custom, order, decorum, as God defines it, not as we define it. God is a formal God at court and He wants us to be as well. In prayer, He can be as casual as we are, although He is still on His throne with Christ at His right side. This is different. This is His ordered assembly.
I want to read this to you. This is a dress code for Saint James Academy. A guy, named Tom Leavitt, put it together. He’s been the head school master there for over thirty years. It’s in Burlington, Vermont. And he’s talking about the importance of dress – out of respect for who we are, who we’re with and the occasion that we’re at. I want to read this to you. United Church of God doesn’t have a dress code, okay? If somebody shows up in sweatpants, we don’t get on them. We just assume it’s the best he’s got. So I’m not talking about us establishing a dress code. I want us to see and listen and understand why it’s important. Quoting his letter that he hands out to his students: “An interesting feature of English is that the word custom – our traditional way of speaking or acting – is related to the word costume – a way of dressing. And the word decorum – the proper way of behaving – is related to the word decoration – the adornment of something. And the word habit can be used to mean either a traditional way of acting or of dressing. In short, the way people want to act is connected to the way people choose to dress or adorn themselves. We have known this for almost 170 years. Our dress code exists, primarily, as a way to express our respect for ourselves, each other and the work we do here. Respect for yourself means appreciating what is most valuable in you, which is not your appearance, but your mind, spirit and character. Dressing with self-respect means dressing modestly, refusing to give into styles or trends that turn you into sex objects, yet taking pride in looking good. Respect for others means recognizing their human dignity, looking for ways to let them know they are valued. Dressing with respect for others means carefully choosing what you wear so that they see you care about the impression that you make on them. Respect for what we do here – teach and learn – means coming ready to work, with a seriousness of purpose. Dressing with respect for this work means wearing something appropriate – gym clothes for gym, coveralls for shop, uniform for culinary. In our academic classes, we have determined a dress code that is separate from the world of recreation and from the world of manual labor. It is a dress associated with serious intellectual pursuits. All cultures and subcultures have dress codes – formally or informally stated – and all dress codes are somewhat arbitrary, but our dress code helps us express what we value – respect for self, respect for others and respect for the work we do here.”
Obviously, God does not want us just dressing the part, but what is going on in our heart should have an outward familiarity to us. Ceremony and protocol are hollow without the heart engaged. But, just because we’re dressed casually doesn’t mean our heart is engaged. And what we look at on the outside should be in respect of who we are and respect of who we’re with and respect of the occasion. I’ll just give you a reference here to Matthew 22, verses 1-14. This is the parable that Christ told of the wedding supper, when he invited those, and they didn’t come, and even hurt and killed his servants. He called people in from all over, and when it was filled, he went up to the one that wasn’t dressed for the occasion – didn’t acknowledge the host, didn’t acknowledge the occasion – and was dressed just casually – any way they wanted to – and he was thrown out. We have to understand what is appropriate for the occasion, the setting and the One we’re honoring – and that should include one another. Ignoring these things is likened to trampling God’s courts, as I mentioned earlier – Isaiah 1, verse 11.
Let’s move on for sake of time. Alright, the last one is rehearsal . Sabbaths and holy days point to the fulfillment of God’s plan – in the return of Christ and the coming of His kingdom. We are here to rehearse this. We are to be practicing appearing before Him and our work in His plan, which is salvation – bringing many to glory as members of the family of God. God’s Sabbaths are not kept alone or with any intent to be separate from the body of Christ. How does a choir rehearse alone? Where is the harmony, where’s the blending, where’s the direction, where’s the balance? It cannot be achieved doing this individually at home. Actually being with others of like mind and calling on the Sabbath is not always possible, giving our aging and scattered condition of the church today, but it is incumbent upon every Sabbath keeper to be where God has placed His name. Mr. Creech went to here on Thursday – Deuteronomy 12:5 Deuteronomy 12:5But to the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even to his habitation shall you seek, and thither you shall come:
American King James Version×– great reference to that – of where God has placed His name.
Now how do we respond to God’s call to rehearse? Again, put aside our pursuits to embrace His. Learn our part in that plan – like a member of a choir learning their individual parts at home, but then coming together to develop unison and harmony. Secondarily, bring an offering. Learn to work as a unit. Sacrifice what we want for the goal of the group and the team. Strive to make everyone look good. Strive for that balance.
How does a choir rehearse? I sang a number of years in the choir and some of you do as well. The first thing you’ve got to do is assemble. You’ve got to come together in preparation – not doing it separately. You can meet and learn individual parts, but the blending harmonies, balance, unity, it’s just not there. This is not done solely by proximity to one another. Just because you’re standing together doesn’t mean your focus is a choir, where you can actually do this. It’s about our unity with one another. That’s the goal here – not just proximity. God commands us to gather in a very deep meaningful assembly of the heart – and this certainly includes every attempt at proximity, but it’s much more.
The second thing that a choir does is receive direction. This is not very popular in our anti-authority world today, but we need to receive direction. A choir without a director is not going to work. It’s just not going to come together. A choir must have a director. If any are unwilling or unable to follow his lead, the entire group suffers. Each member of Christ’s choir, follows His lead and the one that He appoints to direct.
The last thing they do, we all individually do our part. If we hear but don’t do, we are deceived. As Christ came to us, setting us an example, we should be setting the example in the same manner. Desire with all of our hearts to come together whatever the sacrifice.
I’ll just close here with Philippians 1, verse 27 through Philippians 2, and verse 16. I’ll just give you that reference. The example that Christ set for us – the example we are to follow in keeping a holy convocation – a qodesh miqra . That was Philippians 1:27 Philippians 1:27Only let your conversation be as it becomes the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
American King James Version×through chapter 2, verse 16.
Brethren, a holy convocation – when you deeply think about this – a holy convocation is the goal of God’s plan, not just for us, but for all of humanity. A spiritual coming together and unity, that we get a chance – an opportunity every week – to practice on the weekly Sabbath – today – and annually at seven key events that He has laid out for us.
When we respond accordingly to His summons, we learn to honor His courts and we take an active part in His rehearsal. We come together as His family in a way we could not otherwise. Understanding how we are to keep a holy convocation is integral for honoring God’s Sabbath and holy days. Let’s keep this in the forefront of our minds as we gather and keep each of God’s Holy convocations, especially tomorrow. Have a pleasant night and a good night’s rest, we’ll see you at the holy convocation tomorrow.