It's a New Year!
You might have missed it the evening of March 22nd - but I hope you got to see it! As the sun dipped below the horizon, after being hidden for three days, the first crescent of the moon revealed itself above the western horizon along with Jupiter just below it. A beautiful sight that escaped my vision due to rain clouds that hovered over our area all day.
What it was ushering in was the first day of God's calendar year - and the beginning of the Spring Feasts. My daughter and I heralded it in with the blowing of the shofar. As I awoke the next morning I found my heart so full of joy and expectation that I decided to share about these upcoming remembrances and celebrations.
A Life Laid Down
While Pesach, or the English word, Passover, is observed on the 14th day of this lunar month, the evening before this feast, thousands of years ago, Yeshua had an intimate dinner with his disciples. It would be the last meal he would have with them in his human form, and the evening was the beginning of events that would change the world forever. As he reclined around the table with those he loved, he did an amazing thing. He prophetically took bread and wine and revealed to them that the feast they had celebrated for thousands of years pointed to his own life and that in the next 24 hours, Pesach would unfold before their eyes in a way that would change their lives forever...literally. His life would be sacrificed to redeem all of mankind through the power of forgiveness.
They were entering into the feast of Pesach, and the following day thousands of lambs would be slaughtered to be offered and eaten as a remembrance of God's protection from death (the consequence of sin) because of the blood of the lamb being put on doorposts, causing death to "pass over". But, he revealed a deeper truth as he correlated his own body to the bread, and his own blood to the wine. Rather than consuming an innocent lamb year after year, he was now laying down his own life. The ultimate and final sacrifice - a man for a man - the perfect to atone for the imperfect, to provide eternal redemption for all those that would want it. Even as he purposefully and courageously broke the bread and passed it around the table and likewise took the cup of wine and gave for all to drink, he also revealed to his precious disciples that while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, and they would all abandon him in the next few hours, and one would even betray him into the hands of his enemies to be killed.
As the evening turned into night, the feast of Pesach began. Yeshua washed the feet of his disciples, they had deep conversation about what was about to occur and the necessity of all of it, he spoke to them prophetically of events that would happen, and fervently prayed to his Father about his love for those he had been given, both living and yet to be. He explained that a true leader is a servant to all, exhorted them to love one another even as he had loved them, and assured them they would see him again. They finished eating, sang the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) and headed to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.
Already alone in the garden, as those that went with him had fallen asleep, we find Yeshua agonizing with such passion that it says he sweat drops of blood. It was with the birth of my firstborn son that I came to understand the depth of agony Yeshua must have experienced. In the throes of labor and pushing hard to bring my son into the world, I burst open blood vessels on my face from the intensity and focus needed to bring his precious life forth. As I marveled at my face after the delivery of my son, this portion of scripture came to my remembrance. Yeshua was indeed in the throes of deep groaning and labor and the anguish he felt as he struggled to the place of joy with his Father was intense. Asking for relief, he finally and willingly accepted the cup of wrath to be his alone to drink. He was laying down everything, so that we would live.
Pesach is one of seven appointed times that God calls his people to observe. It is a time when each family was to take a lamb, a perfect lamb, without spot or blemish, roast it in the fire, and eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Scripture says it is to remember and celebrate as a festival to God from generation to generation and the children are to be told, "It is the sacrifice of Yehovah's Pesach because Yehovah passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he killed the Egyptians, but spared our houses." It is a feast of deliverance!
At the end of Yeshua's agonizing prayers we find Judas leading the religious authorities to where Yeshua and the disciples are located, and true to the prophetic utterances around the table of their last meal, the disciples run away, Judas has betrayed him, he is turned over to the religious authorities, arrested, and the beginning of the inspection of the lamb begins. As the lambs sacrificed for Pesach must be without blemish and are inspected thoroughly to determine if they are acceptable for the offering; so Yeshua was now being inspected. While accusations were made and false witnesses came forth, they could not find anything Yeshua had done wrong. So in their hostility and jealousy, he was beaten repeatedly, spit on, blindfolded and mocked, and as dawn breaks he is turned over to the earthly governments.
I can only imagine the scene as Yeshua is being investigated by both the religious and earthly authorities while at the same time you would have been able to look across the temple grounds and have seen the Pesach lambs being inspected as well. The earthly governments likewise found no fault with Yeshua. In fact, the decision maker, knowing they wanted to murder an innocent man actually said, "My hands are clean of this man's blood; it's your responsibility." The response of the angry mob was, "His blood is on us and on our children!" I often marvel at how profound that statement was, and it brings me to tears. It reflects both our rebellious hearts and God's amazing mercy.
Yeshua is then beaten again, stripped, mocked, whipped, and given a purple robe to wear and a crown of thorns pushed into his skull in jest of his Kingship. He is found to be without sin, condemned, and gruesomely nailed to a cross to die with a sign over his head citing the charge against him: "This is Yeshua, The King of the Jews".... all while the lambs were being slaughtered on the temple grounds.
It was done just as he had said. His body, his blood.
The next day was Shabbat (weekly Sabbath) and the first day of the Feast of Matzah and thus those that cared for Yeshua took his bloodied body down after he had died, wrapped it in burial cloths, and laid it in a tomb.
Feast of Matzah (Unleavened Bread)
As Yeshua lay silent in the tomb and darkness settled on the land, Shabbat began, and it was also the first day of the Feast of Matzah - the 15th day of the lunar month. It is the second of seven appointed times God says to observe. The first day he said to remove all leavening from your home and that for the seven days of the feast you are not to eat anything with leavening in it. The first day he also said to blow the shofar.
There are two symbolisms here. Leavening is always referred to as sin or compromise in scripture, so the active searching to remove leavening from our life, was an example of how God wants us to look into our own lives. Searching through cupboards, cabinets, and drawers....or more appropriately, thoughts, actions and intents. Considering all possibilities of where it may be. It is a searching, seeking, identifying and the removing of that which separates us from our loving Father. For this was why Yeshua had laid down his life, to forgive us of those sins since he had taken the consequence for all of us. It is an acknowledgement that there is leavening in our lives that needs to be removed and we have someone who is worthy of our willingness to look for it and remove it with gratitude. The feast is to be a joyous time, bringing offerings of thanksgiving every day!
The second symbolism is the blowing of the shofar. Blowing the shofar throughout scripture almost always, if not always, refers to the voice of God. It is an announcement of his presence, his command, his judgements...his coming! While the shofar is commanded to be blown the first of the year and the first of every month, it is likewise commanded to be blown on the first day of the Feast of Matzah and the Feast of Sukkot (the seventh of the seven appointed times.) God is calling us to recognize our sin, acknowledge it, to accept the life that was given on behalf of ours and experience forgiveness and restoration to the one who loves us.
As the sun began to set on Shabbat and the first day of the Feast of Matzah, a new day is beginning as the darkness closes in once again. It is the 16th day of the lunar calendar, and the third of the seven appointed times - First Fruits.
In the early morning we find the women, who had become disciples of Yeshua as he taught and healed the multitudes, headed to the tomb to clean and anoint the body of Yeshua for a proper burial. However, when they arrived, they are startled by an earthquake and an angel coming down, rolling away the tomb stone and then sitting on it announcing that Yeshua is not there! The soldiers guarding the tomb were so frightened they ran away! The women as well, frightened yet full of joy run back to share with the other disciples that Yeshua has risen from the dead and is alive!! While on their way he actually reveals himself to them and encourages them to go and let the others know. Can you imagine?! I envision them running, stumbling, laughing, crying and so full of hope that words are inexpressible. As they reach the others, out of breath and exhilarated, they share the good news. Peter and John take off simultaneously with John outrunning Peter to get to the tomb in their own excitement. They too are confronted with the reality, and likewise return with the joyous confirmation!
First Fruits is a feast that celebrates just that - the first fruits of the harvest. It was celebrated with the offering of a lamb, unleavened bread and wine. The first fruits were to be brought in and waved before God and the following said: "Today I declare to Yehovah that I have come to the land Yehovah swore to our ancestors that he would give us. My ancestor was a nomad from Aram. He went down into Egypt few in number and stayed. There he became a great, strong, populous nation. But the Egyptians treated us badly; they oppressed us and imposed harsh slavery on us. So we cried out to Yehovah, the God of our ancestors. Yehovah heard us and saw our misery, toil and oppression; and Yehovah brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and a stretched out arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders. Now he has brought us to this place and given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, as you see, I have now brought the first fruits of the land which you, Yehovah, have given me." Then we are to prostrate ourselves before God and take joy in all the good that Yehovah has given us, our household, the Cohen and the foreigner living with us!
Yeshua indeed had become the first fruits. He was the wave offering, the promise of the fulfillment of God's word that he would deliver us from the misery, toil and oppression of this world and bring us into a place of rest, and that he would do it with an outstretched arm, great terror and with signs and wonders!
As the day progressed, Yeshua appeared to others and continued to confirm that he was indeed alive and that we, in accepting his life as the sacrifice for our sins (Pesach), continuing to walk in a repentant manner, acknowledging our sin, and removing it (Feast of Matzah) that we, like him (First Fruits) would be a part of the full harvest and live eternally as well!
What hope that gives us!
Come and partake of the bread and wine...the body and blood of Yeshua, and find rest for your souls!
....and yet there's more to come. Over the next weeks Yeshua continued to reveal himself to his disciples, eating meals with them, doing miracles, appearing in different places, talking with them, until his final departure. As he leaves them to return to heaven he reminds them that he's sending a comforter, one who will remind them of everything he's taught them, and that he will not leave them as orphans. A promise to all of us. So the count of seven weeks and one day that began on First Fruits will get us to the fourth of the seven appointed times...Shavuot...