Lent Devotion for February 19
"It is a Sabbath day to the Lord."
Reader: “These are my appointed festivals,”
Response: “the appointed festivals of the Lord.”
SCRIPTURE: Leviticus 23:1-4
The Appointed Festivals
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.
3 “‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.
4 “‘These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times:
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
This chapter in Leviticus is most significant to God’s people as they wandered in the wilderness. The surprise is that it is also most significant for God’s people today as we dwell in a land of indifference, even people hostile to Christianity. Truthfully, I think there is a significant amount of “wandering” among believers who are trying to sort out how to live “in a strange land” as the Bible puts it. In this chapter, God gives a time structure in showing His people how to live and stay focused. In a nutshell, God lays out a time structure. To begin with, the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath, the Lord’s Sabbath. Did you notice who’s Sabbath it is? Shabbath in Hebrew is related a the verb meaning “to cease.” Later in Deuteronomy chapter five, God further specifies the Sabbath rest is to include slaves (revolutionary), animals, and foreigners. You were slaves at one time-never given rest on any day-but now you are free people. The rest is tied to God’s rest on the seventh day of creation. And significantly, it is a day for holy assembly. It is a day you are to physically gather as God’s people for the purpose of worshiping Him. God knows how forgetful His people are and how easily they drift from Him, then and now.
The rest of the chapter describes seven Festivals, a group of three (Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits), then one (Pentecost), then three concluding (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Feast of Tabernacles (Booths)). Three (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) were pilgrimage festivals, that is, Jews from every corner were to travel up to Jerusalem for the celebration at the Temple. There is a significant theological import for us today. Many of Jesus’ most significant addresses to the people occurred in the context of these very Feasts. Passover was the context for Jesus to fulfill the role of the Lamb of God, the ultimate and final sacrifice. Pentecost was marked in the New Testament by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Feast of Tabernacles centers on the final harvest and the context for Jesus speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit and Him being the “living water.” People lived in homemade huts during this week, reminding themselves “this world is not our home, not our final resting place.” While the “world” is comfortable in their homes, we are citizens of another country, another place. This world is not our final resting place. The roofs of the shelters were made of branches so those dwelling in the huts could see the sky through the ceiling. The thought was, “we live on this earth only for a short time. We are here temporarily; our heritage and final home are in heaven. The “Festival,” as such, was a “rehearsal” for the ultimate banquet in heaven. The festival is another reminder that “we came from dust, and to dust, we will return.” With the observance of these Festivals, God structured time to bring the people back to Him again and again, reminding them (and us) that He was central to everything about their lives. The Christian Year functions in much the same way as we are continually reminded of the centrality of the acts and presence of Christ in our lives.
O eternal God, though Thou art not such as I can see with my eyes or touch with my hands, yet grant me this day a clear conviction of Thy reality and power. Let me not go forth to my work believing only in the world of sense and time, but give me the grace to understand that the world I cannot see or touch is the most real world of all. My life today will be lived in time, but eternal issues will be concerned in it. The needs of my body will be clamant, but it is for the needs of my soul that I must care most. My business will be with things material, but behind them let me be aware of things spiritual. Let me keep steadily in mind that the things that matter are not money or possessions, not houses or lands, not bodily comfort or bodily pleasure; but truth and honor and meekness and helpfulness and a pure love of Thyself. I, a pilgrim of eternity, stand before Thee. Let me yield myself to go where you lead me and be brave to face all the changes in my life which such a vision may entail: through the grace of Christ my Savior. Amen.
- from A Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, p.53