Friday, June 19, 2009

Sunday School - the law and sacrifices (8) special days

We had a feast last week at Sunday School. It was very popular lesson!

So far this term, we've talked about God's special people, God's special place and God's special animals. This week, we talked about God's special times.

I never realised how many special days were set apart for God every year. I found it fascinating learning about the Hebrew calendar, with its seasonal holidays, harvest offerings, and days of repentance and celebration.

  • Did you know there were 2 main seasons of feasts - the first in late Spring and early Summer, during the barley and grain harvests, and the second in Autumn, after the fruit and vegetable harvests?
  • Did you know the people went to the tabernacle 3 times a year to bring offerings - the first sheaf from the barley harvest at Firstfruits around the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, 2 loaves of bread made from wheat during the Feast of Harvest, and fruit during the Feast of Ingathering? (Exod 23:14-17)
  • Did you know there were days of rest every 7th day (on the Sabbath), years of rest every 7th year (when the land lay fallow, Hebrew slaves were freed and debts were cancelled) and a Year of Jubilee every 49th year (when land which had been sold was returned to its original Hebrew owners)? (Exod 3:10-12, 31:12-17, Deut 15:1-18, Lev 25:1-7, 20-22, Lev 25:8-54)
  • Did you know that every new month started with the new moon, and that on this day there was a new moon festival with special sacrifices? (Nu 8:11-15)
As I talked about the year's festivals, I stuck pictures around a Hebrew calendar on a poster, to show when the special days were:

The first festival season was during late Spring and early Summer, and included:

  • Passover, when the people ate roast lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs to remember how they painted blood from a lamb on their doorposts so that God would "pass over" their houses when he killed the first born sons of the Egyptians (Exod 12-13, Nu 9:1-14, Lev 23:4-8, Nu 28:16-25, Deut 16:1-8)
  • the Feast of Unleavened Bread during the week following Passover, when they remembered how they ate unleavened bread during the escape from Egypt since there was no time to wait for bread to rise (Exod 12-13 etc)
  • the Day of Firstfruits, soon after Passover, when they took a sheaf of barley to the tabernacle to thank God for the barley harvest (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:9-14, Nu 28:26-31)
  • the Feast of Harvest or Weeks (exactly 7 weeks after Firstfruits), when they took 2 loaves to the tabernacle to thank God for the wheat harvest (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:15-22, Nu 28:26-31, Deut 16:9-12, 20)
There was a gap until Autumn, when there was another festival season:

  • the Day of Trumpets, on the 1st day of the 7th month, when trumpets were blown (Lev 23:23-25, Nu 29:1-6)
  • the Day of Atonement, 10 days later, which we learned about last week (Lev 16, 23:26-34, Nu 29:7-10)
  • the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles, 5 days later, perhaps the most enjoyable feast of all, at least for kids! The people lived in tents made out of branches for 7 days, to remember how they lived in tents in the wilderness on the journey to the Promised Land. They waved palm branches and branches in the air, and took an offering from the harvest to the tabernacle to thank God for the fruit and vegetable harvests (pomegranates, grapes, olives, figs, walnuts, vegetables) (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:33-44, Nu 29:12-40, Deut 16:13-17).
As I described each festival I put food on a platter (unleavened bread, loaves, grains of barley and fruit - grapes, dried figs and olives) and the kids had great fun tasting and munching the goodies (I looked for a pomegranate, but they don't seem to be available at the moment!):
This lesson would be a great chance to celebrate a Passover meal or build a house made of branches if you had time and space!

The New Testament is quite clear: now that Jesus has come, we don't have to have special days anymore (Col 2:16-17, Gal 4:8-10, Rom 14:5-8).

To his people, God said

You must observe my Sabbaths. …Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. … Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD. (Exod 31:13, 23:14, 17)
But to us he says,

Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col 2:16-17)
We stuck pictures on our poster to show how the special days were the shadow and Jesus the reality they were pointing towards.

Jesus is our Passover lamb who died in our place at the time of Passover (1 Cor 5:7). He rose from the dead, the Firstfruits of all who will live forever because they trust in him (1 Cor 15:20-28). He sent his Spirit at Pentecost, the Feast of Harvest (Acts 2). His death opened the way into the presence of God and fulfilled the promise of the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest took blood and went into God's presence (Heb 10:19-22). The days of rest pointed forward to the true rest we will have in eternity because Jesus died for us (Heb 4, Matt 11:28-30).

"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves" (Heb 10:1). The special days were the shadow. Jesus is the reality. Let's rejoice in him!
Next week is our final lesson! We'll be talking about the old and new covenants, and how God's law is now written on our hearts.

If you would like to see or use my Sunday School lessons on the law and sacrifices, Romans or the Fruit of the Spirit, please contact me.

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