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Lord of our Years


If you have been around Redeemer for a little while you might have noticed that we make a big deal about holidays. We ramp up for Christmas. We emphasize Easter – with services on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. We get invitation cards out, we have a big feast, and we preach special messages for these occasions. And as far as that goes, our practice is not all that unusual, it is just more pronounced than most. What is quite different though, is how we keep the celebration going a month or so after Easter. We celebrate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus on Ascension Sunday (with the actual day being the previous Thursday marked 40 days after the Resurrection). And lastly a week later we feast and celebrate the giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Now here is the question – why do we do this? And the simple answer is "why wouldn't we?" To celebrate the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus, and the giving of the Spirit is a self-evidently good thing to do. It is good to mark our time by the great events of the gospel. And yet some Christians don't want to celebrate. There is a certain kind of person who wants to wear the regulative principle like a straight-jacket. What do I mean? Well the regulative principle is simply the teaching that worship should be ordered according to Scripture. If we do something in worship it should be because we have Scriptural warrant to do so. It is a good principle as far as it goes. But as I said, some wear it like a straight-jacket. They want a direct Scriptural command to celebrate Christmas, and unless they have it they are out. So for them they think all of this celebration is excessive. Let us just worship the Lord on Sunday's and be done with it, they say. That is all that is required. Anything more starts to smell of Roman Catholicism. But with all due respect, this is an immature take.

You see, things aren't so simple. Jesus himself celebrated a holiday not expressly commanded in Scripture: The Feast of Dedication (See John 10:22-23). This was the feast known as Hanukkah, instituted in 164 B.C. It was not a holiday with an express biblical command to keep. And yet Jesus kept it. And many think that Purim, a minor feast commemorating the events of Esther, was the unnamed feast that Jesus partook of in John 5. All of this to say, that in the life of the Lord Jesus we have precedent for keeping the great feasts that tell the story of God's redemption even without a direct command from heaven to keep them. To insist on a proof-text would frankly be obtuse. Instead we should learn to read the great story we are in, and to live and celebrate accordingly.

Another example of the need for careful and not simplistic thinking is with the weekly Lord's Day observance. Even the choice to worship the Lord on Sunday takes a mature, careful and theological reading of Scripture. We learn to worship together on Sunday instead of Saturday not by reading a verse that says, "you shall worship on the First Day of the week", but by paying close attention to the Resurrection, the subsequent appearances of Jesus, and the example of the early church in Acts. We see it in verses like Acts 20:7, where we read somewhat obliquely: "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread". We see that kind of thing enough times and we make the not so distant leap and say – we should worship the Lord on Sunday's, that's what the early church did. And if we would apply our minds to it, like many in church history have done, we would see a theological significance in that switch. The resurrection has changed everything – including the calendar! We begin the New Covenant Age on the First Day of the week. It is finished, and out of that completion we begin. The pattern of "work for six days and then enter into rest" has been fulfilled. Now we begin with rest in the finished work of our Lord and out of that gospel-peace we work. The coming of Christ has transformed our calendars – and not just the weekly calendar, the yearly one as well.

In the Old Testament God's people had many feasts directly commanded for them to keep. Seven in total, seen in Leviticus 23. But basically there were three main ones: Passover in the spring, Pentecost 50 days later, and the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall. Now, I have met some Christians who want to keep all of these Old Testament feasts in the old way. But that makes about as much sense as continuing to live in your tent-trailer after your new house is built. Or continuing to load up on salad and bread when the steak and potatoes are plated and in front of you. It's frankly crazy. How can you keep celebrating Passover instead of Good Friday and Easter when "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7)? How can you keep the Feast of Weeks without considering the implications of Acts 2? The impulse to stick with the old days and the impulse to do away with all days are both mistaken. We have to apply wisdom. We have to learn how to read the story we are in.

In Christ we have come to the fulfillment of all of the Old Covenant holidays. I would argue as many in church history have, that just as the Sabbath has been transformed into the Lord's Day for Christians, that the old holidays have also found their renovated use in the redemptive work of Christ. God created times and seasons, and gave us signs in the heavens to mark them (Genesis 1:14). God pre-figured and modeled for us the celebration of redemption in the Old Testament Calendar (Leviticus 23). And yet all of these things point us to the great centre-point of all history – Jesus Christ. It is Christ himself who is the blazing centre of all holy days. And He always has been. As we read in Colossians:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

Here we see that the early church was dealing with Judaizers pushing all manner of rituals and festivals upon them. And yet Paul tells them that Christ is the fulfillment of these things. Now this does not do away with all festivity as some might think. It simply orients us to the one and only guiding principle of festivity – Christ. We should not keep the Old Testament feasts in the same old way, and we should not keep secular feasts in the way that pagans do, we should see everything in relation to Christ who is the substance of all that is good in these things.

This is the position that the Continental Reformers took. While many Scottish and English Puritans took the scorched earth approach and did away with all holidays as so much Roman Catholic excess, the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Europe saw the propriety of keeping the main five – Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost. And I for one think that they took the less reactionary and more thoughtful approach.

No matter what you do, you do something. If we choose to have no holy-days, we create a vacuum that a secular state is all too willing to fill. If we choose to celebrate every event and every Saint and his dog like the Catholics do, then we devalue the very meaning of holiday. The point isn't to clutter our calendars, nor is it to empty them. The point is to mark our time by what is most important. And what could be more important than the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus, and the giving of the Holy Spirit? These are the five acts in the great drama of our Lord's work. If you stop at Easter you haven't quite caught us up to where we are in the story. If you avoid them all you miss a great opportunity to orient yourself and your calendar towards this grand story of Redemption.

Jesus is Lord. He is Lord of our days. The first day of the week is His day. He set it apart by defeating death on it, so many years ago. And He is Lord of all our days. He is also Lord of our years. Everytime we say what year it is we make reference to His first coming. 2023 A.D. is 2023 years since he came to save us. A.D. meaning Anno Domine, Latin for in the year of our Lord. He is the Lord of our years. This is His year, and the marking of any days in it should refer to Him. The five gospel feast days are a fitting way of doing just that. We celebrate the fulfillment of the Old Testament's yearly feasts, with yearly feasts of our own. We preach the gospel with our calendars.

So I encourage you to lean into the celebration of these things. Celebrate the five gospel feast days; keep them well! Mark your time by the great acts of God. I for one have no particular interest in celebrating labour unions, or marking various "civic holidays". How sterile and soul crushing our calendar in the West is becoming! It's becoming no better than communist China where they mark out a day or two for dear leader and the Party. Let us not be conformed to the world and it's secular view of time. Let us redeem the time. Jesus is the Lord of all. He is the Lord of our days and our weeks. He is the Lord of our years. Let us worship Him day by day, week by week, and year by year. 

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Wednesday, 24 April 2024