A Holy Convocation

Leviticus 23:1-3

January 14, 2018

I think that my favorite passage from the Psalms is found in Psalm 84:10:

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

Along with that is Psalm 27:4:

“One thing that I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”

There is something about just being in the place set aside for worship, no matter whether it is at a time that is quiet and still during the week or when it is filled by the church — the people of God — gathered on Sunday mornings for worship. There is no place that I would rather be and I cannot relate to those who would casually desire to be elsewhere.

Now, do understand that people drifting away from church attendance is not a new phenomenon. The Author of Hebrews, way back in the first century AD warned the people not to neglect the meeting together — as is the habit of some! — (Hebrews 10:25)

So, we in the 21st century ought not be surprised that we occasionally face the same challenges. Technology has advanced, but the sinful heart is little different. Man is no more perfectible today than were the children of Adam and Eve after the Fall…unlike what is often taught today by the supposed self-help gurus and other witchdoctors of our culture. True, today’s witchdoctors wear power suits and have perfect teeth and hair, but they are nonetheless witchdoctors and offer the same mumbo-jumbo as did their ancient forebears. Their views are foolish and deserve our ridicule.

Look, if you think you can perfect yourself, go ahead and do it. I dare you. Your attempts will only result in failure and discouragement and you will come to realize that you need someone outside of yourself to save you from your wretched state. If you come to that point, let’s talk, I’d like to tell you about Jesus.

And that brings us back to the worship. We talked broadly about worship last week. Today I want to focus on what we are doing as we gather here for worship today. Why do we gather together in a central place for worship — God is everywhere, so why can’t I worship on my fishing boat, on the golf course, or in my hunting stand. Or, why can’t I stay at home and watch services on Television?

I told you last week that physically being here is the easiest part of worship — being engaged with our minds, our wills, and our passions takes intentional work and practice.

So, then why is being here important? And why does Council review the membership rolls every year and remove those people who do not attend “conscientiously”?

That sounds like a lot to tackle all at once, but I think that an understanding of our passage this morning leads us to an answer to most, if not to all, of those questions.

So, let’s look back to the text…

First of all, Leviticus is not a book that most Christians spend much time in. It is filled with rituals, detailed sacrifices, and only has a couple points of narrative account. But it is an important book because it primarily exists to help us understand how God looks at our sin…and if we get disgusted by the imagery, then we have a taste of how God is disgusted by our sinful actions.

Leviticus 23 is also part of a larger section of text that begins in chapter 17 and runs through chapter 25. This passage deals with the personal holiness that God expects from his people.

Now the word “holiness” simply refers to something or someone that is set apart for God’s purposes, not for common use. But sometimes holiness is confused with piety, which refers to the duties of the worshipper to his or her God.

Clearly, the two are related — a holy one (the meaning of the word, “saint”)  ought to strive to be pious. Yet, these two are different as holiness is entirely a work of God (he set us apart) and piety, while empowered by God, is something in which we participate. Typically it is understood as a part of our sanctification.

So, God sets us aside as holy and says, “this is what I expect of you…”

Thus, Leviticus 17-25 deal with judgments and festivals, and sacrifices as well as festivals the thad to be kept to be pious.

But, before we move on, let us clarify one thing:

As Christians, to be holy, do we need to do all of these things?

The answer is, “no.”

These rules and seemingly endless obligations are what the Apostle Peter refers to as a “yoke on the neck” of God’s people (Acts 15:10).

These things are a law, as the Apostle Paul puts it, that is designed to be a strict schoolmaster that drives God’s people toward Christ (Galatians 3:24). The ritual is indeed fulfilled, but not by us, by Christ on behalf of all of his elect. This ties into what Paul refers to as the “obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26).

Which leaves our obedience not so much something that earns us merit or contributes to our salvation, but simply as an expression of our gratitude for God’s grace.

Thus, in Christ, the letter of the law is no longer a yoke on our necks but the intent of the law (something meant to make us holy) is an expression of our gratitude.

So, in verse 1, God speaks to Moses and tells him to instruct the people…verse 2 reads this way…

“These are the gatherings (some Bibles read, “appointed feasts”) of Yahweh, that you shall proclaim them as holy convocations — they are my appointed feasts.”

Let’s deal with the word, “convocation” as that’s not a word we use every day. A convocation is a formal assembly of people called together for a specific purpose. Graduation ceremonies in college and sometimes in high school are about the only places we use this term.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here for a minute, recognizing that the following connection is one that will only interest a few of you, but bear with me for a minute… Convocation comes from the Latin root, “Convoke,” which literally means, “to call together.” In the New Testament, the term that we translate as “church” is ekklasia,  which means, “to call out.”

Now, while most of you will go, “oh, that’s nice,” let me explain to you all why this connection is significant. You see, the Apostles in the New Testament did not think that they were creating a new religion. In fact, they felt as if they were the fulfillment of the Old Testament believers — that the church was “True Israel” and the Jews who rejected Christ — the Messiah God had promised and sent — that they were apostatizing, rejecting the faith.

And thus the words and terms that they chose — though they were Greek words and not Hebrew words — were chosen intentionally to convey the Hebrew ideas behind these Greek terms…communicating that they were the continuing body of faith, a continuing church that traces its roots back to Abraham — and the Jews weren’t.

Back to Leviticus 23…

“a holy convocation” — a holy assembly of those called out to worship God. Now, as the chapter continues, there is a list of seven gatherings or festivals. Now, note that the word festival has more of a secular connotation today than it did back in Moses’ era — simply a reference to a festive day or a festive celebration of our God.

Now, this list begins with the Sabbath and then moves to the Passover, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Tabernacles.

If you are thinking ahead of me, you may be asking yourself, “wait a minute, we don’t celebrate all of these festivals…” So, should we?

Let me approach it this way…

Passover is fulfilled by Christ as he identified himself with the Passover Lamb. We remember that when we celebrate the Lord’s Table, but being fulfilled in Christ, we are not mandated to celebrate it at any given time. Jesus simply says, “as often as you do this…”

Firstfruits is largely an agrarian festival and is connected to the Old Testament tithe. That too is fulfilled in Christ who is the firstborn of many brothers raised from the dead (Romans 8:29) that we, as redeemed Christians, may be called the first fruits of creation (2 Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:18) — believers being a tithe of creation to God.

Do you see a pattern here?

Pentecost (or the Festival of Weeks) in the Jewish context, marked God’s giving the Law to Moses; in the Christian context, it commemorates God’s giving the Spirit to the Disciples.

Trumpets, which later became the Jewish New Years Day — Rosh Hashanah — is never explained in the Biblical texts, but Rabbinical teachers argue that it is a day that anticipates the day of final judgment. For Christians, we do not mark off this day on the calendar because no one knows the day or hour (Matthew 24:36) and for Christians, it is a time for worship (Revelation 14:7). Interestingly enough, though, when Paul speaks of the second coming of Christ in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, he speaks of Jesus returning at the sound of a trumpet.

Don’t miss connections like this…

Atonement is fulfilled by Christ on the cross.

And Tabernacles both remembers the wilderness wanderings and anticipates the Messiah which will lead God’s people back into the wilderness. Again, something fulfilled by Christ as he led the church into the “Wilderness of Nations.”

And that leaves the Sabbath — a festival that has its origins not with the Jewish year but with creation — a holy day of rest for God’s people, ceasing from our regular work and a convocation — a called gathering — for God’s people.

Now, is the Sabbath fulfilled by Christ? Yes, but not yet. Christ has prepared a future rest — an eternal Sabbath — that is yet to come (Hebrews 4:8-10).

So, we still practice the Sabbath — for our good and wellbeing, as an expression of our gratitude toward God, and a work of piety.

Now, before we wrap up this morning, I want to point you back to Exodus 31:13. For there, the Sabbath is spoken of as a sign between us and God — a mark of God’s covenant that God made all things in six days. You see, our practice of the Sabbath is part of our testimony to the world as believers that God is the creator of the universe…they see us doing something different on Sundays than the rest of the world. Thus, if we do not practice the day of rest, it harms our witness of God’s word to the world. This is why, I believe, Moses is told in verse 2 not simply to appoint these as feast days, but to proclaim (or declare) them — preach them to the people. In a sense, Sabbath becomes part of our proclamation of the Gospel.

So, why come to the church to worship?

1) it is part of our faithful testimony to the world around us, that they too are to order their week around God’s worship.

2) It is an expression of our gratitude to God for his salvation.

3) It is good for our bodies to have a day of rest for our physical labors.

Why not worship anywhere? Because God said it is to be a gathering — a convocation — it is true that there are times when people are either homebound or unable to be in worship, then it is a good thing to find a good and Biblical service on television or the internet. But ordinarily, we are to be called together as a public assembly as a public witness.

And why on this day and not on any day — why Sunday and not Saturday like the Jews worship? In the end, the Apostles and the early church moved their gathering to Sunday because of the Resurrection of Christ…all of these festivals are fulfilled in the resurrection.

What is the application? Coming to church is important. It is an essential part of our gratitude to God, part of your witness to the world and to your growth in spiritual maturity — do not neglect it and encourage others not to neglect it either.

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