The Great Holiday

Text: Ezra 3:1-6

Proposition: Come and celebrate the Lord!

Introduction: If you’ve ever been ill to the point of needing an antibiotic or some measure of medicine then you’ll know what it’s like to be tempted to quit taking it as the worst of the symptoms passes by. You start feeling better and the thought is that you no longer need to stick to the course, that from here on you can recover on your own. Whether it’s impatience or lack of discipline we are really tempted to leave the last two pills in the bottle. Last week we looked at the remnant that left Babylon and we saw that of over a half million people in Babylon, only about 50,000 responded to the Persian kings offer of release. It was likely early March when they left and it would be at least three months to travel from there to Jerusalem. For the next three months, from mid June to mid September, each group went back to their city or region of origin and they began to build, to farm, to occupy, to begin again. They were now a people that had come to know the importance of following the prescription to the full. In the seventh month since leaving Babylon, now mid September, the people put down their tools and set aside  their efforts at resettlement and came back to Jerusalem. They came as one man, that is, without coercion or request. It was the first month in the Hebrew calendar, Tishri, it begins in mid September. It was New Year’s, a special time to gather that led up to the celebration of the Great HoliDay. Turn with me to Ezra 3: 1-6.

I. When Times Are So Demanding  You Can’t Afford Not To Pray.          

How do you handle the times when you are under pressure, when the demands exceed the resources? Let’s look at the details of what took place.

1.    Jeshua and Zeruabbel give leadership to the rebuilding of the Altar for Burnt Offerings. In Leviticus the directions for building such an altar were given… no hand cut stones, no steps up to it. It was quite large about 20 feet by 20 feet, massive stones that could be put together so that a great fire could be built upon them and then the sacrifice put upon the fire. A quarter of a bull would be put upon the altar for sacrifice as well as lambs and other animals. The people would be bringing their sacrifices so the altar and even though there was no resemblance of a Temple present, there did need to be an altar for burnt offerings. What is soon to take place is of greater importance than the tyranny of the urgent. Preparation preceded prayer.

2.    When fear came upon them because of the people around them, they returned to the altar. Don’t forget that Israel was very exposed, only 50,000 people and they were spread out over quite an area. Can you imagine being one of the 123 people that went back to Bethlehem, claiming some land, finding some work, making some shelter? As they experienced this great sense of apprehension, anxiety and fear regarding the future they came together and set up the altar on it’s foundation points. What was an altar of burnt offerings for anyways? It’s where sin was atoned for, it’s where God was proclaimed and glorified, it’s where the people expressed the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin gaining a right relationship with God. Next week we’ll come before the table of Communion, which is really the altar of the New Testament. The bread and the cup will be placed upon the table and will be emblematic of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Our altar is not made with great stones, it is just a simple table but upon it is the greatest emblem of sacrifice that God could ever have designed. It is His Son, the most perfect sacrifice that creates atonement for us, grants permanent and eternal forgiveness of sin and establishes us in a relationship with God as righteous family members with Christ. When fear comes upon us, a return to the cross, to the altar where Christ was given for us, that’s the perfect place to go.

II. When the HoliDay is So Restoring You Can’t Afford Not To Go.            

So the people come to Jerusalem, they celebrate the New Year, ten days later it is the Day of Atonement, the equivalent of what we would experience as Easter, the day when the people as a nations had sin confessed and atoned for. Five days after the Day of Atonement the Feast Of Tabernacles began and it lasted for eight days. It was a God ordered feast from the days of Moses (Leviticus 23: 33-43). Perhaps today it would look to us like Family Camp, you know where a church basically has a week of camping, games, meals and worship. We do that as a summer break, the Feast of Tabernacles did that for at least three reasons:

1.     It was an ordained reminder to the people not to forget where they came from. When Moses led the people out from slavery they lived in tents for over 40 years. The word ‘tent’ and ‘tabernacle’ are the same word, God was reminding them of their deliverance and of His provision for them throughout the time of their Tabernacling. The Feast of Booths required the people to build small shelters outside their homes, it was not to have a roof so they could see the stars at night, they were to eat all their meals in it and were to live in it for seven days. The Feast of Booths pointed the people to humility and dependence in God. 

2.     It was to remind the people of the time that God tabernacled with them, in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This tabernacling of God with man is also prophetic and spoke of a time to come when God would forever tabernacle with His people. It spoke of a Messianic presence who would provide for the people like God provided in the days of the Sinai wilderness. The Feast of Booths was a celebration that pointed to Eternal Life, God’s presence among man forever. Think for a moment of how the Gospel of John says in 1:14… “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It was after the feeding of the 5000 that Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem just before Passover. As Jesus comes in what do the people do, they cut down palm branches and other branches and begin to wave them as flags. Look at the commands in Leviticus 23 regarding the Feast of Booths, here the people were cut down palm branches and willows and wave them in the air as an act of celebration to God. Palm Sunday was in fact an impromptu Feast of Booths celebration because the people believed that the Messiah had come to dwell among them eternally.

3.     The Feast of Booths ultimately pictures the New Jerusalem. Listen to the words of Revelation 21:2,3… “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.””To a remnant of people trying to re-establish in Israel, to a people that were overcome by fears and anxieties, to a people that felt overwhelmed…the Feast of Booths was deeply restoring. It was a feast they could not afford to neglect.

In this day every Feast of Israel is in someway contained inside every worship service. Every Feast pictured in some aspect the person of Jesus Christ, now we have Christ revealed, Jesus Christ the Savior is known. He has been crucified for our deliverance and risen that He would tabernacle with us forever. This is the Great HoliDay.                 

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