Why does God have us rehearse His biblical Festivals and Holy Days year after year? The answer that appears most obvious is that we as humans tend to forget and need a continual reminder. This is true, but there is more. Here are three reasons.
The first is that, as mentioned above, we do need a reminder. Old-timers in the Church can likely think of someone who has left the Church and forgotten the meaning of these special days. I am reminded of the woman who once told me, You can only hear the same sermons so many times; you need to hear something new. She came out of Worldwide into an independent group where sermons strayed far from the truth we hold so dear.
She later expressed to me, We were once so arrogant, thinking we were the only ones saved. She pointed out a dear gentleman we both knew, saying, If there was ever a Christian, he is. Just because he has the wrong day doesn’t mean he is not saved. I felt compelled to remind her that there is much more to it than “the wrong day.” He also had the wrong gospel, he was substituting heathen holidays for the Holy Days, he believed in flawed ideas of heaven and hell, and he worshiped a false, trinitarian god. She had forgotten what she had once known about the Festivals and Holy Days—the meaning of Pentecost (firstfruits) and the Last Great Day (when all who have not yet been called will have their opportunity). She had forgotten that the fine qualities of this nice gentleman meant that he would surely respond wonderfully when God opened his mind in the Great White Throne Judgment.
I was stunned. How could a longtime Church member so quickly lose understanding of these truths we had rehearsed so many times? And she was part of a group of people who still met on the Holy Days, though her leaders were failing to feed their flock with basic truths! How much more have others lost, who do not assemble on these God-ordained days to hear their meaning rehearsed each year?
The Strata of Sin
But there is more than remembering basic meaning. A second benefit of keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread annually is that through them we rehearse a lifelong process of putting sin out of our lives. I heard one professor at Ambassador College describe it as cutting away the layers of an onion. Our lives have many sinful layers. With God’s help, you strip away the outward layer of sin, then stand back and consider how you have been freed from a specific sin, such as smoking. That is good! But later, you look again at the onion and see another layer of sin that must be removed—perhaps getting caught up in politics, or laxity in Sabbath observance. The process of stripping away one layer after another continues as you become aware of one flaw after another. There are many strata to human nature, just as there are many to an onion—yet too many in God’s Church become comfortable after baptism and give up on this process.
No wonder God warns us through Jeremiah that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Or, as He wrote earlier, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” so he cried out, “O Lord, correct me, but with justice; not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing” (10:23–24). Do you do the same? Do you understand the profound meaning of these passages? And let us not forget Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Human nature is easily deceived. Some “truths” about ourselves and our character—of which we are sure in our own thinking—are, in fact, not true.
When we prepared for baptism, the principles found in these passages were points of focus for us. Many of us memorized them, recognizing their importance. But, as I wrote in our John 3:16 booklet, “The problem with memorization is that, once we learn something, our brains stash it away and concentrate on something new” (p. 41).
So, we must never “stash away” the meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Rather, we must year-by-year peel away one wrong action and way of thinking after another. Putting away sin does not end at baptism.
Are You Desensitized?
And there is a third valuable lesson for us. Our world is constantly blurring standards of right and wrong. What we once considered wrong may not seem so wrong today. We grow more tolerant of sinful behaviors as we become desensitized to the sin all around us.
Hunter Madsen and Marshall Kirk explained desensitization in their book After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the ’90s, outlining their plan to influence Americans to accept homosexuality. They explained how to use the media to make homosexuality appear a normal part of society. Do you find yourself desensitized, even siding with behaviors contrary to the Scriptures? Do you encourage sinful behavior?
This is what happened in Corinth with the man who was sleeping with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5). Paul, decrying the Corinthians’ tolerance of sinful behavior, connects it directly to their forgetting the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice and the Days of Unleavened Bread. “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (vv. 6–8). We are equally guilty if we give a thumbs-up on social media and tell someone how brave he or she is for “coming out of the closet.”
The Bible calls Satan “the prince of the power of the air”—the one who directs “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2). The depth to which he directs the world is often underestimated, as he uses the same devices repeatedly and we grow desensitized to them. The same violence and sexual immorality Satan inspired prior to the Flood and among the cities of the plains—including Sodom and Gomorrah—is playing out again in our world today. Corinth’s immorality can be found in our modern cities, and in all forms of modern media. How many are addicted to pornography, gory video games, gambling, fornication? These things may be accepted in our generation, but God does not “cave” to the vote of man.
Our constant desensitization toward ungodly values means that we must take stock each year and ask ourselves, What have I absorbed this year? How have my moral perceptions changed over the last five years? Do I tolerate any entertainment that I would have shunned ten years ago? These are serious questions for serious meditation!
Paul admonishes us to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). To be circumspect means to have our eyes wide open to what is happening around us. Paul tells us further,
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:11–14).
What do you need to change this year?