Text: Psalm 145:1-7 – I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. 2 Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. 3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. 4 One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. 5 They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. 6 They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. 7 They will celebrateyour abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Introduction: Imagine the mystery and delight of not just hearing, but seeing the story of Jesus for the first time, almost as an eyewitness. That’s what happened to a tribe in the jungles of East Asia when missionaries showed them the Jesus film. Not only had these people never heard of Jesus, they had never seen a motion picture. Then, on one unforgettable evening, they saw it all—the gospel in their own language, visible and real. Imagine again how it felt to see this good man, Jesus, who healed the sick and was adored by children, held without trial and beaten by jeering soldiers. As they watched this, the people came unglued. They stood up and began to shout at the cruel men on the screen, demanding that this outrage stop. When nothing happened, they attacked the missionary running the projector. Perhaps he was responsible for this injustice! He was forced to stop the film and explain that the story wasn’t over yet, there was more. So, they settled back onto the ground, holding their emotions in tenuous check. Then came the crucifixion. Again, the people could not hold back. They began to weep and wail with such loud grief that, once again, the film had to be stopped. The missionary … tried to calm them, explaining that the story still wasn’t over; there was more. So, they composed themselves and sat down to see what happened next. Then came the resurrection. Pandemonium broke out this time, but for a different reason. The gathering had spontaneously erupted into a party. The noise now was of jubilation, and it was deafening. The people were dancing and slapping each other on the back. Christ is risen, indeed! Again, the missionary had to shut off the projector; this time he didn’t tell them to calm down and wait for what was next. All that was supposed to happen—in the story and in their lives—was happening (Ben Patterson, “Resurrection and Pandemonium,” Leadershipjournal.net, 4-13-04). Some things just need to be celebrated, don’t they? And the resurrection of Christ has to top the list for many of us. Speaking of celebrations, here in America we have ten national holidays that include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day,Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgivingand Christmas. There are also several others special days we celebrate as well, like Easter, birthdays and anniversaries. Each one I just mentioned gives us a legitimate reason to party and cheer and usually we have a pretty good time doing so. Did you know that God commanded the Israelites to celebrate too? In calendar order their holidays included Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of First-fruits, Pentecost(the Feast of Weeks), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonementand the Feast of Booths(Tabernacles). Each festival lasted anywhere from one to seven days. In addition, they were commanded to observe the Sabbathweekly and the Feast of the New Moonevery lunar month. Later the Israelites themselves added at least two more … one for the great victory that Mordecai and the Jews living in the land of exile had over Haman and others called Purimand Hanukkah, which commemorates the recapture and cleansing of the temple from the Greeks by Judas Maccabeus. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of celebrating!
Have you ever wondered why God commanded the Israelites to celebrate each of these events? Believe it or not, He had His reasons. Here are four that might help you to appreciate His purpose for Israel’s national celebrations.
- He wanted to unite His people. Feasts brought the Jews together for celebration and worship as they recalled their common origin and experience. Israel was unique in the world as a nation unto God, so much so that He referred to them as “MY PEOPLE” about two hundred times in the Old Testament. It began with one man, Abraham, who was promised that if he listened to God and did what He said, his descendants would number more than could be counted. And that’s exactly what happened. In addition, God promised that He would bless all who blessed Abraham and curse all who cursed Abraham andthat through Him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (See Genesis 12:1-3). What a unique heritage! Obviously, Israel was different from any other people. They came together under the sovereign will and purposes of the God of the universe who then promised His blessing in exchange for their obedience. And, guess what, to many it’s apparent that the blessings haven’t stopped either. The Lord continues to do good things for His people. Did you know that between 1901 and 2018, 203 out of a total of 900 individuals and organizations that have won Nobel Prizes, awarded for outstanding achievement in the fields of literature,chemistry, economics, physics, world peaceand medicine,were Jewish? That’s more than 20% of the total yet Jews make up .2% of the world’s population. So, it’s obvious that God blesses the Jews because they are His people, having been called into existence beginning with Abraham. And the Feasts were given to unite them in the knowledge of their supernatural origin and special relationship to the Creator.
- He wanted to remind His people.Feasts kept alive the story of what God had done for His people. That’s what Moses is saying in Deuteronomy 4:33-34 — Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? 34 Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?. The answer, of course, to his question is “no.” No other people could ever make a claim anywhere close to what Israel experienced because of the abundant grace and love of God who jealousy guided and guarded the Jews as the apple of His eye(Deuteronomy 32:10). During each festival, as they gathered together, they reviewed the stories and their hearts were filled with gratitude as the remembered what God had done on their behalf. (Summary: God gave these celebrations to unite and remind His people)
- He wanted to teach His people. The feasts, the Sabbath and the New Moon festival presented the Jews with lessons on the reality of sin, judgment, forgiveness, thanksgiving and faith. It would take considerable time to go through each one, so let’s focus for a couple of minutes on the Passover. The Bible traces the origin of Passover to the exodus. According to Exodus 12, on the evening of the 14th of the first month on the Jewish calendar, the Israelites gathered in family units to sacrifice a yearling sheep or goat. They used hyssop to apply blood from the lambs to the sides and tops of the door frames of their homes and then roasted the lambs. They also prepared bitter herbs and bread without yeast. They ate the food hastily and with their sandals on their feet as a sign of their readiness for a quick departure. That night, the Lord killed Egypt’s firstborn but spared Israel with the result that Pharaoh allowed them to leave Egypt. The festival that God instituted to celebrate this event was called “Passover” in reference to His passing overthe homes of the Israelites following the 10thand last plagueto fall upon Egypt. According toExodus 12:26-27, when each succeeding generation inquired about the meaning of the Passover, they were to be told that it commemorated the Lord’s sparing of the Israelites on the night he struck down the Egyptians. Throughout Israel’s history Passover continued to be a festival of supreme importance that taught them about the necessity of a blood sacrifice to cleanse them from their sin with the result that God’s wrath passed over them. All the other celebrations had a similar purpose…to teach them in one way or another about the character and nature of God and man.
- He wanted to encourage His people.Each festival foreshadowed a greater fulfillment that would take place when the Messiah arrived bringing salvation to His people, though few if any realized it at the time. Someone has said it this way: What was obscured in the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. Let’s stick with our example of Passover. Of all of Israel’s festivals, it is the most important to the New Testament because the Lord’s Supper was a Passover meal(Matthew 26:17-27). In passing the bread to the disciples and telling them that it was his body and that they should eat of it, Jesus was presenting himself as the Passover lamb. When Jesus died, it was His blood that covered our sinful selves and averted the wrath of God. And that’s why the Apostle Paul later refers to Him as “Christ our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7and why the Apostle John calls Him “the Lamb who was slain” in Revelation 5:12. And so it is with all of the festivals. Each one is in some way referenced in the New Testament. God gave them to Israel to encourage them that He would someday complete their (and our) salvation. (Summary: God gave these celebrations to Israel to unite, remind, teach and encourage His people.)
Why does God want us to celebrate? Now that we understand why God gave Israel the command to celebrate so frequently, I want to help apply what we’ve learned this morning to our celebration today.
- We celebrate that God has brought us together. This church was formed by the sovereign plan of God. I remember our first meeting to share our vision and lay out our plan at Rick and Jan DeMarco’s house. About sixty people showed up ready to “Give, Grow and Go.” In that room, God had placed people with unique gifts and talents to help us put this all together. As I look back at our humble beginnings, and see how the Lord’s hand was so clearly upon us, I praise Him for leading us to launch River Ridge Church.
- We celebrate what God has already accomplished. In twelve months, God has brought about two hundred and fifty people who now say they attend River Ridge church. We are blessed to have a vibrant children’s ministry on Sunday mornings, a VBS that had over one hundred children in attendance, engaging worship, small groups with about one-third of us participating, a junior and senior high youth ministry, Next Steps and Hospitality Teams that provide information and make people feel welcome, a Christmas celebration that brought nearly five hundred from the community to worship Christ and a whole lot more. We have engaged in many outreaches to the community that have built bridges of love and paved the way for sharing the Good News of the Gospel. People have met Christ for the first time, begun reading the Bible and connected with other believers who desire the same thing. All of this is because God is among us, working everything out in accordance with the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11).
- We celebrate all that God has taught us in the last year. We’ve learned what to do and what not to do. We are already laying out the plan for our first church plant, applying everything God has showed us through this start-up to provide a new congregation with the best opportunities to reach more people for Christ. We’ve learned that everyone matters, that outreach must be intentional and that discipleship is a lifelong process where Christians grow together in their relationship with the Lord.
- We celebrate that God has greater things in store for us. The past twelve months are only the opening chapter of the story that is unfolding in our church. We expect to grow this fellowship by 25% each year. We know this is an ambitious goal that can only happen if God blesses us. By the time I turn seventy (in twenty-five years – ha-ha), by the grace of God we intend to have four churches in place reaching out to various communities. We are asking God to help us reach more children, youth and adults and to bring revival and awakening to our country! By the grace of God, we will continue in this work until our Lord returns!!! And this is where all of you come in. We cannot do this without hundreds enlisting for the cause of Christ here at River Ridge, so we’re asking any of you who have been a little hesitant to this point to jump in with both feet, to reconsider, trust God and join in on the fun and excitement.
Application: Two summers ago, my wife and I put in an above ground pool (21 ft round X 4 ft deep) because our grandchildren pleaded with us to do it. Sorry kids – I don’t think we would have done it just for you. The day we opened it, we heated the water to about 90 degrees and then told the kids to get ready to swim. My rule was that an adult had to be with the children as long as they were swimming so we could avoid any mishaps. As a backup we required inflatable arm bands or a lifejacket on any child who was unable to stand with his head out of the water and his feet resting on the bottom. Somewhat surprisingly, a few of the smaller kids took to the water immediately and soon were laughing and playing with everyone. Others had to be coaxed in. They would start by sitting on the ladder and immersing only their feet. As they watched their cousins having fun, they would try to get involved, but that’s almost impossible from the ladder. So, we’d do our best to convince them to trust the arm bands and go down another step or two. Eventually they would because they knew they were missing out on something special. It always took some time, but sooner or later, we were able to get them in the water where they could really enjoy themselves and everyone else. What does this have to do with us? Well, if you’ve decided that River Ridge is the place you want to call home, then I’m praying that if you’ve not already done so, you’ll jump on in this year with both feet and find out just how much joy can be had when we trust the Lord and serve Him together. Here’s what that looks like for each of us:
- Jump In with both feet by connecting with the body.
- Jump In with both feet by growing deeper in Christ.
- Jump In with both feet by outreaching to your neighbors.
Conclusion: I thought I’d conclude today by sharing how people from other countries celebrate the New Year? Here are some interesting traditions from around the globe:
- In Siberia it is tradition to dive into a frozen lake while holding a tree trunk which is then left underneath the ice.
- In a traditional festival from Burma, people splash water on one another to start the New Year symbolizing a purified soul.
- Armenian mothers bake special bread which they knead with good luck and good wishes.
- In the Philippines homeowners open all their doors and windows on New Year’s Eve in order to allow negative energy to leave and good energy to enter.
- Spanish tradition holds that eating one grape per minute for the 12 minutes just before the clock chimes midnight will bring good fortune for all 12 months of the upcoming year.
- One New Year’s custom in Russiais to write a wish for the upcoming year on a piece of paper, then to burn the paper and place the ashes in a glass of champagne, which needs to be consumed right before the New Year is rung in for the wish to come true.
- Residents in Johannesburg, South Africa throw old appliances and furniture out the window, representing the old adage “out with the old and in with the new.”
This is the start of a new year for River Ridge Church. Today we celebrate four things: (1)that God has brought us together; (2)that He has done many great things in and through us already; (3)that He has taught us much about being the church together; and (4)that God has even greater things in store for us. This we celebrate in the best way we know how. It is our tradition. We pledge ourselves to worship and serve our living God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.