A New Start        

A sermon preached at Grace Community Church on 2nd Jan 2005
Reading:  Lev 2323-44

Lord, may your Word awaken us
May your Spirit lead us into all truth
May your light reveal your purpose
And may your salvation enable us to start again. Amen.

Each New Year is an opportunity
      to review the past and set goals for the future.
It is a time to ask how can we start again?
You may have thought the reading from Leviticus 23 a surprising choice.
      But it is God's directive for the New Year.
Leviticus 23 and Num 29 outline the feasts of Israel.

1st a brief word about why the Jewish New Year is in Sept., their 7th month.
The Jewish calendar has always started in the Autumn; in Sept.
      But when the Lord God delivered Israel from the slavery of Egypt,
      He instructed them to celebrate Passover in the month of Nisan,
            which was thereafter to be considered as the first month.
So their New Year - Rosh Hashana - starts in the 7th month.

The first New Year feast, The Feast of Trumpets  lasts for 10 days.
This isn't 10 days of  'Christmas' meals,
      ending with Jews flocking to weight-watchers!
On the first day, the Ram's horn is blown loud and clear.
      But what does it signify?

First it is God's serious call to repent.
      In reviewing the past year we need to put right what was wrong.
      Sin cannot be just ignored.
            The blighted relationship, the greed, the lust, the gossip, the envy,
            the cheated shopkeeper ... or whatever it may be.
      If the sin is public then we probably need to repent publically.
      If the sin is against an individual we need to seek his/her forgiveness.
      If the sin is private, public or individual we need to seek God's mercy.
How different from remorse which makes endless excuses
            and merely tries to escape the consequences of sin.
            But repentance pleads with God and men for their forgiveness,
            and it intensely desires God's gift of a new nature that hates the sin.

So Jews and Christians do well to heed this 10 days of warning trumpet calls of God.
      How sensitive is my conscience?
            Am I responsive or stubborn? Or maybe I am just indifferent?
The Trumpet call to repent echos in their ears for 9 days.
      Our most gracious God knows that we are often a little slow to obey.

The ram's horn reminds the Jews of events in their history. i.e.
      The substitute Ram that Abraham offered in place of his son Isaac.
      It reminds us of the Lamb of God, who was our substitute.
            How Jesus took upon himself the punishment that we deserve.
            As the old hymn says,
                  For God the just was satisfied to look on him and pardon me.
            But for Jesus there was no substitute; he was the substitute!
      The trumpet blast is also a reminder of Jericho.
            You know the story of when Joshua meets a man with a drawn sword.
            He boldly asks him, "Are you for us or our enemies?"
            "Neither," he replies,
            "but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come."
 Joshua 513,14
            The Lord of Hosts then gives Joshua his marching orders.
            They must walk around the city each day blowing the ram's horn.
                  He obeys. And on the 7th day the walls of Jericho fell.
            With a trumpet blast, the 'Commander' had come to fight for Israel.
                  God's enemies in that evil city were totally destroyed.
            As Peter says, resist the devil and he will flee from you.
                  Blow the trumpet, summon help, seek God, obey him.
            Today Jesus comes as 'Commander' to drive out all wickedness.
                  Remember he is not a baby child, or a cuddly little lamb -
                  He is the mighty Lord of Hosts.

The warning Trumpets cause memories to abound -
      And responsive men become very conscious of the mercy of God.

      The trumpets are also to warn us that one day it will be too late.
            Have you heard a definition of the Cornish expression "D'reckly"?
            It is Manyana; without the sense of urgency!!
      This feast of Trumpets is to rouse the Jews and the Cornish,
            those at home here and visitors. To rouse us all to deal with sin.

The 10th day of this New Year feast is Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement.
The 9 days of heart searching and repentance ends with God assuring
      the repentant believer of his full and eternal forgiveness.

What better way to start again than to have Jesus remove from our hearts
      the heavy burden of a guilty conscience?
How many others ways have you tried?
      Have you tried to ignore it? Made excuses? Blamed someone else?
      All other ways fail - each are like a mirage in the desert that lead only
            to repeated disillusionment and despair.

Lev 16 gives us the detail of this most holy Day of Atonement.
The High Priest laid his hands upon the heads of two goats.
      He confessed the sin of the people and transferred it onto the goats.
      The first goat was sacrificed.
      The High Priest took the blood and entered alone into the Holy of Holies.
            There he sprinkled it upon the Mercy Seat and pleaded with God.
      Outside, the people waited anxiously - Would God forgive them?
            Would the offering be accepted? Would the High Priest return alive?
Jesus, our Great High Priest was very publically crucified and buried.
      For 3 days he remained 'hidden'. Then he rose. He was alive.
      He appeared to Mary and the Apostles.
      The sacrifice to end all sacrifices for sin had been accepted.
      The Temple veil was torn in two from top to bottom.
            Jew and Gentile could now approach the Mercy Seat - and not die!

There is no day in the whole year like the day of Atonement.
No mere man could achieve this.
My father was a farmer and a pilot. In 1941 he was shot down and killed.
      With many others he died for our freedom.
But their sacrifice can never give us freedom from sin.
Only Jesus our great Redeemer and Advocate can secure for us
      God's forgiveness.
As Isaac Watts wrote:
            Not all the blood of bulls and goats on Jewish altars slain,
            Could give the guilty conscience peace, or wash away it's stain.
            But Christ, the heavenly Lamb, takes all our sins away;
            A sacrifice of nobler name, and richer blood than they.
On this great day of Atonement, what happened to the 2nd goat?
Was there something else that God wanted to reveal to us? Yes!
      Lev 16 tells us that the scapegoat was taken a long way out
            into the desert and left there. Why?
      Because God desires us to be certain of what the Psalmist wrote:
            So far as the east is from the west,
            so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  Ps 10312
      And as Jeremiah proclaimed:
   "They will all know me from the least of them to the greatest,"
            declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness
            and will remember their sins no more."  Jer 3134
Unlike us, the Lord Almighty is able to both forgive and forget all our sins.
His desire on this day is that we should be assured of his forgiveness.
In Jn 832 Jesus reveals that his truth would set us free from sin.

Can there be a better way to enter the New Year
      than being certain that God always keeps his Word?
      That he has come to wipe the slate clean; to set us free to start again.

And by the way - do you know what book the Jews read on this great day?
      It's the book of Jonah!
It is a reminder that no man can run away from God for ever.
Also that God was quick to forgive even the sinful Gentile city of Nineveh,
      when they were willing to repent.

History has so much to teach us.

In God's New Year instructions there follows 5 days of beautiful reflection
      before the Feast of Tabernacles.
Many see this as being harvest thanksgiving; it is. But it's also much more.

In this joyful 7 day feast, God commands the Jews to dwell in booths,
      where they are reminded of 4 major aspects of God's kindness:
      Tabernacles reminds us of:
      1) God's merciful deliverance from Egyptian slavery and false gods.
                  God's continual desire is to deliver us from sin.

      Tabernacles reminds us of:
      2) God's power that saved them from Egyptian army at the Red Sea,
            from the Amalekites, the Edomites and the Moabites ...
            That he continues to save his children from all men and demons.
                  As Wesley's hymn says:
                  Jesus the name high over all, in hell or earth or sky,
                  Angels and men before it fall, and devils fear and fly.
      3) God's faithful provision during 40 long years in Sinai.
            Water, manna, quail, clothes, shoes.
            God still provides for all our needs.
            He reveals truth, light and kindness in a dark, uncertain, cruel world.
      4) God's leading in the pillar of fire and cloud,
                  and the glory of his presence in the Tabernacle.
            At the last supper Jesus promised not to leave us alone,
                  he would send us the Comforter, the Spirit of truth.
                  God has kept his promise.
            God dwelling with men always brings rejoicing.

At Tabernacles God commands us to bring the produce of the land.
      None are to come empty handed or ungrateful  
            for the rich grace of God received in the past year. Deut 1616-
      The booths are decorated inside with fruit and with thanksgiving.
            Is my life so clothed?
      We are also instructed to include the poor and the needy.

The Booths are to have flimsy walls -
      This is a reminder of Sinai and the 40 year nomadic journey.
      As it says in Heb 11 we too are "A Pilgrim People".
            This earth is not our home; heaven is.
The roof branches are enough to give shade by day,
            but with space enough to see the stars by night.
      This is to remind us of Abraham; when God showed him the night sky.
      He told him that his descendants would be numbered as the stars.
            And Abraham believed God for all his descendants.  Gen 155

The 7th Day of Tabernacles is called Hoshana Rabba -
      the day of great salvation.
Water from Siloam in a golden jug, together with wine from a golden jug
      were poured into a basin that was then emptied into the Kidron valley.
Jesus is that pure golden jug, from whose side flowed blood and water.
      Jesus is the one who so effectively washes away our sin.
      The blood and water would become the river of life and healing.
      God showed the exiled prophet Ezekiel this beautiful river.  Ezek 479-12
            Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows ...
            Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river ...
            Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.
      And in Rev 22 John writes: Then the angel showed me the river,
            clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
            On each side of the river stood the tree of life ...
                  yielding its fruit every month.
            And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations ...
            Whoever is thirsty, let him come,
                  and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
No wonder this 7th day is called the day of great salvation.

In Jn 737-39 we read:
On the last and greatest day of the feast, (this 7th day of Tabernacles)
      Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,
      'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
      Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said,
      streams of living water will flow from within him'.
And that is not all.
During this feast worshippers also brought lights to illuminate the Temple.
      The great golden candle sticks were lit to represent the Shekinah Glory;
         the very Presence of God was there among them.
When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, 'I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
      but will have the light of life'.  Jn 812
He would be to us the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night,
      to guide us safely and with purpose though the maze of life.

The essence of God's New Year feast of Tabernacles is thus:
      Jesus, the Light of the world dwelling with men.
      Jesus, bringing living water to all who are thirsty.
This was always the purpose of God,
      who told Moses,
      Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst.
      Or as John says, The Word became flesh and 'tabernacled' among us.
      And again in Rev, Now the dwelling of God is with men.
How wonderfully has our Lord Jesus fulfilled this and all the feasts of Israel.
And how accurately they each portray the purpose of God.
So these New Year feasts draw to a close.
      In the feast of Trumpets we obey God and repent.
      On the Day of Atonement God completely forgives our sin.
      And at Tabernacles God comes to dwell with his holy Bride.

Has Christ changed our hearts and given us a new start?
      I hope so; for now is the day of opportunity.
      Procrastination is deadly dangerous.
      And by the way, this 'new start' is not restricted to the New Year!
A brief footnote:
For many centuries Jews have also celebrated an 8th day of Tabernacles.
      No one really knows how the tradition started.
      When asked, one rabbi said,
            "God is like a King, who at the end of the feast said,
                  'stay with me but another day, for I hate to see you go'."