In honor of the upcoming Fall festival season, here are seven game-changing life lessons from the biblical Feast of Tabernacles (Sūkkōt). May these big ideas provoke your continuing transformation into the likeness of Jesus.
Lesson One - Sukkot is the third of three pilgrim feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles—designed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. All five of the foundational books of Moses (Torah) reference the big three. Each festival plays a role in the New Covenant as well. Together they connect the Testaments by telling a coherent story of God and our place in his covenant love (the salvation history of humanity).
Lesson Two - You can only get to Sukkot by way of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). On this solemn day, the LORD mandates individual fasting and communal repentance. Repentance, like a coin, has two sides. Yom Kippur emphasizes what we turn away from; Sukkot emphasizes what we are turning towards. Sin is a power wielded by the evil one aimed at the destruction of humanity. We are called out of the problem (sin) to be part of the solution (God's healing presence on earth).
Lesson Three - The Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah) inaugurates the Fall festival cycle. This mysterious and holy one-day festival serves a compelling dual purpose. Because it is the first day of the seventh Hebrew month (Tishri), Trumpets is a spiritual new year in the Jewish Calendar. It serves as a link to creation, reminding us that we have the opportunity to begin again. Because it is the first day of the festival rhythm, it starts a ten-day countdown to Yom Kippur, characterized by times of reflections on God and his gift of life that leads to repentance.
Lesson Four - Sukkot meant all this and more to Jesus of Nazareth. His participation in it connects us with the history of God's covenant love. His public declaration on the last and greatest day of what came to be known as "The Feast" infuses it with messianic fullness (John 7:37-39). And his emphasis on the gift of God's Spirit as a well of life-giving water within each believer makes it a crucial part of the New Covenant picture. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Lesson Five - The great symbolic action of Sukkot is to move out of day-to-day life, for one week, into a temporary, hand built shelter called a booth (sukkah). The goal is to remember sojourning with the LORD in the wilderness on the heels of being rescued from Egypt (Passover) and divinely instructed at Sinai (Pentecost). Jesus taught in the Temple, died on a Roman cross, and rose from the dead during Pesach. Fifty days later, as he foretold, God poured his Spirit into the disciples on Shavuot. If Passover is our way out, and Pentecost our way in, then Tabernacles helps picture our way forward as disciples who are in the world but not of it. "Abide in me."
Lesson Six - The great commandment of Sukkot is to be altogether joyful. Now that the deep work of repentance, informed by the fear of the LORD at Yom Kippur, is complete, rejoice! Deuteronomy 16 presents this in two distinct ways. "Rejoice in your feast" (vs. 14) requires our response, it is a divine call for kingdom people to practice joy. "You will be altogether joyful" (vs. 15) supplies the why to go with the what—because the God of all blessing is with us. As in all things, the cross bearer is our example. Jesus, like us, had to walk by faith, not by sight. And his was a life characterized by the joy of knowing the Father. "And I will abide in you."
Lesson Seven - The great commission of Sukkot is that God's love is to be offered to all people, in all places, at all times. Looking to the past, the total number of festival sacrifices was seventy, the number that represents the totality of nations. Looking to the future, Zechariah connects Tabernacles with both the nations and the consummation of the new creation (14:6). In the present, we are the first-fruits of that new creation, inaugurated by the death and resurrection of our King (James 1:18). Followers of Jesus were once part of the sin problem. He brought us out and to himself. Now, as a critical part of the solution, he leads us back into the fallen world to help him do the same for others. "I am with you always, to the end of the age."
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