Exodus 23:14–19

The Annual Festivals1

Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.
No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

You shall observe the festival of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall observe the festival of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.

You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my festival remain until the morning.
The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.
You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

Philippians 2:14–18, 3:1–4a

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. “

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

Breaking with the Past

To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.


Context really throws us for a loop when it comes to understanding the sacrifices God commanded in the Old Testament. Our retroperspective, reading backwards into that time and place, is completely colored by consumerism, animal rights, humanism, the industrial revolution, and a market society. All of these things were nonexistent in the time of Moses, and most of the millennia in which the entire Bible was written. They are new things that we try to look for to connect with in the scriptures, often leading us to see shapes in the shadows that are not real and are not there, like the men inside Plato’s cave.

So What was the purpose of all those sacrifices in the Old Testament anyway?
The sacrifices, as set out in the books of Exodus and Leviticus were set around functional events (such as when a person was sick and had been healed, or when a person realized they had sinned), and around seasonal times of reflection and celebration. Those seasonal celebrations were set to retell the story of the people’s relationship with God, beginning with Passover, their day of atonement and deliverance from slavery and Egypt. The next series of celebrations followed both their story getting to the Promised Land as well as their agricultural seasons.

These celebrations served the dual purposes of bringing the community together and reinforcing the story that their community was based upon and the values that God was instilling within them. As any ruler knows, there is a certain amount of taxation that is necessary to remind people that their leadership has value. It is not an act of cruelty. It is a fact of human existence that if we are not asked to give anything, we begin to love the giver more than the gift. We begin to become entitled. Offering up meaningful and valuable sacrifices created a bond between God and His people. Most ancient religions were very similar. Perhaps the biggest difference was that God regulated those sacrifices so that all people, rich and poor, could participate, while keeping them from going too far, sacrificing too much, such as one another or their children. God gave them clearer boundaries that helped them keep their community identity centered around Him without allowing it to fall into fanaticism.


Today, we rarely practice sacrificial rituals, at least in an agricultural sense. We have many traditions though, and the bigger the effort involved, the more sacred the tradition typically becomes. First birthdays are a big deal. Fifty-first birthdays… not so much. First weddings are a big deal. Fifth weddings… not near as much. There are small but sacred traditions practiced by military families when their soldier family members ship out, as well as when they return, that those who have not ever offered up their spouses and children to the military sacrificially will never understand.

Some of these traditions are very good, and embody the best values we have. Others are not good and embody some of our worst. Hazing parties in secret societies often embody our worst. Bachelor and bachelorette parties sometimes embody our worst. Reunions of all sorts can often go either way. People look on us and see our true values by when and in what way we choose to celebrate Tweet: People look on us and see our true values by when and in what way we choose to celebrate

God’s ultimate purpose is not to prevent us from celebrating, nor to control our celebrations. Instead He wants to infuse our lives an give us something good that is really worth celebrating. He wants our joy to shine forth from us in such a way that the world stands up and takes notice of us and the God we are thanking in our celebrations. He wants the world to hear about and see His work in us.

What do you have to celebrate this week?

How will you celebrate it?

What role does God have in your celebration?

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  1. (Ex 34:18–26; Deut 16:1–17)  

A Clouded Brilliance


A Clouded Brilliance

John 12:20-36

Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Jesus Speaks about His Death

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”1

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The greatest wisdom of God looks like foolishness to those of us with worldly eyes.

Life coming from death is a paradox – not logical, and more importantly not convenient. There must be an easier way.

The greatest glory of God came from His love. It was not His wrath and judgment that show His true power. It is not even His power of creation. God’s ultimate glory is displayed when He became human and allowed Himself to be killed on a cross, all to show us how much He loved us. It is a kind of brilliance that can only be seen in the darkness. It is a love that can get lost in the light, but nothing shines brighter in the clouds of suffering.

There is a cross and a glory prepared for us as well. It is not something to be feared. We are made to embrace it.

Where do you most clearly see the love of God in the stories around the death of Jesus?

What part of those stories do you most identify with yourself?

How can you shine for Jesus today in your own cloudy world?

  1. (Cp Isa 29:14)

to Nocturne in Black and Gold (Whistler)


Never so brightly had she shone

above the Weimar, cold with eyes

left peering, fearing dark advancing

down from heav’n to earth tonight.


Alas, my lady would not budge

nor cease nor brake nor even veer

her flight to greener grass and softer

sands to toil, soil to turn.


So sad to see her go, I was

alone and left beside myself

to numbly stare above and wonder

what more could be done.


…What more could be done?


So in secret I made haste

I drew my kite-string ’round her waist

and tied it tight within a knot

with skill so sleek… she knew it not.

Thus I planned to hold her back

from freedom and dangerous attack!


Off she took without a care

headstrong and headed straight towards

the sky, and starlets in her hair

were gleaming as the night approached.


They met mid-way with such a clash

(the kite string drawn, pulled tight, and snapped)

she vanished then within a flash –

and ash came floating down.


I weakly watched without a sound

as starlets trickled to the ground

and wondered if she still would live

had I not held her back.


…had I not held her back