Something the Old Testament Does Better
I love parties, and I’m especially partial to a good wedding reception. I love to have fun on the dance floor. I remember during the wedding reception at my own wedding, the music started, but no one was really dancing yet. Then one of my best friends in high school, Brett, gives this warlike shout. We all look and see Brett running in, weaving through the round tables. Then when he lands on the dance floor, he spins in a circle on the floor, and everybody starts to laugh and cheer.
And here’s what that accomplished: Everybody on the dance floor started to dance. One person had decided, You know what? I’m just going to have fun. And pretty soon everybody joined in.
Wouldn’t it be great if church looked more like that? A celebration? What if we, like Brett, could change the atmosphere around us because of the party in us?
But often church doesn’t feel much like a celebration. Instead, a lot of people don’t want to consider church because they see it as boring. They hear all the things the church is against, but rarely do they see the joyfulness that we are supposed to be about. They often assume God must be a giant cosmic police officer whose main job is to tell us all the fun we can’t have and the things we can’t do.
In fact, if we’re honest, sometimes we Christians ourselves can see going to church the same way we see exercising for the first time.
You walk into the gym, and everything seems foreign. It is an uncomfortable moment when you don’t know where to begin. Someone asks, “Are you doing okay?” Of course, you say, “Yes!” There is no way you admit feeling lost in that moment. You walk over to the exercise equipment and give it your best shot. You hope no one is watching in case you are doing something wrong. As soon as we walk out the door, we’re passed by the extremely skinny, fit person walking in the door who says, “Good morning!” Our visit was defined by shame and embarrassment, and we leave feeling more defeated than we went in.
This can be the same experience we have when we come to church. We leave with a sense of shame and embarrassment. And on our way out, we see the smiling Christian whose life seems perfect, and by contrast we feel defeated because of what’s going on in life.
We seem to forget that God is a God of joy. In fact, God is a fan of parties. He loves when His people celebrate!
How do we know God likes parties? We know by reading the Old Testament. Did you know that God wanted His people to celebrate, and to celebrate often? In the Law of Moses, we read commands from God such as . . .
- “You are to celebrate the Lord’s festival on the fifteenth day of the seventh month . . .” (Leviticus 23:39).
- “There you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deuteronomy 12:7).
- “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all that you undertake” (Deuteronomy 12:18).
- “On the first day you are to take the product of majestic trees—palm fronds, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).
- “You shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 27:7).
The Hebrews were to celebrate numerous feasts and sacred assemblies throughout the year. There were days of rest and days of celebration. Sometimes they celebrated themes related to harvest; other times they celebrated God’s miraculous acts, such as the Passover.
Reverence before God is good. But, as I read about these festivals, I realize that reverence without joy is not pleasing to God. If we’re somber all the time but never thankful or joyful, then we’re missing the point.
There’s something especially odd in all this. The Hebrews looked ahead with faith in the coming Messiah, and they celebrated. So, on the one hand, we have the Hebrews who exuberantly celebrated before their Messiah had even come. Then, on the other hand, we have the church which has actually experienced the coming and fullness of the Messiah. And yet the church can seem somber and bored. If the ancient Hebrews could see us worship, would they see the kind of joy they would expect?
Could it be that we have lost our celebration? Have we lost our party?
Sometimes we lose our party because we have chosen worldly pleasures over the joys of heaven. Sometimes we lose our party because of a pride which doesn’t allow us to express emotion. Sometimes we lose our party because we have put our hope in politics.
It’s true that we can face difficult times which make it difficult to think about rejoicing. But it’s those very times which we most need to celebrate. After the Jewish exile, Nehemiah was faced with the daunting, often discouraging, task of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. Yet Nehemiah nonetheless proclaimed a day to celebrate and lift their spirits, for “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Celebration is the language of heaven.
So what would it look like if every Sunday, we showed up with Christmas-morning-like anticipation, ready to celebrate the amazing gifts God has given us? “What is it You have for me today, Lord? What truth are you trying to unwrap in my life today?”
There’s not a lot of joy in our world. But we can change the atmosphere around us because of the party in us. Let’s learn the language of heaven.
Celebration is the language of heaven.