SHEMINI ATSERET 2000
The Great Last Day
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 21 October 2000
Today is the concluding day of the Feast of Tabernacles and is known as the Great Last Day. Not only is it the conclusion of this feast, but it is the conclusion of all of Yahweh's feasts for the year. The crops have been harvested and stored just as one day God will harvest all the souls that have trusted in His Son and been obedient to His commandments. And then comes the end - the Great Consummation. On this day God's people leave the booths they have created and return to their homes and to a normal way of life. But in the age to come, we shall be leaving this world and returning to the home we left in heaven, if we have been true. This booth we have beet sitting in all week is a temporary structure reminding us also of our bodies which scripture also called "tabernacles", a body which is mortal and will, at death, perish just as we shall dismantle this structure at the end of the day. But there is good news - this booth - this tabernacle which we call our body, will be reconstructed, not as something that is perishable, but something imperishable. We shall obtain immortality in bodies free from sickness, pain and ageing. Leaving this tabernacle of branches and returning to our normal house represents, therefore, the great and glorious resurrection. It represents the most important event in our personal history - that day when we shall live for ever in the presence of Yahweh free of all worldly cares.
I know some of you have expressed the wish to keep this booth we have made up because it has been so cosy eating and worshipping together in it, though at first some of your doubted why we had bothered even to make it. This is our first Sukkot as a family. And it is true that there is much that holds us to the perishable physical body because we have grown used to it, we enjoy its sensations and pleasures, and suppose that it will simply go on and on, in spite of the odd sickness here and there which, when we're young, we usually soon get over. But as you will have noticed as you look around this booth a change has happened since we set it up a week ago - the leaves have dried up, what was green is now yellow, and there is a strong smell that has filled the room. When we are young we imagine that we will live for ever which is, I suppose, reflected in the way we live our lives. But everyone, no matter who you are, must ultimately face the ultimate reality of death and passage out of this world. No matter what you believe in, it's going to happen. This booth will, I hope, remind you of that, so that you can made early, advance preparations for the next life. Indeed, our whole approach in this life should be making preparations for that which is to come. If we don't, we are foolish indeed.
I said this was the last and therefore most important day of all the year's festivals, but of course all the other festivals are really a part of it. If we have not understood their meaning and of the other festivals - if we have not done anything about them ourselves, then in truth we have lost a golden opportunity to get our lives in harmony with God and with life, and so prepare for the most important day that is to come: the resurrection.
One thing that surprises many people is that everyone will be resurrected, meaning, that everyone will be brought back to life again after physical death, and everyone will get a physical body back again. What they don't realise is that there are two different kinds of resurrection. The apostle Paul said: "..I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Ac.24:15, NIV). That's right, both the righteous and the wicked will be raised to life again, but with one major difference: each will receive the reward of his works, or lack of them, in this life. The righteous will be resurrected to a life with joy, peace and contentment, whereas the wicked will be resurrected to a life of a guilty conscience, fear, and pain caused by a realisation of what they have not obtained because of their lack of faith and obedience.
Some of you may have seen a rather silly Pink Panther cartoon which makes the point. Pink panther is walking down the street towing a talking weighing machine which can tell the future. The machine says that a bag containing something important is about to land right in front of him but he refuses to believe it because of all the bad luck he has had in his life. A bag suddenly lands next to him but he refuses to have anything to do with it and walks away. Seconds later a man shouts out: "A bag of money and it's all mine, it's all mine," and runs off laughing. God has promised you eternal life if you will trust in His Son, make a public confession, and live a life of obedience to His will. But most people are sceptical - they have heard a lot of phoney religion, and have perhaps have tried one, and don't want to be bitten twice. How would you feel if you were desperately poor and God said He was about to give you a bag of money, you saw it, but refused to open in because of all the tricks people have played on you in the past? How would you feel knowing you had just thrown away a million dollars? By the same token, how will you feel if, when you die, you are shows the place of the blessed and are reminded how you refused God's free gift because you wouldn't trust him? The agony of that must surely be a kind of hell.
According to Israelite tradition found in the Book of Nehemiah, four very special kinds of tree branch were used for constructing the booths, none of which we, unfortunately, have here in Scandinavia. The Torah says: "On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars..." (Lev.23:40, NIV). Nehemiah explains in more detail: "Go out into hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths..." (Neh.8:15, NIV).
Nothing is accidental in God's Word and as we study these four branches we will realise something very significant.
(1) Let's take the first, the palm tree - some of you may remember that Solomon's temple was decorated with palm trees on the walls and doors. The palm bears fruit, even as we as God's people, are supposed to do good deeds. It is not fragrant - it has no smell - which symbolises. A palm tree branch therefore represents the person who lives by the letter of the law but doesn't have compassion or love for others;
(2) The next is the myrtle which only has fragrance, but cannot bear fruit, and is like the person who is so "heavenly minded that he is no earthly good". These are the kinds of people who recite scripture, talk about scripture, and about the Gospel but don't do any good works. They're talkers rather than doers. They don't produce fruit.
(3) The shade tree, or willow tree in the KJV, neither produced fruit nor fragrance who is like the person who is fascinated by different doctrines but produces no fruit. He is a theoriser of the Gospel, but no more.
(4) Finally, we have the olive tree, and as we all know the olive is an important biblical symbol. It takes an olive tree 30 years to mature, just as a human being. These days people think they are mature at 18 or 21 but the Bible teaches that a man or woman is not fully mature until they are 30. Indeed, some recent scientific studies show that the brains of people in their 20's are not fully mature as previously thought, particularly in the logic centres of the brain. Though many of us have always known this, it has taken science this long to discover what common sense has always had in its library of knowledge! The olive represents a mature disciple. Notice, however, that Nehemiah mentions both olive and wild olive trees. Wild olive trees don't produce much oil and is used only as timber. You will recall that Paul likened Israelite believers to olive branches and gentiles believers to wild olive branches. To become a Christian the wild olive branch - the non-Israelite - had to be grafted into the Israelite vine, which is Christ. This, then, is a prophetic picture of God's House or Tabernacle consisting in the last days of both native Israelites and gentiles adopted into Israel.
For some reason modern Jews have dropped the olive branch and replaced it with the branch of the citrus fruit. This in itself is prophetically significant because they have discarded the very symbol that makes them God's people. In Jewish tradition they hold a lulav made of branches of palms, myrtles and willows in their right hand, and hold a citrus branch on their right. Can you see how the symbolism is all wrong? They are exalting the palm, myrtle and willow in their right hand, all of which are defective in terms of discipleship and salvation, and a citrus branch in their left which has no meaning whatsoever, though according to their tradition the citrus represents both fruitfulness and fragrance. A nice symbol but biblically incorrect. We should hold the olive branch in our right hand, the hand of exaltation of glory, and the other three in our left, showing their uselessness in the Christian life.
It is at this point that Judaism and Israelite Christianity are so different and how we mark the festivals differently. People often ask if we are Jews because we celebrate Sukkot and the other biblical festivals, and the answer is a definite No - we are not. We have nothing to do with Judaism which is not even a biblical term. Catholics believe in Christ just as we do, but we are not more Catholics because of that than we are Jewish because we celebrate Sukkot.
I wish to end today - on this the Great Last Day - with that olive branch, because it means everything that has to do with righteousness. It represents virility and fruitfulness suggesting the ideal righteous man (Ps.52:8; Hos.14:6) whose offspring are also described as "olive branches" (Ps.128:3). But perhaps the best known symbol is to be found in Zechariah chapter 4 which talks about a very important prophetic symbol in the form of two olive trees which we shall now read.
"Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. He asked me, "What do you see?" I answered, "I see a solid gold lamp stand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left." I asked the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?" He answered, "Do you not know what these are?" "No, my lord," I replied. So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: `Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty. "What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of `God bless it! God bless it!'" Then the word of the LORD came to me: "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. "Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb-line in the hand of Zerubbabel. "(These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range throughout the earth.)" Then I asked the angel, "What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lamp stand?" Again I asked him, "What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?" He replied, "Do you not know what these are?" "No, my lord," I said. So he said, "These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth."" (NIV)...
(The second half of the sermon was regrettably not tape-recorded)
This page was created on 16 February 2001
Last updated on 16 February 2001
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