I have been praying over this post for weeks. I had to have the assurance of the Holy Spirit, if not a word from the Father himself, not only that my attitude was right before Him and you, but that I not create a burden for my readers with what the Lord has laid on my heart.
So, I want to be clear that what follows is a testimony of God’s revelation to me and the results of my obedience. I am in no way judging or condemning those who do not share my point-of-view or beliefs. We must each follow our own narrow path, and love one another as we do.
Never has the term “a peculiar people” hit home as it has since I embraced my Jewish heritage.
I wasn’t made aware of my Jewish heritage until I was in my thirties, and it wasn’t until ten years later that I began to question what that meant in my relationship with Christ.
I was raised in the Christian Church. Holidays, such as Easter, with its frilly dresses, egg hunts, baskets of goodies, and great family dinners, are deeply ingrained in my memory. I couldn’t imagine denying my children the same experiences. Even as I learned the truth behind these holidays, I told myself that Jesus had changed everything. That, whatever their origin, we were celebrating Jesus, so it must be all right.
The truth is, though I felt the sting of conviction, I just didn’t want to give up what I’d known all my life. I didn’t want to be different. I mean everybody celebrates Easter!
The Early Church
The more I studied, however, the more I began to question. It has long been assumed by the church that, when Jesus came, Judaism was replaced by Christianity. This is called Replacement Theology. But, if you study the book of Acts and read some of the early Christian writings, you’ll find that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, for the first 400 years of Christianity, believers, Jew and Gentile alike, not only kept God’s Appointed Times and the Sabbath the Lord had given to His people, they also attended Synagogue or the Temple (until its destruction in A.D. 70) on the Sabbath, then met in home churches at sundown for worship, communion, and teaching.
It makes sense that Gentile believers would attend Synagogue, for how else would they learn the Word of God?
“…the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God.”
Romans 3:2 CJB
And, as it was Gentiles who were grafted into the root of Biblical Judaism and not the other way around, it also stands to reason the early church would follow the Hebrew calendar and observe God’s Appointed Times in order to remember God’s promises and recognize their ultimate fulfillment, which was their purpose. Notice I’m not using the usual translation, “Jewish feasts.” These are not just parties. They are Holy Days to the Lord, given by God to meet with and bless His people.
God’s purpose has always been to bring the Gentile nations into the blessings that come with following His plan and timeline. Animal sacrifice may have been cut off with the death and resurrection of Christ, but the purpose of God and the destiny of His people remains and will be accomplished in its fullness.
This is witnessed by the effect of the early church on the world. So powerful was the presence of the Holy Spirit in these home church gatherings of Messianic Jewish believers that healings, demonic deliverance, and raising the dead were weekly occurrences (See Acts 20:8-12). Despite ruthless persecution, this early church rapidly overtook the Roman Empire. Can you imagine a continual 400-year revival?
So, who would persecute such an awesome movement of God? Paul tells us in Acts 19 that it was those who made their living making and selling supplies for pagan worship. With so many people abandoning idolatry for the one True God, idol makers were going broke! And of course, the enemy of our souls didn’t like this because people were no longer worshiping and serving demons, but the Son of the Living God!
This had to be stopped! But, no matter how terrible the persecution became, it only made the church stronger. The solution was simple. If you can’t destroy a body from the outside, infiltrate it and destroy it from the inside. Unfortunately, Satan had plenty of willing vessels to use for his purpose on both the Jewish and Gentile sides, as both Peter and Paul write about the problems plaguing the early church. But the ultimate weapon against the church came in the form of a man called Constantine.
In A.D. 312, Constantine, a faithful worshiper of the Persian sun god, Mithras, came to rule the empire through a misinterpreted vision, which led him to believe that Jesus was the manifestation of Mithras. His announcement that he had become a follower of Jesus, meant an end to the persecution of the church, and believers were thrilled. However, as history has shown, every “gift” Satan offers comes with a steep price.
In the case of Constantine, it would be total control of the church, giving himself the title of Pontifex Maximus. With the wealth and protection Constantine could provide the church, Christians gladly agreed to remove Jesus Christ as the head of His own body and install a counterfeit in His place. Yet another foreshadowing of the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel. Believing that he had been divinely appointed to rule the church, Constantine had no desire to learn Torah or the teachings of Christ taught in the home churches. He just imposed upon the church what he knew, which, unfortunately, was the worship of pagan gods and rituals that were familiar to him.
In the year A.D. 325, Constantine began remaking the church into his own image, from outlawing home church and building lavish church sanctuaries after the design of a Roman throne room, to unifying all religions, Christian and pagan alike, into the same holiday calendar, following the solar calendar of the Romans, instead of the lunar calendar established by God. This could only be done by outlawing all “Jewish” practices and observances, as is witnessed in the many writings of that time.
“It is not permitted to receive festivals that are by the Jews, nor to hold a festival together with them. Christians are not to Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day…but if they be found to be JUDAIZERS let them be ANATHEMA [banned] from Christ.” The Council of Laodicea (A.D. 365)
As Dr. Robert D. Heidler writes in his book, The Messianic Church Arising! “Constantine not only divorced the church from Judaism, he married the church to paganism. Though Constantine claimed to be a Christian, he didn’t seem to understand who Jesus was.” Though he claimed to follow Christ, Constantine remained a devoted worshiper of Mithras, “the unconquerable sun,” believing the two were one-in-the-same, openly worshiping other pagan deities as well.
Heidler also writes, “in 321, when Constantine made the Christian day of worship a Roman holiday, he didn’t call it “Christ Day.” He called it ‘the venerable day of the Sun.’ (That’s where we get the name Sunday.)” In the same way the Lord’s Sabbath was replaced, the Appointed Times of the Lord were replaced with pagan holidays of Rome that were now “baptized” into the church as “Christian” holidays.
The Easter Story
One of these holidays was Easter. It was tradition among pagan sects each spring (on the vernal equinox) to throw a feast celebrating the goddess of fertility, known in different cultures by different names, Asherah, Aestarte, Ishtar… The ancient Britons called her Eastre, which is where we get the word estrogen. Her symbol was the egg, which were decorated and given as gifts. The tradition of the Easter egg hunt is an imitation of the Passover practice of children searching for the Tsafun (hidden). Before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the broken piece of matzah wrapped in linen represented the revealing of Messiah. To Messianic believers it now represents Christ’s broken body hidden in the tomb and raised from the dead.
Other symbols of fertility include bunnies, who are known for their prolific nature, hot cross buns, representing the four seasons and rebirth, and Asherah (May) pole dances and ceremonies (more closely resembling strip poles…). The tradition of spring cleaning comes from the command of God that we eliminate all chametz (leaven, representing sin), and spring break, lasting seven days (the same amount of time the celebration of Unleavened Bread was observed), originated with God’s command to observe His Passover.
Even sunrise service was the pagan ritual of worshiping Mithras, and by the fifth century it was a common practice of parishioners entering St. Peter’s Basilica to turn at the door and bow down to worship the rising sun. The prophet Ezekiel foresaw this very practice.
“So He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house; and there, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, and they were worshiping the sun toward the east.”
Even though Jesus’ actual crucifixion occurred on Passover, not “Good Friday,” Rome did not want the death and resurrection of Christ celebrated at Passover. The following decree was handed down:
“Easter must be celebrated uniformly.” [at the time set by the decree of Nicea rather than at the time of Passover.] The Council of Toledo X (seventh century)
Thus, the celebration of God’s greatest gift to humanity, our deliverance from the bondage of sin through the precious blood of His Son, our Passover Lamb, was relegated to a pagan celebration of fertility and named for a demon.
Be Not Conformed
As is the case in many churches today, embracing the social norms of the day in order to appeal to the masses, the early church had compromised, choosing to cohabit with darkness in order to avoid the persecution and inconvenience that comes with being a “peculiar people.” I wonder if they even stopped to “count the cost” Luke 14:27-29. This compromise would cause the Holy Spirit to depart the church and bring one thousand of the most corrupt years in the church’s history, known as the Dark Ages.
Even as my family and I weighed this information against years of tradition, I went to the much-quoted verses in Colossians.
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
Colossians 2:16, 17
Then I realized that, at the time of this writing, there was no “Sunday Law” or Easter… In fact, it was the Gentiles in the early church who would have been persecuted for joining ranks with Jewish believers. I know we are not saved by the days we keep, but by the blood of Jesus Christ alone. But did God really mean to do away with these Appointed Times? I found my answer in Zechariah’s description of the Millennial Reign.
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”
Clearly, these times are important to God. But it’s amazing how hard it is to give up tradition. After a season of trying to please God and still appease the flesh by celebrating both God’s appointed times and traditional church and cultural holidays—and failing miserably, I finally had to make a choice. I could no longer ignore the sharpness of God’s Word piercing my heart.
“For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.”
2 Corinthians 6:14-16
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
2 Corinthians 6:17
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
I could no longer compromise. Scripture bears out that we will never know true revival—lasting revival—until the church once more embraces its Jewish roots and becomes one body, the Body of Christ without compromise.
“For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
I believe Paul was not only speaking of “life from the dead” for Jews, but for the church, the ekklesia. Not the Jewish or Gentile church, not the black, white, men, women, rich, or poor church, but the resurrection of the Body of Christ as God intended it. One Body and one Spirit, with one Christ overall. The true Son of the Living God.
Letting go of Easter was awkward and foreign in the beginning. Especially, when stores fill with cute bunnies, egg dye kits, and beautiful pastel dresses and ties. When families congregate at neighbor’s homes for Easter dinner and children nibble chocolate bunnies and run around yards and parks searching for colored eggs.
You see, our family is the only Messianic Jewish community we have. And, while we have come to love and cherish our Passover Seders and the presence of the Holy Spirit we feel with each Sabbath candle-lighting and blessing, we still feel very acutely the weight of being “a peculiar people.”
There is not a doubt in my mind that our Risen King is bigger than any date on a calendar, Roman or Hebrew. The gates of hell will never prevail over God’s Kingdom. But my desire for more of Jesus, more of His presence, His power, His glory, has become greater than my desire to conform to the world. It’s not a question of Salvation, but of coming closer to my Creator via the path He set before me.
Peculiar though we may be, I can’t deny the joy my family and I have found discovering and making our own the gifts God gave His people in the form of His Sabbath and Holy Days. They are a constant reminder that God is in control and that He is faithful to the faithful. They are a constant reminder that, no matter what the enemy says, Jesus Christ has already had the last Word.
God’s grace and peace be yours this Pesach season,