I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
Last Sunday I pointed out that God set forth His feasts to be "a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations." These feasts are holy to God and He desires that all His children follow them, and that includes us! Remember that Paul says in Galatians 3:29, "And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." So this commandment to follow the Feasts of the Lord applies more than to the Hebrews; since we are grafted into their faith, and adopted children of God, we are Abraham's seed, too.
And nowhere else are we given instruction to follow other festivities. In fact, God is very specific in this verse in Amos: He hates and despises the feast days that we call our own, and He makes it pretty clear: "I do not savor your sacred assemblies."
If you will recall, the very first time that the Bible mentions a sweet savor, it is in Genesis 8, when Noah makes a sacrifice to the Lord for his deliverance from the Flood. The sweet smell of that sacrifice was pleasing to God! But in this verse in Amos, the assemblies that the people are calling sacred are not the Lord's -- He doesn't find the smell of them pleasing at all!
So just what were these feasts that man was celebrating; that God finds so detestable? It is accepted among scholars that Pagans tended to celebrate the birthdays of their pagan gods. In fact, the early Christian church leaders fought against the mingling of Pagan holidays, feasts and rituals with the new Christian faith and what God had ordained in Scripture (His feasts as mentioned in Part 1, last Sunday).
Many Christians scoffed at Dan Brown’s novel, The DaVinci Code, but there might have been a kernel of truth in his notion that the rise of the Roman Empire and the power of the Emperors and Catholic Church led to a corruption of the Bible and the inclusion of man’s pagan rituals into our faith. (Please do not misunderstand me! This is not a singular indictment of the Catholic Church -- all modern denominations have their roots in, and are heirs of, the original Catholic Church doctrines.)
One such holiday was "Saturnalia", an ancient Roman festival in honour of the deity Saturn, held on December 17th of the Julian calendar, and later expanded with festivities through December 23rd. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere.
(By now, I'm pretty sure that you know where I'm going with this. But please, don't stop reading! I am not condemning anyone, or any faith, and I'm not saying that you have to agree with me -- but I think you should hear me out, do your own research, and then pray on this matter. It is by no means a salvation issue! But it is an issue of pleasing God. So, if you are still with me, let's continue and consider this quick and abbreviated history lesson ... )
For 2000 or more years before the birth of Christ, pagans practiced their rituals; many of them centered around the worship of the sun. That naturally included worship of a Sun god. Then along comes Abraham and the Hebrews, whom God calls out of the pagan world to worship Him. When man continues to fail at this relationship, God sends His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, who revolutionizes the world. After his brief ministry, his crucifixion, and resurrection, his disciples carry on His mission and the First Century Church is born.
But remember, that those 3000 believers at Pentecost were in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. They went home to their faraway lands and taught the Apostle’s doctrine to fellow Jews, practicing the new Christian faith, while remaining faithful to honor the Lord's feasts. In fact, Jesus observed these same feasts (Matthew 26:17-19, John 10: 7-14, and John 7: 37-38); and the Apostle’s kept the feasts after Jesus’s crucifixtion (Acts 2:1-4, Acts 18:21, Acts 20:6, and Acts 27:9 – Day of Atonement). The First Century Church was made up of Jewish followers of Jesus Christ and Gentile converts; and it remained very much attached to its Jewish roots!
In the Second Century, the Church grew and became influenced by Greek philosophy (Hellenization) and Roman pagan influences. The Gentiles begin taking control of the Church, and started removing Jewish influences and customs; (the start of anti-semitism). Then as we enter the Third Century of the Church, we come to a major change in Church Doctrine, Customs and Holy Days. This was largely due to the influence of Constantine, who was a Roman emperor who ruled from 306-337 AD.
At the beginning of his reign, there were pockets of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Tradition has it that on his way to an important battle in A.D. 312, a vision of a flaming cross appeared to him with the inscription, "In this sign conquer." He therefore authorized his mostly pagan soldiers to place a cross on their shields, and went on to win the battle.
So now Constantine claims a conversion to Christianity (although he murders his son and his wife and countless others for power), and proclaims himself the leader of the Christian Church. At this time, the Roman Empire was spread across a great expanse of territory, and many Bible scholars speculate that Constantine saw that the growing Christian faith could be used to his advantage and to unite his empire. So he proclaims Christianity the official religion of Rome in 324 AD, and suddenly Gentile believers are no longer persecuted and it becomes an economic advantage to be a Christian.
HOWEVER, that blessing is not bestowed on the Jews. Constantine declares that it was the JEWS WHO KILLED JESUS and HE HATES THEM! And here is an important fact: Jewish believers were forced to give up all ties to Jewish practices, customs, holidays or feasts, thus setting the stage for the final separation of the Lord's feasts from the Christian faith.
It is further speculated among scholars that although Constantine is credited with the advancement of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, he would have more than likely been a worshipper of the Sun God, as well. Next week, we will get to the crux of our discussion, and consider how Constantine combined his new Christian faith with his old pagan practices, and helped develop the celebration of Christmas as Jesus’s birth.
REMEMBER: Keep an open mind! I am giving you tons of information and ideas to contemplate. I am not asking you to agree with me; but I am asking you to seek the truth and God's will. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand. We will continue with this fascinating topic next week!