"The Great Day"
+ In Nomine Jesu +
The message this morning is based on the Gospel reading from John 7, where Jesus talked to His disciples on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles about the coming of the Spirit.
All of the men of Jewish lineage were in Jerusalem at the time. The "Feast of Tabernacles" prescribed that men make an annual pilgrimage to the Holy City on the 15th day of the 7th month of the year. The feast gets its name from the fact that the men set up tents, tabernacles, as they are called in Hebrew, to live in during their stay in Jerusalem.
The whole festival was to commemorate the Jews wandering in the wilderness after they had been delivered from their bondage in Egypt. As is true of all the Jewish festivals, this one was to point to God's saving grace and His free forgiveness that would ultimately come through His Lamb who would take away the sin of the world.
During the eight days of the festival there were a number of sacrifices offered on the altar in the temple. On the first day there were 13 bulls offered. Each day the number of bulls sacrificed was reduced by one, until, on the 7th day there were 7 bulls offered. The culmination of the festival, however, was not the 7th day. Rather, it was the eighth day. On the eighth day, "the great day," as it was called, one bull, one ram and seven lambs were offered on the altar.
The eighth day was a highly significant day in Jewish custom. Not just because of the Feast of Tabernacles, but, in general. We know from the book of Genesis, for instance, that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day He rested. His promise of redemption given in Genesis 3, wherein He would send the "seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent," would be fulfilled on the eighth day, the day of the new creation. Much later on, the Apostle John, wrote in the Book of Revelation, "I saw a new heaven and new earth." In other words, by way of a vision, John saw the "the eighth day," "the new creation."
It was on that day of the feast, the last day, the eighth day, that "Jesus stood up and cried out,"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' " Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."
On the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, when the seven lambs were offered up to God, the people were to reflect on the spotless purity and the unassuming innocence represented by those lambs. Again, there were seven of them, a number associated with fullness, with completeness and perfection. The sacrifice of those lambs was to remind the pilgrims in Jerusalem that God's Lamb would one day be given. By faith then, they looked forward to that day, the final "great day" we might say, when all of the Temple sacrifices would come to an end, when their thirst for reconciliation with God would no longer be represented by a symbol of the greater, but, by the Greater One Himself.
For the devout Jew, there could be no more pleasant words, no more comforting words, than those spoken by John the Baptist as he received and baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
Nothing Jesus did was insignificant. He chose the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles to promise the coming of the Spirit to the disciples. For you and me too, the eighth day is highly symbolic, as it involves the Spirit's work in our lives. I don't know if you ever noticed, but, the baptismal font here in the front of the church has eight sides to it. The eight sides aren't just a stylistic statement. Rather, they signify that the eighth day, "the great day," if you will, is the day of the new creation, and that that new creation begins here at God's font of grace where the water of new life is poured onto those who are parched and dying in a wilderness where there is nothing natural that can quench their rabid thirst.
The eighth day no longer served as the culmination of an annual festival. Rather, it would be the new reality for those born of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. "Behold, the old is drowned and the new is brought forth, in the image and likeness of God." The Spirit has been poured out and from that Spirit who now lives within us, living water flows.
Now, water, of course, can give and sustain life. But, it can also kill. So it is that the living water of the Spirit, that Spirit given to us in our baptisms, both kills and gives life. It kills when the Word of God condemns our unrighteous lives as an abomination to God. "You were dead," Paul says, "in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the prince of the power of the air." You and I look at the quandary in which St. Paul finds himself in Romans 7, lamenting over his inability to do what he knows is right, and we concur wholeheartedly with his sentiment. The struggle is good. It is the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, convicting us of our absolute depravity and brokenness, of our need for God to set us free from this body of death.
The Spirit that God has poured out on us then quenches our thirst for forgiveness and grace, using the means of God's Word and His Sacraments. What we are isn't what we will be. And, what we are isn't what He sees. Rather, the Holy Spirit has convinced us that the Father sees in us the purity and the righteousness of His own dear Son. Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Friends, you are living in the midst of the eighth day, wherein God has created you anew through baptism and His Word. Of course, this day of grace is but an image of the final great day of restoration, the fulfillment of all things, which is yet to come. There will be a new heaven and new earth, as John saw in his vision. The old order of things will pass away. The struggle for righteousness as expressed by Paul, "the good that I would do I don't do, but, the very evil that hate, this is what I do," will come to an end. The saints triumphant, you and I, will rise in bright array and will gather around God's throne of grace and the Lamb, God's Lamb, will be in our midst.
"Shine in our hearts, O Spirit, precious light;
Teach us Jesus Christ to know aright
That we may abide in the Lord who bought us,
Till to our true home He has brought us.
Lord, have mercy."
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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