In this PODCAST, a new chapter has dawned in our ongoing chronological study of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Jesus has just left His beloved Galilee for the last time. He will not return to Galilee until after the Resurrection.
A point not to be missed, Jesus left Galilee now in order to be in Jerusalem for the annual Feast of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Tabernacles.
OK, so here’s my question: Why in the world did Jesus literally risk an early arrest and possible untimely death in order to be in Jerusalem for this feast? He surely knew the
risks involved. He told His brothers bluntly,
“The world hates me… You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” (John 7:7-8)
Yet, He changed His mind and actually went to the Feast, though secretly so as not to be seen.
So again I ask, Why now? Why this festival? What was so special about the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) that Jesus risked everything to travel to Jerusalem secretly?
In answering this question, you will see a side of Jesus’ humanness that will endear you to Him in ways you never knew possible.
I guarantee you that this will be well-worth your taking the time to listen! You will find Jesus endearing to your heart and soul in ways you never imagined.
Let’s begin by reading John 7:2-5 and then verse 10…
But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
…10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, Jesus went also, not publicly, but in secret.
Now, the Feast of Tabernacles is described in detail in Leviticus 23. It is primarily a harvest festival, as well as a time for the Nation of Israel to come together and pray together for rain to fall. It is positioned on the Jewish calendar, just after the harvest and just before the typical rainy season. It’s a week-long celebration that, on our calendars, always falls in the fall season (late September to early October). The Feast of Tabernacles is the final of seven festivals that occur throughout the year. In other words, it is the culmination of, or climax to, the annual sacred events of the Jewish calendar. It is also the third of the three Pilgrimage festivals, meaning that every male over the age of 20 (as well as any friend or family member who wanted to accompany them) would travel to Jerusalem for each of these three Pilgrimage festivals. It wasn’t practical for all Jews, especially the ones living in the north, to make it to all the festivals, but they would do whatever they could to gather their families and make it to at least one of the three, especially the Feast of the Tabernacles.
But Jesus could not make the pilgrimage with His family. One, they didn’t believe in Him and would mock Him; and two, the religious leaders would have a huge target on Jesus’ back and any of His brothers traveling with Him would quickly turn into collateral damage when the Pharisees would attack. This is why John wrote,
…after his brothers left for the festival, Jesus also went, though secretly, staying out of public view. 11 The Jewish leaders tried to find him at the festival and kept asking if anyone had seen him. 12 There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some argued, “He’s a good man,” but others said, “He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.” 13 But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders.
In other words, Jerusalem was a hothouse of trouble waiting for Jesus, and He took appropriate precautions.
Now, the Feast of Tabernacles celebrates two things. After the Exodus from Egypt and during Israel’s forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelite’s celebrated God’s presence with the Feast of the Tabernacles. Think about it – God manifested Himself every single day to them for forty straight years, in a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of glorious fire by night. Yet still, during those forty years, the Israelites chose to rebel against God. During these forty years, they lived in tabernacles – portable shelters – as they roamed around the desert.
Take note, though… even in their state of rebellion, God’s presence accompanied them nonetheless. They abandoned God, but He never abandoned them.
Nor will He ever abandon you, even in your most rebellious times! This is what the Feast of Tabernacles celebrates: God’s unending presence and His provision, just as He did during those years in the desert. We’re talking about 3 million people wandering in the barren wilderness… and God sustained them! Never once did they go without food or water.
Now, THAT is something to celebrate!
In fact, in the Talmud, when the Feast of Tabernacles is referenced, it is merely called “The Feast”. And everybody knows which feast they mean.
So, every fall, Jews celebrated with a Biblical, historical and personal connection to what God did thousands of years ago… and continues to do today.
But, how did Jesus, His brothers and other Jews celebrate? We can read about how it was celebrated long before Jesus in Deuteronomy 16:
13 “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress.
14 This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns. 15 For seven days you must celebrate this festival to honor the Lord your God at the place he chooses, for it is he who blesses you with bountiful harvests and gives you success in all your work. This festival will be a time of great joy for all.
Imagine a celebration where it is COMMANDED that we be happy, with family, and filled with joy! Our Thanksgiving, which was originally modeled after the Feast of Tabernacles, falls way short of THE FEAST. God wants us to celebrate with unbridled joy! (And we will again- with God, let by His Son – when Jesus returns!)
So, even today, we need not worry or be saddened that God will not provide – even in life’s leanest seasons. He will never abandon us, just as this week-long celebration proclaimed!
This is why, in that year of Jesus’ life, He could miss Passover. He could miss Pentecost. But He could not miss THE Feast. He couldn’t miss tens of thousands of fellow Jews celebrating, singing, dancing and shouting Hosanna! Hosanna!
And, in the middle of this incredibly joyous occasion, with water and wine pouring and hope and joy overflowing, Jesus proclaimed these words:
37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’ (John 7:37-38)
In other words, Jesus was saying, “You’re singing Hosanna and praying for salvation. I am the answer to your prayers!” Quite a bold move for a guy who snuck into Jerusalem under the cloak of darkness for fear of being arrested and killed. But He couldn’t keep silent because He knew that He is the fulfillment of the water pouring ceremony, which was part of THE Feast!
Then, the very next day, as the crowds were preparing to return home, Jesus spoke out again and shocked those who listened:
2 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:2)
In other words, Jesus was proclaiming that He is the fulfillment of the Illumination ceremony portion of THE Feast. And the people understood just what He meant, as we read in John 7:25-30)
25 Some of the people who lived in Jerusalem started to ask each other, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 But here he is, speaking in public, and they say nothing to him. Could our leaders possibly believe that he is the Messiah? 27 But how could he be? For we know where this man comes from. When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from.”
28 While Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he called out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. 29 But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you.”30 Then the leaders tried to arrest him; but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.
31 Many among the crowds at the Temple believed in him. “After all,” they said, “would you expect the Messiah to do more miraculous signs than this man has done?”
Jesus had a harvest of souls to reap!
Yet, there was one more intensely personal reason why Jesus chose to come to this Feast of Tabernacles.
Going back to even before Jesus was born, we read about Zechariah the priest in Luke 1:5
5 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron.
Historical records reveal that the Order of Abijah served in the Temple during the last two weeks of May. So, it would be in early-to-mid June that Luke 1:23-24 would have occurred
23 When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months.
Now, here’s the cool part. This is what we read just two verses later in Luke 1:26,
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!
29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
So, if Mary became pregnant sometime in mid-to-late December, this would put Jesus being born in September or so… Just in time for the Feast of Tabernacles! This is precisely within the window of time – the ONLY time in the calendar year – when shepherds would be out in the fields tending their sheep by night! (after the harvest ends and before the rainy season begins).
So why, after skipping Passover and Pentecost and in the face of such real, meaningful threats did Jesus feel so compelled to attend this Feast?
Perhaps because it was His birthday. And He wanted to spend His birthday in the Holy City, in His Father’s house, with His people, to offer Himself up for them as Living Water and the Light of the World, who had come to his earth to dwell (or tabernacle) with them and with us!