Category Archives: Sukkoth

The Trinity in Lev. 23?

unspecified-19-1Tonight begins Sukkoth.  Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles (“Booths” in the ESV), is the third of three autumn pilgrimage festivals appointed by God in Leviticus 23.  This particular festival is the celebration festival of the autumn calendar.  The first two, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are solemn, but Sukkoth is festival of rejoicing.

I was on the radio this week, and the guy on the board was talking to me during a break and relating that he saw on Facebook the admonition to not wish Jewish people a “Happy Rosh HaShanah,” because Rosh HaShanah is anything but happy.  It is a solemn memorial.  But to wish Jewish people a Happy Sukkoth would not be untoward.  (Truthfully, I don’t know many Jewish people who would take offense at their friends wishing them a happy Rosh HaShanah, but the usual greeting is La Shana Tova, literally, “A Good Year,” referencing the greater greeting of “May your name be inscribed for a good year,” that inscription being in the Book of Life.)  In our Detroit branch we gave away many baskets of apples & honey with that greeting.  You can see those on the Facebook page (  But as Sukkoth is a festival of rejoicing, rejoice!  Happy Sukkoth, or even better, Chag Sukkoth Sameach!

We built our booth, or Sukkah, on Sunday afternoon following our service.  (You can see a picture and video on our Facebook page too!)  The Sukkah is a relatively flimsy booth built with a roof of branches that do nothing to keep the rain or the sun out.  It is a reminder of the booths we lived in in the desert as we schlepped from Egypt to Israel following God’s deliverance of his people from bondage.  The message is that anything we build with our hands is flimsy indeed compared to the building that God is providing for us.  A time of remembrance and a time of rejoicing in God’s constant care and provision.

In many ways, and I preached this during Yom Kippur, the three autumn festivals are a picture of God himself and are very Trinitarian.  On Rosh HaShanah, God the Father blows a trumpet to get our attention off of ourselves and onto Him.  Then he shows us our deliverance on Yom Kippur as God the Son takes on flesh and blood and becomes the sacrifice for our atonement.  These are solemn acts indeed and our response is one of quiet solemnity.  But at Sukkoth we rejoice as God, the Holy Spirit, is poured out upon us and shows us His sacrifice, His love, and His provision.  All three persons of the Godhead are there in these three festivals!  What a joy to share this truth with those who cannot see.


Sukkoth–Hoshana Rabah

Moses and the striking rock

Illustration: “Moses and the Striking Rock,” by Marc Chagall, gouache, oil on paper, 1931.

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, 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”‘” (John 7:37-38).

The festival of Sukkoth is a festival of Thanksgiving and a festival of prayer for the harvests to come. The “last day of the feast, the great day” called the Hoshana Rabah, the great Hosanna, is a day of prayer for the coming year. Jesus used this day as another opportunity to teach. Consider His words in the context of the festival.

For Jesus to stand and speak this way in a loud voice was not unusual. Nor was it  unusual for Jesus to concern himself with the physical needs of the people, as He does here in talking about quenching their thirst.  But for this audience, their own thirst was not the only thing that came to mind.  On Hoshana Rabah it was the practice for the priests to pour large urns of water out from the temple steps onto the dry, thirsty ground below. This ritual was a prayer for rain for the coming year, and a prayer for God’s Spirit to be poured out on a dry, thirsty people.

The living water of which Jesus spoke is the Holy Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit quenches your spiritual thirst to know God and to have peace and comfort.  At the Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16).  And soon, Jesus will be thirsty.  He knows the thirst that comes with the sun beating down on a body nailed to a cross.  So on this last and greatest day of the feast, he taught the truth that He was born to teach, and will die to fulfill.  Soon, water will pour from His side and He will be laid to rest, only to be raised so that you can drink from the living water that pours out upon You by the Holy Spirit.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for the water you have poured out onto me. Refresh me today through the Holy Spirit, that I might be used to quench another’s thirst. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Are you thirsty today? Drink from the living water that pours out through the Holy Spirit. Spend some time in the Word and in prayer.  May that stream pour through you and to those around you who are dying of thirst.

Sukkoth–Jesus at the Feast

CrucifixionIllustration:  “Crucifixion,” by Marc Chagall, lithography, paper, 1960.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The seventh chapter of the Gospel of John gives an account of Jesus’ participation in the Feast of Tabernacles.  Jesus traveled to the temple at Sukkoth.  His brothers invited Jesus to attend with them and “show Himself,” but instead He traveled there secretly to hear what others had to say about Him.  It was a lonely path.  But Jesus discovered how others were responding to His message.

If you could overhear what others thought about you, what might you hear? “He is a good man.” “No, he deceives the people.” These are the things that Jesus heard. No matter what miracles he performed, or what testimony he shared, the response to Jesus was the same–mixed. Yet, Jesus persevered. He began to teach the people. And the result of his teaching is that his walk to the top of Mt. Calvary was very lonely. By the time of his crucifixion, Jesus had been completely rejected by almost everyone.

Does that sound a little bit like the response you get when you share the message of Jesus with your friends, relatives and co-workers? Those who will listen might conclude that you are a good person who loves the Lord. Those who reject the message, however, might say that you are a “Jesus freak” or a bigot.

Jesus is the one who is rejected, not you. He is the one who was crucified so that you would not have to be. God raised Him up and His message continues to be heard. And people come to faith through your willingness to risk rejection and share the message of Christ. When you hear those who seem to reject your message, think of it as a wonderful opportunity to teach, that many others would join you on this journey to the cross and the empty tomb.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank you for Your message. Give me the boldness to risk rejection and share Your word, that many would believe in you. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  It is easy to keep our mouths shut, and just say “O ur actions are our witness.”  But people need to hear the good news of Christ.  word. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Share the message today! http://www.ChaivShalom

Third Sunday in Lent: Sukkoth–Thanksgiving for Restoration

Jacob (exile)Illustration:  “Jacob leaves his country and his family to go to Egypt (Genesis XLVI, 5 7),” by Marc Chagall, gouache and oil on paper, 1931.

“And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing” (Nehemiah 8:17).

Imagine Jerusalem 400 years before John the Baptist walked his dusty path. The road to Jerusalem is crowded with people returning home. For 70 years, they have been exiled in Babylon.  They were taken away from their homes, the temple and the presence of God. They finally returned to Jerusalem, but their homes are destroyed, the city wall is torn down, and the temple is ruined. Where is God?

It is a question we all ask at some time in our lives. The path is long and dusty. We are burdened by work, by debt, by stress, by the world. And sometimes we feel like we are in exile. Where is God? Why does he not hear our cries for help?

But in Jerusalem, in the days following the return from Babylon, the temple, the city wall and the Israelites’ homes were all rebuilt.  Knowing this could not have happened without God’s help,  the people celebrated. They built Sukkahs all over town, and celebrated their thanksgiving with great joy. The writer of Nehemiah tells us that it had not been so joyful since the days of Joshua, when the Israelites first came to the promised land.

Just as God was with the Israelites during 70 years of exile, God is with you, and does hear you.   He comes to you in His Word, and  Sacraments. He knows your trials, and He has suffered trials himself. When Jesus stood before his persecutors, He stood for you. He suffered for you. And He died for you. God restored Him, and God restores you. Praise Him with joyful thanksgiving.

Prayer:  Dear God, You are indeed the God of restoration. Thank you for the gifts of your Word and Sacraments, which bring healing and strength. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  When it feels like you are in exile, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Sukkoth–Thanksgiving for the Church

St. Mark and St. MatthewIllustration:  “St. Mark and St. Matthew” by Marc Chagall, vitrage (All Saints’ Church, Tudeley, Kent, England), 1978.

“For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24).

We’ve traveled a long way together. Some days have been easier than others. Along the way God has given us rest, and He has fed us. We have built our Sukkah out of the branches on our path and in that God has given us shelter. While the Sukkah is a picture of God’s provision and protection, it can also be a picture of the Church. And for that, too, we have much to be thankful.

Nehemiah instructed the people to build the Sukkah out of branches from olive and wild olive trees.  St. Paul used this imagery to describe the Church in his letter to the Romans. The root of the Church is the covenant God made with Abraham when He promised to bring the Savior through his descendants.  The natural branches are those of Jewish descent who have grown from the root. Some of those natural branches have been cut off because they did not believe in Christ.  Gentiles are “wild shoots” because they are not descendants of Abraham.  However, Paul says that  the Gentiles who believe in Jesus as their Messiah have been grafted into Christ. Jewish people who come to believe in Jesus are also grafted back in. So, the root, promised to Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, now supports both wild and natural olive branches, you and me.

Our Sukkah is the Church. A structure commanded by God and built of both wild and natural olive branches, the Church, like the Sukkah, may seem shaky sometimes–but it is not. It has God’s covering, and is built on the rock that is Jesus the Messiah. In the Church we dwell, and grow, and serve, and prosper.

Prayer:  My Lord, thank You for the gift of the Church. Give me strength to minister to those who are broken in the Church, and when I am broken, help me to seek You in church. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  It is often tempting to turn away from the Church, especially when we have been hurt by someone within it. But even though the branches that God uses to build the Church are sometimes bent, and gnarled, and brittle, together, we are very strong indeed. Thank God today for His gift of the Church and share that thanks with others in your congregation.

Sukkoth–Thanksgiving for Protection

The Feast of the TabernaclesIllustration:  “The Feast of the Tabernacles” by Marc Chagall, gouache, 1916.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).

The Sukkoth tradition of building a hut, or Sukkah, is a command of God.  He has commanded His people to build this structure and live in it for seven days. Today, most Jewish families who have a Sukkah will not actually live in it, but find it sufficient to take a meal in it during this season.

The Sukkah is built from “the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook.” In Nehemiah’s time the people built the Sukkah from branches from “olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees” (Nehemiah 8:15). And the roof of the Sukkah is sparsely thatched so that the sky is visible through the roof. It is not the roofs of our construction that protects us, but the covering that God provides.

The Sukkah is a reminder of the wilderness travels of God’s people. It is a symbol of the protection that He gave His people on their journey to the promised land. It is a temporary dwelling, which reminds us that our time on earth is also temporary.  God promises to provide us with an eternal home.

Jesus promised to prepare places for us in God’s house, which has many rooms. And as you follow Jesus on the path ahead, He has gone on to prepare your room.

 Prayer:  Lord God, I confess that sometimes my home is my security. Lord, thank you for my home, and help me to find my security only in you. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Many live in fine houses while others have no roof over their head. Yet all live under the protection of God which is there for the asking. Thank Him today for the dwelling you have and for the dwelling to come in heaven.


Sukkoth–Thanksgiving for Provision

Feast Day

Illustration: “Feast Day (Rabbi with Lemon)” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1914. [Actually the rabbi is holding a lulav and etrog, as he prepares the mitzvoth of “waving the lulav” on the first day of Sukkoth. I don’t know what the miniature rabbi on his head is doing! That’s Chagall!–Kevin]

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days” (Leviticus 23:39-40).

The Feast of Tabernacles reminds us of God’s provision in the wilderness. The wilderness is a hard place to be. Often the roads we walk are rough and hard to follow.

When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they lost sight of God’s provision and cried out to be returned to Egypt, where they had been in slavery. The familiarity of bondage sounded more comfortable than being in the wilderness, where they had to trust God to keep them on the path.

How often we cry out for a more comfortable path. Struggling along on the path, it is often hard to see God’s provision. God calls us to, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7). He will provide.

In the wilderness, God guided the Israelites with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He provided manna, quail and water to sustain them. He gave them his covenant–the Ten Commandments–by which to live. He promised to lead them to the land of Canaan, a land that would be their own.  And he delivered.

Look around you and see how the Lord has provided for you. Choice fruits abound in your life. Did you wake up this morning? Thank God for protecting you through the long night. Did you have work to do today? Thank God for providing you with productive work. All that you see and all that you have is God’s abundant provision for you. He guides you, sustains you and has promised you eternal life. Through the blood of his Son, God promises you will be with Him for eternity, and your struggles in this life will be no more. He will deliver.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for all the ways You have provided for me. May I always be mindful of your generous care for me. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path: It is so easy to see a challenge in life and take the shortcut. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. He will deliver.

Sukkoth–Offerings of Thanksgiving

MiriamIllustration: “Miriam, sister of Moses, dances with her friends to celebrate the deliverance of Israel (Exodus, XV, 19-21)” by Marc Chagall, etching on paper, c. 1934.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD'” (Leviticus 23:33-36).

We don’t have to walk far on our journey to come to another festival. Sukkoth is only five days after Yom Kippur, and this is no accident of convenience. Once we have responded to God’s call to faith, and received complete forgiveness for our sins, our response is to give thanks to God. Sukkoth is a festival of thanksgiving. Also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, it reminds us of the provision and protection that God has given us.

During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jewish people live in special outdoor huts built to remember the journey out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. This festival reminds us that the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, that they wandered in the wilderness, and that God provided them with food and shelter in the desert. We respond to God’s gifts with our own gifts of thanksgiving.

Before God called you to faith in Christ, you wandered in the wilderness too. You were in bondage to sin, and no shelter could protect you from the death you deserved. But Jesus came and gave you the way to a new life with God. Now every day is a new day to thank Him for the life you have.

Prayer: Dear Lord of Life, thank you for giving me new life. Help me always to give thanks that you led me to the path of Life. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Sukkot was a time to bring thank offering over and above the people’s regular offering. Perhaps there is something else you can offer to God as you come for worship tonight.


The Lamb’s Book of Life

bookoflifeLast month I had the opportunity to preach at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  It is the home church for our branch in the Detroit area, and they have often invited me to preach in the autumn for the season of Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur.

Mary Lou Temple is our branch director there, and she and a group of volunteers put together small baskets with apples and honey in them, and the invitation to the congregation was to take those baskets to their Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives, with a greeting for Rosh HaShanah.  It is a simple and easy way to connect, and some left the names of their friends for us to pray for.

The traditional greeting for Rosh HaShanah is “Shana Tova,” meaning for a good year, but that is just shorthand for the greeting of “May your name be inscribed for a good year.”  That greeting is appropriate because the tradition of this season is that on Rosh HaShanah God opens three books with everyone’s name in them.  By Yom Kippur (this year it is October 11), God chooses either life or death for you, so the hope of this greeting is that God will choose life for you.  For those with a little more chutzpah, I encourage them to greet their friends with the greeting “May your name be inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life.”  After all, that is the only way that God will choose life for us.

While the Jewish tradition of God opening these books is that, the books themselves are not just tradition.  The Torah tells us that God keeps these books, and Moses pleads for the Israelites as he cries out to God “please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Exodus 32:32).  This reference to blotting out is carried throughout the Scriptures.  David cries out for his sins to be blotted out (Psalm 51) and for his enemies to be blotted out of the book of life (Psalm 69).  Paul refers to the book of life in Philippians 4:3, and of course John in the Revelation, talks much about the Lamb’s book of life.  Whatever it may be, from a human perpective, God is keeping a record, and “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will enter “the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”  (Revelation 21).

Another theme that came up during this year’s sermon in Michigan was the theme of seasonality.  Just as there are seasons for planting and reaping the harvest, celebrated in the final days of these autumn festivals (Sukkoth), it seems that there are seasons for outreach too.  In the Spring, with the spring festivals of Passover and Sh’vuot (Pentectost), it is a great time for planting seeds of faith.  The long, hot and dry summer is a time to cultivate, water, and feed faith so that by the autumn the Holy Spirit can reap the faith that is grown.  48 names were given in Michigan.  Please pray that many of them will be added to the Lamb’s book of life.

For more on the High Holidays,

Blood Moons and the End Times

Lunar_eclipse_September_27_2015_greatest_Alfredo_Garcia_JrI received an e-mail the other day from a pastor of a church that used to partner with us.  The last time I preached there was in 2010, and they supported our ministry for a couple of years, but eventually, as so often happens, our ministry got lost in the time and tide of every day ministry, even though it is a congregation where we have a ministry advocate!  The last time we heard from anyone in that congregation other than our ministry advocate was 2012, so the e-mail came as a surprise.

The e-mail was a question about another “Messianic” ministry, and the pastor wanted my opinion of that ministry, as he was approached by a member of the congregation who was excited about them.  This particular “Messianic” ministry is led by a man who predicted the second coming of Jesus at Sukkot, 2015, because of the four “blood moons” (tetrad) that occurred between April 15, 2014 and Sept. 27, 2015 which coincided with the festival of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles.  Of course, when Sukkot came and went, he revised his prediction (as is usually the case with predictions of the Second Coming), but continues to spark excitement in many in the Church.

Yes, our ministry observes the Jewish festival calendar as well as the Church calendar, and we have just come through the fall season of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.  We look forward to celebrating Chanukkah in December, as well as Christmas.  But our observance of all these festivals is not because they are commanded, and not just because we have a Jewish/Lutheran congregation, but because they are a joy as every one of them points to Jesus.  And they give us great opportunities to share the Gospel with Jewish people through the traditions and celebrations of all these Jewish and Christian festivals.

Unfortunately, sharing the Gospel with Jewish people is not as exciting as prophecies about the end times.  But the reality of death apart from a relationship with God through Jesus is far more important than any speculation about the time to come.  Because, when that time does come, there will be no excuses.  The Church calendar is in the period of end times as we approach the last Sunday of the Church year.  All the texts encourage us to stand firm in our faith, not being distracted by the things of this world.  And as the season of Advent approaches, we stand together saying, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”  Thank you so much for standing with us, despite all the distractions.

People often ask my opinion of many things both Jewish and not so Jewish.  But I work very hard not to be distracted by prophecies, politics, or personal agendas.  The thing that I know is that Jesus will return when the elect are gathered, and He has called on us to bring in the harvest.