CHRISTIANITY AND HOLY DAYS
The observance of religious holy days is common in the religious world. In a few days many religious groups will be observing Christmas. Easter is another example of a religious holy day. The world religions all observe certain holy days throughout the year or in some cases once a year. Under the Old Covenant (the Law of Moses) there were several days set aside for the Israelites to observe. Listed below are the special days set aside under the Law of Moses with the day and month or year in the Hebrew calendar that they were observed.
We must understand that the days under the Old Covenant were commanded by God in His word. As a result of the command of God the Israelites were obligated to observe these days. God gave specific instructions in His word on how to observe them. There is a contrast between the days commanded under the Law of Moses and the days that religious groups observe today. Christmas, Easter and the other days that are observed in the 21st century are not commanded by God in His word and thus there are no specific directions from God on how to observe them. In fact, there is one thing that stands out in reference to the observance of days in the New Testament: In the New Testament of Jesus Christ there are no special or holy days set aside for Christians to observe. Please read that statement again. It is very significant. When one reads the New Testament he will see the first century church assembling every first day of the week to worship God (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). But the New Testament is silent regarding any command for Christians to celebrate any religious holy days. In fact, the first day of the week, the day on which Christians met together to worship God and to remember and proclaim the great sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross, is never once called a holy day. However, that does not mean that the New Testament is silent concerning holy days in relation to Christianity.
I would like to begin our study by reading from the apostle Paul's writings in Colossians 2:16-17. "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." When Paul said, "so let no one judge you", he is not saying that the Colossians could go ahead and observe these regulations about food and drink and the festivals, new moon and sabbaths and no one was supposed to judge them when they did that. He is saying just the opposite.
Paul had told the Colossian Christians in verse 8, "Beware, lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." He then told them in verse 10 that they are "complete in Him." The "Him" is Christ. There was no need for them to depend on the tradition of men or the basic principles of the world. Everything they needed was in Christ. Paul then mentioned one of the basic tenets of Judaism in verse 11. He said that they had been "circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ." Then in verses 12 and 13 he told them when this circumcision occurred: "...buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses." He was simply telling them that what they needed to make them complete spiritually was not found in the tradition of men or the basic principles of the world, but in Christ. In verse 14 Paul said that Christ "wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." What was Paul speaking of when he referred to "the handwriting of requirements?" He was referring to the Law of Moses. That was the law that made regulations concerning food and drink. That was the law that commanded the Jews to observe festivals, new moons, and sabbaths. That was the law that some Jewish Christians were attempting to bind on the Gentile Christians in the first century. Paul said that Jesus nailed that law to the cross. In other words, the Old Covenant (Law of Moses), with its observance of religious holy days and regulations about food and drink was no longer in effect.
Paul's teaching in Colossians has as its background the fact that during the first century there were Jewish Christians who were teaching that the Gentiles had to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. This is discussed in Acts 15. The context of Acts 15 deals with Paul and Barnabas preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch. Verse one says, "And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Verse two says that Paul and Barnabas debated with them and the members of the church there decided that Barnabas and Paul and certain of their members should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. There was a meeting called in Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas and the others who went with them, and the elders of the church in Jerusalem and the apostles. During that meeting verse 5 says, "But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.'" Evidently the belief of the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles had to keep the law of Moses in order to be saved had spread in the church. As you read the rest of that chapter you will see that the apostles and elders (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) sent a letter to the Gentiles telling them that they did not have to obey the law of Moses. But there are some interesting comments that were made by Peter during this meeting that it would be good to note. Reading from verses 8 through 10: "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledge them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us (See Acts 10:44; 2:1-4), and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" The yoke that Paul speaks of is the Law of Moses. The regulations concerning food and drink, the Festivals, new moons and Sabbaths were taught in the Law of Moses. Some Jewish Christians (which we will refer to as Judaizers) were trying to bind these things on Gentile Christians. So, when Paul told the Colossians, "let no one judge you" in these things, he was saying "don't let the Judiazers compel you to observe the Law of Moses. It has been nailed to the cross - it has been taken out of the way - you are not obligated to obey it." In fact, in verse seventeen Paul said that the regulations concerning food and drink and the festivals, new moon and sabbaths were only "a shadow of things to come." They were a shadow not the substance. This reminds us of Hebrews 10:1 which says, "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect." The Old Law was a shadow of the good things to come under the New Covenant of Christ. Obeying the Law of Moses could not take away sin. It could not make those who approach God through the Law perfect or complete. They could only become complete in Christ. This is why Paul warned the Colossians against the Judaizers' teaching.
In verse eighteen, Paul told the Colossians: "Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God." There was someone trying to cheat the Colossians of their reward. The description that Paul gave of these cheaters aptly describes the Judaizers. Paul said that these people were not "holding fast to the Head." Why would he mention "the Head?" Because the head gives direction to the body. That is not only true in the physical realm but the spiritual. The spiritual Head of the church is Christ. Paul simply said that the people who would cheat the Colossians of their reward by binding obedience to the Law of Moses on them were not following Christ. If the Colossian Christians allowed the Judaizers to compel them to keep the law of Moses they would be cheated of their reward - their salvation. It is as Paul said in Galatians 5:4, "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace." The law that Paul spoke of in this verse is not just any law. It is a specific law - the law of Moses. Paul said that those who would seek justification by obeying the law of Moses "have fallen from grace." For the Colossians to heed the teaching of the Judaizers and begin to observe the law of Moses would mean that they would fall from the grace of God and lose their reward.
Paul also taught the Colossians some interesting things in verses 20-23: "Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations; 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using; according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." Please notice that Paul told the Colossians that they were not to be involved with the basic principles of the world, these regulations in regard to touching, tasting, and handling. He connects these things to the commandments and doctrines of men and to self-imposed religion. Why were they not to subject themselves to those regulations? Because they had died with Christ (when they were buried in baptism - Romans 6:1-6). I am convinced that Paul specifically had in mind regulations under the Old Covenant. But no matter what regulations this refers to, whether it be the philosophies of men, the teaching of pagan religions or the law of Moses, at the time of this writing those things were the commandments and doctrines of men. If this refers to those regulations of the Old Covenant how could that be referred to as the commandments and doctrines of men? Here is the answer: The Law of Moses (Old Covenant) was never intended for the Gentiles. They were never required to obey it. So, when some of the Jewish Christians began to teach that the Gentiles had to keep the law of Moses to be saved they were teaching what God had not taught. They were teaching something that they made up. They were teaching the commandments and doctrines of men.
But notice that Paul said that "these things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion." What is self-imposed religion? It is religion that is invented by men. It is religion that has no authority from God. The Judaizers were trying to bind the Law of Moses on the Gentiles. That was self-imposed religion because it was not God's will that the Gentiles obey the Law of Moses.
The question is this: Do these principles of prohibition against self-imposed religion, of following the commandments and doctrines of men not apply to Christians today? Would it not be just as wrong for Christians today to follow the commandments and doctrines of men - to follow self-imposed religion as it was for the Colossians?
Consider observing the popular "holy days" of Christmas and Easter. Where does God ever command Christians to observe these days? If you will look up the history of these "holy days" you will find that they did not originate from God but from man. I challenge you to look up the history and see for yourself. The fact is that the Bible doesn't say anything about either one of these days. If the Colossians could not observe religious regulations and special days of the commandments, doctrines and self-imposed religions of their day without losing their reward, then why do we think we can observe such today and not lose our reward?
In regard to Christmas, I challenge the reader to find one passage in the Bible that commands such; one passage in the Bible where Jesus or His apostles ever commanded it; one passage in the Bible where the first century Christians ever observed it. My friends, it is not there. The fact is that God didn't even tell us what day Jesus was born on. That is a significant fact. Under the Old Covenant when God wanted the Israelites to observe certain days, He gave instructions on when and how to observe them. There are no instructions in the Bible concerning when and how to observe Christmas or Easter. Don't you think if it pleased God for us to observe Christ's birthday as a religious holy day, that He would have given instruction concerning it? But He did not. This fact ought to tell us that observing Christmas as a religious holy day originated with the commandments and doctrines of men and not with God.
In regard to Easter, God does tell us to remember the death of Jesus Christ. However, it is not just once a year, once a quarter, bi-monthly etc... It is every first day of the week! Study Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:26-29. God gave us instruction on when, where and how we are to remember the death of Jesus Christ. It is a fact that first century Christians met together every first day of the week to worship God and break bread. Breaking of bread is another name for the Lord's Supper which Christ instituted. If we observe Easter we are observing that which originated in the doctrines and commandments of men. The only proper way to remember the death of Christ is by following the example of the first century Christians and the command of Jesus Himself.
Paul warned the Galatian brethren in Galatians 4:9-11, "But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain." The Galatians had been freed, not only from the bondage of sin, but from the commandments and doctrines of men - from the weak and beggarly elements. Included in these weak and beggarly elements was the observances of days, months, seasons, and years. Paul taught that if they observed the days, months, seasons, and years they would return to bondage. Anytime we observe the religious commandments and doctrines of men, we have returned to that bondage that we were delivered from. This is one aspect of freedom in Christ that we don't talk much about. Obeying Christ frees us from those weak and beggarly elements. When we follow the doctrines and commandments of men - the self-imposed religion of men, that places us right back into that bondage.
So the Bible does teach about Christianity and the observance of religious holy days. But it teaches that Christians are exempt from the observance of any special or holy days, and that to observe such is to be cheated of our reward. The day we gather together to worship God and to remember the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the first day of every week. Please, let us just take the Bible for what it says and reject the holy days that come from the doctrines, commandments, and self-imposed religions of men.