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LENTviticus: the 7 appointments

What do the seven feasts in Leviticus have to do with Lent? EVERYTHING. That’s what makes Lent Lentviticus!

The Hebrew word “feast” means “an appointed time” or to “keep an appointment.” The seven appointed times indicate that Israel’s entire liturgical year was built on the Sabbath principle (Lev 23:1-3). Yet more importantly, the only one who fully “keeps” all seven “appointments” is Jesus Christ!

The Feast of Passover (Pesach) is a one-day appointment to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from slavery (Lev 23:4-5). Its observance is mentioned seven times: 1) Israel’s last supper in Egypt (Ex 12); 2) their last supper at Sinai (Num 9); 3) their last supper before crossing the Jordan river (Josh 5); 4) once during Hezekiah’s reign (2 Chron 30); 5) once during Josiah’s reign (2 Chron 35); 6) and once after the exile (Ezra 6). The seventh and final Passover observance is Jesus’ Last Supper. In his appointment with death, Jesus, “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7), overthrows all the enslaving, dark forces of the world to liberate his people once and for all.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a 7-day appointment that begins the day after Passover (Lev 23:6-8). While Passover celebrates Israel’s deliverance from slavery, the feast of Unleavened Bread celebrates their journey to the Red Sea, during which they ate unleavened bread (Ex 13). In Jesus’ Last Supper appointment with his disciples, he joins Passover and Unleavened Bread as one and launches a worldwide exodus (cf. 1 Cor 5:8).

The Feast of Firstfruits occurs on the third day after Passover, in the middle of the week of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:9-14). This appointment offers the firstfruits of barley to express gratitude for God’s gracious provision of “new life.” So, it’s not surprising that three days after Passover, the risen Jesus appears as the first of a great harvest of bodies to come (1 Cor 15:20; cf. Rom 8:23; cf. 2 Thess 2:13).

The Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) occurs 50 days after the Firstfruits (Lev 23:15-21; Num 28:26). By counting seven weeks, the appointment of Pentecost always landed on the first day of the week to mark the beginning of the grain harvest. No “ordinary work” was permitted because it was an exuberant day to celebrate God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises (Lev 26:1-13; Deut 16:11). So, it’s not surprising that exactly fifty days after his resurrection, Jesus makes another appointment. “When the day of Pentecost arrived” the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and the Church was born (Acts 2:1-3). The harvest had begun!

The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) is often called the ten “Days of Awe.” It calls people to gather before the Lord and rest from all harvesting in humble reflection (Lev 23:23-25). Paul tells us that God has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus whom he destined for the task (Acts 17:31). At the last trumpet, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven” and “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Thess 5:16; 1 Cor 15:51-52). What a divine appointment that will be!

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is an appointed day to deal with evil (Lev 16; 23:26-32; Num 29). The day focuses on two goats: one is sacrificed “for the Lord” and one is “for Azazel”—not as a sacrifice, but as a live goat sent to the desert, the place of desolation and anguish. In the end, Christ will say to “goats,” “Depart from me … into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and remove all defiling elements from his people (Matt 25:41; cf. 2 Pet 3:10-13).

The Feast of Tabernacles, a 7-day appointment that follows the Day of Atonement, is a special ending to the entire liturgical year (Lev 23:33-44). This feast celebrates God’s faithful presence tabernacling (dwelling) with his people, in good times and bad, during the “wilderness” of this present age and into the Age to Come. One fine day, Jesus will say from his throne, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3).

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LENTviticus 13-14: who cares about lepers?

Every society always has individuals and groups on the fringes. In ancient times, it was the lepers that were considered one of the most stigmatized groups. Who cares about lepers—especially during Lent

Leviticus 13-14 offers a painfully long discourse about how to identify leprosy and the procedures for cleansing lepers and the objects associated with them. What’s striking is that there are only two verses of instructions to the lepers themselves. They must dress in torn clothes, leave their hair disheveled, cover their faces, and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” (Lev 13:45-46). Lepers had to behave a lot like mourners (e.g., Gen 37:29, 37:34, Lev 10:6, 21:10, 2 Sam 1:11, Job 1:20, Esther 4:1; Ezek 24:17, 22)? The cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” could easily have been a lament as it was a warning. In contrast to mourners, lepers “must live in isolation in their place outside the camp” (Lev 13:46; cf. Num 5:2). There was no welcome mat at the door for them.

Until Jesus showed up. Isn’t it odd that it was only after his fame of cleansing lepers spread that Jesus could no longer enter a town? Ironically, “he had to stay out in the secluded places” (Mark 1:45)—like a leper! But of course, that didn’t stop people from coming to him.

Josephus, a Jewish historian from the first century, wrote that lepers could not live in Jerusalem. When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time, he was very much focused on his date with destiny (Luke 17:11; cf. 9:31, 44, 51; 12:49-53; 13:31-35; 18:31-33). And yet, Jesus paused to alleviate the illness and social isolation of ten lepers who had the audacity to appeal for mercy (Luke 17:11-14). Only the unnamed Samaritan discerned that something had happened to him that went far deeper than healing his skin. “Get up” meant full-blown “resurrection.” For this reason, he returned to thank Jesus, once again calling out loudly, but this time to give glory to God!

Josephus also wrote that lepers could not participate in the feast of Passover. So, two days before his final Passover, and where was Jesus? Having dinner at Simon the leper’s house (Mark 14:1-3)! Of course, he was! A couple more days and Jesus would hang on a Roman cross outside the city where the unclean hung out (Lev 14:33-45). “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (Heb 13:12). They even tore his clothes, covered his face in spit and blood, and placed a crown of thorns on his disheveled hair—as if he were a leper.

Although we don’t deal with physical leprosy today, perhaps our post-truth, post-trust world has created a lonely social leprosy of sorts. On our journey to the cross this season of Lent, “let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” and reach out to the isolated of our day (Heb 13:13). Who knows? Our social leper friends may invite us over for dinner.