God is the Lord of time and we are creatures swimming in it. But we can only swim in the stream of time in one direction. Time keeps on slipping, slipping into the past. And when time is gone we can only remember it.
We sometimes remember it with regret. Others we recall with fondness. Sometimes we feel nostalgia for things gone and past. Occasionally though, we have a more difficult feeling about time. Anxiety.
Its passing so quickly. Our threescore years and ten go by in a flash. We were young and we saw our childhood slip away. Then we have children and we remember when they were young. And it slips away too. And then our children’s children start being not young.
Time is racing toward the end of all things we know and love. Or at least it seems to. Some of us are watching friends die. The reality of humanity’s lot in this present world becomes real to us. We have only a little time and then we are gone.
It appears that way at least. But the truth is, God is Lord of time. He holds it in his hands. He holds our times in his hands. Our seasons belong to him. What kind of Lord of Time is God? He is the Lord of Eternity and for him time takes on new meaning.
And the Lord of Time has given to us special occasions which are called in the Torah the “fixed times” or the “appointed times.”
These are the mo’adei Adonai which you are to proclaim . . . the “fixed times,” set by God. They are the weekly Sabbaths and the holy days of the year.
Abraham Heschel says, “The Sabbath is a palace in time which we build” (The Sabbath, New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Young, 1951). God made the Sabbath. He calls on us to build it every week. Heschel quotes a legend from the midrashim:
At the time when God was giving the Torah to Israel, he said to them: “My children! If you accept the Torah and observe my mitzvoth, I will give you for all eternity a thing most precious that I have in my possession.”
“And what,” asked Israel, “is that precious thing which you will give us if we obey your Torah?”
“The world to come.”
“Show us in this world an example of the world to come.”
“The Sabbath is an example of the world to come.”
(Heschel, The Sabbath, ch. 8, “Intuitions of Eternity.”)
The key statement in the theology of Leviticus 23 is captured by Heschel in his prologue when he says, “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time” (Sabbath, Prologue).
Time is ultimately more important than place. God is the Ancient of Days. Messiah is Lord of the Sabbath. We are waiting for God to send “times of refreshing” for this world.
God tells us in Leviticus 23, “these are my fixed times.” There are eight special occasions during the year that stand out from all others:
The first day of Passover.
The seventh day of Passover.
The first day of Sukkoth.
The eighth day of Sukkoth.
Every single week from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
It is a strange thing in Judaism that we have a holiday every week. God calls these eight special occasions “sacred proclamations,” mikra’ei kodesh. Translations usually call them holy convocations, which is not correct. They are holy proclamations.
Two things are vital for all of the eight special occasions: work ceases and they are to be proclaimed. In the days of the Temple they were proclaimed by the priests. A trumpet would sound at the beginning and end of the Sabbath and the other mikra’ei kodesh.
God holds time in his hands. It is out most precious commodity. If we lose space we can replace it. If things are lost or destroyed, they can be remade. But when time is gone no one but God can recover it.
And we are waiting for a time to come from God that will make all things beautiful. We live for it. It inspires us day to day to believe. It is a time we long for if we truly understand it.
There are unusual references to this time to come from God in the Bible. Messiah, when he appeared, came before the time. And he was busy showing what it would look like when evil and death would be overthrown. He was busy casting out evil when one of the demons said to him, What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?
God’s gift that waits for us is called here simply “the time.” Anyone who has grieved, anyone who has felt the pain of disabling illness, anyone who has regrets, anyone who has looked at the ruin of this world has felt it — a longing for God’s time to come. Demons drift around in this time. Creation groans. There is a longing for something we perceive but cannot bring about ourselves.
Religious people have their formulas sometimes about how to make God bring in the time to come. Messiah’s enemies watched him carefully. He said to them, You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. If they had understood they would have seen it. Yeshua was the Lord of Time visiting us.
He said so himself, The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.
When he was about to undertake one of the greatest acts of all — to render an atonement and show the world a love which would forever change things — he said, My time has come.
When he was questioned by some of his enemies who judged him to be dangerous and refused to believe in him, he said, The Son of Man is the Lord of Shabbat.
We Messianic Jews and Gentiles have more reason to keep God’s fixed times than anyone. We recognize in the times God has given to the Jewish people the meaning of holiness. Labor is forbidden. We are commanded to be still and know. We sanctify the day.
Each of the eight sacred occasions, the seven Yom Tovs and the fifty-two Sabbaths of the year, is holy. Each is a call to stop living life normally. Each is a demand from heaven that we hallow time. All of this we share with the whole community of Israel.
But we are Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles. All Israel prays about and at least theoretically believes in the coming of Messiah. But we believe in it more so. For us, Messiah has a name. He has appeared and we know him. He will return and we will know him when he comes.
We say to him, “Lord, Lord,” and he will say, “I have known you. Come and enter into my rest.” So what are we as Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles to do with the Sabbath and the seven other sacred occasions? We should stop, with all Israel, from what we normally do. We should beautify these days.
A white tablecloth. Candlesticks. Bread and wine. Family and friends.
“Show us in this world an example of the world to come,” they said to God.
“The Sabbath is an example of the world to come.”
To this we might add, “Show us Messiah.” And God says, “I have shown him to you and he is Lord of the Sabbath.”
God has shown us the meaning of time. Time is in his hands. And his Messiah has redeemed time and prepared for us a time that will undo every pain and hurt — a time that will cast beauty and light over everything that used to be dark — a time that will never grow dull — a time whose passing will be sweeter each day — a time that is refreshing and which holds no anxiety or fear — a time when love reigns and joy increases.
When we celebrate Shabbat and the holy days, this is what we are celebrating.
And it is fitting for us to add to the traditions of Judaism our own tradition, joining ourselves with Messiah. And so we say, I hereby join myself to the Master, Yeshua the Messiah, the righteous one, who is the bread of life and true light, the source of eternal salvation for all those who hear him.