Sunday, March 26, 2006

Christian topics

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  • Would Jesus Keep Easter?

    Would Jesus Keep Easter?
    For millions of people Easter Sunday is the most important religious observance of the year. But, if Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee today, would He keep Easter?
    by Jerold Aust

    Each spring the excitement of Easter fills the air. Many churches prepare special Easter programs about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At home mothers color Easter eggs, and parents hide the brightly colored holiday symbols around the house and lawn so that, come Easter morning, their children can excitedly hunt for them.

    Stuffed Easter bunnies and chocolate rabbits are seen everywhere in the weeks leading up to this major religious observance. Then there are the Easter sunrise services, where churchgoers gather to hear about Jesus' resurrection and honor that miraculous event by watching the sun come up in the east.
    But what do colored eggs and the Easter rabbit have to do with Jesus Christ's resurrection? How did these seemingly irreligious symbols come to be associated with that event?

    Can we find any historical or biblical record of Jesus or His disciples keeping Easter or teaching parents and children to dye eggs and display bunnies on this holiday? Did Jesus or His apostles instruct any of His followers to meet to honor His resurrection at sunrise on Easter Sunday-or at any other time, for that matter?

    If Easter were not sanctioned by Jesus or instituted by His apostles, then where did Easter come from? In other words, if Jesus were living among us as a flesh-and-blood human being, would He keep Easter or encourage others to do so?

    Answers to these questions are readily available. Some may take a little research, but they become clear when we look into history and the Bible.
    The apostles' record on Easter

    As surprising as this may sound, nowhere in the New Testament can you find any reference to Easter. In the King James Version of the Bible (in Acts 12:4) you do find the word Easter, but it is a blatantly erroneous mistranslation that has been corrected in virtually every other Bible translation. The original Greek word there is pascha, correctly translated Passover in virtually every modern version of the Bible everywhere it appears in the Scriptures. It refers to the biblical Passover originally instituted when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-14).

    The original apostles, from the inception of the New Testament church to near the end of the first century, when the apostle John died, left absolutely no record of keeping Easter or teaching others to do so. From Jesus to John not one of the apostles gave even the slightest hint of keeping or advocating the observance of what we know today as Easter Sunday.

    However, that doesn't mean the early Church did not hold to specific religious observances. The apostle Paul, some 25 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, spoke plainly to members of the church at Corinth that they should continue to keep the Passover as Christ commanded. Paul wrote: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'

    "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).

    Paul was concerned that the Church members in Corinth observe the Passover in the right way, with reverence and proper comprehension of its meaning.

    The writings of Paul and Luke, his traveling companion and author of the book of Acts, regularly mention keeping the weekly Sabbath day and the biblical festivals listed in Leviticus 23. But Easter is conspicuously absent (1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 16:8; Acts 2:1-4; 13:42, 44; 17:1-3; 18:4; 20:6, 16).

    Since Easter wasn't introduced by Jesus or the apostles, where did it come from, and how did it come to be such an accepted part of traditional Christianity?
    The origin of Easter

    It's not that difficult to trace the surprising origins of Easter and what it really represents. Many scholarly works show that Easter is a pre-Christian religious holiday, one that was created and developed long before Jesus' time and carried forward to the modern era through such empires as Babylon, Persia, Greece and finally Rome.

    Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words notes: "The term 'Easter' is not of Christian origin. It is another form of Astarte, one of the titles of the Chaldean [Babylonian] goddess, the queen of heaven. The festival of Pasch [Passover] held by Christians in post-apostolic times was a continuation of the Jewish feast ... From this Pasch the pagan festival of 'Easter' was quite distinct and was introduced into the apostate Western religion, as part of the attempt to adapt pagan festivals to Christianity" (W.E. Vine, 1985, "Easter").

    Alexander Hislop in his book The Two Babylons (1959) explores the origins of Easter. He discovered that a form of Easter was kept in many nations, not necessarily only those that professed Christianity. "What means the term Easter itself? ...

    It bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven, whose name, as pronounced by the people of Nineveh, was ... Ishtar" (p. 103).

    Easter and the practices associated with it can be traced back to various pagan rituals. Hislop explains that "the forty days' abstinence of Lent was directly borrowed from the worshippers of the Babylonian goddess"(Hislop, p. 104). In Egypt a similar 40-day period of abstinence "was held expressly in commemoration of Adonis or Osiris, the great mediatorial god" (Hislop, p. 105).
    A pre-Christian spring festival

    How, then, did 40 days' abstinence come to be associated with a resurrection? Hislop continues: "Among the pagans this Lent seems to have been an indispensable preliminary to the great annual festival in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Tammuz, which was celebrated by alternate weeping and rejoicing" (Hislop, p. 105).

    Tammuz was a chief Babylonian deity and husband of the goddess Ishtar. Worship of Tammuz was so widespread in ancient times that it even spread into Jerusalem. In Ezekiel 8:12-18 God describes that worship and calls it an abomination-something repugnant and disgusting to Him.

    The Babylonians held a great festival every spring to celebrate Tammuz's death and supposed resurrection many centuries before Christ walked the earth (see "The Resurrection Connection," below). Hislop comprehensively documents evidence that shows Easter's origins precede the modern Christian holiday by more than 2,000 years!

    Hislop cites the fifth-century writings of Cassianus, a Catholic monk of Marseilles, France, on the subject of Easter's being a pagan custom rather than a New Testament observance. "It ought to be known that the observance of the forty days (i.e., the observance of Lent) had no existence, so long as the perfection of that primitive Church remained inviolate" (p. 104).

    Sir James Frazer describes Easter ceremonies entering into the established church: "When we reflect how often the Church has skillfully contrived to plant the seeds of the new faith on the old stock of paganism, we may surmise that the Easter celebration of the dead and risen Christ was grafted upon a similar celebration of the dead and risen Adonis [the Greek name for Tammuz], which ... was celebrated in Syria at the same season" (The Golden Bough, 1993, p. 345).
    Why eggs and rabbits?

    What about other customs associated with Easter? One Catholic writer explains how eggs and rabbits came to be connected with Easter. You will quickly notice an absence of any link or reference to the Holy Bible when it comes to these mythic rituals:

    "The egg has become a popular Easter symbol. Creation myths of many ancient peoples center in a cosmogenic egg from which the universe is born. In ancient Egypt and Persia friends exchanged decorated eggs at the spring equinox, the beginning of their New Year. These eggs were a symbol of fertility for them because the coming forth of a live creature from an egg was so surprising to people of ancient times.

    Christians of the Near East adopted this tradition, and the Easter egg became a religious symbol.

    It represented the tomb from which Jesus came forth to new life" (Greg Dues, Catholic Customs and Traditions, 1992, p. 101; emphasis added).

    Like eggs, rabbits came to be linked with Easter because they were potent symbols associated with ancient fertility rites. "Little children are usually told that the Easter eggs are brought by the Easter Bunny. Rabbits are part of pre-Christian fertility symbolism because of their reputation to reproduce rapidly. The Easter Bunny has never had a religious meaning" (Dues, p. 102).

    Honest Bible scholars freely admit that Jesus never sanctioned this pre-Christian holiday, nor did His apostles. Not until Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in 325-almost three centuries after Jesus was killed and rose again-did Easter replace the Passover, the biblical ceremony Jesus and the apostle Paul told Christians to observe.

    Says the Encyclopaedia Britannica: "A final settlement of the dispute [whether and when to keep Easter or Passover] was one among the other reasons which led Constantine to summon the council of Nicaea in 325 ... The decision of the council was unanimous that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and on the same Sunday throughout the world, and 'that none should hereafter follow the blindness of the Jews'" (11th edition, pp. 828-829, "Easter").

    Constantine's decision was a fateful turning point for Christianity. Those who remained faithful to the instruction of Jesus and the apostles would be outcasts, a small and persecuted minority (John 15:18-20). A vastly different set of beliefs and practices-recycled from ancient pre-Christian religions but dressed in a Christian cloak-would take hold among the majority.
    Would Jesus keep Easter?

    Since the pagan symbols of eggs and rabbits were adopted by the Catholic Church centuries after Christ's ascension, should Christians keep this holiday or encourage others to observe it?

    To answer that question let's go back to the title of this article, "Would Jesus Keep Easter?" He certainly could have told us to. So could the apostles, whose teaching and doctrine are preserved for us in the book of Acts and the epistles written by Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John. But nowhere do we find a hint of support for Easter or anything remotely resembling it. What we do find, as pointed out earlier, is clear instruction from Jesus and Paul to keep the Passover and other biblical-and truly Christian-observances.

    Holy Scripture does not support this pre-Christian holiday and in fact condemns such celebrations. Because Scripture condemns pagan practices and the worship of false gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-32), we know that God the Father and Jesus His Son have no interest in Easter and do not approve of it.

    Jesus, in fact, is diametrically opposed to religious rituals that supposedly honor Him but in reality are rooted in worship of false gods. He makes clear the difference between pleasing God and pleasing men: "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men ... All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition'" (Mark 7:6-9, emphasis added throughout).

    Easter is a tradition of men, not a commandment of God. But it's more than that.

    It is a pagan tradition of men that, like other traditions involved in the worship of false gods, is abhorrent to the true God. Jesus and His apostles would never sanction its observance because it mingles paganism with supposedly Christian symbolism and ritual. It is rooted in ancient pre-Christian fertility rites that have nothing to do with Jesus.

    In reality, most of the trappings associated with Easter reveal that the holiday is actually a fraud pawned off on unsuspecting and well-intentioned people. God wants us to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), not to recycle ancient customs used to worship other gods.

    Even the timing of the events used to justify celebrating Jesus' resurrection on a Sunday morning-that He was crucified on the afternoon of Good Friday and resurrected before dawn on Sunday morning-are demonstrably false, as an examination of the Scriptures shows.

    For those who want concrete proof that He was indeed the Messiah and Savior of mankind, Jesus made a promise: "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:39-40).

    Try as some might, there is no way to calculate three days and three nights from late Friday afternoon to Sunday morning before daylight. At most this amounts to barely more than a day and a half. Either Jesus was mistaken, or those who say He was crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday are mistaken. You can't have it both ways.
    Jesus' instructions remain consistent

    If Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee today, would He keep Easter? Certainly not. But He would be consistent because He does not change (Hebrews 13:8). For instance, He would keep the annual Passover in the same manner as He instructed His followers to keep it (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:15-17). And Jesus would observe the Days of Unleavened Bread in the way He inspired Paul to instruct early Christians (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

    Anyone who wants to be right with God, who wants to be a true disciple of Christ, the Master Teacher, will carefully examine his beliefs and practices to see whether they agree with the Bible. Such a person will not try to honor God with ancient idolatrous practices, violating His explicit commands (Deuteronomy 12:29-32; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 7:1). Easter, as we have seen, is filled with idolatrous trappings.

    Simply claiming that something is Christian or is done to honor God doesn't make it acceptable to God.

    Easter doesn't represent a resurrected Jesus Christ. Rather-difficult as it may be to admit-it merely continues the practices pagans followed thousands of years ago to honor their nonexistent gods. If we are to escape the calamities prophesied to come on those who place the ways of this world ahead of God, then we must repent of following traditions that dishonor Him (Revelation 18:1-5).

    God would much rather have us honor and obey Him according to His instructions in His Word. Then He can use us to represent His holy Son, our Savior and the Messiah, who will return to earth. No greater calling can be extended to human beings. May you have the heart to seek understanding and God's perfect will.

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    Fertility symbols

    Fertility Symbols: Beneath the Dignity of God

    Because the ability to reproduce is critical for food and preservation of life, mankind has long been intrigued by fertility. Have you ever wondered why eggs and rabbits–the popular hallmarks of Easter–were selected as symbols of fertility?

    "In traditional folk religion the egg is a powerful symbol of fertility, purity and rebirth. It is used in magical rituals to promote fertility and restore virility; to look into the future; to bring good weather; to encourage the growth of crops and protect both cattle and children against misfortune, especially the dreaded evil eye. All over the world it represents life and creation, fertility and resurrection ... Later [customs concerning eggs] were linked with Easter. The church did not oppose this, though many egg customs were pre-Christian in origin, because the egg provided a fresh and powerful symbol of the Resurrection and the transformation of death into life" (The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987, p. 37, "Egg").

    The Easter rabbit is the modern replacement for "the hare, the symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt" (New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micro-paedia, p. 333, "Easter"). It is no secret that rabbits are extremely prolific. Their does (females) bear several litters of two to eight young each year, and gestation takes about a month. Contrary to God's instruction, these pagan fertility symbols credit divine powers to the creation (rabbits and eggs) instead of the Creator (Romans 1:21-25).

    In contrast to pagan celebrations, God promised to bless His people with abundance in return for their love and obedience. Notice Moses' words of encouragement to Israel shortly before his death:

    "Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock" (Deuteronomy 7:12-14).

    People have the choice of looking to God as their Creator for reproductive blessings or looking to the creation. Given the history of rabbits and eggs as pagan fertility symbols, do you think God is pleased when people include these as symbols of their worship? See "Does It Matter to God?," for the answer.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Feast of Unleavened Bread Recipes

    The Journal: News of the Churches of God

    Feast of Unleavened Bread Recipes

    In preparation for the upcoming Spring Holy Days, The Journal has redesigned and expanded its library of unleavened recipes. Visit the site's 136 individually printable recipes divided up by category:
    Appetizers; Bar-Cookies; Beverages; Breads; Cakes; Cookies; Desserts; Main Dishes and Pancakes/Crepes.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Feast of Unleavened Bread - it's not just for Jews!

    What Does the Feast of Unleavened Bread Mean for Christians?

    Central to our understanding of the biblical Feast of Unleavened Bread is the realization that the resurrected Jesus Christ lives His life in every individual Christian.

    Growing numbers of Christians around the world are discovering and celebrating the biblical festivals outlined in Leviticus 23. By looking at the symbolism associated with these days, they are coming to view them in light of the life and mission of Jesus Christ.

    The early Church kept PASSOVER - not Easter!

    The early Church of God didn't just keep Passover because "they liked it." The early Church of God kept Passover out of loving obedience to our Lord and Savior, who said to "do this in remembrance."

    The Church of God observes the annual festival and memorial every Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, filled with meaning and purpose and revelation of Yeshua's precious sacrifice as our pure Passover Lamb - not our pagan and unclean Easter bunny!

    Paul, a Christian and a converted Pharisee, would never approve of the adoption of any pagan holiday, a whitewashed hollow day, to pollute the Name of our Lord and Savior who abhors such abominations.

    When Paul spoke of one regarding this or that day, he was not referring to religious days but to FAST DAYS, when read in context. Only God can determine whether or not a day is holy and He has revealed HIS seven biblical festivals that portray HIS plan of salvation for all mankind.

    Daniel warned of a Church power that would play God and think "to change the times and the seasons" and promote their idolatrous traditions and manmade holidays over the biblical Sabbath and biblical festivals God has ordained. We're to reject such replacement theology of Roman wolves in sheep's clothing. The Church of God keeps and celebrates the same festivals as Yeshua properly observed, as well as the early Church who followed His holy example, in spirit and in truth, as brought out in Holidays or Holy Days?

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    Easter isn't Christian!

    Like dumb sheep to the slaughter, most of mankind continues to blindly follow pagan traditions, rather than obey God's clear commands (Mark 7:7). Has it ever occurred to those stuffing their faces with Easter ham that Jesus would puke at the thought? Neither Jesus or Peter, James or John ever ate forbidden foods. They wouldn't feel too comfortable at plenty of people's dinner tables.

    Even the early Gentile converts to Jewish Christianity respected the biblical dietary laws (Acts 15:20), understanding that not all foods are sanctioned by the Creator in the Holy Scriptures (I Timothy 4:5).

    When John the Baptist recognized Jesus as our Passover sacrifice, he declared: "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). He didn't say, "Here comes the Easter Bunny!" Again, like the Easter ham, the Easter rabbit is also rejected in the Bible as an abomination (Leviticus 11:6-7).

    The very name of Easter exposes itself as a heathen festival, although it's cloaked as "Christian." Easter/Ishtar/Astarte is the Babylonian spring goddess our British-Israelite forefathers foolishly worshipped. Hence the fertility symbols of rabbits and eggs.

    God isn't fooled by such baptized paganism, such whitewashed heathen customs (Deuteronomy 12:30). He commands us to commemorate Jesus' death every Passover and recognize His atoning work of redemption as our resurrected High Priest in Heaven, unleavening our lives of sin (I Corinthians 5:7-8).

    The early Church followed Jesus' Jewish example for several hundred years until Gentile opposition (from false converts) threatened them with a death sentence if they didn't bow before Easter observances (the Quarto-Deciman controversy)!

    A growing number now know, understand and believe the biblical account that we're to observe Passover and that Jesus was resurrected before sunrise Sunday, "when it was yet dark" (John 10:1). Others prefer to reject this light of understanding to remain in their traditional darkness and die in their sins (John 3:19)-- it's that serious! Because ff our nations don't repent of such idolatry and immorality we'll soon suffer national destruction, defeat and deportation! That's why this article of faith is part of our plea to diehard Catholics and Protestants to repent.

    Thankfully, every generation has those chosen few who are willing to reject holidays for holy days and "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered" (Jude 3). Hopefully, this will cause you to question your beliefs and provide some "kosher" food for thought!

    David Ben-Ariel is a Christian-Zionist writer in Ohio and author of Beyond Babylon: Europe's Rise and Fall.