There are many times throughout the Gospels that Jesus refers to the Old Testament. He also seems to have followed the Jewish ways since he was Jewish. Why didn’t any of the old customs/laws be get passed on into the Christian faith. For example the eating of certain meats, the Sabbath, and Passover to name a few?
Jesus was Jewish. No-brainer, right? But you can take it even one step further to say that Jesus was the Jew. He represented everything that the nation of Israel was supposed to be, and in fact he himself was the blessing that had been promised to Abraham so many generations ago. I make a point to emphasize Jesus’ Jewishness because he is often seen as one who came to supplant an entire faith. Not so. Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion, nor did he come to abolish an old one. Jesus came to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In his sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 Jesus is essential pointing the way to the kingdom of God. What does it look like? What is our role in it? How should we prepare? But in this great teaching Jesus does not suggest a passing away of the Jewish law. On the contrary he suggests that he has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18). So why do we not practice the customs of our Jewish forefathers?
The above question points to 3 good examples that should be made clear. Eating of certain meets, the Sabbath, and the Passover Feast.
The Eating of Certain Meets
The eating of certain meets became a tough issue early on as the followers of Christ began to bring his message out into the Roman empire. Initially, the good news of Jesus was almost exclusively being shared with Jews. But the Lord appeared to Peter in a vision in which he showed Peter all kinds of foods that were forbidden for Jews, yet to Peter’s surprise the Lord said “kill and eat” (Acts 10). Peter needed to be taught that none of God’s creation was unclean. The point of the vision was to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, but the illustration is clear, Christ does not forbid us to eat certain kinds of meat. In Mark 7:18-19 Jesus was even more blatant about the dietary laws.
This makes sense in line with the laws of Israel that were given to Moses. Some of the commandments were simply purity laws or dietary laws, not morality laws. In other words, they existed to protect them from disease and set them apart from the practices of other people, they were not there to establish their moral identity as God’s people, those laws remain intact.
Christians absolutely should practice sabbath keeping as a part of our faith. Jesus did not try to abolish the sabbath, though he was accused of it many times. Perhaps his greatest words concerning the Sabbath were “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, the sabbath should not be an act of religious duty, it should be perceived as time of rest, as it was intended to be. And not just rest in terms of a long nap of a day off work, but deep rest in the truest meaning of the word. The Sabbath is both a time when we can take time to rest and enjoy God, it points to the future heavenly rest that we will have when we enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 4). Sabbath keeping is a spiritual discipline that allows us to take deep pleasure in God. But keeping the sabbath is not a religious exercise designed for us to earn points with God. Furthermore, we are not to be so religious about the Sabbath that it keeps us from doing good. Jesus was harshly criticized for performing miracles on the Sabbath. The teachers of the law had become so bent toward religious adherence to the law that they would rather neglect doing good than neglect the Sabbath. Jesus rightly points out that they are stupid heads (Matthew 12:1-14).
By the way, Sunday is not the Sabbath for Christians. Sunday is the day that we worship God because God raised Jesus from the dead on Sunday. The Sabbath day is Saturday, the seventh day on which God himself rested (Genesis 1). But we are not bound to a Saturday sabbath. Sabbath implies the idea of a rest on the 7th day, just as a sabbatical implies a rest on the seventh year. More important then the specific day is the importance that we take our sabbath rest regularly in the rhythm that God has prescribed for us. He really knows what he’s doing.
The Passover Feast
The passover feast was an important Jewish festival celebrating Israel’s redemption from Egypt. It was one of the great feasts of their faith. Jesus celebrated it, in fact his famous Last Supper was a passover meal (Matthew 26:17-19). We are followers of Jesus so wouldn’t it make sense for us to practice it today?
The simple reason that we don’t celebrate the Passover meal as Christians is because the celebration of Israel’s redemption from Egypt pales in comparison to the celebration of God’s redemption of all people from the power of sin and death. Jesus is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), and we celebrate his death on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Just as the sign of lamb’s blood signified to God that he should pass over and spared the lives of the first-born Israelites during the last plague in Egypt (Exodus 12). So also the blood of Jesus signifies to God that his Judgment will pass us over. Our sins are washed clean and we are not judged on account of what we have done. Though similar, this latter pass over of God is far greater and far more precious than the Exodus Passover, and it belongs to all people. How anti-climactic it would be if we reached the time of year when we celebrate our redemption from sin, but instead we celebrated Israel’s redemption Egypt? It would do a disservice to the greatness of God’s ultimate redemption through Jesus.
To take another angle, it could also be said that Christians celebrate a passover meal far more often than Jews do. Every time Christians take communion we are partaking in the passover meal of the last supper, the same last supper when Jesus celebrated his final passover meal with his disciples. We remember weekly or monthly that God passes over our sins, even though we do not deserve such mercy.