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NUMBERS 29:1-6

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 28, 2003

Its hard to imagine - after all that’s gone on this year - that we’ve come to the last Sunday of 2003. Whether we’re ready or not, there are approximately 3 days and about 14 hours until the year 2004.

One of the questions that gets asked these days is, “How are you going to celebrate New Years?”

Come Wednesday night many people will be glued to their T.V. sets or computer monitors as worldwide celebrations will be broadcast on television and the web. Many people will join huge parties and celebrations.

In New York City - as they’ve done every year since 1907 - at One Times Square they’re going to drop a 1,070 pound Waterford crystal geodesic sphere that will hit bottom at exactly 12 midnight. You’ve all seen this, right? It seems like just about everyone on the planet has seen that ball drop. This year the ball is made out of 504 crystal triangles, 90 rotating pyramid mirrors, 432 light bulbs, and 96 high-intensity strobe lights. That ball has become a universal symbol of welcoming the new year.

A couple years ago San Francisco was planning on having a 7 story tall martini glass on the front of the St. Francis Hotel. At the stroke of midnight a 10 foot inflatable olive was going to slide down a swizzle stick into the martini.

As Christians - there ought to be something more meaningful for us - something more lasting - less trivial - than watching all the hoopla, listening to the music, partying all night. What does God say about celebrating a new year? What does God tell us is important to focus on?

If you have your Bibles ready please turn with me to Numbers 29:1-6. In these verses God speaks about New Years - about what’s important for us to focus on as we celebrate. Numbers 29 comes in a section of Scripture that focuses on when various sacrifices were to be offered - the timing of these sacrifices. Specifically - in Numbers 29 - God talks about the sacrifices to be offered at the beginning of a new year.

Numbers 29:1-6: "Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets."

Lets stop there for a minute. Notice that He says, "in the seventh month." That’s important. We need to understand what God means by the seventh month.

The Hebrew people are using two different calendars. One calendar was God's calendar - a religious calendar - which was used to calculate the timing of the religious festivals - the feasts - and sacrifices. The other calendar - the Hebrews were using - was a civil calendar - which was the official calendar of the government - of business - used for official record keeping.

Both calendars have 12 months - they just start at different times. God's calendar begins in our month of March or April. The civil calendar begins in our September or October. Still with me? If all that's confusing - just remember this - 7 to 1. The seventh month of God's calendar corresponds to the first month of the civil calendar.

Here’s what we need to understand. When Numbers 29:1 says, "Now in the seventh month" - God's religious calendar - we're also talking about the first month of the civil year - New Years. "Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month - on new years - God says, “you shall do this… This is how you're to celebrate.”

Notice this also. There’s purpose to this celebration. God is not bound by our limitations of past - present - and future. God exists in a continuous now that simultaneously extends infinitely past and infinitely future and includes our present. Its hard for us to think like this because for us everything has a beginning point. We live within the progression of time. We see what time does to our bodies. But, God created time. He uses time according to His purposes.

And this God - who created time to serve Him - God has chosen to take His calendar - His timing of events - and match them up with man's new year. Its not a coincidence. Not an accident. God has a purpose in this. Bottom line - God says, “When you celebrate this is what I want to focus on. This is what’s important.”

So, here’s what’s important - going on - verse 1: "Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. - stop working and come together for a special - holy - gathering. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets" - a ram's horn - called a shofar - is blown - calling the people together.

Verse 2: "And you shall offer a burnt offering as a soothing aroma to the Lord: one bull, one ram, and seven male lambs one year old without defect; also their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of a measure for the bull, two-tenths for the ram, and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs. And offer one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you, besides the burnt offering of the new moon, and its grain offering, and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their libations, according to their ordinance, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the Lord."

Can you imagine them doing this in the middle of Times Square? But, that’s the timing. Sacrifice at New Years. Sacrifice which is crucial to our faith and our relationship with God.

When someone came to the tabernacle - where all these sacrifices were offered - he would come with an animal - to be put on the altar for sacrifice. The animal was payment - a sacrifice - an offering of atonement before God - for the sins of the individual. The animal was put on the altar - and the one making the sacrifice would put his hand on the head of the animal - an act of identification with the animal - with the sacrifice - a way of showing the transfer of sin from the individual to the animal. A reminder, that the man would have died if the animal had not taken his place.

Then the animal was killed it - skinned - and chopped up. If it was a sin offering - the blood was smeared on the altar and other parts of the tabernacle - showing all of what is effected by sin - our relationship with God - and everything that surrounds us. Then - if it was a burnt offering - the whole animal was completely burned - showing the total annihilation that we deserve because of our sin.

Imagine what this must have been like - a gross - smelly - bloody mess. For each person - one bull - one ram - seven male lambs. An impressive reminder of the cost of our sin.

Next there was a grain offering - fine flour with oil - symbolic of the essential necessities of life. Wine was poured on the ground next to the altar. All of this a dramatic picture of one's entire life poured out - given - to God.

This went on for 10 days - 10 days of repentance - 10 days being continually reminded of our tenuous position before God. Finally - on the 10th day of the first month of the year came "Yom Kippur" - the Day of Atonement. (29:7-11) The priest took the blood of a bull and a goat and sprinkled them on the Mercy Seat - this seat in the center of the Ark of the Covenant - in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. All of this symbolic of the people's faith that God would forgive their sins.

So what’s God’s point? Practically - what does all this sacrifice mean for us today? For us at New Years? If you would, turn forward with me to Hebrews 9. Starting at verse 11. Look with me at how all of this works out in Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:11-14: "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation - not physical like the Tabernacle in the wilderness or the Temple in Jerusalem - but spiritual - and not through the blood of goats and calves - this bloody - smelly - continual sacrificing that we saw in Numbers - but through His own blood - poured out on the cross for us - He entered the holy place - the Holy of Holies - the place of the Mercy Seat - entered the holy place once for all - for us - having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

The Old Testament sacrificial system was like taking a shower with a raincoat on. The outside gets washed but the stuff that really needs cleaning never gets touched. The priests and people would have to repeat their sacrifice over and over again - day after day - year after year - always faithfully praying that God would forgive their sins.

Jesus offered Himself once - our sacrificial lamb - and that settled our sin account before God for eternity. When we claim Jesus as our sacrificial lamb - God cleans us on the inside - He forgives our sins and places the Holy Spirit within us - sealing us - for eternity with Him.

That’s what's important for us to focus on as we celebrate the coming new year. God - by His grace - has given us salvation poured out through the blood of Jesus Christ!

That’s a long way from a giant inflatable olive dropping into a martini glass.

Thinking about this coming Wednesday and Thursday - thinking about what God says about what’s important for us to focus on I’d like to suggest three priorities that we can give our attention to as we celebrate New Years.

There’s a story about an 85 year old couple - having been married almost 60 years - they died in a car accident. They’d been in good health the last ten years mainly due to the wife’s interest in health food and exercise. But, they died in this car accident and end up in Heaven.

When they reached Heaven, Peter takes them to their mansion which is decked out with a beautiful kitchen - a master bath suite with a Jacuzzi.

As they "oohed and aahed," the husband asks Peter how much all this is going to cost.

Peter replies, "It's free. This is Heaven."

Next they go out back to see the championship golf course that the home backs up to. They have golfing privileges everyday. Each week the course changes to a new one representing the greatest golf courses.

The husband asks, "What are the green fees?"

Peter replies, "This is heaven. You play for free."

Then they go into the club house and there’s this lavish buffet lunch with the cuisine of the world laid out. The husband asks, "How much to eat?"

Peter says, "This is heaven. It’s free!"

The husband says, "Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods?"

"That's the best part," explained Peter, "You can eat as much as you like of whatever you like and you never get fat and you never get sick. This is Heaven!"

The husband looks at this health conscious wife and says, "You and your bran muffins! I could have been here ten years ago!"

What really is worth giving priority to as we go through the passage of time - celebrating New Years?

First, we should take time to MEDITATE ON WHO JESUS IS IN OUR LIVES.

A few years back the musical group Alabama had a song - the chorus went like this:

I'm in a hurry to get things done.
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really got ta do is live and die.
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why.
It seems like that these days are full of - rush - worry - the tyranny of "what must be done" - celebration without meaning.

In Numbers 29 - God says to stop work - just stop - and focus on our relationship with Him. In Jesus, God has given us so much more than all of the emptiness we see around us.

We could go from Genesis through Revelation and list all the ways in which our lives are different because of Jesus Christ. One brief example to think about. In Ephesians chapter 1 - Paul writes that in Jesus, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (1:3); that we are chosen by God, so that in Jesus, God accepts us with all of our faults and struggles and inadequacies (1:4); because of Jesus we are the sons of God (1:5); through Jesus God has given us salvation and not His wrath (1:6); God has forgiven our sins (1:7); He lavishes on us His wisdom and insight (1:8); He has given us a rich eternal inheritance (1:14); because of Jesus we now have the ability to grow deep in our relationship with God (1:17); and we can experience God's power and strength (1:19).

Second - we should give priority to PRAYER.

Numbers 29 focuses on being right before God - the renewing of our relationship with God. We need to do business with God.

Is Jesus - who gave Himself as your sacrifice - really your Savior? Have you come to the moment in your life when you've agreed with Him - that you’re in sin - that you need Him as your Savior? Have you surrendered your life to Him? If you've never come to that moment - you need to speak to God in prayer and take care of this unfinished business.

We have an opportunity this week to renew our commitment to our relationship with Jesus. In our celebrations this week - may we be in prayer - prayers of confession - prayers of dedication and commitment - prayers of thanksgiving - prayers which ask for the blood of Jesus to cover every area of our lives - to purify us and make us useful for His service.

Third - we should give priority to SHARING.

In Numbers 29 - when the priest blew the trumpets - they called God's people together for a "holy convocation" - a coming together for a special - holy - purpose. To focus together on their relationship with God. During the holidays - the "holy days" - we have many opportunities to come together with family and friends.

Its been said, “Four things come not back: the spoken word; the spent arrow; time past; the neglected opportunity.”

I've been thinking about the impression all of this new years hoopla will leave on our children. What will they remember and pass on to my grandchildren. That they stayed up late? That there were fireworks? Or will they remember what's really important? Mom and Dad sharing about Jesus - His place and work in their lives - time we spent together as family in prayer and reading the Bible. What an opportunity.

The passing of another year is a great opportunity to think about what is really important in life. May we take advantage of that opportunity and focus on what God says is important to celebrate.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright© 1960,1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.