Question: Why do we as Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter when we do? Aren’t these pagan holidays and not the actual days they propose to celebrate? Birth (succoth), Resurrection (firstfruits)? Last Sunday we had visitors from a messianic synagogue at Central and I’m worried why Christians don’t feel lead to practice more Scripturally sound things such as Passover and shabbat?
Answer: I do not believe you need to worry. With the advent of the Holy Spirit and the inclusion of Gentiles (all non-Jews) into the Body of Christ without becoming Jews first, God signaled that relationship to Him was now open to all and the Law of Moses was not required. This is the new wine skin Jesus talked about (Matthew 9:14-17). The dietary laws of the Old Testament are no longer required (Mark 7:1-23; Acts 10:9-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-5), circumcision of males is no longer prescribed (Acts 15; Romans 2:25-29; 4:9-12; Galatians 2), and even the Sabbath is no longer a requirement (Romans 14, and particularly verses 5-6).
Just as Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday moved the church to celebrate and worship him on the first day of the week instead of the seventh (Saturday, the Sabbath), so the Lord’s Supper celebration took the place of the Passover. The Passover is a commemoration of the deliverance God gave Israel from Egypt. The Lord’s Supper is the fulfillment of this deliverance in the Lord’s death on the cross that delivers us from sin’s penalty. Since we do not know the exact date of the birth of Jesus we have converted a pagan ritual into a Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth and so redeemed a pagan foreshadowing of the coming of Messiah. There has been a longstanding controversy between the western and eastern churches about how to calculate Passover/Easter to celebrate the resurrection. But the important thing is not the exact date, but that we celebrate His resurrection.
This does not mean that Jews and anyone else who chooses, may not observe Jewish customs. Paul was accused of telling Jews not to observe the customs (Acts 21:17-26) and yet he himself often kept them (Acts 18:18). But for Paul this did not mean that he was bound by the Law to do so. Rather, he became all things to all men in order to win some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), at one time adopting the Law’s customs in order not to offend Jews (Acts 16:1-3), at another time demonstrating his freedom and challenging fellow Jews, like Peter, to do so also for the sake of the gospel (Galatians 2:11-14). If the customs of the Jews are practiced as requirements, then the gospel has been lost. Salvation would then be by works and basically a Jewish provincial gospel not suited for the whole world. But that is not what Jesus meant the gospel to be. He said, “But I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).