May you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous year…and most importantly, Le’shana Tova Tikoteiv Vetichoteim, which is Hebrew for “may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
Inscribed and sealed where?
Today is the first day of Rosh HaShanah—the Jewish new year. It is a time of judgment, repentance, and preparation for Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement by doing good works. According to Jewish tradition, during Rosh HaShanah, and the “Ten Days of Repentance” that precede Yom Kippur, people repent of their sins and do good deeds in order to be listed as righteous and inscribed and sealed within the book of life (Psalm 69:28). Traditionally, people eat apples dipped in honey during this time as a reminder of God’s sweet provision, and they trust that God will continue to provide for them during the upcoming year.
Rosh HaShanah is a wonderful biblical feast and a reminder of God’s awesome provision, His justice, and His mercy. As followers of Christ, we recognize the importance of repentance and doing good deeds, but we know that this does not qualify us for inscription in the Lamb’s book of life. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only path to inscription in this book. Revelation 20, however, does mention other books. Our deeds, good and bad, are written in these books…and we will be held accountable to those deeds.
One of my good friends is a self-proclaimed agnostic—who dabbles in Buddhism. I know…he’s definitely a fun person to have around. One of his greatest qualms with the Christian faith is our emphasis on “righteousness by faith.” He believes (and I tend to agree with him) that too many Christians embrace cheap grace and then turn around and treat the world—and the people in it—like their own personal toilet. Righteousness by faith often instills a complacent posture toward the betterment of humanity. We often conclude that because of our faith in Christ, God has instantaneously inscribed our names in the Lamb’s book of life—which is true. However, by doing this, we ignore the other books, we disregard our calling as ambassadors of Christ to this broken planet, we push aside any inclination to do good works.
Rosh HaShanah is often referred to as “The Feast of Trumpets.” Prior to Rosh HaShannah, the shofar or ram’s horn is blown. The blowing of the trumpets is a call for people to repent. Many eschatological theologians believe that Jesus fulfilled all of the spring biblical feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Pentecost) in his first coming. They also believe that Jesus will fulfill the fall biblical feasts (Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles) in his second coming. According to this perspective, Rosh HaShannah will be the time when Jesus returns…the resurrection of the dead…it will be the day when Christians are raised to new life. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
We are not made righteous by performing good works…this is a biblical truth (Titus 3:5-7). Nonetheless, we could definitely learn a little bit about doing good deeds from our Jewish brothers and sisters on this “Feast of Trumpets.” Righteousness by faith does not alleviate our responsibilities to serve God, our neighbors, and our planet. We are called, as followers of Christ, to respond to God’s mercy and grace by doing good works. Ephesians 2 spells it out for us, yet we often overlook verse 10:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
I don’t know when Jesus is going to return…nobody does. But if Rosh HaShannah can refresh our faith, bring us to our knees in repentance, rekindle our trust in God’s providence, inspire us to embrace our responsibility to do good works, and listen for the trumpet to blow as we anticipate Christ’s return, then I’m all for it.
Le’shana Tova Tikoteiv Vetichoteim everybody!
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.