Many believe the Christian life is one of somber and serious quiet time with God. And while that is true for some of the spiritual disciplines, it has to be balanced with the joyous discipline of celebration. Jesus was a partier, and we should follow his example of demonstrating what God-honoring celebration looks and feels like.
Not So Serious
Today we continue to look at the spiritual disciplines that help deepen our relationship with God, but today’s discipline is very different from all the others we’ve examined so far. To date we have considered disciplines that are done alone, typically in the quiet with God: silence and solitude with God; Bible study; and prayer. All these are important practices, but they are solo activities that build your relationship with Jesus.
Many people – Christians and non-Christians – think this is all the Christian life consists of. They imagine monks living quiet lives, all alone, as those closest to God. Often Christians are seen as dour, never letting loose or having any fun, always serious and sad. In fact, I once read a sermon by a famous British preacher on the Beatitudes, and specifically the phrase “Blessed are those who mourn.” He said all Christians should live lives with a constant posture of mourning for our sin.
So maybe the world is justified in thinking Christians aren’t ever any fun.
However, that’s not at all the picture we see of Jesus when we read through the gospels. In Matthew 11:19 Jesus says He knows people are talking about Him, calling Him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” In fact, His first miracle was performed at a wedding when the wine ran out and His mom wanted Him to help. He turned barrels of water into wine so the festivities could continue.
What is the difference between this common perception of the Christian life and the life of Jesus? It’s that Jesus, while He did spend time in silence and solitude in the wilderness, also spent time in prayer, wept for unrepentant souls, quietly memorized the Torah; AND He practiced the spiritual discipline of Celebration. That’s right. Jesus knew how to party with people!
The important spiritual discipline of Celebration brings balance to the Christian life. Other gifts are serious and practiced alone, but Celebration is a joyful corporate response to God’s good gifts.
The beauty of Celebration is that it is a set time for us to let our hair down and enjoy what God has done for us. We rejoice in the gifts and the goodness of God. We enjoy the relationships He has formed in our lives, often via laughter and smiles all around. It’s like a periodic reward for running the race of faith. It’s a time to look back at how far God has brought us, what He has done, who He has put in our lives. We just sip in the satisfaction of all that goodness! Whereas the other disciplines can sometime feel like the struggle of running, Celebration is the fruit of your labor. It’s time to take a break and appreciate everything around you
Celebration Through the Bible
All through the Bible we see people celebrating what God does in their lives, and those celebrations are often loud and raucous, full of life and joy.
In Exodus 15, after the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, Moses’s sister Miriam took a tambourine and led the women in singing and dancing praise to God.
In 2 Samuel, when King David is returning the Ark of the Covenant back from the Philistines, who had held it for years, we read:
2 Samuel 6:14-15 – Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
Side Note: I know a lot of us were raised to believe that dancing was a sin; but clearly, dancing is a part of how people praised God. Many continue to do so today. Does that mean all dancing is worshipful? Nope. Like everything else in life, a good thing can be twisted into a twerking bad thing; but that doesn’t mean we should outlaw all dancing.
While I’m on the subject of things some Christians call sin that are shown as praise in the Bible, let’s talk about instruments. Miriam had a tambourine. The Israelites sounded a trumpet. Earlier in the passage about bringing the Ark of the Covenant back, we read:
2 Samuel 6:5 – David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, sistrums and cymbals.
So we see percussion, stringed, and wind instruments. (If they’d had electricity, I bet David would have been jamming to a bass guitar!) Those Christians who say we can’t use instruments in church, or we can’t use “certain types of instruments” (i.e. drums or electric guitars) really don’t have a leg to stand on.
As God established His laws for His people, he set up three festivals, three annual celebration times to stop working and rejoice in what God has done.
- Passover was a week-long celebration of God’s freeing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
- Pentecost was a celebration of the firstfruits of the barley harvest each year.
- Festival of Booths was a week-long celebration of God’s provision for the Israelites in tents in the wilderness. This occurred at the end of the harvest season.
In the New Testament we see two new reasons why people celebrate.
The Return of the Prodigal Son
The first reason to celebrate is shown to us in Jesus’s parable about the prodigal son. This son asks his father to give him his inheritance early, and then he leaves the family and squanders all his money. He returns in shame to his family. Rather than treating his son with scorn, the father orders everyone to prepare a celebration.
Luke 15:22-24 – But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.
Here Jesus shows us that spiritual birth and repentance of sin are worthy of our celebration. Also in the gospel of Luke (15:7) we see that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.
If the angels of heaven rejoice over every person who comes to faith in Jesus, then it absolutely should be a time of celebration by all of us on earth.
The second celebration we are shown is Communion. In this celebration Jesus tells us that whenever we take the bread and the cup we should do so in remembrance of His sacrifice for us. We often make communion a quiet and sacred moment, but we must also hold joy in our hearts for the incredible gift Jesus gave us through His costly and gruesome death on a cross.
Celebration at First Baptist
Following the examples of celebration in Bible times, we, as a church, celebrate.
- Weekly Worship – We recognize that we have reason to continually celebrate the salvation we have in Jesus. We are set free from our sins. We are adopted into God’s family. We are protected and provided for. We are dearly loved and highly prized by God. In recognition of all that God has done for us, we gather together and praise Him, rejoice, and celebrate His goodness in our lives. This is why we include communion each month. We want to celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
- Special Holidays – Unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, we view these as important holidays that mark the incarnation (the coming of God to this earth) and the resurrection, when God defeated death and made a way for us all to experience eternal life after death. As Christians, we must always make Jesus the center of these holidays and never allow Santa and the Easter Bunny to steal the glory from the one to whom it belongs. As with dancing, good things about these holidays have been twisted into something they were never intended to be. Rather than going along with the world or outlawing the action completely, we look to redeem and restore these holidays to what they were meant to be – Holy Days.
- Spiritual Steps – We exist as a church to help people take steps toward Jesus, from beginning to end. That’s why we celebrate when people decide to follow Jesus. We celebrate baptisms. We celebrate when people decide to become missionaries or ministers. We celebrate when people who have walked away from Jesus come back to Him. We celebrate another year of sobriety, another year of ministry, or another graduating class of high-school seniors who have grown up in our church.
How to Celebrate Well
Before we finish today, I want to go over the requirements for celebrating well. This is important because the world celebrates too, but there is a difference between a Christian following the spiritual discipline of Celebration and a non-Christian having a good-time party.
- Focused on God – The world makes celebrations way too complicated. Weddings have to be picture perfect. Kids’ birthday parties have to provide more in the guests’ goodie bags than I ever got for my own birthday as a boy. Christmas is all about “stuff,” and Thanksgiving is about football. How about if we bring our celebrations back to what they were intended to be: celebrations of the person God has given you or the work God has done? I don’t think the Israelites worried about having streamers, or family members all in matching outfits for the Passover family photo. Instead, they focused on remembering what God had done for their ancestors and enjoying the week of festivities with those they loved.
- Filled with Joy – Because of focusing on the wrong things, too often people are left irritated in the midst of these celebrations. The cake is all wrong, the kids are ruining everything, or the weather didn’t cooperate. I understand all those things are less than ideal, but you shouldn’t let those minor things steal from the joy of what you are celebrating. If your celebration is truly centered on God’s goodness in your life or the life of a loved one or the church, then you should be so filled with joy that these secondary annoyances don’t faze you. Choose joy and not perfection.
- Fellowship Together – Have you ever seen a movie or a show in which a character decided to host a party but no one showed up? There’s always that scene with the host sitting all alone in a room decorated for a massive celebration. It’s always so sad. Gathering with others, laughing and dancing and eating and telling funny stories, is a gift God has given us to renew our spirits. You can’t have that experience all alone, though. We were made for community, and we have to gather with others to fully appreciate the blessing of a big celebration.
- Fulfillment – This is how you know you have celebrated the right way: you should feel full and satisfied, both physically and spiritually. You should have a smile on your face as you drive home, knowing you just enjoyed that moment God gave you. Your time with others should have felt encouraging and life-giving. Anything else means you were too focused on the wrong things and allowed them to steal your joy.
This world needs to experience Christian celebrations. It needs more authentic joy – more time spent recognizing the good gifts that come from God, and less time looking at all the mess we have created in this world. We as a people are strongly inclined toward negativity and cynicism. We don’t find it easy or natural to pursue joy, and that’s why God in His Word actually commands us to celebrate.
That’s why our church has created several fun events for people from the community to enjoy along with our church family. It’s why we did the movie night and the hymn sing with the pie social, and the Celebration of Lights. All these are wholesome times to gather together and have fun together, recognizing that God is the center of all we do.
Even at funerals we do things differently from people who don’t believe in Jesus. For many of the dear saints who have passed, instead of enduring a time of deep grief and agony, we are able to celebrate a life well-lived by a person we look forward to seeing again in heaven. A Celebration of Life is much more of a celebration when it is hope-filled and focused on the God that person served, rather than a memorial of the person we never will see again.
You can take Celebration into your own homes. When you celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and graduations, celebrate with delight and joy, remembering God is the source of the good gift. Show people you invite what a God-centered celebration can look like. Convince them that being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be solemn and sad all the time.
Let our celebration demonstrate the joy we have from our relationship with God. May it be so satisfying that others want that same joy. Joy begets more joy. We pray we can point more people to the true Giver of joy, Jesus Christ.