“Perfect timing.” We’ve all said it. We’ve all seen it. When a friend calls just a moment after they have come to mind. When you’re not ready for guests or a meeting, and they turn out to be late too. Then there’s perfect timing in things more consequential, like the seemingly serendipitous meeting that leads to a marriage. Beyond that are those stunning timing alignments that seem to serve no real practical purpose, and yet they awaken or alert us, like messages from another world, another Kingdom perhaps. One of our young friends says it this way, “Jesus just keeps winking at us!”
In 1985 our family gave up a foster baby boy we had expected to adopt, and to whom we were deeply bonded after six sweet months. It was an astonishingly difficult response to the Lord’s clear instruction, and we needed lots of winks to get through it. Yet we’d heard God clearly. This baby was meant for another family. We already had three children. Later, in timing that seemed intentional and compassionate, it was four years, to the day, of that traumatic relinquishing that our own son was born.
God’s idea of calendar or seasons is another one of the threads in the biblical story that stretches from chapter one to the very end. He clearly has a calendar for all of human history, and yet he also pays intimate attention to the seasons of our individual lives.
In Genesis 1:14 God creates earthly time itself, by creating light and separating day from night. His stated purpose? The calendar was to be “for signs and for seasons.”
There may be no better way to see God’s control of timing, of the calendar of history, than to consider the feasts prescribed in the Law at Sinai. As Moses takes dictation and records God’s Law, the word used for these feasts is the Hebrew word mo’ed, or appointments.
We begin to see his purpose when, before the first Passover in Egypt has even taken place, God gives instructions for how it is to be annually remembered and celebrated (Exodus 12:14). Once his people are assembled at Mt. Sinai, the Law that God gives includes annual appointments or feasts, and three are of major importance. To the annual celebration of the Passover, or Unleavened Bread, God adds Shavuot/Pentecost, the feast of the first harvest, and Sukkot/Tabernacles, the feast of the final harvest. These three were sometimes called the foot feasts, for the people were required to travel to celebrate at the Temple in Jerusalem for all three (Exodus 23, Leviticus 23).
And having created a calendar for his people, God fulfills his own calendar in the life of Jesus. It’s been about him all along.
The Gospel writers make sure we don’t miss that Jesus gave up his life during Passover, shedding his blood like the Passover lamb to secure the freedom of people enslaved to sin. John the Baptist is the first to call Jesus the Lamb of God, and Jesus highlights his coming sacrifice during the Last Supper, a celebration of the Passover.
The Law also instructed the people of Israel to count fifty days from Passover and appear at the Temple again to celebrate the early harvest, or Pentecost, the second of the foot feasts. The book of Acts opens with the apostles huddled for those days, during which Jesus meets with them before he ascends. And on the day of Pentecost, Jews from many nations who were there to celebrate the first harvest became the first harvest of the Kingdom as they heard the Gospel in their own languages while the apostles worshipped. 3,000 people! Perfect timing.
So what about Tabernacles, the feast of the final harvest? People built temporary shelters outside in Jerusalem to remember that God dwelled, tabernacled, with them in the wilderness and brought them into a fruitful land. Jews in Israel often still build them.
It’s not surprising that this last of the major feasts has no clear fulfillment so far. It’s clearly not perfect timing yet, but we have a few hints. When the prophet Zechariah prophesies about the coming day of the Lord he echoes notes sounded by many of Israel’s other prophets—signs in the heavens, water flowing out from the Temple—but he adds an important detail. At the end of time, people from the nations will stream to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah14:16). Jesus attends the Feast of Tabernacles and clearly identifies himself as the true fulfillment of the feast, the very water about which the prophets had spoken (John 7).
Then the scriptures close with a striking image, echoing all the way back to Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness. The redeemed saints are sheltered, literally tabernacled, by God’s immediate presence (Revelation 7:15). John takes dictation from a voice declaring from heaven that after the final harvest of the Kingdom is accomplished the tabernacle of God is now with his people. He will dwell, tabernacle, with his creation as he did in the Garden (Revelation 21:3). The appointment arranged in Eden will be celebrated in the New Jerusalem. Tabernacles is celebrated in heaven.
Calendars are for appointments and appointments are for relationships. Anniversaries and birthdays are more than remembrances of the past, they are expressions of hope. God has ordained celebrations of his mercies, not just as reminders, but as rehearsals.
Deepening our awe is the assertion of the text that enfolded in God’s loving orchestration of human history is his focused attention to each of his children, knowing us perfectly, hearing our thoughts, directing our days, and calling us into his story for the world he made (Psalm 139).
Can you think of examples of perfect timing in the story of the scriptures?
Pharoah’s daughter finding baby Moses in his floating basket...
Slave traders showing up just before Joseph’s brothers kill him...
Saul choosing to relieve himself in the cave David happened to be hiding in...
Peter catching the fish with a coin in its mouth...
Jesus appearing in the storm just before the boat goes down...
How does this thread in the scriptures speak to your thoughts, and maybe fears, about your own life? Talk to God about it? He’s listening.