The Light, Love and Joy of Christmas is Yours
During this season we see lights everywhere. Businesses, homes, churches, and synagogues are filled with light. It is a joyful time. Most people, even though it has been a rough year, find ways to show others how much they are loved. There is a spirit of generosity and gift-gifting. As Christians, most of us focus on Christmas. We celebrate Jesus birth as God’s greatest gift to all who would receive Him. He is the reason for the season.
I love Christmas, but as most of you know, God has called us to bring the Church back to the Jewish roots of the Bible. Jesus, our Messiah, was born, raised, ministered and still is, Jewish. I want to share the connection Jesus has to the Jewish Feast of Dedication and the eight days that revealed God’s miraculous presence and power to Israel, and to us thousands of years later.
Several years ago, I was invited to teach a Dallas synagogue during the time of Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication and the Festival of Lights. The Rabbi lit the eight-branched menorah. Then he turned to me and explained the significance of what he had done. He didn’t know that I understood the history behind this special time. He introduced me and I said to the large crowd, “I appreciate the Rabbi lighting the Chanukah candles tonight. Can I ask you something? ‘How many of you before you left home to come here, lit the Chanukah candles?’ Raise your hands.” Not surprisingly, they all raised their hands. Then I said, “Where in the Bible does it talk about Chanukah?” No one said a thing. “Is there a scripture about Christmas?” Again, there was no response.
There is One Place Christmas Isn’t Mentioned – Do You Know It?
There’s only one place in all the Bible where Chanukah is mentioned, and Jesus is the one talking about it. Look at John 10:22.
“22 Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in [a]doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, [b]as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.”
Notice that it is wintertime. Isn’t that interesting? That’s exactly when we put up the lights, decorate the trees and celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Messiah, Savior and Emmanuel, ‘God with us.” Winter is when we celebrate, but it’s not when Jesus was born. So why all the lights then? That goes back to the history behind Chanukah.
You Can’t Sit This One Out – What Would You Have Done?
At the same time, the greatest battle the Jews faced, wasn’t an army, but an ideology called Hellenism. The Greek Empire of Hellenists worshiped everything on the outside – the world, the body and immortality. The Jews worshipped inward beauty, morality and the family. During this time of spiritual and cultural conflict, God had a High Priest named Yochanan. He caused upheaval among the Jews who did not want to be religious. They wanted to be secular. They were siding with the Hellenists who were saying, “Why be so dogmatic? Why not eliminate the Torah, worshipping God and eat anything you want? Quit eating kosher.” But Yochanan was immovable. He stood fast on the principles of the Torah.
Stealing Money From God – Is It Worth the Price?
The Hellenists stepped up their strategy and went to the King of Syria telling him, “What you need to do is go into the temple and take the money out of the temple. This will stop them from spreading Judaism.” The King sent his minister Helyodros to steal the money out of the temple. When he went into the temple to grab it, he turned white as a ghost, fell to the ground and started to scream. After some time, he got up and ran screaming from the temple, never to go back there again.
Soon after this incident, the king died and his brother, Antiochus IV becomes the new ruler. Unfortunately, he was far worse than his brother. History records his reign and designates him the madman. He was cruel. He wanted to unify the religions of the area by stopping the Jews from worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. On the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which on our calendar is December 25th, he brought a pig into the temple in Jerusalem and sacrificed it on God’s holy altar. On their New Sun day, they desecrated God’s temple and forbid the Jews from worshipping God, sacrificing in the temple, and reading the Torah. The High Priest Yochanan was removed and replaced with his brother Joshua, who changed his Hebrew name to the Hellenistic version, Jason.
What to Do When Doing Right is Wrong?
He started his new administration by bringing Hellenistic customs into the priesthood. He removed the Torah scrolls and burned them. He forbade worship on the Sabbath. Jews could no longer be circumcised, eat kosher, or keep the laws of the Torah. If they disobeyed, they would be put to death. Jason and his priesthood went from town to town, and city to city forcing the Jews to worship pagan gods.
In the city of Modin, Rabbi Eliezer, highly thought of in the entire community was confronted. “We want you to come out. We have sacrificed a pig on the altar in the town square. Eat it and your town and you will be spared.” Rabbi Eliezer refused. They whispered in his ear. ”All you have to do is pretend you’re eating the pig so that the rest of the Jews will do the same. You don’t have to actually do it. The key to stopping this is for all of us to come to the middle. Don’t be so one-sided. Don’t be so dogmatic. Just pretend to eat the pig.” The Rabbi responded. “No, I will not lead the people astray.”
As they were about to kill Eliezer, an elder from the village stepped forward. He refused to eat the pig. Another leader passed by them, grabbed a piece of the pig and ate it. A crowd of elders killed him as he ate. As the Roman and Syrian soldiers closed in to kill the elders, a rebel army began slaughtering the soldiers. The Jews were outnumbered one hundred to one, but God gave them a tremendous victory. Mattathias, one of the elders who killed the soldiers and the rebels with him said, “We are not going to bow down to Rome. We are not going to assimilate. We are children of God.” His son was nicknamed Maccabee, which meant, “Who is like You, Almighty God?”
Believe It – You Can Beat All the Odds With God on Your Side
The army of rebels refused to bow down. They were the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego of their time. If they lived in our time they would be declaring, “We don’t care what Hollywood says. We don’t care what the government says. What our neighbors say doesn’t matter. We don’t care what anybody says. We are going to serve the one and only living God!” As long as God has a remnant, He will bring the victory! Word reached the Roman Empire that a ragtag band of rebel farmers had defeated the soldiers. The empire sent double back to Modin. They were defeated again. The empire, outraged, redoubled their forces and sent them back. For a third time they were defeated. Historical records state that a total of 40 thousand soldiers were sent to battle 120 farmers wielding swords who refused to bow their knees to Rome.
They march into Jerusalem, take back the Temple Mount and walk up to the altar. It had been defiled with pig’s blood. They remove the pig, the altar and build a new one and dedicate it to God on the same day it had been desecrated two years before – the 25th of Kislev. They look for the menorah, but it had been stolen. They built a temporary one with seven candlesticks. They are ready to light it, but can only find a small jar of consecrated oil. The menorah represents the anointing of God, and the norah, the Shekinah glory the presence of God. The oil to light the menorah can never be mixed with water. How would the small jar of oil last long enough to consecrate the menorah? There was only enough for one day. They needed eight days. They chose to light the menorah.
You Won’t Be Disappointed – Another Miracle is On it’s Way
They come back the next day and the menorah is still burning. The light still burned for the full eight days. It was a miracle. The oil was pure in the eyes of God. The word Chanukah means education. This is the time we educate ourselves. David defeated Goliath. The 120 farmers won the victory over 40 thousand of the empire’s soldiers. The light still burns and dispels the darkness. The God that brought victory to that rebel band of Jew, is still the God of miracles for you and me today. Whether it’s defeating the enemy of cancer, divorce, poverty, or the values of an ungodly culture, His light will still shine.
Jesus said talking about Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, “You are the light of the world. No longer is there a temple in Jerusalem, that is temporarily gone. Now, you are the temple of God and let your light so shine.” I want to challenge you to light one candle tonight. Maybe you don’t have a Chanukah menorah. Light any candle and put it in the window where it can be seen. Why? Because light does no good if it just lights your life. If you don’t share it, the world is still in darkness.