Sunday, June 25, 2017

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Take the Chanukah Quiz

Which of the following Jewish men celebrated Chanukah?

  1. Moses
  2. King David
  3. Jesus of Nazareth

Answer (a) is not correct. When Moses was writing Scripture, he described holidays like Passover and Yom Kippur (Leviticus 23). But Chanukah was not yet a holiday during the time of Moses, so you will excuse him for not celebrating it. One of the themes of Chanukah (also spelled Hanukah or Hanukkah …) is a rededication of the temple; this temple wasn’t built yet in Moses day (note: the Temple as distinguished from the earlier Tabernacle). According to Rabbinic custom, God miraculously provided oil for the candles in the Temple menorah when none was to be found. Because the oil lasted 8 days, we celebrate 8 days of Chanukah with 8 candles.

Answer (b) is also not correct. Another theme of Chanukah was a resistance to assimilation, in this case by Greek culture. In the time of David, well before Alexander the Great spread Hellenistic culture more rapidly than “American Idol,” Greek culture was nowhere near as prominent. The Maccabean Revolt that initiated the setting for Chanukah occurred in 167 BCE. You can read the relevant history in apocryphal books like 1st Maccabees (meaning these are not Scripture but are still worth reading for historical and cultural value). It was not a pretty time for Jews: idolatrous sacrifices were offered in the Temple (hence the rededication), Torah scrolls were burned, and mothers who had their sons circumcised were put to death. And you thought our country was in trouble these days …

Answer (c) is indeed correct, which may come as a surprise to some. What is stranger: that Jesus was Jewish or that he celebrated Chanukah? Jesus was most certainly Jewish. To remind us and others of Jesus’ Jewish heritage and cultural practice, we refer to him by his Jewish name Yeshua. When we look at his life, Yeshua did whatever Jewish men of his day were supposed to do: go to synagogue, pray, fast, study the Scriptures, celebrate Biblical festivals and so on. Ironically the New Testament, which some (falsely) assert is non-Jewish and even anti-Semitic, actually goes to great lengths to assert the Jewish credentials of Yeshua. How strange is that?

Furthermore, Yeshua certainly celebrated Chanukah as the Bible asserts:

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Yeshua was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. (John 10:22-23)

We see important historical data in these verses: First, Chanukah was called the Feast of Dedication as a reminder of the rededication of Temple from deliberate idolatry. Second, Chanukah was celebrated in winter, just as it is today. Third, Yeshua was in/near the Temple (the colonnade of Solomon). In other words, Yeshua was right where he should be for a Jewish festival –celebrating the rededication of the Jewish Temple as expressed in a Jewish faith from a God who gave us our salvation from God incarnated as a Jewish man.

Sadly today Chanukah is viewed as the Jewish equivalent to Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth – Chanukah is a celebration of being faithful to God in the midst of a surrounding culture. In a Messianic congregation, in spirit we do just that: we celebrate the life of the Jewish Messiah using Jewish expressions of faith. We do this despite a secular world (that could care less) that contains many negative influences, a Christian world (of which we are a part) that is skeptical of why believers in Yeshua bother with a Jewish holiday, amidst a Jewish people (of which we are also a part) that considers us anything but Jewish because we believe in Yeshua.

While we assert that Messianic congregations should be Christian in the sense that Yeshua should be the focal point of everything (just like in a typical church), we further assert that there is much to be learned and gained by recognizing a Jewish holiday in the Bible that Yeshua himself celebrated. This holiday season, we say “behold the light of the world, Yeshua” without regret or compromise.

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