Tag Archives: Hanukkah

Why is Hanukkah just as important to Christians as it is to Jews in the 21st Century?

Hanukkah begins tomorrow evening, December 10 and ends the evening of December 18. Why is the real story behind Hanukkah unknown to most Christians and even most Jews, who are limited in their understanding to superficial tropes of the 8-day festival. The authentic message of Hanukkah has an “Independence Day” theme because it recounts a moment in history when the people of the Lord God in ancient Judea and Galilee were able to throw off the tyranny of the elite of the Seleucid Empire. This political elite was composed not only of Greeks but also of apostate Jewish high priests and their supporters (collaborators who betrayed for their own people and their theocratic constitution, i.e. the Law of God).  The faithful leaders, the Jewish patriots of the day, were from a family of lower level priests who had to finally make a stand and refuse to compromise with God’s teachings. They were known as the  Maccabees. It was only after waging a hard fought guerrilla war against the Seleucid Empire, one of the major states of the ancient, that the Maccabees were able to cleanse the Jerusalem Temple of the Lord God of Creation of Greek idols and other various defilements in order to restore a biblically approved worship service. The Maccabees also deposed and replaced the corrupt apostate Jewish leadership that had betrayed the nation and their biblical constitution.

Hanukkah acknowledges the commitment of those Jewish patriots who gave their lives to restore their people’s religious liberties. It is also about the mysterious power of the Bible’s God and how He works through imperfect human instruments to deliver Hs people when the opposing forces were vastly superior in numbers and armaments. The real Hanukkah story did not end when the Jerusalem Temple was cleansed and biblical worship restored in 165 B.C. The struggle by the people of God for their religious freedom would be ongoing. In fact you could say that while the nature of the warfare has changed, the battle is still being fought with those who are hostile to the Bible’s God and His values.

This year the message of Hanukkah seems especially fitting in the USA where there are those who would use cunning, deceit, and a ‘mirage of superior numbers and overwhelming forces’ to—at the very least give the strong impression of—if not the act of stealing an election. Election fraud is an old tradition in the USA going back to the 1800s.

The Maccabees were eventually successful in their costly fight for biblical truth and religious freedom because they looked to the Lord God to deliver them in spite of difficult odds. And they fought valiantly knowing that their way of life and that of their children were at stake.

Psalm 82 bears some interesting relevance to the Hanukkah story for Christians especially.  While teaching in the Jerusalem Temple during Hanukkah, Jesus of Nazareth would quote Psalm 82 to a group of antagonistic “religious leaders” of His nation who were in fact collaborators with the then Roman overlords.  Psalm 82 was a prophecy that future leaders of the nation would all become corrupt and compromised. When those “religious leaders” attacked Jesus for saying he was the son of God, He merely quoted this Psalm as proof that all men are “gods”—i.e. children of God created in His image. And no this Psalm is definitely not talking about “gods” in a heavenly realm, but people on earth that will die like men for their sins.

God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods (judges). 2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah (Think about that). 3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. 4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. 5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. 6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. 7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations. Psalm 82

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Merry Christmas? What Jesus would say is surprising

When someone wishes you a “Merry Christmas” how do you respond? Do you say the equivalent of something like “Bah, humbug!”  If so, how can you avoid being thought of as a big green grinch?

A few years ago,  I went to my publisher’s offices in downtown Victoria taking along my son Jazzy in order to pick up some review copies of our book. While talking with a group of maybe six of the publisher’s staff about a problem, one of the women smitten by my son’s coy smile asked Jazzy, “Are you all ready for Christmas.” Jazzy loudly responded, “We don’t keep Christmas!”

Everyone turned their heads and looked at me. What would you have done? What would Jesus have said at that moment? Would He have launched into a tirade about the pagan origins of common Christmas customs and made everyone feel uncomfortable? Or maybe mumbled a non-committal remark about not participating in gross commercialism.

Well, this is what I said with a smile as I looked at the woman, “We keep Hanukkah!” Wow, everyone was really paying attention now. The woman smiled back at me and said, “Say, that sounds like fun. Don’t they eat great food during Hanukkah?” “Yeah,” I said, “Last night we feasted on fried potato pancakes with sour cream and homemade apple sauce, and there’s cheesecake,  too.” The room buzzed and we chatted on for a few more minutes before returning to the work question at hand.

Friends, what would Jesus have done? Would He have said, “I keep Hanukkah?” Let’s look and see what the Scriptures have to say. Please turn with me to the gospel of John chapter 10 verse 22:

“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon.”

The festival of Dedication in Hebrew is called Hanukkah. Jesus made a point of being in the Temple for the Hanukkah festivities despite the fact that his enemies in Jerusalem had tried just a few months before to kill him (see John 8:59). Why did Jesus take the risk to going to Jerusalem to keep Hanukkah? What is it about this festival that Jesus thought was important enough to commemorate?

Hanukkah is sometimes called the festival of lights because it is a joyful occasion that commemorates a remarkable deliverance of the people of God from the power of the terrible oppressor Antiochus IV, who ruled a Hellenistic Greek Syrian state that included all the ancient lands Judea in the mid-second century B.C. This modest pagan king liked to call himself Antiochus Epiphanes, which means “Antiochus, the god made manifest.”  Humble guy, eh?

You see, Antiochus, being recently defeated in Egypt by the Romans, expressed his frustration by viciously oppressing his subject people of Judea, ruthlessly slaughtering men, women, and children as well as robbing the Temple of its precious golden altar, the menorahs and other vessels used in the service of God. In his contempt for the God of Israel Antiochus Epiphanes sacrifice a pig to Zeus on the Temple’s altar, and then cooked it in the holy place and then poured the unclean animal’s broth on copies of the Word of God. Antiochus then dispatched officers and soldiers in his army to enforce the worship of his pagan Greek gods throughout Judah. Anyone who resisted or continued to hold to the ways of the God of Israel was to be murdered and their property confiscated. All of this was prophesied in Daniel chapter 11.

Of course, Antiochus’ plans eventually failed due to the brave resistance of a family of Levitical priests known as the Maccabees who knew their God and with God’s miraculous intervention eventually pushed Antiochus’ forces out the Temple. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the people and the Temple to the service of God. It commemorates the revealing of the God of Israel to His hard-pressed people through a miraculous deliverance at a time of great danger.

Hanukkah also recounts the LORD’s own acceptance and dedication to His people. You see, at the rededication of God’s altar on Kislev 25, the priests relit the eternal light fueled by olive oil that was always to burn perpetually before the presence of the LORD. But the priests could only find one jar of specially prepared oil that had escaped destruction at the hands of Antiochus Epiphane’s soldiers. Let’s turn to Exodus 27:20-21 to see what God said about this perpetual light and the special olive oil to be used in it:

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD. It shall be a statue forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.”

Obviously, this perpetually burning lamp of olive oil symbolized the Holy Spirit’s function of revealing spiritual light to the people of God. The miracle of the Hanukkah lights was that even though the people only had enough oil initially to cause the lamp of God to burn for one day, remarkably, one day’s supply lasted for eight days until fresh supplies of olive oil could be prepared and delivered to the Temple. God made up what the people lacked.

So Hanukkah is about the people rededicating themselves to God and God revealing Himself to His people, supplying their needs for His holy oil.

Let’s turn back to John 10:27 and read what Jesus said during the feast of Dedication:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish [Why can’t we perish? Because God supplies His Holy Spirit, His pure oil to light our lamps before Him forever]; neither shall anyone snatch them out of our hand [no oppressor can overcome God’s plan]. 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. I and My Father are one.”

Yes, unlike Antiochus Epiphanes who wanted to reveal himself as a god, our Saviour revealed Himself as the true Son of God.

Friends, these are fascinating parallels. So if someone says to you, “Merry Christmas” just respond as Jesus would and say, “Happy Feast of Dedication, Happy Hanukkah!”

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