Category Archives: Chanukkah

The Six-Day War, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham!

UntitledYom Yerushalayim was last month on May 23 in Israel.  Otherwise known as “Jerusalem Day,” it is an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem, which happened following the Six-Day war.  Because of the differences between the Jewish calendar and the Gregorian calendar,  we mark the observance of Jerusalem Day in May (this year), but June 5-10 marks the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day war.  I can’t believe that it has been that long, and I remember it like it was yesterday. We, the American Jewish community, were sure that this was the end of Israel, and yet, much like our dreidel proclaims at Chanukkah, “a great miracle happened there!”

Many people debate about whether Israel has any historical right to the land that they are in.  Some make a biblical argument based on God’s promises to Abraham, others refute that and base their refutation on theological arguments and spiritualize Israel as only the Church and the promised land as “heaven.”  (Certainly Paul, uses Israel to refer to the Church, but also to the land and to the ethnic people…see Romans 9-11.)  Still others refute such a right because they see Israel as an oppressive government that has displaced an indigenous people, the “Palestinians.”  No matter what, Israel is a lightening rod that draws a lot of opinion, anger and attention.

While this is not an excursus on Israel, I just have to say that regardless of all the opinion out there,  there is a modern, historic foundation to Israel’s right to the land that is hard to refute.  It started on November 29, 1947 when the United Nations adopted a partition plan for Palestine following the British withdrawal from the region in 1948.  Effectively, the United Nations gave the area a “two-state solution” that we hear so much about today.  Israel and Palestine were created and the Jewish Agency for Palestine accepted the plan, despite the fact that the newly created Israel would have “indefensible” borders.  But the nations that surrounded Israel, Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq and Syria, along with the newly created “Palestinians,” rejected the plan and attacked Israel.  Anyone who believes a two-state solution would bring peace to the Middle East just needs to study history!

A dear friend of mine was an American military observer in Israel during the Six-Day war.  I remember him saying that the Israeli victory was nothing short of miraculous, that with God there is no such thing as “indefensible” borders, and clearly God is not done with His Jewish people.  These observations are also hard to refute.  Thank you for helping us share the Gospel here and in Israel!

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

Resistance

Illustration:  “Resistance,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1937.

“‘ I and the Father are one.’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God'” (John 10:30-33).

Here is where “the rubber meets the road.” Jesus takes the opportunity of the Feast of Dedication to make an extraordinary claim. “I and the Father are one.” You see, to be the Messiah, He must be God. Judah, the one whom God used to deliver His people from the oppressive rule of the Syrians, was just a man. He did not claim to be God.  In the same way, God used Moses to deliver his people from the oppressive rule of the Egyptians. But Moses never claimed to be God, either.

Israel’s prophet Isaiah prophesied that Messiah must be both God and man. A child born of a virgin, a son who is called Immanuel, “God With Us.” Jesus is Messiah, God with us. Blasphemy? No, not if it is the truth. But the truth isn’t always easy to understand.  How can God be a man?  How could He die? Truth does not require understanding, and neither does faith.  Faith clings to what it knows is true, and clings to the One who claimed to be the Truth:  Jesus, True God and True Man.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, I long to teach Your truth to one who does not know yYou. Teach me through Your Word, and send someone with questions that I might answer. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  So many say that they are afraid to tell others about their walk with Jesus because they may not have the right words or answers to questions. Prepare well and pray. God will give what you need, and it’s OK to say, “I don’t know, let’s look into it.”

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

Consecration of Aaron and his sonIllustration:  “Consecration of Aaron and his son,” by Marc Chagall, crayon, gouache, and pastel on paper, 1965.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Chanukkah teaches us something about service. Tradition says that when the temple was rededicated, the lampstand was filled with oil and lit. But following the war, there was only enough oil to last one day, and it would take seven more days to press enough olives for oil to keep the lamp stand burning. Miraculously, the flame lasted for eight days, and so the festival lasts eight days to commemorate this miracle.

Each day of the festival a new light is added to the Chanukkah menorah until the eighth day, when the entire lamp stand is lit and the room is bright with light. Usually, beeswax candles are used today, and they are not extinguished, but are allowed to burn as long as they will. Although the festival lasts only eight days, the menorah has nine branches.  What is this ninth candle? Called the shammes, meaning “servant,” this candle lights the rest of the candles. Day after day, the shammes lights one more flame, until the entire room is lit.

There is no record or understanding of how this tradition was begun.  The miracle of the oil is not in the historical accounts of the war, and there is no record of it until around the 4th century.  But I believe it is God’s truth being deposited in the traditions of men. We have a servant King who brings us eternal life. Just as the shammes lights the candles of the menorah, our Shammes, Jesus, ignites the light of life in us. But unlike the candles at Chanukkah, which will eventually burn out, our lights will never perish.

Prayer:  Lord God, Heavenly Father, thank You for the light you have shined into my heart. Thank You for Your Son, who died so that I might live. Help me to understand how You desire to use me to serve You. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  To walk in darkness is never a pleasant experience. Even if the path is well worn and easy to follow, without light, you will inevitably  trip and fall. The Holy Spirit is the flame that lights your way and leads you to serve. Which gift of the Spirit have you received to use in service to the Body of Christ? (Read 1 Corinthians 12).

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Fourth Sunday in Lent: Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

I and the VillageIllustration:  “I and the Village,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1911.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Jesus makes it clear what it takes to walk the path of Life. He uses a shepherd/sheep analogy to describe the relationship we have with Him. A shepherd teaches his sheep to distinguish his voice from anyone else’s, so as to protect them from following a false shepherd. His concern is for their safety. A shepherd will protect his sheep at even the risk of his own life.

To be called sheep is not necessarily a compliment. Sheep are fairly dumb animals who cannot accomplish anything for themselves. If a sheep falls, it cannot even stand up without the help of the shepherd. That is our situation exactly. There is nothing we can do to help ourselves. We must listen to our Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. His role as leader is not commander, but servant. He leads us through serving us, and because of His service, we are dedicated to Him.

The Feast of Dedication is  a time to remember the dedication of the temple, but also gives us an opportunity to examine our own dedication to God. If we listen to His voice and follow Him, we are sure to be led safely on the path of Life. But if we stray, we risk our lives. False shepherds will call us. But the Shepherd who served us with His life and death now serves us in His resurrected life and continues to calls us. Listen to His voice as He leads us in the path of Life.

Prayer:  Avinu, Malkenu, Our Father, Our King, thank You for sending Your Son to serve us as our Shepherd. Tune our hearts to His voice, and help us to listen always. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  False shepherds call us from the radio, television, movies, books, and friends. Are you listening to the true Shepherd who calls to you from God’s Word, and leads you through the Holy Spirit? He will never lead you astray.

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

The Russian VillageIllustration:  “Russian Village,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1929.

“Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32–5:2).

While traditions can be good, there are some traditions in our cart that can be a distraction to the journey that we are taking.  It is a shame that Christmas has become a time when Santa Claus seems much more prominent than Jesus in our culture.

While I appreciate the mythos of Santa Claus as an imitation of St. Nicholas, (whose feast day is December 6), when we forget that St. Nicholas gave secret gifts to show forth the love of Christ and the grace of God, it can turn Santa Claus into a simple instrument of commercialism or discipline (“he knows when you’ve been bad or good!?”).

Jewish families have traditions at Chanukkah that imitate Santa Claus.  The pressure of our Christian friends, who have Christmas trees, Santa Claus and gifts have grown traditions for some Jewish homes that include gift giving for eight days, a Chanukkah bush (a silver foil tree with blue balls on it), and Hanukkah Harry, the little man who brings the gifts.

Our Christmas traditions are wonderful, even those of Christmas trees, Santa Claus and the giving of gifts, if they testify to the glory of God, the gift of the Messiah and the promise of eternal life.  Chanukkah traditions are just as wonderful, if they point to these same things. Unless we celebrate these things, others will simply imitate the traditions, with no opportunity to imitate God.

Prayer:  Abba, Father, thank You for traditions that help me teach Your truth, and bless us with joy.  May I never get distracted from the promise of salvation that You have given in Messiah, Y’shua.  In His name,  Amen.

Ponder the path:  The Lenten and Easter season have traditions that can also distract.  Look closely at the things you do, and explore how you can share the Gospel through those things and then tell the Story.

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

The RevolutionIllustration:  “The Revolution,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1937.

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me … ‘” (John 10:25).

God is in the miracle business. We have been given the miracle of life, the miracle of breath, and the faith we find in answer to yesterday’s questions is the greatest miracle of all.

Chanukkah is a time to remember miracles. It was certainly a miracle that the small army of Jewish soldiers were able to overcome the vast resources of the Syrian war machine, and it is a great miracle that Jewish people are still today seeking the Messiah in the miracle of Chanukkah.

For centuries, conquerors, kings and popes have sought to destroy the Jewish people. But God sustained them. During a dark time of the church, Spanish inquisitors tried hard to destroy the Jews in the name of God, forcing conversions at the point of a sword. But God’s miracles were remembered through a simple child’s game called Dreidle. The dreidle is a top inscribed with four Hebrew letters which are an acronym for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Disallowed by the Church of that day  to celebrate their festivals, Jewish people remembered the miracle of God’s deliverance in this game.

Today, the Church remembers God’s grace and love, and prays that the Jewish people would again be delivered, not by the point of a sword, but by the work of the true Messiah–Jesus.

Prayer:  Dear God, remove from the Church those who would persecute Your people. Give us Your truth that Jesus is the Way for all people, including Your Jewish people. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Has God placed any Jewish people along your path? Share this study with them and tell them about the Messiah.

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Chanukkah–The Feast of Dedication

Return from the SynagogueIllustration:  “Return from the Synagogue,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1926.

“So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly'” (John 10:24).

As Jesus walked in the temple, a crowd gathered around Him. Some were walking the path with Him, many had witnessed his miracles, and all were longing for a Messiah. Now they asked him to be clear:  “Are you the Messiah or not?”

God’s people have waited a long time for the promised Messiah. This festival reminds them of the wait. Chanukkah commemorates the rededication of the temple in 167 B.C. The land of Israel had been conquered by Syria, and its king, Antiochus, declared himself to be god. He refused to allow the Jewish people to worship the true God, and he desecrated the temple. A man arose during this time who would help lead the Jews in a victory over the Syrians. His name was Judah (the name alone would evoke hope, because Jacob promised the Messiah would come through his son, Judah), and following a miraculous victory, many hailed him as the messiah.

But as Jesus walked in the temple, Judah has been dead for many generations, and another foreign power controlled Israel. Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, is being asked, “Are you the Messiah?” Some hope for deliverance from the Romans. Others hope for deliverance from persecution. Few hope for the deliverance that Jesus would effect. He would deliver them from death, and a new temple would be dedicated in the hearts of those who follow Him on His path to the cross.

Prayer:  My God, and my salvation, thank you for my faith. Renew and strengthen me today to answer with boldness, “Yes, Jesus is my Messiah.” In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  When you’re on a journey, it is OK to stop now and then to ask directions, even with GPS! “Are you the Messiah?” is an appropriate question to ask Jesus on this journey through Lent.  What answer to you hear?  Listen as Jesus tells you, “Yes, it is as you say”  (Matthew 26:64).

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

The Green ViolinistIllustration:  “The Green Violinist,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1924.  [“Why do we stay up there if it so dangerous?–ed.]

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

It’s a rather strange irony, isn’t it, that Jesus never celebrated Christmas?  His “winter holiday” was Chanukkah.  The long hot roads of summer are past, and it is winter in Judea. The rainy season has begun, and the path ahead is muddy, and striped with rivulets of running water. We see Jesus walking in the temple.  He is there for Chanukkah–The Feast of Dedication.

Though not a festival commanded by God in the Scripture, it is still a feast which Jesus attends. It is a time to remember God’s grace and protection of His people. A traditional holiday celebrated by Jewish people, it is interesting that the only mention of Chanukkah in Scripture is here in John 10. The events which Chanukkah remembers are recorded in 1 and 2 Maccabees, books of the apocrypha written during the 400 years between the ministry of the prophet Malachi and the birth of the Messiah.

Traditions are good opportunities to remember how God has shown His grace to us in the past. They are not the objects of worship, just carts we pull along on the path–carts which carry treasured memories that remind us that God forgives sins and gives us eternal life through our faith in the death and resurrection of His Son, our Messiah, Jesus.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank you for traditions and the value they have in remembering Your mercy for us. Help us to rededicate ourselves to You, especially today and during this season. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  What traditions do you take with you on your path through Lent?  Wednesday night worship during Lent is not commanded by Scripture, but has become a useful tradition by which we remember the grace that God has shown us. In your worship tonight, praise Him who has shown you every mercy.

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Keep Christ in Christmukkah!

ep-151219982Blessed Advent greetings to all, Merry Christmas! and Happy Chanukkah…

Yes, it is a busy time of year.  But all this busyness, except maybe the shopping, is a great way to spend time considering the best gift of God we could possibly receive.  And maybe even in shopping we can focus on gifts that bless as God has blessed us!  Praise Him for His gift of salvation through our Messiah Jesus, who’s birth, life, death and resurrection give us the promise of everlasting life.

This month is an oddity in the calendar because the two calendars, the Hebrew and the Gregorian have actually synced.  The new moon this month was on the 1st of December, which means that the 1st of Kislev and the 1st of December were the same day.  The 1st of December then, was a minor festival , Rosh Chodesh, (literally the “Head of the Month”), the festival of the New Moon.  This festival was introduced by God in Numbers 10:10, and you can see it’s observance throughout the Scriptures.  Paul mentions this festival in Colossians 2:16.

Rosh Chodesh is not a significant festival of the Jewish calendar, often sufficient to simply mention it the previous Sabbath with the inclusion of some prayers for the occasion.  But the significance of this new moon for us is that the 25th of Kislev and the 25th of December are the same day.  The 25th of Kislev, of course, is Chanukkah, which goes from the eve of the 24th through January 1.  Some in our circles are calling it Chrismukkah and Jew Year’s Eve!  I am not that bold, but I am reflecting on the reality that as our family celebrates the twelve days of Christmas, including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, The Feast of St. Stephen (the 26th), St. John the Evangelist (the 27th), and the feast of the Holy Innocents (the 28th), we will be lighting a candle on the Chanukkah menorah for most of those twelve days.  While the feeble lights of the Chanukkiah may not contend well with the brilliance of Christmas, without the events of Chanukkah, none of Christmas would have been possible!

So this year, more than perhaps any other, we are remembering all the miracles of the Christmas season, including the miracle of God’s preservation of His people against enormous odds, so that from their cradle the Messiah would come.  Some 200 years before Jesus stood in Solomon’s colonnade at Chanukkah to affirm that He is indeed the Messiah (John 10:22), a nation sought to destroy Israel.  God would have none of it!  That nation would survive and Mary would become with child.  The rest, as they say, is His story.

Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.  And . . .Happy Chanukkah too.

If you are interested in Advent devotions, just type “Advent devotions” into the search bar above, and you will be taken to a list of Advent devotions beginning with Epiphany (so you have to scroll down).  May I also suggest that we hear all the time about Luther’s “On the Jews and Their Lies,” but go to http://www.ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/primary-texts-from-the-history-of-the-relationship/272-luther-1523 for a different perspective on Luther (“That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew”).

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Why is Hanukkah so popular?

imagesAs we get ready for our Hanukkah party this year (Dec. 11), one of our missionaries ran across an article in a Jewish publication trying to answer the question “Why is Hanukkah such a popular holiday?”

There is no question that Hanukkah is one of the more popular holidays in the Jewish calendar, and as the writer of the article notes, there is very little in the Talmud about Hanukkah, especially about the origin and nature of the holiday.

One of the most popular aspects of the holiday of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah.  As I’ve said before, that custom stems from a “miracle” that occurred after the Maccabees secured the Temple from the Syrians, and cleansed and rededicated it.  The story goes that as the priests went to light the lampstand in the Temple, there was not enough undefiled oil to keep it lit.  They used what oil could be used, enough to last for a day, but the miracle that occurred is that that little bit of oil lasted eight days, long enough to press and purify more oil.  Many traditions of Hanukkah flowed form this oil miracle.  The problem, of course, is that the history does not record such a miracle, and the miracle of the oil wasn’t even mentioned in the Talmud until around the 4th century.  While some argue for an oral tradition that predates the Talmud, I have often maintained that the miracle of the oil was a distraction for the Jewish people, to take the focus off of the true miracle of Hanukkah, the preservation of the people from whom Messiah Jesus would be born.

I often wonder at what lengths some Jewish people will go to avoid talking about Jesus.  The writer quotes a reference from Rashi from the 11th century and says, “This story shows that the popularity of Hanukkah was so great that it was kept even after the Temple was destroyed. Consequently, it implies that Hanukkah was established earlier, even while the Temple stood. This makes sense because if it was enacted after the Temple was destroyed, it should have been counted among the other mitzvot established by Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai as Zecher L’mikdash, as a reminder of the Temple.”

It implies that Hanukkah was established “even while the Temple stood?”  We don’t truly need Rabbi Yochanan or Rashi to tell us that…Rabbi Y’shua tells us very clearly.  “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem (John 10:22).”  Y’shua was there, and he used that opportunity to boldly tell the Jewish people that he is the Messiah, born of the Jews.  We can light the menorah to do something other than celebrate his birth, or we can light the menorah to celebrate the miracle of his birth.  Surely the popularity of Hanukkah is not just a distraction so that we don’t have to talk about Jesus?

Merry Christmas to you, and Happy Hanukkah.  It is a wonderful season of true miracles in Messiah!

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