The New Testament, Christmas, and Hanukkah: Celebrating the Season
Shalom and happy holidays! I am sure you are looking forward to celebrating the two great holidays observed in December.
During Hanukkah, we focus on the rededication of the Temple during the days of the Maccabees, a family of Jewish warriors who saved the Jewish people from the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanes. Christmas, of course, points us to the redemption of both Jews and Gentiles through the One who was born to be the Savior of the world.
We see similar patterns in both holidays, including themes of light, generosity, deliverance, and giving glory to God.
Hanukkah and Christmas:
I also see the connection between Hanukkah and Christmas in the ways that the stories complement one another. After all, if Antiochus Epiphanes had turned the Jewish people into idol-worshipping Greeks who tossed out the Bible and embraced Greek philosophies, then the Jewish people could very well have disappeared. If that had happened, why would anyone be looking for a Jewish Messiah? And who would understand the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that paved a path through history, enabling Jewish people to identify the true Messiah?
All would have been lost if this small band of priestly zealots had not overthrown the Greeks.
Stated simply: Without Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas!
The Savior of the world did not enter earth’s atmosphere unannounced or pop onto the scene through some mystical vortex that would make any New Ager jealous! Rather, His birthplace, parents, tribe, and even the timing of His birth were predicted with extraordinary specificity, which allowed us to recognize Him as the Son of God and Messiah of the Jewish people.
Jesus was Jewish! He was born a Jew, both of His parents were Jewish, He lived a Jewish life, celebrated Jewish holidays such as Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, and He lived a perfect life according to the Torah (Law). He grew up in the land given to the Jewish people, and when the moment came for the prophecy of His death to be fulfilled (Isaiah 53), He went to the cross without complaint, with love for His people who, for the most part, had rejected Him. He became the Savior and quintessential Passover lamb for all who, by faith, trusted in the blood of the Messiah, painted by grace on the doorposts of their hearts.
There literally would be no Christmas without Hanukkah, as there would be no Messiah without the Jewish people.
Early Faith Discoveries
I remember the first time I read the New Testament. I had previously thought this thin volume, compared to the Older Testament, was the fountainhead of antisemitism. I grew up believing that Jewish people were not supposed to read this book. Yet, one day I found a New Testament and began reading it. It struck me with the simplicity of its message and the love and kindness of Jesus. I quickly understood that He was Jewish, and I was fixated on His celebration of the Jewish holidays—as this is one of the ways we, as Jews, define ourselves. We celebrate Passover, not Easter, and Hanukkah, not Christmas. After I finished reading the Gospels for the first time, I came face to face with a Jewish book and a Jewish Messiah that was consistent with the Old Testament and that crushed my prejudices against the New Testament.
After reading “the book,” I knew I had to decide. Although as a Jewish person I was raised to reject Jesus, how could I do that after realizing that He fulfilled the prophecies predicted of the Messiah? I knew in the depth of my soul that if I did not believe in Jesus, I could never believe in anything! I was that convinced.
And so I accepted Jesus as my Messiah. For a moment, I feared I would wake up the next morning and find myself transformed into a Gentile, but the opposite was true. I never felt so Jewish in my entire life.
The New Testament is Kosher!
I soon became convicted that Jesus is God in the flesh and that the Lord had called me to tell my fellow Jewish people that Jesus is the Messiah and that the New Testament is kosher!
There are two magnificent passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that each of us should reflect on during this holiday season: Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6-7. The first passage is a clear prophecy of the virgin birth! You can only imagine how surprised I was to discover this prediction of the incarnation and virgin birth in my Bible! The prophet Isaiah writes, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
I am well familiar with the traditional objections that challenge this prophecy finding fulfillment in Jesus. The principal objection I had as a Jewish person to this possibility had nothing to do with the passage, but, rather, with the fundamental belief that God could not become flesh. In fact, as a Jewish person, I believed that this was tantamount to idolatry. The second of the Ten Commandments tells us that we should not create graven images of God. I recognized graven images are made of wood or stone, but Jewish people generally assume that a manifestation of God in the flesh is an idol. Therefore, for Jews, believing that Jesus is God is idolatry.
The other arguments are minor compared to this. Scholars debate whether the Hebrew word for virgin means “young woman” or “virgin,” and the son mentioned is also traditionally believed to be one of Isaiah’s children. There are good answers to these objections, but the primary challenge is encouraging Jewish people to be open-minded to the possibility that the eternal God could take on humanity. For some reason, this made sense to me and I believed it. I became convinced that God could become flesh because of this passage.
I then jumped a couple of chapters and found this new insight strengthened by another passage in Isaiah:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from
then on and forever-more. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.(Isaiah 9:6-7)
I view the son born of the virgin as the same child who is given this litany of spectacular names. I envision the names as characterizing the child and as windows into the character of this extraordinary individual. He is God in the flesh as depicted in the names.
Finally, it became clear to me that this child would become a king and reign on His father David’s throne for all eternity.
I asked myself the simple question, “Who lives for all eternity?” The answer, of course, is God Himself. At that point, as a new believer, I began to fully understand that Jesus was both the Messiah of Israel and Lord of the universe. He took on flesh to reveal the character of God to all mankind, identify with humanity, live a perfect life, and die as a worthy sacrifice for our sins.
Whew! What a journey through Scripture.
Jesus is God’s Hanukkah present wrapped in flesh!
I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah and enjoy this special holiday edition of The Chosen People newsletter.
Your brother in the Messiah,