Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chappy Chanukah!

As I write this, it is seven hours until the beginning of Hanukkah.  This is about the third or fourth year we have celebrated this festival.  I love it more every year!  In John 10, Jesus was in the temple during the celebration of Hanukkah.   Hey, if Jesus can celebrate it, why can't I?

Leviticus 23 outlines the seven major Biblical Feasts (mo'ed - appointed times).  Two additional feasts were added to the Jewish calendar... ironically, both of them were the result of some evil entity trying to wipe the Jews off the planet.  (Where have we heard THAT before?)  Purim was added to celebrate what Queen Esther did to save her people.  And then Hanukkah was added during the "inter-testament" time.

If you don't know the background, Hanukkah is a result of the persecution of Antiochus, ruler of Syria, from around 175-163 BC.  He wanted to destroy everything Jewish and overtake and Hellenize Israel.  He is foretold in the book of Daniel and is an early fulfillment of the antichrist.  In 167 BC, Antiochus desecrated the temple, sacrificed a PIG on the altar, and set up a statue of Zeus in God's holy place.  All over Israel, Jews were being forced to worship pagan gods.

Antiochus (he called himself "Epiphanes, meaning god), almost succeeded, but for a small band of dedicated fighters from the Hasmonean clan. For three years, Judas Maccabeus (which means "the hammer") fought against the Syrians and eventually prevailed, against all odds.  Judas then led the effort to clean up and re-consecrate the temple in 164 BC.

As the story goes, they discovered that most of the oil for the menorah had been contaminated by the Syrians.  Only one container was discovered still sealed, which should have been enough to fuel the menorah for a day.  But the oil miraculously lasted for 8 days during the temple re-dedication.  Thus the feast of Hanukkah, also called the feast of Dedication or the Festival of Light, was instituted to remember the surrounding events.

God once again had intervened miraculously to rescue the Jewish people from extinction.  And just in time, too!  Not too long after this, He sent His son to earth to save not just the Jews, but all people.  Without Hanukkah, there would have been no Jesus. 

The nine-branched menorah is used during Hanukkah (instead of the usual seven-branched menorah that was always in the temple).  The candle in the middle is elevated and is called the Shamash, or "Servant Candle."  It is with this candle that the remaining eight candles are lit.  What a wonderful picture of Jesus, the ultimate Servant, who is the Light of the World!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

No Christmas Tree, No Christmas Tree

I've been taking a little good-natured heat for my stance on Christmas.  I love my friends dearly, which is why I shared the scripture from Jeremiah 10 about cutting down trees from the woods and decorating them like the pagans do.  But in the last twenty four hours I've heard expressed to me both "legalism" and "well, it's just the Old Testament" (with a shrug).

Perhaps, in hindsight, I shouldn't have started with Jeremiah 10.  I had been studying paganism in the church for a long time before I stumbled onto that verse.  "Christmas" isn't in scripture.  It was begun in the fourth century when Constantine "converted" to Christianity, outlawed the celebration of any biblical Feasts or Sabbaths, persecuted the Jews, and made all the pagan Roman festivals into "Christian" ones.  Friends, Jesus was Jewish, not Roman.  Whenever I hear "Keep Christ in Christmas," I want to shout out that He wasn't there in the first place - it was Saturnalia; the celebration of the death and resurrection of the sun god!  But of course, that would be rude, so I keep my mouth shut.  (Well, ok, not always - but sometimes I can't HELP it!). 

Both pagans and Jewish people chuckle at Christians around Christmastime.  Many of them know about the pagan roots to the holiday, even if believers don't.  The God of the Bible wants to be worshipped in spirit and in truth.  God has a way that He wants to be worshipped.  He calls the mixing in of pagan things "harlotry."  Remember the golden calf?  The high places?  The cakes baked for the queen of heaven?

Let me go back to that "it's just the Old Testament" comment for a moment.  There's this idea in Christianity that it's outdated and no longer relevant.  Not true.  Look at Acts 17:11-12 - These [Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. 

These guys, both Jewish and gentile, weren't searching through the New Testament scriptures - those hadn't been written yet.  They poured through the Tanakh (aka "Old Testament"), which points to the Messiah Yeshua in every single book.  Yeshua fulfilled the Mosaic covenant (the old covenant law) when he gave us the new covenant through His blood (see Jeremiah 31:31-33), but there's a whole lot more to the Tanakh than the Mosaic covenant.  We are grafted into the kingdom of God - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) - and we'd best be studying ALL the scriptures for ourselves. 

Here's the thing.  Jeremiah 10 says the customs of the gentiles are futile - they cut trees and decorate them.  This statement was never abrogated (overruled, reversed) anywhere in scripture.  Well, I'm going with scripture, and not the traditions of men.

By the way, only two more days till Hanukkah!  Woohoo!  Now there's a biblical holiday!  (John 10)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prophecies Fulfilled

Let's start at the end.  Luke 24, on the road to Emmaus:

 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

Now we can go back to the beginning.  I mentioned on one of my recent posts that the birth of Yeshua was recorded in Matthew and Luke in order to demonstrate how He fulfilled prophecy.  (What?? It wasn't a big fat invitation to celebrate His birthday every year??)

The lineage quoted in Mattew 1 shows the lineage of Joseph and supports the need for a virgin birth, because one in that lineage of David, Jeconiah, was cursed and promised that his desendents would not prosper nor sit on the throne.  So Yeshua the messiah could not have been a blood descendent of Joseph.  The lineage recorded in Luke, however, also comes through King David and all the way to Joseph son (in law) of Heli (who is confirmed in the Talmud as Mary's father).  This is Yeshua's blood lineage through His mother.  Matthew chapter one continues, showing how Yeshua was born of a virgin, as prophesied in Isaiah 7 - Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (God with us).

Matthew continues with prophecy fulfillment in chapter 2.   Micah 5 is quoted to show where He would be born:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.

The account of the wise men is there to reiterate the fulfilled prophecy of Bethlehem, Bethlehem, Bethlehem!  (Which means, "House of Bread," in Hebrew, BTW - coincidence?  I think not).

The escape to Egypt in verses 14-15 was included to demonstrate the fulfillment of Hosea 11:1.  When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,  and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

The next prophecy fulfilled in Matthew 2 was Herod's terrible slaughter of the children in Bethlehem, from Jeremiah 31:15.
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 
 “ A
voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”

The final prophecy fulfilled in Matthew 2 is the last verse, which says And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.  This one is a less obvious fulfillment of prophecy, since you won't find any one prophet who clearly says, "He shall be called a Nazarene."   Isaiah 11:1 says, There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.   The word translated “branch” in Hebrew is “Neser” and the name Nazareth has exactly the same root word “Neser”. Nazareth actually means “town of the branch." 

I find it interesting that the Branch will grow out of the stem (meaning stump, declaring that the tree had been cut down).  Yeshua is from the line of David, but the line of David was no longer ruling Israel.  Yeshua had to be born before the destruction of the temple (which happened in 70 AD), otherwise His lineage from King David could no longer be proved when the geneologies were destroyed.

The current king at the time, Herod the Great, was a political appointee of Rome and was half Arab and half Idumean.  It is also interesting to note that the one good thing Herod did to prepare for the coming of the Messiah was to make the temple ready for Him with major renovations and beautification.

The gospel of Luke, after showing the lineage of Yeshua through His mother, focuses next on the birth of John the Baptist (who fulfilled Malachi 4:5 as the Elijah who had to come before Yeshua).  Luke then reiterates the virgin birth, as well as Bethlehem and Nazareth. 

Luke also emphasizes the humble beginnings of Yeshua, highlighting the fact that at His first coming he is Messiah ben Yosef -  the Suffering Servant.  So many things recorded in Luke regarding Yeshua's birth scream out "Lamb of God!"  He was born in the same place a lamb would be born, and placed in a lamb's feeding trough.  He was descended from the Shepherd-Boy-Turned-King David.  His birth was announced not to the kings and rulers and important people of Israel, but to shepherds.  Yeshua, the Lamb of God and our Good Shepherd!

Yeshua's parents brought Him to the temple 40 days after His birth (Lev 12) for the purification ritual.  Both Simeon and Anna (aka Hannah) confirmed numerous prophecies regarding Yeshua.  If you'd like to look them up, check out Isaiah 9:2, 8:14, 42:6, 49:6, 6-:1-3; Lamentations 3:25-26.

These few chapters in Matthew and Luke are all about prophecy fulfilled, not the birthday of Jesus.  And this is only the beginning!  The gospels record many, many more prophecies that He fulfilled with His life, death, and resurrection.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Musings on the timing of Yeshua's arrival

I mentioned in my last post that God gave us some clues as to when His Son was born.  Let's look at those clues, just for fun.  These clues cannot give us an absolute answer, because of the workings of the Hebrew calendar, so some of this is definitely subjective.

First of all, a clue as to when Yeshua was NOT born.  Winter.  Sheep don't graze all night in the winter.  They do this in the spring and in the fall, when the former and latter rains fall, which is also when many of these animals were needed for the sacrifices of the spring and fall Feasts.

Jerusalem was very crowded at the time of Yeshua's birth.  The Jewish people would not have enthusiastically filled Jerusalem to beyond capacity for a taxation decree - they were supposed to each go back to the place of their birth for that.  However, there are three times per year that the people WOULD have filled Jerusalem to beyond capacity - the three Feasts that were pilgrimage Feasts, during which the Israelites were required by the law of Moses to go up to Jerusalem.   These were Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), and Tabernacles.  Bethlehem was a mere six miles from Jerusalem and would most certainly have been filled beyond capacity during these pilgrimage feasts.

Another clue rests with John the Baptist.  In Luke 1:5, we learn that Zachariah was of the priestly division of Abijah.  A seemingly small detail - but we can take that detail and visit 1 Chronicles 24 and learn that it was the eighth priestly division of the year.  There is no way to determine EXACTLY when his course would have taken place due to numerous calendar discrepancies between Hebrew and Roman calendars, but it can be estimated to be in the 9th or 10th week of the year (the year begins at Passover), because during the pilgrimage feasts, ALL priests were required to serve in the temple, not just the divisions.  If Elizabeth conceived immediately following her husband's service, we can estimate the conception to be in the early/middle of the summer; perhaps mid-June or so.

We also know from scripture that Mary conceived Yeshua six months into the pregnancy of Elizabeth.  If this is the case, we can count forward and determine that He was conceived around Hanukkah, which takes place in December.  Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights!  John 1:4-5 makes an allusion to this:   In him was life, and the life was the light of men.   And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 

The conception of John in the summer would put the birth of John the Baptist at the time of Passover.  This makes sense, because he was the fulfillment of Elijah who had to come before Yeshua did.  The Jewish people even today welcome Elijah to their Passover celebrations, knowing that the scriptures teach that he must come before the Messiah.

Six months from Passover we have the Feast of Tabernacles. Wow!  The feast that celebrates God dwelling with us!  Young's literal translation of John 1:14 makes another connection:  And the Word became flesh, and did TABERNACLE among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.

If Yeshua was born on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, then He would have been circumcised on the eighth day, which is also a Hebrew holy day, called Shemini Atzaret - the eighth day of gathering.  This would have been the day that He was named and officially became an Israelite.  The number eight  in scripture represents new beginnings.

So, if I WERE going to celebrate the birthday of Yeshua, I would pick the Feast of Tabernacles.  The cool thing about God's Appointed Times, or Feasts, is that they are Biblical.  When you try to hijack a pagan festival and "Christianize" it, you leave all sorts of room for satan to work.  I'm just sayin'...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Happy Birthday?

In my last post, I briefly explained our journey out of Christmas.  Perhaps you are one of those who asks, "Is it wrong to celebrate the birthday of Jesus on December 25?"

One of the things that crossed my mind while thinking this through was, what if we eliminate the words "on December 25?"  Is it something we should be doing, period?  Scripture is not clear on the date of Yeshua's birth.  Two of the gospels don't even mention it.  Do you suppose that God did this on purpose?

I found two clear birthday celebrations in scripture, with an allusion to a third.  Let's look at them:

Exodus 40:20-22:  Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.  Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.  But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.

Matthew 14 and Mark 6 tell the story of the daughter of Herodias dancing before Herod on his birthday.  The ultimate result was the beheading of John the Baptist.

The final allusion to a birthday takes place in the first chapter of Job.  Some translations use the word birthday; others do not.  Here is the NIV translation:  His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom. 

These are the only references in the scriptures to birthdays, and frankly, none of them had uplifting results.  I have also heard that the three most important holidays to practicing witches are Samhain (Halloween), Beltane (May 1), and their birthday.  I don't remember where I read this, and I am not totally certain that it is true.

We are never once commanded to celebrate the birthday of the Son of God.  So does that mean we should not do it?  This is a question that only you can answer, through prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I am not going to condemn you if you do.  But I hope that you won't condemn me or call me Scrooge because I don't.   I know that the battle cry of the Reformation was "Sola Scriptura!"  Personally, I think that "Sola Scriptura Unless It Is A Long-Held Tradition " is more accurate.

And lest you think I am a JW and don't do birthdays at all, I do acknowledge the days that my children joined the family. But I am careful not to make more of those days than I ought.  Know what I mean? 

I also think that God left us a few clues in His Word to let us know when Yeshua was born.  Watch for my next post (if you are still with me, that is!).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

That time of year again...

Ah, December.

The frenzy.  The shopping.  The boycotting of stores who refuse to say "Merry Christmas."  The rushing around, preparing for and attending all sorts of parties.  The stress of buying just the right gift for Aunt Matilda.  The extra rehearsals for the Christmas pageant at church.  Pausing from the hubbub to remind ourselves for "the reason for the season."  The overindulgence.  The signs in the yard that say "Keep Christ in Christmas."  The ridiculous overspending.

I just can't do it anymore.

Our family has been on a journey "out of Christmas" for the past few years.  It began when I decided to stop sending out my annual mass-mailing of Christmas cards to pretty much everyone I had ever met.  (I initially changed the mass-mailing to Easter instead, but that eventually had to go, too).

The journey continued as I began to study the Jewish roots of my faith.  My studying included looking at church history.  I learned how ancient Rome under Constantine took everything Jewish away from the faith, and instead tried to "Christianize" the pagan festivals that were celebrated by the Romans.  Saturnalia, the celebration of the death and resurrection of the sun god, became Christmas.  Easter became.... well, Easter.  (They didn't even bother to change the name of that one because Passover was Jewish, so they kept the name of their fertility goddess.)  Even their priests were changed into "Christian" priests without really having to change much.  Instead of worshipping various gods, the people were given various "patron saints" to pray to.

Scripture warns us in numerous places not to mix pagan customs with the worship of the Lord.  Here is one of them that really stood out to me when I read it; Jeremiah 10:2-4: 

Thus says the LORD: 
“ Do not learn the way of the Gentiles;
Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven,
For the Gentiles are dismayed at them.  

  For the customs of the peoples are futile;
For one cuts a tree from the forest,
The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
They fasten it with nails and hammers
So that it will not topple.

If I'm not mistaken, that sure sounds like our modern-day Christmas tree!  You can see scripturally that the custom of cutting down a tree and decorating it originated way before Yeshua was born, and that it was a completely pagan custom.

The more I learned about the pagan-rooted holidays, the less joy I felt in trying to celebrate them.  And the more I learn about the Biblical Feasts and how they all point to Yeshua the Messiah, the more joyful they have become!

You're probably thinking, "Oh, your poor children!  How can you rob them of Christmas?"  My poor children are learning the Biblical Feasts, too.  And my poor children are not being trained in the frenzy of materialism of Black Friday, the Shopping Season, and Christmas morning.  During Hanukkah, we light the menorah, make latkes in the oil that represents the Holy Spirit, and celebrate the fact that Yeshua is the Light of the World.

I have been asked, "Well, is it wrong for us to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25?"   I'll give you my thoughts on that in my next post.