While living in North Carolina for a couple of years, I had the privilege of taking a class under the instruction of Messianic Jews on the Hebraic roots of Christianity. It was an eye opening experience, to say the least. Never before had I contemplated the fact that Jesus was a Jew, as were all of his disciples and even the Apostle Paul. I realized Jesus didn’t celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, but instead took part in the Jewish feasts and festivals.
While we as Christians certainly aren’t under any kind of mandate to celebrate the Jewish holidays, I do believe we can learn a lot by studying them. Many of the feasts and observances in the Old Testament point to the Messiah. For example, the Passover foreshadowed the sacrifice of the perfect lamb – namely Jesus.
One well-known Jewish holiday is Hanukkah. This year, the eight-day Festival of Lights begins at sundown on December 16th.
175 years before the birth of Jesus, the Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV, ruled over all of Israel. Antiochus IV wanted to suppress all Jewish laws. Worse than that, thousands of Jews who refused to worship pagan gods were killed. In the midst of the tyranny, violence and oppression, a few brave Jews became heroes of their faith.
One day, men under Antiochus came to a village called Modin. It was here where an old priest named Mattityahu resided.
When a Syrian officer created an altar of pagan gods and demanded the village dwellers to make sacrifices, Mattityahu boldly declared his loyalty to the covenant his ancestors had made with God. When another Jew, who was not as bold, made his way to the altar to pray to the pagan gods, Mattityahu grabbed his sword and killed the Syrian officer. His sons and friends took on the Syrian army that day and destroyed the altar.
During the next three years, other Jews joined them to take on the Syrians. Just before Mattityahu died, he named Yehuda as his successor and leader of their small army called the Maccabees. Antiochus and his army were determined to defeat them, but twice they failed. After acquiring an army of over 40,000 fighters, they tried one more time.
“Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple,” Yehuda had exclaimed upon hearing the news of the invasion.
One month before God helped them to their miraculous victory, they were supposed to have observed an eight-day festival called the Feast of Tabernacles. Due to the occupation of the Temple by the Syrians, they were unable to do so. After defeating the Syrians, however, they planned to observe the Feast of Tabernacles as soon as they could get back into the Temple and rededicate it.
During the rededication, the Maccabees could not find the golden menorah. They made a new one, but they could only find enough oil to light it for one day. Miraculously, the little bit of oil lasted eight days, the entire duration of the feast.
The word Hanukkah means dedication. This is why it is called the Feast of Dedication in the New Testament. In John 10:22-23, we read how Jesus was in the temple area during the Feast of Dedication. This was not a dedication to the brave warriors who miraculously defeated the Syrian army. Instead, it was a dedication to the Temple of God and the freedom to worship Him once again.
It was while Jesus was in the Temple that He made this declaration: "I am the light of the world. He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12)
In the same way that God provided the miracle of light for the Jews during the Feast of Tabernacles, He has given us Jesus, the Light of the World. Even the book of Isaiah declared, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6b)
How grateful are you that God has given us Jesus, the Light of the World, especially during the troubled times in which we live? Have you seen miraculous victories in the midst of darkness in your own life?
Cari Bousfield is a freelance writer and blogger. Besides blogging for JOY, Cari blogs at Faith's Mom's Blog and Write On! She is also writing her first book, Having Faith, to be published in 2014. Cari has a strong desire to help people connect with one another and to God. She prays that through her writing, she can reach the hearts of others and help to bring hope, inspiration and courage to "walk by faith not by sight". Read more articles by Cari.