It is that time of year that Christians celebrate Christmas and Jews celebrate Hannukah, and all of us Messianic and Hebrew Roots folks are somewhere in the middle.
Actually, we’re not really in the middle. Most of us have opted out of Christmas and opted into Hannukah. Not because we have rejected Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ), mind you. We understand that His birth happened in the fall, most likely at the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah in modern Jewish practice) rather than in December. We also understand that all the Feasts of the Lord presented in Leviticus 23 are connected to Messiah’s redemptive and restorative work for the nation of Israel and all the world.
The fact is, we celebrate Passover (Pesach), Unleavened Bread (Matzot), Firstfruits (Yom Habikkurim), Pentecost (Shavuot), Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Tabernacles (Sukkot) because God established them and called on His people to observe them “as a statute forever”. That’s different from Christmas, which is a human tradition rather than a Divine decree. Christmas is a Christianization of the old festivals our ancestors celebrated in honor of other gods before they learned about the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have learned that our Messiah is Jewish, which is why we prefer to follow His example rather than the traditions which overshadowed and obscured His Jewishness and the Hebraic origins of our faith.
One might argue that Hannukah is a tradition as well. Indeed it is, but it is rooted firmly in history as a tale of our God’s salvation of His people in a time of great distress. Why is it not in the Bible? Well, it is, in some canons. The Catholic Bible still has 1st and 2nd Maccabees, the books that tell the Hannukah story. There is also a mention of it in the New Testament: John 10:22 tells us that Yeshua was in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication, which is another name for Hannukah. The point is, the origin of Hannukah is no less real and no less miraculous than the origin of Purim as recorded in the book of Esther. Our Jewish brethren established both feasts to commemorate the provision of the Almighty and His faithfulness to His covenant. Is there a better reason to celebrate?
Many people realized the significance of Ken Rank’s letter to the Jewish people when he published it last week. We have only begun to see the impact of it. Within a few short days it appeared as a guest blog piece in The Times of Israel, and today Breaking Israel News published it along with a deeply moving response by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz.
In years to come, when our God has completed His work of bringing together the fragmented parts of His people, these two letters by Ken and Eliyahu will be counted as major milestones in the process of breaking down the wall between those of us from the Christian side and our brethren from the Jewish side.
I received this letter from Ken Rank last week. Rank founded United 2 Restore in order to bring Jews and Christians, or as he prefers to describe it, Judah and Ephraim closer together, in order to “re-build bridges of communication which have been previously burned”. He sent me this letter as part of his personal teshuvah (repentance) for Yom Kippur. My response to him was sincere, and I intend for it to be a part of my Yom Kippur prayers.
It seems that everyone is expecting the world to change for the worse in September 2015. That, at least, is a prevailing topic of conversation here in the United States. I have been part of such discussions many times over the last few months, and regardless how the discussion begins, it invariably comes down to the question, “What do we do now?”
The people of YHVH should be paying attention to the signs of the times. We are indeed on the brink of major changes to the world system, and these changes likely will involve a combination of economic, military, political, and civil unrest, with a few major natural disasters thrown in for good measure. It is, after all, the end of the Shemitah, the seventh, or sabbatical, year in the seven-year cycle the Lord explained to Moses (Exodus 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-6, 31:9-13). It is also the time of the fourth Blood Moon of the tetrad we have seen at Passover and Tabernacles over these last two years. What, if anything, are we to do about all of this?
Happily, there is someone who has undertaken the task of answering that question in a rational, systematic fashion using principles derived straight from the Bible. We can thank people like Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and Pastor Mark Biltz for bringing the Shemitah cycle to the attention of the world. Now we can thank Barry L. Miller for helping us understand how to live within that cycle. That is the message of his book Know the Time, Change Your World: The Reappearance of the Seven- and Fifty-Year Biblical Cycles.
Just because a person enjoys the favor of the king does not mean they can do as they please. This is not some antiquated concept that no longer applies to modern days. A king may have the power to take a life, but a president, a general, an employer, or even a parent has the power to revoke privileges, inflict punishment, cut off access, and otherwise make life miserable for someone who gets on their bad side. Whether the setting is before a throne, in an office, or around a kitchen table, those who disregard the authority figure’s protocol will suffer the consequences.
A timeless example of this principle is in the ancient story of Esther, the Jewish exile who became queen of the mighty Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) of Persia. When advised of a plot by the king’s Grand Vizier, Haman, to annihilate her people, Esther takes it upon herself to intervene. Protocol dictates that she cannot come into the king’s presence unless he summons her, yet the situation is urgent and Esther has little choice but to enter the throne room unbidden. She does so, willing to trade her own life for the lives of the Jewish nation. Her trust is ultimately in her God, but she goes also in the knowledge that she has the favor of King Xerxes and knows him intimately. He should understand that she would not break protocol unless she had very good reason. Perhaps the most stunning portrayal of this story is in the 2006 movie, One Night with the King, starring Tiffany Dupont as Esther and Lou Goss as Xerxes. In the great climactic scene in the throne room, Esther humbly yet purposefully approaches the king, undeterred by the calls for her death. She stands at last in front of the throne, raising pleading eyes to the king, and awaits his decision to take her head in payment for her breach of protocol, or extend to her his scepter as a token of forgiveness and continued favor.
We know the rest of the story: the king extends his scepter and grants Esther’s petition to attend a series of banquets at which she calls on him for salvation from Haman’s wicked plot. By the king’s command, Haman receives his just reward and Esther and her uncle Mordecai proceed with actions in the king’s name to preempt the genocide. What we do not often realize, and what Esther and Xerxes themselves probably did not know, is that they were acting on principles that God Himself had established from the beginning, and which He had communicated to His people at Mount Sinai.
On a certain winter’s day early in my Army career a distinguished visitor stopped by our office. This gentleman was Chief of Staff of 24th Infantry Division, the third highest ranking officer of the division and our senior supervisor. His rank of colonel, his position as Chief of Staff, and his 30 years of service as a warrior of the United States conferred on him a high degree of honor and respect. The occasion of his appearance in our office was his farewell visit to the staff. Not only would he be leaving us, he would be retiring from the Army. As usual with such events, we had received word ahead of time that the Chief would be in the area. When he arrived we jumped to our feet, stood at attention, and waited patiently as he made his way around the room, shaking hands and speaking to every person. Whether we had known the man long or not, all of us understood the protocol required to honor a person of his rank and position.
Except for one soldier. For some reason it never occurred to her to stand up and come out from behind her desk when the colonel approached her. She sat there and allowed him to reach over the desk to shake her hand, and then returned to her work when he walked away. In all fairness, she was very young – not more than 19, and accustomed to the easy standards of her rural upbringing that regarded all people as social equals. The rigid rank structure of the Army, with its pomp and circumstance, was yet foreign to her. Nevertheless, her carefree demeanor and lack of respect for the colonel horrified me as the officer responsible for her conduct, and my warrant officer, the man who supervised our younger soldiers. We knew that the fault lay not with this ignorant young soldier, but with us who should have taught her better.
The people of God should also be taught better about our attitudes toward the Creator Who breathed life into us.