THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

 

Shalom Partner and Friend of Israel,

Since about 400 AD, Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus. 'Christ' means 'Messiah' or 'Anointed One' - the title given to Jesus - and 'Mass' was a religious festival. In the West today, the real meaning of Christmas is often forgotten. It has become a non-religious holiday! More children believe in Father Christmas than in Jesus. Christmas Day is a time for eating and drinking too much and watching television.

The real Christmas story is found in the Bible.

It is told in two different books of the New Testament: Matthew and Luke chapters 1 and 2 and was foretold in the Old Testament. The story of the birth of Yeshua (Jesus), and the way that the West celebrates Christmas today, don’t seem to have connections.

This was no ordinary birth

Five hundred years before, the prophet Micah had said, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” Micah 5: 2

Here it is important to note: Bethlehem of Judah was called Ephratah, (near Jerusalem) so is distinct from the other town of Bethlehem in Israel. In this verse we can also see - the least in other aspects is honoured above them all as Ruler - King and sovereign in Israel: Amidst the Israel of God and, as he is the Son of God, equal with his father, is eternal.

The prophet Isaiah had written, "A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, "Wonderful Counsellor," "Mighty God," "Eternal Father," "Prince of Peace." His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace.... He will rule as King David's successor, basing his power on right and justice, from now until the end of time."  Isaiah 9: 6 - 7

Many prophetic words told of the birth and life of Jesus, written hundreds of years before His birth.

Key Prophecies about Yeshua – The Messiah;

… Must be born in Bethlehem Ephrata - Micah 5:2

… Must be an offspring of David – Jeremiah 23: 5 – 6

… Must be fully human and fully divine – Isaiah 9: 6

… Must perform signs and wonders – Isaiah 35:5 – 6

… Must enter Jerusalem humble riding on a donkey –  Zechariah 9: 9

… Must be born from a virgin and His name will be  “God with us” – Isaiah 7: 14

… Must be rejected by His own people – Isaiah 53: 3

… Must suffer for us and take our sins upon Himself –  Isaiah 53:4 – 6

… Must be pierced – Zechariah 12:10

… His body will not see corruption and He will live again –  Psalm 16:10

… Must die before the destruction of the second Temple –  Daniel 9:24 – 26

Historical facts show, that Yeshua died in 33AD and 37 years after His death, the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. (Basically Daniel was speaking after the destruction of the 1st Temple, so clearly he is talking about the 2nd Temple being built and destroyed, but before its destruction the Messiah would come).

Matthew and Luke tell how Jesus was born as a baby to Mary. She was not married, she was a virgin and an angel had told her she would bear a special baby. Her husband-to-be, Joseph, did not believe her at first. Who would? Then an angel told him in a dream that it was true! Probably no one else believed it. So when they had to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem (near Jerusalem), to register their names with the ruling Roman government, they probably escaped many harsh words from other people.

The name 'Bethlehem' means in Hebrew, 'house of bread'.  ‘Beth’ = house and ‘Lechem’ = bread. Yeshua (Jesus), the bread of life, was laid in a manger when He was born. (A manger is a food trough in the stable)

The Wise men

After Yeshua (Jesus) was born, wise men came looking for Him, from an area which is most probably Yemen (because of the abundance of Frankincense) or other surrounding Middle Eastern countries. Although they are often called the "Three Kings", the Bible does not state how many there were, or that they were kings. Three is only a guess because they brought with them three gifts: Gold - a gift fit for a King, Frankincense - burnt in worship of God and Myrrh - a sign of mortal human-ness - it was used to bury the dead.

Herod, the evil king at that time, heard about the child, saw Him as a threat, and sent soldiers to kill Yeshua. But God told Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the baby and escape to Egypt. They lived there till King Herod died and then went back to live in Nazareth. We read nothing more about the life of Jesus, except for one story when he was 12, until He reached 30.

Our Jewish Saviour

We all grow up with pictures of Yeshua on our walls or on the walls of our churches. Most of the artist’ renders pictures of someone who looks European. Yeshua probably didn’t look like that. He was a Jew, a Semite, and probably had a darker complexion, dark (maybe curly) hair, and dark eyes. The pictures also make Him look kind of weak and we certainly don’t believe there was anything weak about Him.

He walked from place to place throughout the Land with His disciples. The terrain of Israel is not made for easy walking; it is often very hilly and rocky, with high and low elevations. The walk from the Galilee to Jerusalem was an arduous hike.

Consider this, Yeshua is the only person in all of history who chose what family He would be born into, and He chose to be a Jew. Another fact that few of us stop to think about is that Yeshua was never identified as a Christian. He was born into a pious Jewish family, lived His life observing Torah (Gen.–Deut.), wore a prayer shawl, worshipped in synagogues and the Temple and lived among Jewish people.

“How can you say you love Jesus, a Jew, and hate the Jewish people?”

Surely if we love our Jewish Messiah (Christ), we will choose to be interested in His interests and to love those He loves, including His natural family, the Jewish people. Israel is the stage upon which God chose to reveal Himself to the world, as the one true God. We haven’t found any Christians who deny this fact historically. Many, however, don’t seem to recognize that Israel is still significant to God. Living as we do, 2,000 years after the events of the New Testament, and around 3,000 years after the events of the Old Testament, Israel often seems irrelevant to Christians. Yet, God is still revealing Himself to the world as He fulfils His ancient promises to Israel.

God is proving to the world that He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God who can be trusted to keep His word because of His faithfulness, regardless of the worthiness of the other.

Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘Oh LORD, save Your people, the remnant of Israel.’” Jeremiah 31:7

Whenever you read the name “Jacob” in the Scriptures, it always refers to the man Jacob or the Jewish people—never the Church. So we believe God is telling Christians everywhere to do these things for the Jewish people;

“Sing” with gladness for Jacob; Rejoice in what God is doing; “Shout” among the chief of the nations - Speak up on her behalf to those who can make a difference; Proclaim”—Tell what God is doing; tell Israel’s story. “Give praise”— Praise God for being a covenant-keeping God. “And say, ‘Oh LORD, save Your people’”—Pray for the complete restoration and redemption of Israel.

Yeshua is the ‘Light of the world

And He said, It is too little that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You for a light of the nations, that You may be My salvation to the end of the earth.  Isaiah 49:6

A light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel!

“And there was then in Jerusalem a man whose name was Simeon; and he was an upright man, fearing God and waiting for the comfort of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was on him.  And he had knowledge, through the Holy Spirit, that he would not see death till he had seen the Lord's Christ.  And full of the Spirit he came into the Temple; and when the father and mother came in with the child Jesus, to do with him what was ordered by the law, Then he took him in his arms and gave praise to God and said, Now you are letting your servant go in peace;

 O Lord, as you have said; For my eyes have seen your salvation, Which you have made ready before the face of all nations; A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

And his father and mother were full of wonder at the things which were said about him. And Simeon gave them his blessing and said to Mary, his mother, See, this child will be the cause of the downfall and the lifting up of great numbers of people in Israel, and he will be a sign against which hard words will be said; And a sword will go through your heart; so that the secret thoughts of men may come to light.” Luke 2: 25 - 35

The promise of a BIRTH of a NATION

“Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labour she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?" says the LORD; "shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?" says your God.  "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance." Isaiah 66:8 - 11

The Festival of Light - Hanukkah

Hanukkah or Chanukah means “dedication”, referring to the rededication of the Temple after a great Jewish military victory in 165 BCE.  It is mentioned as the ‘Feast of Dedication’ in the Bible and found in the books of First and Second Macabees in the Apocrypha, the books written in the 400 year “silence.”  God was not silent in these years however.  He was still at work fulfilling His promises and preserving His people. 

Yeshua observed this festival:   

Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem.  It was winter and Yeshua was in the Temple area walking in Solomon’s colonnade.” John 10:22 - 23

The events of the Macabees were prophesied centuries before by Daniel.

“Then a mighty king will appear, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases.  After he has appeared, his empire will be broken up and parcelled out toward the four winds of heaven.  It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others.”  Daniel 11:3-4

The “mighty king” was Alexander the Great.  Then Daniel goes on to describe another person who would succeed Alexander...

“...a despicable person....and his heart will be set against the Holy Covenant...” Daniel 11:21-28

“His forces will desecrate the sanctuary and do away with the regular sacrifice, and they will set up the abomination of desolation.” Daniel 11: 31  

This prophecy accurately describes Antioch IV who reigned 175 - 164 BCE.  His reign was one of many throughout history that tried to wipe out the Jewish people.  The survival, however, of the Jewish people is a firm testimony of God’s faithfulness... “...All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  Yeshua, the Messiah of all mankind, would come through the Jewish bloodline. Genesis 12:3

Antiochus wanted everyone to be united under Greek Hellenism, thus he was not at all tolerant of the Jews. 

“Then the king shall do according to his own will.  He shall exalt and magnify himself above all gods and speak blasphemies against the God of gods.”  Daniel 11:36

The king called himself “Antiochus Epiphanies” which means “visible god.” He made people bow down to his statues and if they didn’t comply.....the consequence was death!  Social and political pressures caused some Jews to follow Antiochus and they actually bowed down to his statues (doesn’t sound Jewish to me).

“...by smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the Covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.” Daniel 11:32  

Many Jews took the easy way out and tried to “go Greek”.  Others understood that assimilation and elimination of Jewish worship, sacrifices and traditions would be the destruction of Judaism itself...making God a liar! The Jewish people faced persecution. Antiochus’ heavily armed soldiers were sent out to force people to worship the king and make sacrifices (pigs) on the holy altar.  This was the “abomination” that Daniel spoke of.  The penalty for resistance was death. Antiochus’ actions were a fore-shadow of Hitler’s actions toward the Jews…

First: “You can’t live among us as Jews.”

Then:  “You can’t live among us.”

Finally:     “You can’t live.”

In 167 BCE soldiers came to Modiin outside Jerusalem to force Greek worship on an influential Jewish family led by Matathias and his 5 sons.  Matathias would not forsake his faith and so he tore down the Greek altar and drove off the soldiers with the battle cry, “Whoever is for the Lord, follow me!”  This was the beginning of the Jewish rebellion.  The Jewish people knew they were up against great odds, but their banner was “Who among the mighty is like Thee, o God?”  (Mee Kamocha B’aleem Adonai) 

Those who know their God…

The name for the Jewish heroes of Hanukkah comes from using the first letters of these Hebrew words to form “Maccabee”.  Matathias’ oldest son was nicknamed “Judah Maccabee”....the hammer....because he fought so hard. The battle was difficult for untrained Jewish farmers against the well equipped Syrian soldiers. 

“...the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.”  Daniel 11:32   

The real miracle of Hanukkah is that a few, with God on their side, triumphed over a multitude of powerful enemies.  Remember:  God’s people + God = VICTORY “...not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”  Zechariah 4:6

On the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the date the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, the Maccabees won back Jerusalem and the Temple that had been desecrated by Antiochus. This date was also prophesied by; Daniel 8:13-14 “…How long will it be until the daily sacrifice is restored again? How long,! …until the desecration of the Temple is avenged and God’s people triumph?

He replied:  “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the Holy Place will be properly restored.”  This is a great confirmation that God’s word is true:  Historically accurate from the start of Antiochus’ persecution of the Jews in 171 BCE until the restoration of the Temple in 165 BCE...... 6 years, 3 1/2 months = 2,300 days!!

How did the tradition of the 8 days and lighting 8 candles begin? 

When the victorious Maccabees began cleaning up the Temple, they found only one small jar of oil for “ner tamid”...only enough for one day and so they sent a messenger for more. Meanwhile, the small amount of oil burned miraculously for 8 days. Another explanation for the 8 day observance is that some Rabbis believe it was a delayed celebration of the fall feast of Sukkot, which also lasts for 8 days.

Hanukkah is referred to as the “Festival of Lights”  (‘Chag Ha’orim’) and it was during this season that Yeshua described Himself as the ”light of the world.”

A future Hanukkah is described in 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-8 where Paul writes about the second coming of the Lord:

1.  Many will turn away from God (as some Jews did who followed Antiochus’ Hellenism). 2.  The “son of perdition exalts himself above God” (as Antiochus Epiphanies did). 3.  But the Lord will destroy him with the “brightness of His coming”... this victory we can all think of; when we gaze at the lights of the Hanukkah Menorah. 4.  The Lord will usher in His millennial Kingdom with the overthrow of the “lawless one” in a miraculous way. 

The light and extra candle on the Hanukkah Menorah is called the shamash or “servant” and is the servant candle used solely to light the other candles.  Yeshua is our shamash. “...the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many...” Matthew 20:28

And… during the time of Yeshua we read in John 10:22 that the people’s minds were focused on themes of deliverance and rededication; oil and light.

On each day of the festival a new candle is lit on the nine branched menorah.  Candles are placed into the menorah from right to left, with the centre "Shamash" (servant) candle and the right most candle being used the first night.  The candles are lit left to right, so the Shamash candle is lit first, then all other candles.  It is tradition to light the candles before the festive meal each night.

The sun also has to serve all humankind and nature in general. Along with the moon, it has, a central function to play in a separation of night and day, in the measurement of time by months and years (Psalm 136:8), and in the control of our seasons (Genesis 1:14 – 16; Jeremiah 31:35). Thus the sun is a blessing to us, as described by King Solomon, “the light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun” Ecclesiastics 11:7. But, it can also be an insufferable curse, as experienced by Jonah (Jonah 4:8 “the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying,’ death is better to me than life.”’

The blessing of the sun

“Birchat ha chama” is a Hebrew phrase that means “the blessing of the sun.” Using chama (hot) as a synonym for sun, it is a special ceremony done once every 28 years in which the Jewish people thank God for the sun.

They understand that the sun was created on the first Wednesday of Nissan (Hebrew month in April / May) and it returns to its original position every 28 years. And it happened this year on the 8th of April during Passover.

This prayer also makes reference to future days of the Messiah and the fulfilment of all prophecy, when “the light of the sun will be seven times brighter… On the day the Lord binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted.” Isaiah 30:26

In the last days, when the “sun of righteousness” Malachi 4:2 or Messiah, will sit on His throne in Jerusalem and His light will outshine the sun, Isaiah 24: 23, and Yeshua, the lamb of God, will be the city’s light, Revelations 21:23.

Thus in seeing this interesting similarity between “Schemesh (Sun) and “Shamash” (ninth candle) we are given a proper perspective of the sun’s role. It is not a god to be worshipped but it a ‘servant’ that we can thank God for and, one day we will bask in the light of God’s son, the “Son of Righteousness.”

Yeshua earlier proclaimed in John 8:12; “I am the light of the world...he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”  The people that were listening to Yeshua understood what He was saying...they knew what God had promised through the prophet Isaiah; “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”  Isaiah:  9:2 … again in Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Yeshua’ means salvation in Hebrew) 

God Is Still at Work in Israel

Israel is the stage upon which God chose to reveal Himself to the world, as the one true God. We haven’t found any Christians who deny this fact historically. Many, however, don’t seem to recognize that Israel is still significant to God. Living as we do, 2,000 years after the events of the New Testament, and around 3,000 years after the events of the Old Testament, Israel often seems irrelevant to Christians. Yet, God is still revealing Himself to the world as He fulfils His ancient promises to Israel. In Ezekiel 36: 20 – 23 we are assured that God is proving to the world that He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God who can be trusted to keep His word because of His faithfulness, regardless of the worthiness of the other.

May God bless you and your family with SHALOM

Alf & Julie Saunders       

  15th December, 2009 






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