It’s beginning to look a lot like Hanukkah! A few days ago, I asked a number of Jewish believers in Jesus what their favorite holiday of the year was. Passover was the winner – but Hanukkah took a close second!
This great holiday is not found in the Scriptures, but it is mentioned in the New Testament in John chapter 10, where it is called the Feast of Dedication. Jesus observed Hanukkah, and one of His greatest pronouncements about Himself and His relationship to His father can be found in John 10:10. It was during the holiday that the Messiah declared that He and His Father are one.
The Story of Hanukkah
The story of Hanukkah focuses on the Maccabee family, which was first led by the patriarch of the clan – Mattathias – and then by Judah. The Maccabees overthrew the Syrian Greeks who came into power after the division of Alexander’s Empire into four parts. The leader of the Syrian Greeks at the time was Antiochus Epiphanes, who remains one of the archetype villains and oppressors of the Jewish people to this day.
Antiochus Epiphanes tried to turn the Jewish people into Greeks – forcing them to worship Greek gods, speak the Greek language and assimilate into the great “uni-cultural” Greek empire that had been part of Alexander’s vision. Of course, this would have been the end of the Jewish people – but the actions of a small priestly family living in the village of Modiin became a symbol for Jewish resistance to religious and cultural assimilation.
After three years of intensive guerrilla warfare, the Maccabees overcame the Syrian Greeks and retook Jerusalem. They marched into the Temple only to discover that Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated the altar by sacrificing a pig and smearing its blood on the stones of the altar. The Maccabees tore down the defiled altar and built a new one, setting the rocks aside for the coming of the Messiah who would be the only one capable of cleansing stones.
The story continues (though very few people believe this was actually part of the original tale), by describing the fact that there was only one day of oil available to fuel the eternal light in the Temple, and it took eight days to produce the oil needed for this holy purpose. However, according to the story, the oil lasted for eight days so that the eternal light could keep burning without interruption. This is why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days, light the menorah, and eat fried potato pancakes and special jelly doughnuts (especially in Israel), as these foods are made with a considerable amount of oil.
Aside from the presents, the food, the warm glow of candles and the gathering of Jewish families all across the globe, Hanukkah has become a symbol of Jewish heroism and loyalty to God and the Jewish people. This is why I love the holiday. It is an eight-day reminder to strengthen our loyalty to the God, who calls His people to be a light to the nations – not only during the eight days of Hanukkah, but every day of the year
Hanukkah is a holiday in which we honor heroes. As a Jewish follower of Jesus the Messiah–I can think of no better Hanukkah hero to emulate and admire than Him. He is the true light of the world, the reason for the season and the servant of God who shines the light of eternity into a dark world!
I also want to honor a community of heroes that most people never heard of – at least in the United States. These are the citizens of Sderot, a small town of about 20,000 people – mostly Russian Jewish immigrants to Israel – who live “next door” to Gaza. This community has been the unfortunate recipient of tens of thousands of Quassam rockets over the last few years. They literally live their lives between rocket attacks, though this has slowed down over the last year and a half after the Israeli Defense forces did what they could to remove the terrorist cells firing the rockets from Gaza.
I hope that you will take a moment to watch this video entitled 15 Seconds–don’t miss it.
I have been to Sderot and spent time with many of these heroes, and I want you to know how brave they are. Of course, they do not view themselves this way! These fairly new immigrants to Israel are simply struggling to survive, trying to stay safe and build a new and better life for their children and grandchildren. Yet, to me they are like modern Maccabees, loyal to their people and their families, unwilling to even consider giving up the dream of living in the land that God gave to the Jewish people.
Many of these heroes suffered through the Holocaust, the anti-Semitism of the former Soviet Union, and the challenges of leaving all they had to move to a new country and to land in the middle of an internal war that placed them in harm’s way. Many gave up careers, homes and family for the dream of Zion. I am sure they never gave the idea of becoming heroes and role models a moment’s thought!
Many of our best heroes unwillingly and unwittingly take on the role. I would say that the citizens of Sderot of would be surprised to even read these words, but for me, a Jewish man from New York City – I cannot help but view these stalwart members of the Jewish community, as Hanukkah heroes. I hope you will too.
Your prayers for them and for the staff members of Chosen People Ministries who provide food, fellowship and spiritual strength for these heroes mean a lot.