Shabbat Shalom, tonight begins the 1st night of Chanukah. For me Chanukah is one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the presents. It is a favorite holiday because some of my earliest memories involve celebrating Channukah. The very first blessing I ever remember being taught and memorizing is the blessing for the Channukah candles.
Once again we come to Channukah in very dark times. Every day we hear of some new atrocity being carried out in the name of a false god or a false philosophy. In our country we have many people who preach tolerance, but are intolerantly encouraging those who are dedicated to the Lord and His Divinely Inspired Word to compromise or abandon their beliefs. In many other countries around the world people are losing their reputations, their jobs, and even their lives for having faith in Messiah Yeshua. There is considerable pressure on Jewish and Gentile Believers in Yeshua to conform ourselves, not to the image of God, but to the mindlessly sinful culture we are surrounded in. I am constantly reminded of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “…darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples…”
Spiritual darkness and confusion has been the reality of life in this world since the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. But despite our unprecedented access to truth and information because we live in a digital age, we are perhaps even more lost than ever before.
Last year I shared a message on our need to be dedicated to God alone and how we could find encouragement in the real story and miracle of Chanukah. This year, Lord willing, I would like us to turn our attention the Channukiah, the Chanukah Menorah, and how the light of the menorah reflects the light of Messiah. However, before we can begin to understand the Channukah Menorah we must first understand the story of Channukah.
Now for those of you who are not familiar with Chanukah, it can be summarized like many Jewish holidays; someone tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat. But while this summary is accurate it is also very incomplete. The truth is even most Jewish people don’t spend much time considering the full story of Chanukah.
The typical story of Chanukah which I was taught in Hebrew school is how the wicked king and general, Antiochus Epiphanies (whose name means “God Manifest”, which tells you something about how he viewed himself), went into Israel and forced our people to give up faith in the Lord to worship Greek gods. Anyone who practiced anything to do with Judaism was tortured and killed. The height of his sin was the erection of a statue of Zeus in the Temple of the Lord, and then forcing the people to worship and offer sacrifices to it. Conveniently the statue had his face and so everyone was really forced to worship this man with delusions of deity.
In response to the murder and paganism, Judah Maccabee, his brothers, and a small remnant of people who were still loyal to the Lord began a war against Antiochus. With Adonai’s help they drove him from the land of Israel, and rededicated the Temple to the Lord. But there was one major problem; there was only enough oil to last one day to relight the fire that burned eternally in the Temple.
Even though the oil should have lasted for just a day, a miracle occurred and it lasted eight days until more oil could be produced. So the holiday of Chanukah is celebrated as the festival of lights and we commemorate this holiday with our Menorahs and gift giving.
The problem with this story I learned in Hebrew School, and that you also may have heard, is that the miracle of the oil most likely never happened. 1 and 2 Maccabees, which record the story of Chanukah, there is no mention of this miracle; it was most likely invented later by the rabbis.
The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees are not divinely inspired but are considered historically accurate and serve to tell us the true story of Chanukah. Part of the story that is not usually mentioned, and probably the reason for the Rabbis wanting to change the focus to a miracle about oil, is that before Antiochus entered the land of Israel our people had already turned themselves over to Greek thought and paganism.
Many people, especially in the city of Jerusalem, had turned away from God’s covenants to such a degree that they even tried to reverse their circumcisions. Even the priesthood was not immune to this corruption with several High Priests of Israel during this time having purchased their position with bribery to Antiochus. From the priesthood to the people, the majority had begun to become dedicated to the prevailing ideas of the day and had turned away from the Lord. There was clearly a deep spiritual darkness and confusion present during this time in our people’s history.
It was into this situation that Judas Maccabee, his family, and a remnant of people still loyal to Adonai and willing to fight began to wage their military campaign. While 1 and 2 Maccabees spend most of the text discussing the physical battles that took place, the most important battle was spiritual to bring our people back to the Lord. Now the word Chanukah means dedication, and has to do with the rededication of the Temple and the restoration of true worship to the Land of Israel.
But in light of the fact that miracle of the oil probably never took place should we throw our menorahs away? Is there still a place for the menorah during Channukah? The answer is a very strong Yes! The lighting of the menorah for Channukah is a powerful reminder of who our Messiah is, the nature of our Creator, and a call for spiritual light to shine into spiritual darkness.
During Channukah we light eight candles, starting from right to left, for the eight days of the holiday. But unlike regular menorahs, which have only seven branches for seven lights, our Channukiah has nine. In the middle of this menorah there is one candle that stands above the other eight, the servant candle known as the Shamash (servant in Hebrew). Using the light of the Shamash we light the other candles. While not probably intended to be a symbol for the Messiah, when I light my menorah I am reminded of Philippians 2. In that chapter we read Messiah Yeshua lowered Himself to become a servant for us and to die for our sins so lasting atonement could be made possible.
Because of what He has accomplished, He has been raised up like the Shamash, but has been raised to the highest place possible so that every knee should bow in heaven and on Earth and every tongue confess Yeshua as Lord.
Yeshua also celebrated Channukah and we read in John 10 that during this holiday celebrating the miracles of God He was challenged by some of His opponents. They told Him to state plainly who He was. Yeshua responded that all the numerous miracles He had done told them who He was, and if they were part of His flock then they would already understand. His miracles testified to the fact He was the Messiah and God, but His opponents could not understand. If Yeshua is the Shamash then His opponents were like candles that are unlit, they did not have the light of Messiah like those who saw His works and then began to believe in Him.
Yeshua as Adonai is like light, the opposite of darkness. In John 8:12 He declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Those who put their loyalty in Adonai share in His light. Unlike physical light that changes over time and can only show us things that are physical, the light of Messiah is a spiritual light that reveals spiritual realities. It is a light that gives us Truth and eternal life. Those who understand and accept the true Light will never walk in spiritual darkness.
The Channukiah is a lamp that brings light and extinguishes darkness. In the same way the light of Messiah, God’s light, is brought into the spiritual darkness of sin and confusion that surrounds us all. When we share in Messiah’s light we do not reject Him but begin to follow Him. If we do not follow Him then we do not have His light and are still in darkness without the promise of eternal life.
Adonai is pure and blameless, and so Messiah Yeshua is also pure and blameless. The light of God has no darkness and the beginning of John’s Gospel makes it clear that no darkness, no power or sin, can overcome the light of God.
Unlike the Menorah in the Temple which was desecrated by Antiochus and its light extinguished, there is no power that extinguish the light of God in His Messiah and in those who believe in Him. We will never again be in the same state of darkness, As Rabbi Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 5:5, “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.”
So when we have been filled with God’s light, given the promise of eternal life, the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts and begins to transform us from within, making us every day more like our savior. Therefore, if we are really children of light, if we really have been given the same light as God’s Shamash, then it should be evident in our lives. 1 John 1 makes it clear that the Lord is light in whom there is no darkness. If we claim that we belong to Him but continuously walk in darkness, then we are deceiving ourselves. If we claim that we have no sin, that we are perfect without any mistakes, then we are also deceiving ourselves. However, if we acknowledge and confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Finally, just like our Messiah and just like Judas Maccabee, we are called to be bold in the face of opposition and spiritual darkness. We have a responsibility to call out sin when we see it, a responsibility to preach truth even at the expense of our lives or our reputations. Messiah Yeshua taught us in Matthew 5:14-16. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. ‘Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.’”
It is Jewish tradition to put our Channukah Menorah’s in our windows so that the light of the Menorah is visible to those outside our homes. So it is for those who are believers in Messiah Yeshua that our light should shine out in a world filled with deep spiritual darkness and not just be in our Churches, or Synagogues, or homes alone. If we have failed in this responsibility the holiday of Channukah is a good time to rededicate ourselves to Adonai by examining our hearts and minds. It is also a reminder that we must stand firm in the face of opposition, a point Rabbi Glenn will be preaching on in detail in a few minutes.
As we begin Channukah this year I pray that each of us would experience the light of Messiah in our lives. May His light expose and expunge the darkness in our hearts caused by sin and the darkness of this World. May we all have the promise of eternal life that only comes through Adonai. And may we all like those who came before, standing firm in the face of darkness and opposition in our lives.