As we say goodbye to November and head into December, our thoughts turn toward the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah (Festival of Lights), which starts Sunday night at sundown, and the Christian celebration of Christmas.
Let’s start with Jesus, as He is truly the center of all celebration. But, beware Christians: Jesus doesn’t belong solely to us. He is not a “Christian character,” but is the character who joins Jews and Gentiles together. In fact, Jesus was Jewish!
Our Christmas story bears that out. For example: Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea and wise men from the East asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) We also know Jesus was circumcised as all Jewish boys were, His boyhood home was Nazareth, His family journeyed to Jerusalem for the feasts, and He observed Jewish traditions.
In fact, even Jewish philosopher-theologian-historian of religion, Rabbi Leo Buck, rejected Christianity, but had this to say about Jesus:
Most portrayers of the life of Jesus neglect to point out that Jesus is in every characteristic a genuinely Jewish character, that a man like him could have grown only in the soil of Judaism, only there and nowhere else. Jesus is a genuine Jewish personality, all his struggles and works, his bearing and feeling, his speech and silence, bear the stamp of a Jewish style, the mark of Jewish idealism, of the best that was and is in Judaism, but which then existed only in Judaism. He was a Jew among Jews; from no other people could a man like him have come forth, and in no other people could a man like him work; in no other people could he have found the apostles who believed in him. (Jews for Jesus)
So, no doubt, Jesus was Jewish. But was He Messiah? Some believe Jesus was crucified because the Jews rejected Him as Messiah. But is that true?
Let’s see what Jesus said about Himself. Here is a conversation, recorded in Matthew 16:13-17 (NLT):
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,”they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.”
Not only did Jesus accept the title “Messiah, the Son of the living God” He also attributed that revelation to His Father in heaven. Later, when He encountered a Samaritan woman at Sychar, He also declared Himself to be the Messiah (John 4:25-26). Most telling, though, is the genealogy of Jesus, detailed in Matthew 1, where verse 16 identifies Jesus as the Messiah.
Contrary to popular belief, Jesus was not crucified because He claimed to be Messiah. That was not a problem for the Jewish people, as they were actually seeking a messiah. He was crucified because He dared to utter a very simple phrase: “I AM.” In a conversation with Jewish followers, Abraham was rightly venerated as the father of their faith. What ensued was this:
“Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?”… Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”
~John 8:53, 56-58
“I AM”…Jesus proclaimed His deity, making Himself equal with God. Throughout Jewish history they were warned to have no other gods before the God of the universe. The idea of a triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is blasphemous to Jewish ears, thus Jesus’ “I AM” proclamation was blasphemous. So disturbed were they, that verse 59 tells us they picked up stones to throw at Him.
Claiming to be God set everything in motion for the crucifixion of the Great I AM.
Interestingly, in the last days, another will come on the scene, claiming to be messiah. He will woo the Jewish people who are anxiously seeking their messiah, and they will embrace him. He will allow the Jews to rebuild their temple on Temple Mount and will bring about a false peace. But in the midst of it all, that one will be found to be the Antichrist when he also declares deity and demands to be worshiped in the Temple. The Jewish people did not accept Jesus as equal to God, and will not accept any other as equal to God until their eyes are open and they acknowledge Jesus the Messiah, who comes in the Name of (and equal to) the Lord! Then, they will acknowledge Jesus as One with God.
That is the One whose birth we celebrate each Christmas season! Rejoice! For the Great I AM is Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace! (Isaiah 9:6)
PS: Stay tuned because Hanukkah starts tomorrow, and we’ll spend some time examining the Jewish festival of lights!