Christmas and the Coming of Messiah

Christmas. Such a special time for so many! A time of celebrating Jesus’ humble birth. Nativity scenes with people and animals crowded around a trough and the three wise men that followed the star; looking for Him. There was Herod too looking for Him; looking for the One born King of the Jews.

Growing up, Christmas wasn’t “our” holiday but belonged to Gentiles. As kids we didn’t feel left out as many think and didn’t miss getting gifts. It was a day like any other statutory holiday without observance – in fact, New Year’s Day was similar, because “New Year’s” as well wasn’t “our” New Year’s.  “Ours” was in September (different dates each year on the Western calendar) and since it always fell just after the start of the school year when most extracurricular activities started up, it felt as though the start of everything coincided with Rosh Hashanah. Even for Gentiles, everything begins in September. January 1st to us seemed like a time where people went to eat too much and drink too much just after they ate too much and drank too much at Christmas.  We would hear neighbours shouting “happy New Year’s” at midnight and banging pots and it seemed as relevant to our family as Christmas. For us, a new day begins at sundown the night before, not at midnight — so the whole idea of people making all sorts of noise and shouting to welcome in the New Year in the middle of the night, long after the sun went down, seemed so weird. It was like a delayed celebration. Our New Year, like other times and dates set for Jewish observances,is set out by God in Scripture and reckoned according to the Jewish calendar.

[This brings up the whole “December 25th” thing.  If the time of Jesus’ birth would have been mentioned in Scripture, it would have been in reference to the Jewish calendar, and not the Roman one. As we covered in an earlier post, the dates for observing holidays are established by God and always in reference to the Jewish (lunar) months.  In the New Testament, the observance of Passover and the Feast of Booths and even the coming of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, was based on the date in the Jewish calendar, not the Roman one.]

Even after coming to faith in Messiah in 1982, Christmas was still not “our” holiday and I think I am beginning to understand why that was.

As Jews, the “coming of Messiah” had a specific frame of reference; a Jewish frame of reference. While liberal Jews rarely spoke about a Messiah, living in an area of Montreal with a significant and visible Orthodox Jewish population, “We want Moshiach [Messiah] now!” was something we saw on billboards, signs and in local stores. The sect of Orthodox Jews that coined this phrase owned many of the stores in our area – stores we shopped at. They spoke of the day “when Messiah would come” longingly – of what the world would be like. They believed He would be a direct descendant of King David, and that the third Temple would be build when He came. He would gather the exiles from the four corners of the world and they would return to Israel where the worship of God would once again center in Jerusalem. They believed that it would not only be the Jews that would recognize Him as Messiah, but all the nations of the world. He would be thoroughly knowledgeable of all the commands of God in Torah and observant of them and He would call Jews back to a proper observance of the Law of God. He would be heralded as the true King of the Jews. Most striking, was their conviction that the coming of Messiah was imminent; that Messiah would come soon and redeem His people. His coming would be associated with miracles and He would usher in the Messianic Age – a time where war would cease, and there would be no more hatred between people and nations. First and foremost for all people would be the pursuit of the knowledge of God. However, before the coming of Messiah, would be a time of great turmoil and a great war, called the war of God and Magog. Just before Messiah appeared, Elijah the prophet would come and announce His imminent arrival. There was also the belief that after His arrival, all the dead would be raised to life and live again in the Land of Israel, and worship God with Messiah from the Temple in Jerusalem. The main concept of Messiah that I had before coming to faith was this one.

There was one other…

“A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

Seriously! I’m not kidding. I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” every year around Christmastime  since it came out in the mid-1960’s.  I could relate to Charlie Brown’s dismay about the over-commercialization of Christmas and his reaction seeing all that was going on in his neighbourhood before Christmas.  Even his dog Snoopy was decorating his doghouse!  I think I related to it because that’s what is was like for us as Jews, with people around us preparing for Christmas.

The part of A Charlie Brown Christmas that always got my attention was where Charlie Brown asks if anyone really knows what Christmas is all about?  Linus, all alone on stage tells Charlie Brown that he can tell him what Christmas is all about and proceeds to recite what seemed like a poem to me.  I realize now that it was from Luke 2:8-14 from the old King James version;

“And there were in the same country

shepherds abiding in the field,

keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,

and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:

and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not:

for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

What a nice story”, I would think each year! So this is the “real” meaning of Christmas! But it was the “real” meaning of a Gentile holiday.  Linus’ words had no connection to me. They sounded like a narration describing the “nativity scenes” I would see displayed all around at Christmas, so I would imagine people and animals and a baby in a trough.

I know now that Luke was writing to a largely Gentile audience in the format of an Epic: a story of a hero which was common in the Roman era and the Greek era so not surprising, I didn’t relate to it at all.

Many years later I first read the account of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:1-6;

“Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob,

and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…

and Jesse fathered King David.

Wow!! Jesus was a Jew!  He was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a direct descendant of King David.  He was like “super Jew”!

Matthew 2 begins:

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea

in the days of Herod the king

behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem

saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?

For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;

and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem Ephratah, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

I could not get over how Jewish this was!

Jesus was born in Judea, which was where the tribe of Judah came from!

The wise men came from the East to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel.  Jerusalem is the centre of Judaism!

In this account, Herod asks the chief priests of the Jewish Temple and Jewish scribes where the Messiah was to be born, because surely they would know, right? And they did! Of course they did!! They were the priests in the Jewish Temple!! And the Messiah is the hope of Judaism!!

They told him that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea because the prophet Micah spoke of it…and then it quotes the Jewish Scriptures – Micah Chapter 5, verse 2;

וְאַתָּה בֵּית-לֶחֶם אֶפְרָתָה, צָעִיר לִהְיוֹת בְּאַלְפֵי יְהוּדָה–מִמְּךָ לִי יֵצֵא, לִהְיוֹת מוֹשֵׁל  בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל

But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah,

out of thee shall one come forth one who is to be ruler in Israel”

Everything about THIS Jesus is Jewish!

…which led me to wonder, “If this is the Messiah we have been waiting for, why do the Gentiles keep calling Him “Jesus Christ (as if “Jesus” was His first name and “Christ” is His second). “Christ” isn’t a Jewish family name, but a title. It is like saying “Messiah Jesus”.

When Jews hear “Jesus Christ” they think “that is a Gentile diety“. We were commanded by God not to pay attention or follow after the “gods of the Nations” and the way He is portrayed to a Jew, He is just another deity. This is heartbreaking, He has been made unrecognizable to His own people according to the flesh.

Blond-hair blue eyed Jesus?

When Gentile Christians speak with Jews, the reaction should be “these Gentiles are following our Messiah!“.  There is nothing about the “nativity scene” or Jesus Himself as conventionally portrayed that invokes this at all.

…but the Jesus Matthew writes about is a Jew!  In fact, the Jewishness of Jesus is evident throughout Scripture.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea (Matthew 2:1) to Jewish parents named “Mary” and Joseph [I later found out His mother’s real name was Miriam, just like the sister of Moses and that Mary was a Greek version of her name. Why didn’t they just call her by her real name?].

Miriam and Joseph came from the city of Nazareth (Luke 2:39), also in Judea.

While Scripture says nothing about the day Jesus was born (what Gentiles call “Christmas Day”) it does say that in accordance with Jewish Law, He was circumcised on the 8th day (Luke 2:21) and as the first born son of His mother, was presented to the Jewish Temple by His parents according to the Mosaic law (Luke 2:21-40). This is as Jewish as you can get!!

Miriam and Joseph, Jesus’ parents were obviously Torah-observant Jews who kept the Law of Moses as evidence by them having Him circumcised the 8th day and them going up to Jerusalem every year for the Passover (Luke 2:41).  They commemorated Passover every year just like we did!  In fact, Scripture says they went up to Jerusalem for the Passover every year right up until the time Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2:42). When Jesus reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, He began to sit with the teachers in the Temple, listening and asking them questions (Luke 2:46).

As an adult, Jesus affirmed the authority of the Law and the Prophets and upheld the teachings of the Law of Moses in all He taught and all He did.  That is what the Jewish Messiah is supposed to do!!

In Matthew 4 Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them!! That is what Jews expect the Messiah to do!!

He said that until heaven and earth pass away, not even the tiniest part of the smallest letter will pass from the Law until all things are accomplished.  That is what the Jewish Messiah was supposed to come to do. He was to bring us back to proper observance of the Law and even the Orthodox Jews said that the Gentiles would be brought back to the Noahic laws.  That is the basis for the 4 commands the Gentiles were to follow (Acts 15).  Entirely as the Jews have anticipated!! He is the goal (telios) of the Law, not the “end” of it, as commonly understood.

Jesus said to Jews that the Law was something they should practice and teach to other Jews and if they did they would be called “great in the kingdom” and if they did not, they would be called “least in the kingdom”. 

To the Jews that followed Him from the surrounding area He said:

anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-19

The Jesus of Scripture was a Jew from Judea, He died a Jew just outside the Jewish capital of Jerusalem — and shocking as it may be to some, He is returning to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14)… as a Jew.  His feet will touch the Mount of Olives and He will return in the same manner, to the same place from where He ascended.

Christmas is a time many celebrate the coming of Jesus and where Christians sing about “born is the King of Israel”.  So why is He portrayed in such a foreign way?  In fact, why is He portrayed at all? Jews do not make graven images of God because it violates the second Commandment.

May you come to understand, in all its fullness how the One whose birth you celebrate at Christmas is the long awaited Messiah of Israel.

Merry Christmas.


This little town of Bethlehem Christmas motion background is an excellent background for your Christmas service. The Bethlehem Christmas "Star of Wonder" makes a elegant backdrop for your Christmas Eve services.

Why did the “three Wise Men” come to Bethlehem to find the Messiah?

First of all, the Scripture doesn’t say their were three wise men but Magi bearing 3 gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh. It also says nothing about them riding camels.

The Magi were astrologers  that would have known about the coming of the Messiah from the time that the Jews were captive in Babylon. Daniel 2 says that he became the “master of the magicians, astrologers [i.e. Magi], Chaldeans, and soothsayers.” because of his ability to understand and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  Since the Magi [astrologers] had contact with Daniel when he was captive in Babylon but was elevated to the position of overseeing them by Nebuchadnezzar, they came when they did when they saw the star of Bethlehem because they knew of Daniel’s prophesy about  the coming of the Messiah.  Daniel prophesied (as recorded in Daniel 9) about the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonians destroyed it in the 6th century BCE which said 490 years [70 weeks of years] would pass from the command to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of Messiah the Prince (Daniel 9:24-25).  While the rest of this passage is understood by many to have yet-future fulfillment, it explains why the Magi came Bethlehem at the time that they did, when they saw the star.


 

 

 

Jewish Holy Days – with Scriptural references

In this article, we will tell you a little bit about the main Jewish holidays, where in Scripture they’re mentioned and briefly how all by one has been fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah.

DSC02619

Passover (also called Pesach) was established by God (Ex 13:4, Ex 34:18) and is a time we are to remember the going forth of our forefathers from Egypt and  when the Angel of the Lord “passed over” the houses of the children of Israel.  We remember that when He saw the blood of the sacrificed lamb that was put on the doorposts and lintel of their houses, He spared their firstborn from death.  We commemorate this feast yearly in a meal called a “seder” (for “order”). It is at the Passover seder that Jesus ate His last meal with His disciples.  It was not “the Last Supper”, but “the Last Seder”.

Seder plate - April 14 2014

The 7 days following Passover is the Feast of Unleavened Bread where we eat matzoh or unleavened bread  instead of bread made with yeast, or leavening and was established by God in the same passages of Scripture as the Passover.  We eat unleavened bread to remember “the great haste in which we left Egypt that we had no time to let our bread rise, but formed it into matzoh cakes”.

passover cup and echad

God commanded us in Leviticus 23:15-16 to count seven full weeks starting from the day after the first Sabbath after Passover (i.e. 49 days) and then to present offerings of new grain to the Him. We “count 7 weeks of days plus 1 day” from the first Shabbat (Sabbath) after Passover to arrive at the date of Shavuot (Pentecost), the “Feast of Weeks”.  It is also called Pentecost ” because we count 50 days from the first Sabbath after Passover (“penta” meaning 50). We call this counting of days the “counting of the omer” (which is a reference to when the barley would be ripe in the fields) and we do this from Nisan 16-Sivan 5. During this feast, we commemorate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai on Shavuot. It is also the same feast on which the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) was given to the early Jewish believers who were gathered in the Upper Room.

shavuot_banner

The Feast of Firstfruits occurs 3 days after the beginning of Passover.  It is also the day that Jesus rose from the dead — Him being the “firstfruits from the dead”.

 

The “High Holy Days” of Rosh Hashanah (head of the Year – civil New Year) which takes place on the 1st day of the month of Tishri, which is also called the “Feast of Trumpets” was also established by
God (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1-6).  It is also the one Jewish feast which has not yet found its fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah (more on that below).  Like the wise bridesmaids, we wonder if this will be the year He returns to the “sound of the trumpet” – when the dead in Him will be raised.  No one knows “the day or the hour” but many believe that quite possibly, it will be one of these Rosh Hashanahs.

The most somber day of our calendar — Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, on the 10th of Tishrei and is set out by God in Leviticus 16:8-34 and 23:27-32.  It is a day of corporate repentance; repentance for the sins of the whole nation — and not simply for us, as individuals.

Succoth

Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths) begins five days after Yom Kippur, and is commemorated from the 15-21 day of the Hebrew month of Tishri.  It is set out by God in Exodus 23:16, 34:22; Leviticus 23:34-43; Numbers 29:12-40; Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Ezra 3:4 and Nehemiah 8:13-18. On this feast we remember when we were wanderers in the desert, before God led us into the Land He promised beforehand to our Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As Messianic believers, it is at Sukkot that were remember His incarnation – His coming to “dwell” (literally ‘tabernacle’) amongst us — however remembering His incarnation, is quite different than celebrating “His birthday”.  More on that, below.

The Last Day of the Great Feast (of Sukkot) is called Shiminei Atzaret and was the day that the Water Drawing ceremony (Water Libation ceremony) that would take place during the time of the Second Temple.  It was during that ceremony, that Jesus stood up and declared with a loud voice “If any many thirst, let him come to Me and drink for out of his belly will flow rivers of living water”).

Then there is Purim, the Feast of Lots which commemorates how God spared the Jewish people through the brave actions of Queen Esther Book of Esther 9:24).

Purim 1998 001

Finally, there is the 8 day holiday that we celebrate around the time of Christmas, either just before or during it, depending on the Jewish (lunar) calendar. Chanukah (the Feast of Dedication) is not mentioned in the Old Testament because it took place during intertestamental times (after the Old Testament but before the New). Chanukah commemorates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple that had been defiled by King Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greco-Syrian king who sacrificed a pig on the altar and spilled its blood on the holy scrolls of Scripture (Torah). The story is recorded in the Apocryphal book of First Maccabees and is mentioned in the New Testament in the book of John Chapter 10 verse 22.  While commemorating it is not established by God in Scripture because it occurred after the writing of the Tanakh, the New Testament mentions that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, and so we also commemorate it .

Chanukiah Day 5 mostly poofed Dec 1 2013

We light a special candelabra called a “chanukiah” on this holiday, to commemorate the miracle of just a little bit of oil that was found by the Maccabee brothers burning for eight days, until a new batch could be made to re-institute Jewish worship in the Temple. We also eat fried foods such as doughnuts and felafel during the 8 day celebration.

Feasts of Israel – their fullness in Messiah

At the beginning of this article, we described the different feasts that God instituted and where in Scripture He did so and we think you may find it interesting to see how all but one of those feasts has been fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah.

Be sure, someday, that one too, will be fulfilled.

  1. Shiminei Atzaret – as we covered above, this was fulfilled in John 10:22 when Jesus declared if any one thirst, they should come to Him to drink – that out of their bellies would flow rivers of living water.
  1. Purim (the Feast of Lots) – the soldiers cast lots for His clothes. He is the one that saves us from a far worse fate than the (first) death Haman had planned for the Jews.
  1. Rosh Hashanah / “Feast of Trumpets” – the yet, unfulfilled feast when “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

What else do we know about that day? Read Zechariah 14!

After the nations of the world come against Jerusalem, it says

“Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle.  On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east”

Zechariah 14:3-4

“On that day there will be no light; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish. It will be a day known only to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening”

Zechariah 14:6-7

Sounds like Acts 2:20 (Joel 2:31) doesn’t it?

“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”

Acts 2:20

  1. Passover – He is the Lamb of God and it is His shed blood that spares us from death, just as the blood of the Passover lamb spared the firstborn sons of the children of Israel when the Angel of the Lord, passed over.
  1. Feast of Unleavened Bread – yeast, in Scripture signifies ‘sin’ (Gal 5:9) and He was without sin and like the unleavened bread (matzoh), He was bruised, pierced and striped (Isaiah 53).

6. Shavuot (Pentecost), the “Feast of Weeks” – Many theologians say it was the pre-incarnate Son that gave the Law to Moses .

Say what?

Read Exodus 24:1-18;

“and they [Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and 70 of Israel’s elders] saw the God of Israel. Beneath His feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself. God did not harm these leaders of the Israelites; they saw Him, and they ate and drank.”

~Exodus 24:10

What did these 74 men see? Well, we know that they saw God.

We also know that the God they saw the feet of God (cf. v. 10) and the sapphire-like clear blue pavement under them (reflective of both Ezekiel 1:28 and Revelation 1:17).

Who but the Son, has feet?

  1. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – He was our atonement – “not by means of the blood of goats and bulls, but He used his own blood, for the sacrifice. He went into the most holy place and offered this sacrifice once and for all to free us” (Hebrews 9:12). “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).

Finally, this brings us to Sukkot, the feast that is likely the one Jesus was born on.

8. Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths) – is when the Son came and dwelt (tabernacled) amongst us (John 1:14). 2 Corinthians refers to our bodies as “earthly tents” or “tabernacles” (literally “sukkahs”). Jesus came and tabernacled amongst us — laying aside the privileges of His deity and came and

“…made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death –

even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:6-8

Given the evidence that He was born at Sukkot as we outlined at length in the previous article – do you see how different commemorating His incarnation in association with Sukkot is from celebrating His birthday?

It is not the celebration of the anniversary of His birth that we focus on — but the fact that He came!

It is God having come in the form of a man — taking on the same frail “tabernacle” (sukkah) as we have!  It is His coming, in fulfillment of hundreds of Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that we commemorate.

And we wait…

…wait for His return.  Wait for the fulfillment of Rosh Hashanah — when “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God”

1 Thessalonians 4:16

Even so, come.

Holiday Observance – from a Jewish perspective

Christmas is one of those occasions where us being Jewish comes into play in how we understand and relate to events around us. While we do ‘celebrate’ occasions such as weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, Brit Milahs etc., holidays are more a time of observance than a time of celebration.  Of course, round the observance is great food and family gatherings, but how and when we observe is not something left up to us — but set out by God in Scripture.

The Jewish Concept of Observance

God was quite specific as to when and where and how to the Jewish people were to worship Him.  Days of commemoration and how those days are to be observed were appointed by God, rather than chosen by us. Feast days and holy days are times of observance where we remember what God has done for our forefathers.

Observance – remembering God

As you can see, we have lots of holy days and feasts — in addition to the weekly holiday of Shabbat (the Sabbath) and all of them except for Chanukah are established by God as to how they are to be observed and when.

This may come as a huge surprise, but the commemoration of these observances was not restricted by God to Jews!

Under the Law, God set out how the “foreigner among us” (Gentiles) were to be treated — that when we commemorated feasts and festivals, that the “foreigner amongst us” was to partake with us — as equals!  When we celebrated Sukkot (Feast of Booths / Tabernacles), so did the Gentiles who lived amongst us (Deut. 16:4)’

“and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns.

Deut. 16:14

On the Sabbath, the Gentiles who lived amongst us were also to rest, as we did (Deut 5:14). There was no such thing as the “Sabbath Goy” (Gentile) who could do work on the Sabbath while the Jew did not.

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day”

Deuteronomy 5:13-15

When we commemorated Passover, the Gentiles who lived amongst us were not to be excluded — Numbers 9:14 says that there is “one statute, both for the alien and for the native of the land” and ‘if an alien sojourns among us, he is to observe the Passover to the LORD the same as we do‘.

[In exception to other commemorations, to celebrate the Passover, Exodus 12:48 specifies that the Gentile must first be circumcised but Exodus 12: 49 reinforces that “the same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you“.]

Contrary to what many think, Gentiles who lived amongst Jews were to be considered no different than native born Jews! 

‘When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. ‘You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity.”

Leviticus 19:34

Doing and Not Doing – Positive and Negative Commandments

God not only defined how we were to worship and when we were to worship — but also how we were NOT to worship!

God instructed us not to worship foreign gods or bow down to them, or course — but more than that, He told us not to imitate the practices of the nations around us in how we worship;

“You must not bow down to their gods or worship them. Do not imitate their practices. Instead, demolish them and smash their sacred pillars to pieces”

Exodus 23:24

Furthermore, God specifically instructed us that we are not to worship Him — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the manner that the nations around us worship their gods (Deut. 12:4) but were to seek Him the way He said;

You shall not act like this toward the LORD your God. “But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come..”

Deuteronomy 12:4

Gentiles,  living amongst Jews under the Law were to be treated no differently than the native born Jew and were to participate with us as equals in the observance of the feasts.

For Gentiles under the New Covenant, the Jerusalem Council determined that as Christians were not required to keep any of the feast-days.  Acts 15 makes it clear that Gentiles that came to faith in Jesus did not need to be circumcised, observe the Sabbath, keep the dietary laws or any of the other commands of the Law except for abstaining (1)  from things polluted by idols (2) from sexual immorality (3) not eating anything that has been strangled and (4) and “from blood” (Acts 15:20).

There are no specific ‘feast days’ or ‘holy days’ for Gentile Christians outlined in Scripture – except the observance of His death for both Jewish believer and Gentile Christian which Jesus Himself, instituted (more on that below).

As Gentile Christians, you can observe (or not) any day you wish as you feel is appropriate.  As Jews, we are called to remember the specific days that God established “throughout our generations”. This does not merit us anything — it does not “save us” — but it honours God as God and honours Him in what He did for our forefathers.  And so we observe…

This brings up something that would be good for us to mention here. When Gentile Christians tell Jewish believers that under the New Covenant they no longer should acknowledge the days of remembrance as proscribed by God, as well-meaning as it is, it’s actually asking us not to acknowledge something He has done for us, and limits the glory due His Name.

Not remembering God and what He has done is as significant as remembering Him.

In Jeremiah 18, God said through the prophet that not only had the Jews gone after foreign gods and engaged in the practices of the nations around them, but they had forgotten Him;

“Yet My people have forgotten Me. l
They burn incense to false idols
that make them stumble in their ways m
on the ancient roads
and walk on new paths, not the highway.”

Jeremiah 18:15

Not doing is as important to God, as doing.

Positive commandments (to ‘do’) go hand in hand with negative commandments (to ‘not do’).

He has called us as Jews to ‘do things so that we remember’… piling up stones in a river, commemorating feast days, resting on the Sabbath. 

It may come as a surprise to you, but God calling us to “do this in remembrance of Me” is not something that started in the New Testament; it continued from the older covenant, which leads us to our next point.

New Covenant Observance

The one observance that Jesus required of all of us (Jewish believers and Gentile Christians) is to remember is His death;

“And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”

Luke 22:18-20

Jesus was referring to remembering His death during the commemoration at Passover — which explains the practice of Polycarp, an early Church Father (80-167 CE) that we mentioned in an earlier post.  Polycarp commemorated the Lord’s death on the Feast of Passover as he said the Apostle John had taught him to “and the other apostles with whom he had associated”  [Irenaeus, “Letter to Victor” (bishop of Rome), quoted in Eusebius (chapter 24), in Schaff, Church History]. For the first two centuries of the early Church, both Jewish believers and Gentile Christians in Jerusalem and Antioch, including Polycarp continued to commemorate the Lord’s death (the Paschal Supper) on the Jewish feast of Passover. The celebration of “Easter” on the first Sunday after Passover was instituted by the Church around the time of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, in 325 CE [Eusebius, “24”, in Schaff, Church History, book V, CCEL; cf].

However in the largely Gentile church of Corinth, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 refers to the practice of “the Lord’s Supper” where the Christians would remember His death when they gathered.

” For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

1 Cor 11:23-26

The Difference between Observance and Celebrating

The difference between “celebrating” a holiday and “observing” it is significant.  The end-goal of celebrating is a time of enjoyment and festivity stemming whereas the end-goal of observance is remembering and commemoration. Of course, as Jews we enjoy gathering to observe the feast days as set out by God, but that is not our focus.  Our focus is  remembering the things God has done.

The difference between these two views is rooted in the fundamental difference between the cultural background of Jews and Gentiles in Jesus’s day. In Greco-Roman Hellenism, holidays are celebrated with revelry. In second-temple Judaism, feast days are commemorated with reverence. This does not necessarily change what is done — but how and why.

Relating Observing and Celebrating to Christmas

We were called to commemorate His death — both when we celebrate the Passover and when we remember it together, as we gather. We were never called to remember or commemorate the anniversary of His birth.

There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that “Jesus’s birthday” was celebrated at all – or even known commonly, outside of perhaps His family members — but certainly the anniversary of Jesus’ birthday was inconsequential for the disciples to celebrate because there is no mention of it in Scripture.

The Passover Lamb

Let us give you an analogy that we think will be helpful..

In the commemoration of the Passover, the Jews were required to choose a lamb from their flock, a perfect lamb, a male without blemish and set it aside until the 14th day of the month, at which time, it would become the Passover lamb .  The choosing of the lamb and the requirements of it are set out in Scripture (Ex. 12:3-7).  That is, when the lamb was to be chosen and when the lamb was to die, was established by God, but there is nothing about the day the lamb was to be born.  It was to be a certain age (“a year-old” male) but the precise day of its birth isn’t important.

Scripture says of Jesus that “He was chosen before the foundation of the world“(1 Peter 1: 20)  and the time of His death was according to the “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), but there is no mention of the date He was born.

Just as you could derive the approximate date or time period in which the Passover lamb was born by it being a year old and working backwards, the date is implicit rather than explicit.  Likewise, the date of Jesus’ birth is implicit, rather than explicit. In Matthew 2  (the famous so-called “nativity” passage) it says;

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king”

Matthew 2:1

The only fact that is mentioned is that it was during the reign of King Herod, not even the year, the day or even the season.

In contrast, when the Passover lamb was to die (14 day of Nisan), just as the Passover that Jesus was to die was explicit — and spoken of in great detail beforehand. In Matthew 26 it reads;

“Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”

Matthew 26:17

While the year is not specified, the season, holiday and exact day of the holiday is explicitly specified. Based on the amount and type of detail that is given in the Scriptural accounts,  when He died is important. When He was born is not.  There is no information about the date or timing of His birth, other than it occurred during the census of Herod.

Certainly scholars have taken the events of Herod’s census, when Elizabeth conceived John, when Zecharias served as High Priest and worked backwards to derive the date of Jesus’ birth (falling at the feast of Sukkot).  While interesting, it is still not significant for us to celebrate His “birthday”.

[for more on this, read http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/jesus-born-at-sukkot-festival-of-booths/]

December 25th as Christmas

Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th.  It is not “His birthday”. December 25th is a day that was set aside by the Church based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo, who around 400 CE came upon a splinter Christian sect called the Donatists who kept a festival on December 25th to honour Jesus’ birth. Since the Donatists emerged during the persecution of the Church under the ruler Diocletian in 312 CE, Augustine thought that this group may have established that Jesus was born on that date.

We do know that the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast on December 25th celebrating the birth of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus ) in 274 CE – so perhaps the Donatists sought to reclaim this date to celebrate the birth of the Son. However it came about, it is not a Biblical festival.

There is nothing in Scripture indicating that we should celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ birth.  As Jews, the importance is that He came, in fulfillment of hundreds of Messianic prophecies, not what day it occurred on.

That does not mean that it is somehow “wrong” for you as Gentile Christians to pick a day to commemorate His birth.  You are free to do so!  But please understand, that for us as Jewish Believers the idea of picking a day and choosing a celebration is foreign to us.

Christmas and Sukkot

As mentioned earlier, our holy days and observance of them are established God.  Remembering the the great things He did our forefathers brings honour to His Name and continues to set us apart as a distinct people. We have no need to create a celebration around the anniversary of His birth or to put undue emphasis on the date that many scholars believe He was born .  At the same time, we have no objections to you celebrating His birth — by all means!

In addition, as Jews we feel it it is important that we continue not to worship God in a manner of the nations around us.

We have many days of commemoration, that we as Messianic Jews continue to observe.  We feel that if it were important to God for us to commemorate the anniversary of Jesus’ birth, He would have set that day apart in Scripture. In the absence of that, we are content not to create one — or even to observe the one we believe it occurred on in any grand manner, apart from how God instructed us to observe it.  We do find it amusing however, that the only feast that Gentiles will be required to celebrate in the age to come, is Sukkot.

Then all the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Festival of Booths.     Should any of the families of the earth not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, rain will not fall on them. And if the people of Egypt will not go up and enter, then rain will not fall on them; this will be the plague the Lord inflicts on the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16-19

Why Sukkot?

Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths) – is when many historians believe that the Son came and dwelt (tabernacled) amongst us (John 1:14). We won’t elaborate on that here, as we dealt with this at length in an earlier article.

2 Corinthians refers to our bodies as “earthly tents” or “tabernacles” (literally “sukkahs”). Jesus came and tabernacled amongst us — laying aside the privileges of His deity and came and

“…made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death –

even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:6-8

Given the evidence that He was born at Sukkot – do you see how different commemorating His incarnation in association with Sukkot is from celebrating His birthday? It is not the celebration of the anniversary of His birth that we focus on — but the fact that He came!

It is God having come in the form of a man — taking on the same frail “tabernacle” (sukkah) as we have!  It is His coming, in fulfillment of hundreds of Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that we commemorate.

Which brings us back to Christmas…

A Messianic Jewish perception of Christmas

“Christmas” is one of those times that is awkward for us, as Messianic believers.  We don’t celebrate December 25th as “Jesus’ birthday” because it wasn’t – and while we remember His incarnation during Sukkot, no special celebration needed.

Please also understand that God did not want us as Jews to worship Him in the ways that the nations around us worshipped, so we are not endeared to Christmas trees or mistletoe.

As mentioned above, we have absolutely no issue with you as Gentile Christians having these in your celebrations because there is no requirement on you to worship God in a specific way — or not to worship Him in a specific way. Please understand that it is important for us to continue to bring honour to His Name in the manner He gave us.

We understand many Christians make Christmas “all about Jesus’s birthday” and forgo anything to do with Santa Claus — but for us, the whole idea of creating a holiday to celebrate something is foreign.

Christmas trees, Advent candles and sweet songs about the ‘sweet baby Jesus’ being born in a stable with light beams radiating from His face and cattle mooing is detached from Jesus coming in fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.  In fact, we relate more to the Scripture verses read during “Advent” then we do the celebration of Christmas, itself.

We have been puzzled why the only time we every hear about Jesus being “King of Israel” is at Christmas and Him being “King of the Jews”, is at “Easter”.  It seems these are overlooked the remainder of the year.

Advent and Easter Egg Hunts

We thought you might find it interesting to view Advent and Easter-egg hunts from a Messianic perspective.

The Church tradition of counting the 5 Sundays before Christmas as Advent is a little amusing to us. It is somewhat reminiscent of the “counting of the omer” that occurs between Passover and Pentecost. We don’t mind if you want to ‘count’ something, that’s fine with us and you are certainly free to do so, but we hope you can understand that by starting to sing Christmas carols and light “Advent” candles 5 weeks in advance of the date, extends the period by which we as Jewish believers feel out of place.

Like Advent is to the “counting the omer” so “Easter egg hunts” seem like a pale reflection of the Jewish custom of searching for the Affikomen.  You see, at Passover, children under the age of 13 years old search for the Affikomen (the broken piece of the middle matzoh at Passover, that is wrapped in a white linen cloth, ‘buried’, searched for by the children present and once found, redeemed). We understand it is fun and all for kids to participate in and makes the “celebration” of “Easter” festive, but we hope you will also understand if we continue to commemorate His death in association with the Passover.

“One Day Above Another / Each Day the Same”

In the book of Romans, after Paul established that God has allowed a “partial hardening” to come to our people “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Romans 9:23) and has not rejected Israel (Romans 11) — both covered in earlier articles, he talks about the different ways in which believers approach ‘special days’, in Romans, Chapter 14.

“One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord”

Romans 14: 5-6

As Paul exhorts earlier in that same chapter, we don’t “look down on” Gentile Christians for celebrating Christmas. We are totally fine with this being a day where you celebrate the birth of Jesus in however manner you feel is appropriate to do so.

We hope as family, you won’t mind that we don’t.