That’s Dedication: Hanukkah and the Theology of Non-Conformists

That’s Dedication: Hanukkah and the Theology of Non-Conformists

Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for “dedication.” And though the eight-day Jewish holiday is also called “the Festival of Lights,” it’s about the dedication—actually rededication—of the Second Temple. That temple had been utterly desecrated by the conquering Syrians, who had erected idols and poured pig’s blood in the Holy Place.

After a successful uprising in 165 BC, the Jewish people cleansed and rededicated the temple for its holy purpose—the sacred worship of the God of Israel. That would have been impossible apart from God, of course, but He used the marvelous dedication of a small band of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees to accomplish His victory.

Resist like a Maccabbee

The Maccabees loved and trusted God enough to withstand the seemingly overwhelming advantage of the Syrian army.

The Syrian king, Antiochus, had forced everyone under his rule to adopt Greek culture, including their religion. Dietary laws, circumcision, and every outwardly observable Jewish custom that set God’s people apart from other nations was outlawed. Jewish people were ordered to blend in and sacrifice their spiritual convictions on the altar of Hellenism (Greek ways).

Sound familiar? Today’s secular culture exerts a powerful pressure to conform. Ironically, dissenting points of view from its supposed tolerance are not tolerated. Holding to biblical views on many matters, including marriage and sexuality, can result in censure by governmental, academic, and business authorities.

In many circles, freedom of religion means the freedom to believe and worship as you please—as long as it’s behind closed doors. Many consider it disrespectful and morally wrong to speak of spiritual matters publicly in hopes of persuading others. These repressive tendencies are gaining an increasing foothold, to the point of dominating academic life and most of the media.

Accept a minority mindset

Back in the days of the Maccabees, the majority of Jewish people had taken the path of accommodation to Antiochus’s demands. Many had already been flirting with Greek philosophy and culture, drawn by the siren song of sophistication and liberation from the strict ways of the Torah. Many Jewish people had taken on Greek names and Greek ideas and were spending time at the gymnasium, where nudity was common and sexual mores were often flouted. These accommodationists were embarrassed by the more traditional members of their community and welcomed the opportunity to give in to the demands of the dominant culture. Again, does this sound familiar?

Some Christians’ efforts to be relevant seem more to me like efforts to fit in, but then I don’t know their hearts. I do know that it is fruitless to reshape our worship and our witness to conform to the dominant culture. God’s Word tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (from Romans 12:2).

Some followers of Jesus may have already fallen into the trap of accommodationists, adopting what sociology professor Christian Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism”—the view that the purpose of life is to be happy, and God exists to help us achieve that.

The Maccabees were willing to embrace the vulnerability of being a faithful minority as they submitted to the authority of God’s Word. Can we admit that the days of the “moral majority” are gone, if they were ever really here?

Unlike the Maccabees, we do not take up literal swords in what some have termed “culture wars,” but we do need to submit our lives to the authority of God’s Word as we follow Jesus. That means sacrificing our comfort, rather than succumbing to any ideas or values that contradict the clear teaching of the Bible. It means living out our faith and values authentically, so that what we believe can be known through our lives and language despite potential consequences. Standing up for truth can be costly, but it is worth it.

John Stonestreet of the Colson Center suggests believers develop a “theology of being fired,” because more and more Christians who don’t keep their beliefs to themselves have been sacked. (See, for example, the story of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochrane at http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/9520).

Protect your identity and purpose

Finally, the Maccabees recognized and responded to the importance of their identity as Jews. If Antiochus had had his way, the Jewish people would have assimilated and ceased to exist as the unique people God made them to be, with the unique purpose of bringing the Messiah to the world.

In the same way, we who follow the Lord Jesus need to recognize and respond to the supreme value of our identity in Messiah (Christ). If we assimilate and lose our unique identity, we cannot fulfill our purpose—to help others know and love Him, too.

That is why dedication is the second of three core values in Jews for Jesus; the first is passion for the lost, and the third is teamwork. They all work together. We want to embody God’s passion for the lost, but that is only sustainable with dedication and teamwork. I hope you know that partners like you are valued team members. I believe our mutual dedication has brought us together.

Jesus’ dedication to obey the Father brought Him down from heaven to be crucified and win our salvation. The Father’s dedication to His beloved Son raised Him from the dead. With Jesus now seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High, we can dedicate (and rededicate) ourselves to worshiping and serving Him. Thank you for your dedication to God’s work. Empowered by His Holy Spirit, together we can do amazing things for His Kingdom.

A Postscript of Hanukkah Facts:

  • In 2019 Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 22.
  • The most common symbol of the festival is the Hanukkiah, a nine-branch menorah (candelabra) that is lit progressively (one candle the first night, two the second, etc.) for each of the eight nights of the festival. The ninth candle is the shamash or “servant” which is lit first and used to light the other candles.
  • The historical events celebrated at Hanukkah are not recorded in the Bible because they occurred in the intertestamental period. (They are recorded in the books of 1st and 2nd Maccabees).
  • The festival is mentioned one time in the New Testament. “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter” (John 10:22). That same chapter includes Jesus’ pivotal declaration: “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).

Download the entire edition of this newsletter to read how Jewish people are coming to know Jesus in Moscow, plus 12 Ways to Help Your Church Make Jewish Visitors More Comfortable, as well as Ministry Moments from New York, Washington DC and an intriguing unknown location.

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David Brickner | San Francisco

Executive Director, Missionary

David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter Ilana is a graduate of Biola. His son Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife Shaina have one daughter, Nora, and a son, Levy, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.

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