A Very Jewish Christmas, Episode 1
As we come to this season of Christmas, where the “Christian” world celebrates the birth of Christ, we in America also have those living with us that do not celebrate Christmas. There is another holiday that is celebrated this time of year, where our Jewish friends, co-workers, and neighbors celebrate an event that happened a few hundred years before our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh and dwelt among us.
Many of our Jewish friends are quite kind and amicable with us, and may even partake in our Christmas celebrations. Many also quietly do not, which is understandable considering that they, sadly, do not believe in what we are (I hope) celebrating. For the most part, Christmas is a Gentile holiday.
But let us go back in time for a bit to the “first Christmas” and re-examine the events of that blessed time when the Son of God stepped into the earth that He created and relive those marvelous events through the eyes of those that were there and participated in God’s great peaceful invasion of His renegade planet.
This is the cast from the first part of Luke chapter 1:
A priest (of the house of Aaron), an Israelite.
The wife of Zacharias, also of the house of Aaron, an Israelite.
An angel of the Lord, first mentioned in the prophecy of Daniel, who told the prophet of the seventy weeks determined on his people (the people of Israel).
John the Baptist
The child promised to Zacharias and Elisabeth who would go forth in the spirit and power of Elias (Elijah), Israel’s prolific prophet, to make ready a people (Israel) prepared for the Lord.
Now, the Gospel According to St. Luke is often referred to as one particular of the “4 Gospels” that is written for Gentiles, but I really have to say here, you cannot get “more Jewish” than this cast of characters in its first chapter. The last chapter speaks of repentance and remission of sins preached in the Lord Jesus Christ’s name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47).
So, an overview of Luke chapter 1:
Luke wrote to a man named Theophilus regarding his perfect understanding from the very first1 of the things that happened during the time of the Son of God’s visitation to earth.
In verse 5 we read of the days of Herod, the king of Judaea. Herod was not the rightful king of Judaea. He was not of the house of David, Jehovah’s established king. He was a Gentile, king of Judaea. He was appointed king of Judaea by the Gentile world empire, that of Rome. This is truly, “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 24:24).
Now, never lose sight of the fact of why the times of the Gentiles happened:
2 Chronicles 36:15 – 17 — “And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees…”
But in this time of the Gentiles2 there are some very bright spots. Zacharias and Elisabeth were of the house of Aaron, of the house of Levi, of those that would be purified (Malachi 3:3), but these were already walking in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. How the Lord must have desired all of His priests to walk in His ways!
Note that their righteousness before God was walking in His commandments. They were not considered righteous in the same way that we are today, the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all that believe, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3:21 – 27, but the righteousness which is of the law, “that the man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Romans 10:5)3. During the period defined as the beginning of the “New Testament times”, were the people living under law or under grace?
But, the case was, that though these were walking in righteousness, Elisabeth was barren, and both she and Zacharias were old and well past child bearing years. She was bearing that which was a reproach among men.
Deuteronomy 28:1 – 2, 4, 11 — “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. … Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. … And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee.4“
This upright lady of the nation was bearing the reproach even though she was righteous walking in the Lord’s commands. How the nation needed Jehovah’s Saviour, Who would save His people from their sins! (Matthew 1:21)
Such is it that in times of God’s chastisment the righteous suffered with the wicked, but the righteous one had hope. The just shall live by his faith (Habakkuk 2:4).
Now Zacharias, while walking in the commands of the Lord blamelessly, when the angel preached the gospel to him5 did not take them in faith. Because of this he was made dumb until the proof of it would show otherwise — when the child would be born. Incidentally, to an Israelite walking in faith he should have known that his entire nation was born by one who without faith would have considered his own body dead (Romans 4:19). Before we are too hard on Zacharias, consider how strong unbelief can really be! Remember how unbelief kept the entire nation from entering in to the promised land!
Although the nation was suffering the oppression of Gentile rule because of rebellion against the LORD, even the names of these in this family would remind of the faithfulness of the LORD. The name Zacharias is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Zechariah, meaning “Jehovah remembers”, according to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon. The Lord would be remembering His covenant people Israel as Zecharias would now, after all these years become a father to the one who would make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
The name Elisabeth, Greek naming of the Hebrew Elisheba — “to whom God is the oath”. All that the people of Israel could hope in was the oath of God, and He is true to His word.
Finally, the name John means “Jehovah is a gracious giver” from the Hebrew Johanan. Even these names give us an indication of what was happening in these days in the land of Israel. God was remembering His covenant, and was beginning bring to pass all of the promises that were spoken to the people in times past.
So what happened?
How has this cast of very Jewish characters, and more that we will meet in the next episode, become part of the story of what is now considered anything but a Jewish holiday? Read this first chapter of Luke’s Gospel for yourself during this Christmas and see if you can yourself see how Israelitish all this really is.
Know too, that Jehovah is still gracious, and that He sent our Lord Jesus Christ during that fateful time in Israel’s history to save sinners, and He did so by dying for your sins on the cross outside the camp, bearing the reproach and shame for our sins. He was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21), and this gift righteousness is unto all and upon all them that believe, so do not abide in unbelief. Believe in our crucified and gloriously risen Savior!
- The word here is anōthen, translated also “top”, as in “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top” (Matthew 27:51), “again”, as in “Ye must be born again“, (John 3:7), “from above” as in “He that cometh from above is above all” (John 3:31). The skill that Luke is said to have had as a historian is not what makes this account and that of Acts what it is, it is that it is “anothen” — from above.
- Note that this was after the cleansing of the temple that is celebrated by our friends of the house of Jacob at Chaunukah. The land was still being overrun with Gentiles. Hardly could we say that it was really cleansed.
- The O.T. righteousness. Summary: In the O.T. “righteous” and “just” are English words used to translate the Hebrew words yasher, “upright”; tsadiq, “just”; tsidkah, “righteous.” In all of these words but one idea inheres: the righteous, or just, man is so called, because he is right with God; and he is right with God because he has walked “in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Lk. 1:6 Rom 10:5 Phil 3:6). The O.T. righteous man was not sinless (Eccl 7:20), but one who, for all his sins, resorted to the ordinances, and offered in faith the required sacrifice (e.g. Lev 4:27-35). CF. “Righteousness (N.T.), See Scofield Note: “Rom 10:10” and Paul’s contrast, Phil 3:4-9. (C.I. Scofield, the Scofield Reference Bible note on Luke 2:25 regarding “just and devout”, page 1073)
- The “prosperity gospel” is not without Biblical foundation, but it is rooted in taking that which belongs to someone else and claiming it for ones self, which in other cases is usually called stealing. The solution to this problem is, like so many others, a dispensational solution.
- Gabriel was sent to show Zacharias “these glad tidings”. The phrase show thee these glad tidings is “εὐαγγελίσασθαί σοι ταῦτα”, or “show thee this gospel”. It is of practically the same construction as when Paul says that he was not sent to baptize but to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17). It is an absurd claim of covenant theologians and the majority of Evangelicalism in general that there is only one gospel in the entire Bible, and that when a dispensationalist says otherwise, he is adversely affecting the gospel of Christ and as doing such is a heretic. Did Gabriel preach the same gospel to Zacharias as Paul was sent by Christ to preach?
Charles Miller View All
Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.
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