God has a special relationship with the people of Israel. We can see all over the Bible how the prophets depict this relation as a husband-wife relation, or a father-son relation. Other times it is a shepherd-sheep relation. In fact, God loves his people so much that he became flesh and dwelled among us. The prophecies about this are abundant. We have his promises in the Torah that he will dwell amongst us. There is the promise in Malachi 3:1 that the “messenger of his covenant” will come to his temple. In Micah, the promise that the expected Messiah will be born in Bethlehem is followed by a statement of divinity – his goings are from the days of eternity.
This controversial faith sets believers in Jesus apart from the Rabbinic Judaism and Islam. The other Abrahamic faiths see themselves as more “pure” in their monotheism, as they abhor the idea that God would ever be human. In their view, it defiles him, and makes him less God. To them, it sets Christianity closer to paganism and polytheism. We Jews who believe in Jesus constantly have to defend ourselves against the false allegation that we “pray to a human.”
But the gods in polytheistic mythologies are not like Jesus. They are imperfect. They are de facto just faulty humans with some superpowers. In other religions we only see these two different views – either imperfect gods, or a distant philosophic unapproachable impersonal god who is far above us.
The Bible is in stark contrast to both of these views. The Old Testament shows us a God who is personal, who wants a relationship with his people, and who intervenes directly. A God who willingly binds himself to promises. A God who chose a people, who has a personal relation with people. In the New Testament, this culminates when God becomes human without compromising his deity. He came to earth to show us what it means to be human – what we need to strive for. He is a God who comes down to us to lift us up to himself. The creator who enters his creation to bring us to him.
The Rabbinic Jews, and the Muslims who abhor the idea of God becoming human, have missed an important fact – by stating that God can’t become human, they are limiting God. My friend Rob Heijermans put it very well the other day:
A god who cannot be triune is not God.
A god who cannot place life in the womb of a virgin is not God.
A god who cannot be both God and man is not God.
A god who is limited by our capacity to understand Him is not worthy of anyone’s worship.
Jesus Christ came to earth as the Infinite Paradox:
~ the Creator who became part of creation
~ the Sent One who became a sender
~ the Holy God who became the only sinless man
~ the Great Shepherd who became the Lamb
~ the Word who became the Prophet
~ the Sacrifice who became the Great High Priest
~ the King who became a servant
I believe that the deity of Jesus is important, and maybe especially for us Messianic Jews – because without it we are worshipping a human being. Despite this, it has been a stumbling stone and a controversial issue for the Messianic body in Israel, possibly because of the Rabbinic influence. Less than 20 years ago, I think in 2003, a number of Messianic pastors came together in Netanya and drafted an official statement confirming the deity of Jesus. It was a controversial – but necessary move.
I heard a sermon around that time which suggested that one reason for the controversy might have to do with the fact that most Messianic Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. By not having a holiday on which we focus on the incarnation, he argued, we have not talked about it in the pulpits enough, and left the field open for people to be influenced by the incorrect Rabbinic notion of the Messiah.
Whether that is true, I will leave up to the reader. At the time I agreed with the problem, but not the solution. I was strongly anti-Christmas and was keeping more and more Jewish traditions. What he said affected me, however, so I emphasized the incarnation and the divinity of Jesus every time we celebrated Sukkot.
As I wrote last year, my views on Christmas softened with time. Now I think that this darkest time of the year is a perfect time to have a celebration of the light of the world coming into the world. Hanukkah was originally a second Sukkot, so if Jesus was indeed born on Sukkot, why would Hanukkah be an incorrect time to celebrate his birth?
This is the time of the year to focus on who Jesus is. To ponder over the incarnation itself. God is in the manger. He is not a lofty philosophic god who is too snobby or important to deal with the dirty issues of regular humans. The Rabbis, the Imams, and also some Priests want to see him like that, but he is not. He is a God who gets his hands dirty. A God who cares about our little trivial human matters. A God who came down into his own creation. He wasn’t born in a castle surrounded by a legion of angels – he was born among animals in a simple hut in the little town of Bethlehem and put in a manger.
This is why he is also called Imanuel – God with us.