When God Steps In
A few days before Christians gather to commemorate the nativity, Jewish people the world over will celebrate Hanukkah (December 8–16), which memorializes Israel’s deliverance from the infamous Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV, who ruled from 175 B.C. to 164 B.C. This king aspired to destroy Judaism, annihilate the Jewish people, and install pagan worship.
In the end, God thwarted his ambitions by enabling a family, the Maccabees, to raise a rebellion and drive the tyrant’s minions from the land. The history of Hanukkah is one of many proofs that God is faithful to His Word and that, despite their persistence, Israel’s enemies will never be able to erase the Jewish presence from the earth.
Today a rapidly rising tide of aggression is aimed at the tiny State of Israel. Behind it is a cadre of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel elements in both the UN and Islamic world, as well as leaders in the West who either participate in the festival of hate or ignore the issue completely, unwilling to do anything about it. At the core of the so-called Arab Spring is a malevolent subplot to establish Islamist governments hostile to Israel’s existence and that of the Jewish people.
The evidence is undeniable. Islamic extremists who dream of a Sharia-run, Muslim caliphate have pledged themselves to become the architects of a Jewless Middle East. Their objectives mirror those of ancient anti-Semites: eliminate the Jewish people or force a remnant into a state of impotence, insignificance, and servitude.
We have entered a period of history where hatred seems to be crescendoing toward a climax. From a purely human perspective, the future does not look good. Alarmists lament that Israel as we know it could be destroyed. Some say (or at least whisper) that it might be good if the Arabs got “Palestine” and the Jews found another place to bed down. After all, aren’t the Israelis the trouble-makers? If those pesky Jews did not insist on survival and would just let the Arabs kill them, there would be peace—or so think the international campaigners for peace at any price.
Given the endless stream of anti-Semitic intrigues, hate campaigns, outright attacks, and wars, why haven’t the would-be murderers succeeded? When the Romans scattered the Jewish people to the ends of the earth following the Bar Kokhba rebellion (A.D. 132–135) and launched a 2,000-year-long, illegal occupation of the Jewish homeland, one would think life was over for the family of Abraham. How could a people endure after living in primarily hostile, Gentile environments where they were victimized; pillaged; murdered; disenfranchised; stuffed into ghettos; and often driven from temporary havens by vio-lence, hatred, or avarice?
Assimilation seemed inevitable. But it didn’t happen. In fact, the survival of this persecuted, homeless nation looms as a singularly certifiable miracle of human history. Equally as amazing is the fact the Jewish people never lost hope of returning to their Promised Land. For centuries, Passover observances were anchored by the acclamation, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” embodies not nostalgic sentiment but a living hope that across the centuries never significantly diminished:
So long our hopes are not yet lost—
Two thousand years we cherished them
To live in freedom in the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
So how does one explain the inexplicable? Humanly speaking, we are at a loss. There is no rational explanation. And yet! The explanation lies in divine intervention: There is a God, a plan, and a promise.
God articulates, history confirms. Israel has been delivered from every conceivable attempt to destroy it and thus disrupt God’s plan. In biblical revelation from Moses to Malachi, God empowered extraordinary people, often in spite of themselves, to rescue the nation He uniquely selected to endure as His witness to the nations:
“You are My witnesses,” says the Lᴏʀᴅ, “and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me” (Isa. 43:10).
Isaiah 43 lays out the essence of Israel’s existence as a chosen people. The Jews were scattered; and they suffered, overcame, were regathered, and will be regathered again for the purpose God described in verse 10. Neither Israel nor Jewry will be destroyed or diminished because the Jews are a people destined to complete a divine mission possessing spectacular elements yet to be seen.
The Bethlehem Connection
When Jesus was born in the little hamlet of Bethlehem of Judea, as Scripture foretold, God again directly intervened in human affairs to undertake a mission worthy only of Him. Revered Bible teacher Major Ian Thomas often expressed it this way: “God invaded humanity.”
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting (Mic. 5:2).
Often buried beneath the trappings of the Christmas season is the monumental fact that the coming of Christ and subsequent birth of the church would alter this planet’s future and transform the lives of untold millions. “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23).
To fallen humanity, the church is an inconvenient contradiction to every godless thing it desires. Thus, from the beginning, hostile forces have tried to annihilate Christians, their God-loving culture, and the faith. Over more than 2,000 years, the conflict accelerated in stages until we now find ourselves in what has all the markings of a final push to finish the crusade to wipe out the faith—the same faith that has brought stability, truth, justice, social order, morality, and a sanctity of life previously unknown in history.
Many say we now live in a “post-Christian society.” Perhaps that popular phrase most clearly delineates the endgame of the anti-God campaign controlled by moral renegades who increasingly impose their will on those too spiritually emaciated to resist.
But in the midst of what may seem a hopelessly deteriorating situation, the fact remains we are not left alone to suffer the unpleasant consequences of an era ending in a tearful whimper. With Hanukkah and Christmas, we remember God is well, “He knows those who trust in Him” (Nah. 1:7), and He is able to come to our aid and bring matters to a positive conclusion.
Our confidence is in Jehovah, who steps in to take control. God has not left the arena. The last page of Earth’s history has yet to be turned, and we rest in the competence of a God who will perform what He has promised.
God articulates, history confirms. Our Lord speaks, and debate ceases. His Word is immutable fact, and history is the record of how He executed His Word.
An Inescapable Conclusion
Many of today’s popular buzzwords are associated with “hope.” Politicians and social revolutionaries trade on promising hope for a better world, a better personal life, or a better economic situation. Unfortunately, much preaching isn’t too different. What many Christians hear concerning the best in life is ensconced in the temporal and mundane: healthy relationships, successful lifestyles, financial betterment, etc.
Wisdom, discernment, and serious study of God’s prophetic Word—once indispensable attributes of the Christian life and essentials to understanding the world, our place in it, and what the future holds—are on the shelf. A case in point is the emerging church movement. It embodies a revolution in faith and practice by reassessing Christianity and reworking biblical truth to fit the whims of a fluctuating, incoherent culture.
The movement’s beliefs include de-emphasizing absolutes and doctrinal creeds, emphasizing experience and feelings, concentrating on relationship building over proclaiming the gospel, and reexamining the Bible and its teachings. The list goes on. Unfortunately, trying to fit into the changing postmodern culture adversely affects many less radical but susceptible Christian organizations.
Alteration, liberalization, and assimilation (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em) are sure trips to a dead end. Two certainties reflecting real hope and change lie before us: (1) Israel will call for the Messiah’s coming and intervention, and (2) He will deliver His people and introduce a golden age of millennial bliss (Zech. 14:1–9; Rom. 11:26–27).
For the church—never to be confused with Israel—the Blessed Hope is His promised, imminent return to call believers to Himself, where we will “always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:17; cf. Jn. 14:1–3).
The true dynamic in a world sputtering out of control is the absoluteness of divine declarations. His coming and personal intervention into human affairs are certainties that hold our lives as believers together. They must be ever in our minds and hearts.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!