I want to talk about Chanukah again. There are many ways we can look at Chanukah from a Messianic Perspective. I want to look at Chanukah as a time to stand up for God. As we begin our discussion lets cast our perspective wide. What was the initial purpose of Israel all together? Well, it starts with God's promise to Abraham in Gen. 12. God said to Abraham, I am going to make a nation from you, bless those who bless you, I am going to give you a land, and most importantly, he says, in your seed, all the peoples of the world will be blessed. So God's attention was not really on Abraham, this was going to be his means of blessing the world. Ultimately that was to come through the Messiah, but the seed and blessing was also going to come through the nation of Israel.
Israel was to be a nation held up in the sight of all the nations. God's example people, the main character of his story. Through this people, God would reveal, his word, his promises, his nature and character to all people. In Israel's disobedience we learned the wicked heart of man, in God's repeated sending of prophets you see his desire for them to turn, his great mercy, his willingness to hear the one who calls on him.
Holidays like Passover, Yom Kippor, Pentecost and Rosh Hashanah were all commanded by God to be celebrated in the Old Testament. Each of them is actually a tremendous revelation of God's nature and plan. But Chanukah is not one of those commanded feasts. Its part of the Jewish culture. So why should we as believers pay attention to it or even preach on it? Good question. The obvious answer would probably be that it would help in our sharing our faith with our Jewish friends if we understand our culture better. Well, that is true, but the reason for us to take a look at it, go well beyond that.
Let me give you a few of the reasons which we are going to look at today. Firstly, it celebrates an amazing true historical account of how the God of Israel delivered his people when they called on him. Secondly, it helps both to know that the bible is true and gives a preview of biblical future events. And last reason we are going to look at this morning for why we should study Chanukah, is that Jesus celebrated, and in a fascinating account in John, He used the feast to help us understand him better. Are you excited? Lets get started. Lets open to:
Open to John 10:22-33
Feast of Dedication (Let's Go into Story):
Look at verse 22: The Feast of Dedication. That is the English name for Chanukah. I believe the key to understanding what Jesus was trying to communicate lies in understanding what the people were celebrating at the Feast of Dedication. So we are going to spend sometime looking at the history behind feast of Dedication, then its significance to the bible, then I will show how Jesus used this Holiday to teach about himself.
In this holiday we are celebrating the re-dedication of the temple that happened in 165 BC Let me give you a little bit of history of what happened exactly. These events happened in what is called the inter-testamental period, the period between the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi in about 400 BC and the beginning of the New Testament. Much of this history is recorded in an apocryphal book called 1st Macabees and is considered very reliable.
In the third Century BC, A few hundred years before Jesus' birth Greece was the dominant empire and all commerce and cultural exchange was done in Greek. Unlike the previous rulers, the Persians, The Greeks were not content to merely have financial gain from the nations they ruled, they also believed these nations should adopt their culture. The saw the Greek culture as superior, they sought to enlighten the lands they controlled with it. This influence is known as the hellenization of the world. Israel had always been a bit of a thorn. They had always seen their religion not just a cultural phenomenon, but as the true worship of the creator of the universe. They would not adopt Hellenism.
For most nations had their Gods, various local deities responsible for different things. Much like superstitions. When the Greeks came and said worship this way, most of the people said okay. Maybe it will work. But the Israelites, did not see their God as just one among many. God had shown himself in real history in miracles like the deliverance from the Land of Egypt as the true God. He is the creator of everything, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. They were not even to make an image like him. He is the only one worthy of worship.
This is also what the believers in Jesus have always held. Not one God according to your choice, but in truth. Do you know what the early Christians were charged with that led to so many of them being killed by the Roman Empire? Athiestism. Really, they were accused of Athiestism because of their refusal to offer sacrifices and worship to the Emperor as God.
So as I said, the Israelites were a thorn to begin with to this plan of Helenization. By the 2nd Century, the Greek Empire, which had split up in to four, was increasingly fighting among themselves. Israel was caught in the middle. Their rulers became more insistent on Israel's coming into line with everyone else. At this time a very wicked King came to the throne in the Syrian kingdom which controlled Israel. His name was Antiochus IV; he called himself Epiphanies, which means, the visible God.
As the pressure increased on the Jews to become Greek, many Jews began wearing togas, and adopting Greek names. A Gymnasium was set up and Greek games were instituted. This may sound fine to you, but the Greek games were filthy and decadent, the participants being naked, a strong offense to the Israelites. It was so bad that even The High priest Joshua took on the Greek name Jason. The hellenists and Antiochus in particular had nothing but disdain for the Jewish religion.
Antiochus set out to force Israel into conformity with the Greeks. People who practiced Judaism were considered barbarians and enemies of the state. The Jewish religion was outlawed. He forbade worship on the Sabbath, and the offering of temple sacrifices. He ordered all the copies of the Scriptures destroyed. Any mothers who circumcised their babies were killed and made to hang their dead babies around the necks as the rest of the whole family was killed as well. He had numerous altars erected around Jerusalem, in which the Jews were commanded to sacrifice Pigs and to eat pork, something they were forbidden to do in the Torah. A great many Jewish people slain.
Ultimately Antiochus offered up a pig on the holy altar, and desecrated the Temple itself, and declared himself in the temple, Zeus epiphanies. The manifestation of the God Zeus incarnate. He even demanded worship of himself in place of the almighty God. Quite a horrible scene.
As Jews were scattered, many still refused to conform. They cried out again and again to the God of Israel for deliverance. God heard their prayers. A rebellion began under a Priest Mattatius who refused to offer a sacrifice to their God. He and his sons then began an uprising. The most famous of his sons became the leader. He was named Judah, the Macabee, which means the hammer. After 3 years, this rag tag bunch of rebels repelled the mighty Syrian army. God had delivered his people Israel. They then re-dedicated the Temple.
The Feast of Dedication commemorates this event. So why do we celebrate Chanukah for 8 days? No one knows for sure. But a tradition that began sometime later says that when they re-dedicated the temple, they only had enough oil to have the Ner Tamid, the eternal light, burn for one day, but miraculously it burned for eight days until more came. Thus we have the burning of candles for eight days. This last part is most likely just legend.
Its speculation, but I think the reason we do it for 8 days, is that were celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles 2 months late. It is the major feast, which lasts for 8 days, in which light is a major symbol. Since the temple was desecrated they could not celebrate it, as soon as it was possible they celebrated it. Besides King Solomon dedicated the first temple on the Feast of Tabernacles. But again this is all speculation.
But while the oil burning may be legend, the deliverance is not. God preserved and delivered his people Israel. A nation held up in the sight of nations. Even if they are unfaithful, God is faithful. To wipe out Israel, would prove God a liar, and the Scriptures could be comfortably ignored.
But as I told you at the beginning Chanukah gives us a reason to trust our Bible. One of the most remarkable things about this story is that these events are recorded in the book of Daniel, written some 3-400 years before they ever occurred.
Chapter 11 verses 1-20 speaks about the break up of the Greek Empire in tremendous detail, then in verse 21; it speaks about king who will arise in the north or Assyria. He will gain the crown by intrigue. Let cut into his exploits at verse 29.
29 "At the appointed time he (being this king) will
invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different
from what it was before.
30 Ships of the western coastlands will oppose
him, and he will lose heart. (as you remember he was at war with the
other inheritors of the split Greek empire, then it says he will turn
his attention to Israel, it reads). Then he will turn back and vent
his fury against the holy covenant (the Jews Holy covenant). He will
return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant.
31 "His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the
temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. (all of which
happened) Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.
32 With flattery he will corrupt those
who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God
will firmly resist him.
33 "Those who are wise will instruct many, though
for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered.
34 When they fall, they will receive a little help,
and many who are not sincere will join them.
35 Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may
be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for
it will still come at the appointed time.
36 "The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt
and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against
the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed,
for what has been determined must take place.
37 He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers
or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but
will exalt himself above them all.
That is our Chanukah Story. Many scholars in their refusal to accept the supernatural nature of the Bible say Daniel had to be written after these events. They could never have been so accurate in their detail. But there is no good reason to believe Daniel was written any other time than it claimed, in the 6 century BC, some 400 years before these events happened. The Chanukah story tells us that our Bible is indeed the Word of God, it predicts the future and fulfills it, as it is written in the Book of Isaiah,
Is 46: 9 Remember the former things, those of long
ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like
10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient
times, what is still to come.
As we read that passage, you may have been familiar with some of it in another context. Those are verses generally used to describe what the Anti-Christ will do in the great tribulation. That is true. But it is firstly an account of this king Antiochus. The Book of Daniel uses Antiochus as a pre-cursor of the Anti-Christ and all his exploits as a preview of what is to come. The two characters and the two events are almost blended together at the end of Daniel 11. You sort of start talking about Antiochus and you end up at the end of time in chapter 12. It's fascinating. But the bottom line is, as you understand the Chanukah story so I think you will have greater insights into the scenario of the last days.
But it is particularily interesting to see what Jesus did on this holiday. I think it has a lot of application to our lives today.
I always hear the complaint, Jews for Jesus is too confrontational, to in people's faces, not respectful etc.
With our billboards, the newspaper ads, our Street evangelism etc, Jews for Jesus can be very confrontational. And we have to ask ourselves, are we too confrontational. Does the Bible tell us to be that confrontational? Well that is a good question? Chanukah helps us again to answer that question. It helps us to see, if Jesus was confrontational? Well, we know he was, but just how confrontational was he? Well with that question in mind, lets go back to our text in John chapter 10, verses 22-33.
Firstly, it does not surprise me that Jesus is in the temple during Chanukah. He was a good Jew and that is where he was supposed to be. What surprises me is what he said during this great holiday.
Look at verse 24, they say to him, tell us plainly, are you the Messiah? Here they are under Roman Oppression, celebrating the time God raised up a deliverer to take them out from under oppression before. They are basically asking him, Are you going to be our Judah Macabee? In Jesus' response, he essentially says yes, I am your deliverer, but not how you are thinking about it.
Throughout the chapter he uses some beautiful imagery. Take
a look at the imagery of verse 26 and 27. Shepherd and sheep, very nice,
very peaceful, right? Wrong! Let me explain. Throughout scriptures these
metaphors are often used. Who do the sheep represent? Israel, it's all
over the Old Testament, Ezekiel, Isaiah... everyone calls Israel sheep...even
Jesus: "But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."(Matthew
No big deal. The controversy is found in the other part of the metaphor. Early on in chapter 10 in verses 11 and 14 Jesus talks about himself being the good shepherd. I remember a friend telling me a story of a Rabbi, who began reading the New Testament, when he came to this chapter, he threw it the New Testament across the room. You see, There is one true Shepherd of Israel in the Scriptures and it is God himself. Remember in Psalm 23, the Lord is my Shepherd. Jesus is claiming to be that Shepherd.
He expands that outrageous claim as he says in these verses 27 to 29, that his sheep are the ones that get eternal life, the ones that hear his voice. That nothing can take them from his hands. Jesus is saying we are his sheep, he gives us eternal life, we need to hear his voice, not be taken from his hands. Jesus is claiming to be the Lord himself, the great shepherd of our souls, the one who gives life, who guards and protects.
So, Jesus is in the temple teaching and his audience is the most well versed of all Jews on the bible. They knew what He meant by this. It would be outrageous to hear such a thing. And it does not stop here, it gets worse.
Judaism does not really have a doctrinal statement that all Jews can point to and say, "This is what we believe." Nevertheless, there is one thing that is the foundation of all we are, believe and are proud to have offered the world: Shma Yisrael Adonai Elohenou Adonai Echad, Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One. Already at the time of Jesus, the Shema was so significant that it is traditionally held that it was on the lips of the Great Rabbi Akiva at his deathbed in the 2nd century.
As I said before, this belief in One God, the monotheistic
belief that was our gift to a pagan world. That is what we cling to.
Now look at verse 30 at what Jesus says, "I and the Father are one."
Jesus dares to make himself equal with God by saying He and the Father are Echad-One. What Chutzpah! Some 200 years earlier at this is very same time Antiochus walks into the Temple and declares himself God Incarnate, now Jesus is in the temple doing the same thing.
Brothers and Sisters let me review this again. I want you all to see this in your mind. This is the feast of dedication and in Jerusalem on Temple mount there are thousands and thousands of people. All are gathered to celebrate the dedication of the Temple. A Temple which was desecrated by a man named Antiochus about 200 years prior. So all these people are there telling and re-telling the story, talking about how Antiochus went into the Temple and declared himself God. Oh, the horror of those events that God delivered us from.
Now while these people are mediating on this very story and event. Here comes Jesus walking in the same path that Antiochus did toward the Temple and then Jesus turns around to the crowd and He says that He is God. Can you imagine their reaction; can you imagine how the people felt? Just look at verses 31 to 33 it says they picked up stones and they said to Jesus: "You a mere man claim to be God," Their faces must have turned red and as we just read they picked up stones and wanted to stone Him.
Is that confrontational enough for you? If it was today I can just imagine what all the politically correct people would say to Jesus. They would say Jesus be sensitive, don't say the kind of thing in the Temple. We respect that you think that you are God. You are free to believe whatever you want, but don't push it on anyone else, certainly not the Jewish people, they are very sensitive about this. Say it to the Gentiles, they don't know any better anyway.
And say it somewhere else, maybe in the Galilee, but not in Jerusalem, they will never listen to you there, it's the center of Jewish worship, you need to understand how they are thinking, what they have been through, please not Jerusalem.
And what ever you do, DON"T SAY it on Chanukah, pick some other day. Don't you know, it is the same claim that Antiochus claimed? Don't you know what an offense that is to them? What wrong with you? Do not you know how insensitive that is?
But that is just the point. That is WHY Jesus made this particular claim at this particular time. He wanted to put it right in their faces, He wanted to make it an unavoidable issue. I am not advocating shoving the gospels in people's faces and being unnecessarily confrontative. We need to have discernment. Jesus picked his times and ways; many times he was very gentle with how he dealt with people, leading them with questions to understand their error, other times he was silent, refusing to answer opposers, but other times he was like this. Don't ever tame him, or pretend is some Gentle Ben. We need to remember there are times for confrontation. There are times when God provides an opportunity, and God's people must stand. I thank God for the Maccabees who confronted the people of their time.
But why did Jesus feel the need to be so confrontational? Let's go back to the sheep and the shepherd images. These express His love for His people and all who are lost, like sheep with no shepherd. They do not even know where to go to get grass. They do not know that disaster is coming. And Jesus wants to gather them and tend to them.
Even to the aggressive religious leaders, his hardest opposition, He extends a loving invitation to believe. It is a loving invitation to know the shepherd, the Messiah, who gives his life for his sheep. That is worth all the confrontations in the world. That is why Jesus was so confrontational. They needed to know. He knew God was there with his hands outstretched, he knew Judgement was coming. They had to hear.
So, should we be so confrontational? Do we have a message we need to bring to people? Yes. It's the same message Jesus carried. We are his means now. We need to walk in his steps, bearing his reproach. Why be confrontational? because Jesus was. Is it hard? Yes. Can it be painful? Yes. Is it the right thing to do? Yes.
So as we think about Chanukah this year, let us remember that God is a deliverer, that he is faithful, that he hears us when we cry. Let us remember our Scriptures are true, and we can stand on them. And let us remember to be like Matatttias the priest, Judah the Maccabi, and Y'shua our Messiah, and be willing to endure confrontation to stand up for the truth of God.