But it was not the first time God was with man. Several times in the Old Testament, God shows Himself to man – like with Abraham or Moses, among others. But for the Israelites and later the Jews, there was one place which symbolized God’s presence – the temple!
Now, I know most everyone expects to read about Jesus birth on a church blog posted around Christmas. Well, sorry, but I am going to talk about dedication instead. I am going to provide a brief history lesson from 160 years before Jesus was born, and then talk about how His life brought that idea to completion. Of course, He had to be born to live, but as important as the birth was, it was only covered in two gospels. His death and resurrection were covered in all four, so the premium should be placed there.
But first, our history lesson. And for that we must talk about Hanukkah (Dedication). In my research this week, I have been reading headlines about how Jews used Hanukkah as an excuse to murder Jesus. I have read that Hanukkah is an anti-Christian holiday. Let me assure you it is not anti-Christian, though we should consider it pre-Christian. But we teach a lot of things which are pre-Christian such as the stories of Noah, Moses, and Daniel, etc. And Hanukkah is mentioned in the Bible (as the Feast of Dedication, John 10.22), though it is not a prescribed festival like Sukkot or Pesach (Passover). It is true that few Protestant bibles contain the story of Hanukkah’s origin; however, the Catholic Bible does.
So, what is the story of Hanukkah? Well, if we back up about 300 years before Jesus was born, we find Alexander the Great conquering the world. The Greeks controlled much of the world, and the Jews began to adopt many of the Greek customs (later referred to as Hellenized Jews or Hellenists, also in the Bible). Then about 167 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes, the king, brutally slaughtered about 40,000 Jews and made slaves many others. He also outlawed Jewish festivals and rituals such as circumcision, and burned scrolls of Scripture. But he is, probably, best known for desecrating the temple by sacrificing a pig on the holy altar of the temple. Now, we must note that a pig was an unclean animal to the Jew and had no place in their culture. And the altar of the temple was a very sacred place where sacrifices were made to God. So Antiochus’ actions were horrific to the Jews.
Therefore, a revolt took place. Many Jewish leaders, led by Judas Maccabeus, rebelled and took control of the temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. The following is taken from 1 Maccabees 4.36-51, words that Jesus certainly would have known and read – perhaps often.
(36) At that time Judas and his brothers said, “Look, our enemies have been crushed. Let’s go up to cleanse and rededicate the sanctuary.” (37) All the army gathered together and went up to Mount Zion. (38) They found the sanctuary deserted, the altar treated with disrespect, and the gates burned. In the courts, bushes had sprung up like in an open field or on one of the mountains. They saw that the priests’ chambers were in ruins as well. (39) So they tore their clothes and mourned with great sorrow. They sprinkled their heads with ashes (40) and fell facedown on the ground. When the trumpets sounded a signal, they cried out to heaven. (41) Then Judas chose some soldiers to fight against those stationed in the elevated fortress until he completed cleansing the sanctuary. (42) He selected priests who were blameless and devoted to the Law. (43) They cleansed the sanctuary and took the polluted stones to a ritually unclean place. (44) They discussed what to do about the altar for entirely burned offerings, since it had been polluted. (45) They decided it was best to tear it down so that it wouldn’t be a lasting shameful reminder to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar. (46) They stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple mount until a prophet should arise who could say what to do with them. (47) They then took unfinished stones, in keeping with the Law, and built a new altar like the former one. (48) They also restored the sanctuary and the temple interior, and dedicated the courtyards. (49) They fashioned new holy equipment and brought the lampstand, the incense altar, and the table into the temple. (50) Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, which illuminated the temple. (51) They placed bread on the table and hung curtains. Finally, they completed all the work that they had started.
And, verse 59:
(59) Then Judas, with his brothers and all the assembly of Israel, laid down a law that every year at that season the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and happiness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of Kislev.
And thus we have Hanukkah. The word itself means “dedication” or “consecration.” By the way, it was later thought (this particular thought comes from around 600 AD) that the reason for the eight days of celebration was because most every jar of oil had been corrupted except one. That jar contained enough oil to burn for one day – but it burned for eight days. And thus the reason for the 8-day celebration (it took eight days to procure more oil).
The celebration was because they could rightfully worship God again! It is called the
- Festival of Dedication – because that is what Maccabeus led the Jews to do.
- Festival of Light – because of the burning oil producing light for 8 days.
So, why is this the focus of a post around Christmas?
Because you likely know the story of the baby. And you may know the story of the man. But when Jesus revealed Himself to others, the people’s reactions can speak to us today. And in John 10.22-39, we have an occasion, during the Feast of Dedication, where Jesus identity is considered. Notice, in verse 23, Jesus is walking through the temple during this festival! How appropriate – the festival was about the re-dedication of the temple – and again, Jesus would have known that. We can be certain of that because of these two verses being in God’s Word (if it was unimportant, it would have been left out).
So, let me now set the scene for John 10 as we prepare to look at three important questions. In John 10.24, the Jews ask if Jesus is the Christ. Let’s go back a couple of chapters to see how this moment has developed. What we must realize is that the people are wanting another hero – a hero to free them and to give them hope. A hero like Judas Maccabeus.
In John 7, at a previous feast – the Feast of Tabernacles, the people begin to believe Jesus is the Christ, and the leaders want Him arrested (v. 32). However, some thought He was a prophet (v40), and others thought He was Messiah (v41).
In John 8, Jesus challenged the leaders. He asks if they are really Abraham’s descendants (v. 39) and suggests that their father was really the devil (v. 44).
Then, in John 9, Jesus healed a blind man and said those who were truly blind were leading the city (v. 39).
John 10 begins with Jesus talking about the good shepherd (leader) who lays down His life for the sheep. In doing so, in the mind of the people, at least, Jesus assumes the role of hero at the same time of year that Judas Maccabeus had been a hero many years before.
And thus, the question – are you the Christ? Jesus answer is that He and the Father are one – which, to many in the crowd is a blasphemous statement. They picked up stones to hurl as Jesus. Consider the possibility that some of those stones could have been from the broken altar torn down when the temple was being rededicated. That is an amazing thought!
So, during the Festival of Dedication (that is, Hanukkah), the people ask Jesus if He is Messiah. He says in verse 25 that He has already answered that question and now takes it to another level. He refers to God as Father, which means Jesus is God’s Son. But not only that, Jesus says, “I am the Father are one” (John 10.30), stating that He is God, and the proof is not in His words, but in His actions.
Jesus has taken a very important question and made it more important than they could have imagined.
Was Jesus Messiah? –> Was Jesus God’s Son? –> Was Jesus God?
And it is important to realize that Jesus forced this issue not just at any time. Rather, He did it when the people were focused on a time of dedication!
At every festival, Jesus revealed Himself to the be the fullness of the festival. At Hanukkah, Jesus revealed Himself to be the truly consecrated One. Judas Maccabeus had consecrated the temple, but Jesus was greater than the temple and Himself was the consecrated (or Holy One) of God.
At Hanukkah, Jesus showed Himself as God’s true light. He had earlier declared that He was the light of the world. At His birth a light had shown brightly (the glory of God – the shekinah glory) to announce His birth. A light, in the form of a star, shown over the house where He lived to guide the magi.
But the people didn’t like His answer. And they especially did not like His challenge – could they accept that He was truly God? Many could not, and so they prepared to stone Him.
What is important for us to understand is that the questions Jesus posed nearly 2000 years ago apply to us today. This day might not represent a dedication of the temple, but Christmas is a festival of celebration – celebrating the birth of the man who not only created us, but died for us as well.
- Do you believe the baby that was born in a manger was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God?
- Do you believe that the child was not just the son of Joseph and Mary, but truly the Son of God?
- Do you believe that the man we call Jesus was actually God in the flesh?
Most people do not truly realize who Jesus was and is. At this time of year, many will celebrate Jesus as a baby, but they want to leave Him in the manger. It is “safe” to talk of Jesus as a baby, but not as Savior or Lord? Yet, that is the most un-safe thing we can do! To only look at Jesus as a baby is to miss the truth of who He is? We can’t truly celebrate the birth unless we account for His life and death as well.
Why don’t most Jews celebrate the birth of Jesus? Because they don’t acknowledge the significance of His death! Or resurrection!
But the question on this day, is not whether the Jews celebrate and not what I celebrate, but what do you celebrate? And why?
So why should a person celebrate Christmas? Ultimately, it comes down to this: God chose to live with us for a while so what we could choose to live with Him eternally.
The choice is up to you.
What do you choose?