[Note: This is the prepared text of a sermonette given to the Portland United Church of God congregation on Sabbath, December 19, 2020.]
In one of the sermonettes I remember hearing from my childhood, my maternal grandfather asked the congregation one Sabbath afternoon not unlike today to turn in their Bibles to 1 Maccabees. How many of you all here have a Bible that includes the Apocrypha? I didn’t think too many of you did. There is one passage in the Bible that is often viewed as being about the time of year we happen to be in that has been used to argue that Jesus Christ Himself kept Hanukkah. Most of the time, when this passage is discussed, the end result is often an argument about the timing of Jesus’ last few months before the crucifixion as well as the question as to whether or not Hanukkah is too pagan of a celebration to be acceptable for believers. It is not my intention to address this controversy except to mention that it is irrelevant to the main point of why it would be notable that Jesus Christ would keep an obscure festival like the Feast of Dedication, and it is the meaning of that Feast, however it is defined, that is the subject of the message today.
Let us begin, therefore, with John 10:22-30, the passage that discusses this Feast of Dedication. John 10:22-30 reads: “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”” This message demonstrates the continuing unfaithfulness of the Jewish leadership, and the response of the audience at the temple to this message was an attempt to stone Jesus for blasphemy for calling Himself one with the Father.
Yet in reading this passage it is unfortunately all too common that people forget what the Feast of Dedication was about in the future. This is true no matter which of the two feasts that are labeled by this time are meant. The more familiar Feast of Dedication to us is Hanukkah, which is called by other names like the Festival of Lights, which celebrates a miraculous lasting of the menorah during a period of eight days when the second temple was being cleansed from an abomination of desolation when the Seleucid Greeks had defiled the temple. It is this story which is described in 1 Maccabees that was referred to my grandfather’s memorable sermon, and it is sad to say that many people were unaware that 1 Macabees was not in most of their Bible’s until they tried to look for it.
There is, however, another, more obscure Feast of Dedication that appears in scripture, and it may be found in Ezra 6:13-18. Ezra 6:13-18 reads as follows: “Then Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, Shethar-Boznai, and their companions diligently did according to what King Darius had sent. So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the descendants of the captivity, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of this house of God, one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. They assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.”
There are a lot of similarities between Hanukkah and the Feast of Dedication discussed in Ezra 6. Both festivals are in winter, as Adar is the twelfth month of the year, and it should be noted that there is only enough time for Jesus Christ to have done everything between John 10 and John 13 if there is a thirteen month year that gives Jesus and His disciples enough time to nearly get stoned in John 10 then go across the Jordan to Perea and engage in a healing and preaching mission and then return to Judea to raise Lazarus from the dead and so on and so forth. Both festivals, moreover, are centered on the celebration of the temple and involve the influence of Gentile rulers on the Temple, something that was highly relevant in an age of Roman domination. In the case of Ezra 6, we see that the temple was built in large part thanks to the encouragement–even the command–of three generations of Persian kings, and demonstrates the joy that Judeans felt with the appropriate setting up of the priests and Levites to preach God’s word from the temple. It is also not terribly surprising that Jesus Himself was greatly focused on the Temple and that the events of John 10 took place in the Temple.
It is obviously far beyond the scope of a sermonette to discuss the many ways that Jesus Christ was devoted to the temple and driven to divine discontent about the corrupt way that contemporary priests had used the temple as a means of serving themselves and their own selfish interests instead of serving God and serving His people. And, let us not forget, it was concern for the flock of God that led Jesus Christ to discuss the oneness He had with His father as well as the superiority of the Father over the Son, both matters that present problems for many people who wade too deeply into speculations about the nature of God. Indeed, the audience at the temple was unable to understand the nature of God as discussed in the Bible and thought to stone Jesus Christ for stating what was a biological fact about the shared spiritual identity that the Father and the Son possessed. Given the importance that the temple and its cleansing had for Jesus Christ from both the beginning to the end of His earthly ministry had, it is a worthwhile Bible study to examine the place of the temple in Jesus ministry during the next few months as we approach the Passover.
As we obviously do not have time for that study today, I would like to close with a prophecy that reminds us of the importance of the presence of Jesus Christ as the glory of the second temple. Haggai 2:1-9 gives us a prophecy that reminds us of the importance of Jesus Christ to the temple just as we can see from many verses that the temple was important to Jesus Christ. Haggai 2:1-9 reads: “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying: Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’ “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.””
It is a strange thing, and a somewhat sad thing, that while Jesus’ presence at the Feast of Dedication was motivated by His care for the people of Judah, and His presence in the flesh made the glory of that temple greater than the glory of the temple of Solomon, and even though Jesus Christ celebrated the establishment of the order of priests and Levites in the temple to serve Him and the people, He was not recognized for who He was. Jesus Christ came to give peace in the Temple, but the peace and reconciliation that Jesus sought to provide between the people of His time and Himself and His Father was not recognized by many and was rejected by a great many of those who the offer was given to. Let us not forget that while no one can snatch us away from God’s loving care, that we can reject His calling. God willing, we will hear and respond to His voice and follow Him.