THE FEAST OF LIGHTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message, the occasion of which has been laid upon my heart because of this season of the year. It is entitled The Feast of Lights, or The Feast of Dedication. Most of us are not aware that such a meaningful feast is observed, the Hanukkah, by our Jewish brethren throughout the world. And the background of it is at the very heart of the background of the New Testament itself. A reference is made to it in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 22 and 23. "And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of Dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch" [John 10:22-23]. And the reference there to the Feast of Dedication, also called the Feast of Lights, and that shall be our subject for this morning, closing with the theme "Jesus, the Light of the World."
Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC. He left no son. He had no heir and his great empire that covered the then civilized world was divided by his warring generals into four parts. Cassander, who married Alexander’s sister named Thessalonica, took Macedonia and Achaea and built his capital at Thessalonica. Lysimachus took Asia Minor. Seleucus took Syria, and Ptolemy won Egypt.
Seleucus founded a reign of monarchies and monarchs that extended for several hundred years and was one of the most vigorous and illustrious in human history. His father was named Antiochus, Antioch; so Seleucus built his capital on the Orontes River and named it for his father Antioch. A great grandson of Seleucus was Antiochus III, called Antiochus the Great. He extended his kingdom to the very borders of the great empire of Alexander himself and was only stopped in his westward move by the rising republic at Rome.
A son of Antiochus the Great inherited the kingdom from his father; and he is the famous Antiochus Epiphanes, Antiochus IV. He is the, he is largely the center of the prophecies of Daniel, a type of that ultimate and final Antichrist. The Jews called Antiochus Epiphanes "Antiochus Epimenes, Antiochus the Madman, the insane man." He was ambitious in the extreme and sought to expand his kingdom over the civilized world. And it was then that once again, as his father, he bumped into the legions of the Roman Republic.
His father had won from Ptolemy Palestine; and Judea became a part of the Syrian Empire under Antiochus. So this Antiochus Epiphanes, he called himself "Theos Epiphanes, god manifest," this Antiochus IV waged war against Ptolemy down in Egypt and overwhelmed Ptolemy and had besieged the remaining army of the Egyptians in the city of Alexandria.
But as I said, once again, as his father, he ran afoul of the Roman legions. And the Roman Senate sent Gaius Popillius Laenas down to Egypt to confront Antiochus Epiphanes. And Popillius came into Egypt and confronted Epiphanes and his army as they were besieging Alexandria. And Popillius said that he had a message from the Roman Senate that Epiphanes was to lift the siege of Alexandria and return to his own capital in Antioch or face war with the Roman legions.
When that message was delivered to Epiphanes he demurred and asked for time to consider the ultimatum of the Roman Senate. When Epiphanes so answered, Popillius took his staff and in the sand drew a circle around the monarch and said, "You will give me an answer that I can return to the Roman Senate before you leave this circle or face war with the Roman legions." There was nothing to do but for Epiphanes to condescend and to capitulate. So he turned from the invasion of Egypt in great wrath and disappointment.
A rumor had come to him that Jerusalem, one of the provinces that his father had won and added to the Syrian Empire, that Jerusalem had rebelled. So on his way back up to Antioch, he vented his wrath against the Jews. With his army he entered Jerusalem on a Sabbath day, when the Jews refused to defend themselves; and he slaughtered them mercilessly and ruthlessly. Then he did one other thing. He made it a mandate and a decree that all the citizens of the Syrian Antiochian Empire should worship Greek gods and should be subject and should be taught Greek culture.
This meant the extirpation of Hebrew religion. And to implement that, Antiochus Epiphanes did three things against the Jewish religion in Jerusalem. First, he took the temple of Jehovah God and dedicated it to Jupiter Olympus. And on the great altar, he offered swine and took the juice of the swine and spread it all over the holy places and the holy vessels of the temple. And in the temple of God in Jerusalem, he set up in the kadosh kadoshim, in the Holy of Holies, an idol of Jupiter Olympus, and demanded on pain of death that all the people worship before that idol and offer unclean sacrifices to that idol. He changed the feast days into bacchanalias. For example, he changed the Feast of Tabernacles into the Feast of Baccus, the god of wine and the bacchanalia. And he filled the temple with harlots in the manner that the ancient Greek worshiped their gods. A second thing Antiochus Epiphanes did, he destroyed every copy of the Holy Scriptures that he could find and burned them publicly. And a third thing he did, on pain of death he interdicted the observance of any Mosaic law, any tradition, any custom, any habit, any observance; he interdicted any fast or any feast dedicated to Jehovah God. He set himself to destroy the religion of the Jews from the memory of men and from the face of the earth.
And the cruelty by which the king’s army carried out that decree is sad beyond any way for us to imagine. For example, two women who had circumcised their babies were led through the streets of the Holy City with their dead and murdered babies hung around their necks. They were carried to the top of the high wall, and the mothers, with their dead babies around their necks, were flung down to death in the heights below.
An aged priest, greatly revered by the people of Jerusalem, named Eleazar, who was over ninety years of age, they promised him great reward if he’d bow before a heathen god. And the aged, aged scribe said that he would not bring dishonor to his age, nor would he set a wrong example before the youth. And when he persisted in worshiping the one and true God, they tortured him to death in the presence of the people.
And one of the famous stories that has entered the literature of the world is the story of that Jewish mother and her seven sons who publicly were sent forth in Jerusalem to be made to worship Greek gods, Greek idols, and to sacrifice unclean things in their name and honor. The eldest of the seven sons spoke up for the rest and refused to bow before those idols. Those Syrian soldiers under Antiochus Epiphanes cut out the boy’s tongue and cut off the extremities of his hands and his feet. They heated a pan and they fried the boy alive before the eyes of his mother and his other six brothers.
Then they took the second boy and demanded of him that he bow before the Greek idol and offer unclean things to that Greek idol. He refused, and they did the same thing; they cut out his tongue, they cut off the extremities of his hands and feet, and they fried him alive in the presence of his mother and the remaining brethren. So they did to the third son, and the fourth son, and the fifth son, and the sixth son, and last the youngest and seventh son. All the time the brave mother was encouraging her sons to be true to God. And last of all they murdered the mother. This is just something of what happened under the dire and dreadful reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, seeking to destroy the Jewish religion from the memory of men, from the face of the earth.
That happened in 168 BC. In 167 BC the king’s officers came to the little town of Modein, northwest of Jerusalem, there to enforce all the inhabitants of the Jewish town of Modein to bow down and to sacrifice unclean things to Greek idols. There was in Modein living an aged priest from Jerusalem by the name of Mattathias. And Mattathias had five noble and wonderful sons: John, and Simon, and Judas, and Eleazar, and Jonathan. And when the king’s officer Apelles, when the king’s officer came to Modein to force the Jews to renounce their religion worshiping Jehovah and to bow before unclean idols, they came to Mattathias, the aged and honored priest, and offered him great reward if he’d bow down before idols and renounce the Lord his God.
Mattathias refused. Mattathias refused. And while Mattathias was refusing, there came an apostate Jew who began to offer sacrifices unclean to a heathen idol. And when Mattathias the aged priest saw it, he slew the apostate Jew on the very altar where he was sacrificing. Then he turned and slew Apelles the king’s officer, and the war of liberation was on. Mattathias and his five sons fled to the mountains, and then there resorted to them in the mountains other famous and marvelous Jewish patriots who came with their wives and with their children.
In that year of 167 BC, Mattathias the aged priest died, but he turned over the war of liberation to his third son Judas Maccabaeus. Judas, called "The Hammer." It’s the same kind of a epithet as you have with Charles Martel, who in 732 AD at the Battle of Tours France, turned back and forever the awful onslaught and end roads of the Sarecens. Had it not been for Charles Martel all Europe would have turned Mohammedan as has the Near East and Africa. So it was with Judas, called the Maccabee, The Hammer; the aged father Mattathias turned over the war of liberation and resistance to his third son Judas Maccabaeus.
And from that epithet applied to Judas, all of those sons, who as they fell one at a time, took up the torch of liberation. They were called "the Maccabees." In 166 BC Antiochus Epiphanes mounted his first war and his first onslaught against the Maccabees, led by Judas; and he was ignominiously defeated. And Apollonius, the chief of staff of his army, was slain by Judas himself. And thereafter Judas used the sword of Apollonius to fight in the name of the true God.
In 165 BC Antiochus Epiphanes was enraged beyond any way that mind could imagine; and he sent advertisers and runners throughout the civilized world, in every city, and he advertised that at such and such date the Syrian army would deliver to those who would be there to take them ninety Jews for one talent of silver. He was going to root out and to extirpate Israel from the face of the earth and from human history. He was going to destroy, he said, every Jew that lived in the world.
So when the Syrian army in 165 BC came once again into Judea, they were followed by a horde of merchants with silver and gold and fetters to take every Jew that lived and to take them to the slave markets of the world and to sell them in human bondage. God again was with Judas Maccabeus. And because of his unusual strategy, and his knowledge of the terrain, and his ambush, and surprise, and march by night, Judas Maccabeus again won a tremendous victory over Antiochus Epiphanes.
Then Antiochus Epiphanes mounted his last war, his last battle, and gathered his last army; and this time, in 164 BC, the battle was fought at Bethsura, in Idumea, just south of the Dead Sea. And God gave to Judas Maccabeus an unbelievable, indescribable victory over Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus Epiphanes died. The king was no more, and Judah was free.
The first thing Judas and his compatriots did was to make their way to Jerusalem. They found the city deserted, the gates were burned, the houses destroyed, the temple desecrated, and for three weeks they labored in carrying out the reconsecration and the cleansing of the temple. And at the end of the third week, on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, which comes in our December, on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, they dedicated, they consecrated the holy temple of Jerusalem.
One of the most beautiful and dramatic passages in First Maccabees is the story of Judas Maccabeus and his dedication of the temple. "And it was at Jerusalem, the Feast of Dedication, and Jesus walked in the temple on Solomon’s porch" [John 10:22-23]. And Judas and his brethren said, "Let us go up to cleanse the Holy Place and to dedicate it afresh. And he chose blameless priests, and they cleansed the Holy Place and bear out the stones of defilement into an unclean place."
That great altar, upon which swine had been offered; they tore it down and carried the stones away. "And they pulled down the altar and laid up the stones in the mountain of the house, in a convenient place, until there should come the Prophet to give an answer concerning them." Isn’t that an amazing little interjection there? It shows how those people, before Christ, were looking in great faith and anticipation to Him who would ultimately come.
They carried those stones of defilement into a place in the mountain of the house until there should come that prophet who would give an answer what to do. And they rose up early in the morning, and on the five and twentieth day of Kislev, they offered sacrifices according to the law upon the new altar of burnt offerings. And all the people fell upon their faces and worshiped and gave praise to God. And there was exceeding great gladness among the people. And Judas and his brethren and the whole congregation of Israel ordained that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their seasons year by year by the space of eight days; from the five and twentieth day of the month Kislev with gladness and with joy.
["Texts on the Maccabean Rededication of the Temple"; A.1 Maccabees 2nd C.BCE]
And that reconsecration and rededication of the temple meant more to the Jews than the dedication of Solomon’s temple [1 Kings 8:65]. And when you read, "And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of Dedication" [John 10:22], it’s not the Feast of the dedication of Solomon’s temple, but it was the feast of the recleansing and reconsecration of the temple of God under Judas Maccabeus.
Now there was other tradition that grew up around the Maccabee that made it to be called the Feast of Light, Hanukkah. When Judas Maccabeus came with his brethren to reconsecrate the holy house to the Lord God Jehovah, there was no oil. Somebody found in an unusual place one cruse of olive oil. And that one cruse of olive oil, which would normally last for one day, that one cruse of olive oil lasted for eight days. And that’s why the feast is celebrated for eight days and why it is called the Feast of Lights.
On the first day, one candle is lighted, one lamp. On the second day, another lamp is lighted. On the third day, another lamp is lighted, on the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, and finally the eighth until eight lamps are lighted. It is called the Feast of Lights, the Feast of Dedication, the Feast of Deliverance. And you will find in the tenth chapter of the Book of John, at the Feast of Dedication, it was then that God spake in our Savior the marvelous words of our preservation and the sovereign keeping power of the Almighty,
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me:
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand.
My Father, who gave them Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.
It was at that Feast of Deliverance in the sovereign power of God that kept alive His name in the earth, that Jesus spake those incomparable words of God’s remembrance and keeping power over us. "Behold, He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep" [Psalm 121:4]. And God shall laugh at the motives and at the methods of men to destroy His name and His faith in the earth [Psalm 2:1-4]. The sovereign elective power of God preserves and keeps His children, even us.
The soul that on Jesus hath lain for repose,
I’ll never, no never desert to its foes;
That soul, though all Hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
["How Firm a Foundation;" John Rippon]
And it is the Feast of Dedication, of reconsecration; it is a feast of commitment to Jesus. It is a feast of rededication of life, and soul, body, mind, strength, all to the Lord God. And it is a Feast of Lights.
How many times in the Word of God do you find the blessed Messiah and our glorious Savior speaking of Himself as the "Light of the world?" Matthew, who writes his Gospel for the Jewish people, who presents Jesus as the King of Israel, Matthew begins the story of the gospel of the Son of God with a quotation from the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 9:1-2]. "Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; And to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up" [Matthew 4:15-16]. And John began his Gospel in the same marvelous presentation of our Lord as the Light of the world.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcame it not.
There came a man from God named John,he came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
He was not the Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
In the eighth chapter of the same Gospel, "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" [John 8:12]. And in the ninth chapter of the same Gospel when our Lord opened the eyes of the blind man He said, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" [John 9:4-5]. And by parable, He opened the eyes of the man that was born blind.
And in the twelfth chapter of the Book of John, one, two, three, four places our Lord speaks of Himself as the light of the world. "While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light" [John 12:36]. And again, "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on Me should not abide in darkness" [John 12:46], Jesus, the light of the world [John 9:5]. And how wonderful and how fittingly that at the winter solstice, when the nights are the longest and the darkness reaches its final ultimate, when the turn comes, that at this season of the year the feast should be celebrated called the Feast of Lights, when the darkness begins to give way to the light, and when the glory of the gospel of the Son of God begins to shine in our human hearts, Jesus, the light of the world [John 9:5].
I’ve asked Lee Roy Till and some of his men if they would come before I extend this invitation and sing to me one of the most beautiful quartet songs ever written, "Jesus, the Light of the World."
Oh come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
Once I was blind, but now I can see:
The Light of the world is Jesus.
["The Light of the World is Jesus;" Philip P. Bliss]
There is no more powerful or meaningful figure under which the grace of Jesus is presented to us than in that beautiful symbol: He is the light of life [John 8:12].
And while we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you give himself in faith to the Lord; a family you to place your life in the fellowship of this dear church; however God shall open the door and make the appeal to your heart, come; come this morning, come now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE FEAST OF LIGHTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. 323 B.C. Alexander the Great died leaving no heir
1. Empire divided into four parts; Seleucus took Syria
B. 200 B.C. Antiochus III, grandson of Seleucus, extended Syrian Empire
1. Took Palestine, Judea from Ptolemies
C. 175-164 B.C. Antiochus IV, "Antiochus Epiphanes", central in Daniel
1. In 168 B.C. conquered Ptolemy, touching Rome
2. Roman senate demanded the siege be lifted
3. On return to Antioch, heard rumor Jerusalem rebelled against Syria
a. On a Sabbath massacred the people
b. Decreed worship of Jehovah would be destroyed forever
D. 167 B.C. Aged priest Mattathias slays apostate Jew, Syrian officer
1. He and his five sons fled to the mountains with God’s people
2. Before he died, appointed third son, Judas Maccabeus, head of army
E. 166 B.C. Judas slays Apollonius, chief of staff to Syrian king
F. 165 B.C. Enraged, Antiochus Epiphanes resolves to deliver Israel as slaves to the world; defeated by Judas Maccabeus
G. 164 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes utterly defeated at Beth Sura
H. First thing Judas Maccabeus did was to reconsecrate temple (Psalm 122:2, 6, 121:4, 137:5-6)
1. Worked to cleanse temple for three weeks
2. Dedication of temple lasted eight days – Feast of Dedication
II. What it means to us
A. Feast of deliverance (Psalm 121:4, John 10:27-29)
B. Feast of dedication, commitment anew
C. Feast of lights