The Feast of Lights

John

The Feast of Lights

December 13th, 1964 @ 10:50 AM

John 10:22

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.
Related Topics: Dedication, Jews, Maccabees, Temple, 1964, John
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Dedication, Jews, Maccabees, Temple, 1964, John

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THE FEAST OF LIGHTS

Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 10:22

12-13-64    10:50 a.m.

 

 

On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message at ten-fifty o’clock, entitled The Feast of Lights.  I just never did hear anybody anywhere in all of my life say anything about this season of the year in which our Jewish brethren around the world celebrate the Feast of Lights.  They call it Hanukkah, Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights.  It is referred to in our New Testament.  It is the background for some of the sublimest words and symbolic sentences of our dear Lord, so I just decided that at this morning service I would preach a sermon on The Feast of Lights.  Against that background, so very much of the New Testament is written.  We have not time even to begin to touch the hem of the garment of all of those things that developed in that Interbiblical period between Malachi and the presentation of John the Baptist before Israel, a period of more than four hundred years.  But that period of four centuries set the stage under the hand of God for the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Christ, into the world.  And one of those little pieces we are going to present this morning: The Feast of Lights.

It is referred to here in the Gospel of John chapter 10, verses 22 and 23, as the Feast of Dedication:  “And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of Dedication, and it was winter,” it was December; “And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch” [John 10:22-23]; and then follows an incomparable message from our Lord that I shall speak of later in the message [John 10:24-38].  The Feast of Dedication, in John 10:22, or, the Feast of Lights.

Alexander the Great died in ancient Babylon in 323 BC.  He had no son, he had no heir, and his great empire was divided by his warring generals into four parts.  His brother-in-law Cassander, who married his sister Thessalonica, took Macedonia and Achaia, took ancient Hellas, and built his capital at Thessalonica in Macedonia.  His great general Lysimachus won all of Asia Minor, his equally great general Seleucus won Syria, and his equally famous general Ptolemy won Egypt, and with it Palestine.  The Seleucids were a reigning series of monarchs, distinguished, ambitious, noted for their vast conquests and tremendous public buildings.  The father of Seleucus was Antiochus, Antioch; so Seleucus built his capital toward the mouth of the Orontes River, and named it Antioch after his father.  A grandson of Seleucus was Antiochus III, called Antiochus the Great, and that mighty conqueror extended the Syrian Empire until it included all of the Eastern conquests of Alexander himself.  He would, I suppose, have won the civilized world had he not been stopped in his westward march by the Roman legions.  In about 200 BC, he wrested from Ptolemy the country of Palestine and Judea, and he added Judea and Jerusalem to the empire of Syria.

The son of Antiochus III, Antiochus the Great, was Antiochus the IV.  He took unto himself the name of Theos Epiphanes, “God Manifest,” and he sought to act the role of the Lord Sovereign Almighty in what he did and what he said, in his conquests, in his decrees.  Antiochus Epiphanes is the center of the prophecy of Daniel.  He is there the type of the ultimate and final Antichrist.  The Jews called him Antiochus Epimenes: “Antiochus the Insane, the Madman.”  In the surging conquests of Antiochus Epiphanes, he made war against the Ptolemy in Egypt, overwhelmed him, defeated all of his armies, conquered all of Egypt, and shut up what remained of resistance in Egypt in the city of Alexandria.  But as his father before him, Antiochus the Great, when Antiochus Epiphanes touched Egypt, he touched the granary of the Republic of Rome.  So the Roman senate sent one of their illustrious emissaries, Gauis Popillius Laenas, to confront Antiochus Epiphanes at the siege of Alexandria.  And Popillius stood before the proud monarch, and said, “You will lift this siege, and take your armies, and return to your capital in Antioch, or face war with the Roman legions.”  Antiochus Epiphanes demurred, and asked for time to consider and to talk with his counselors.  Popillius took his staff, and drew a circle in the sand around Epiphanes, and said, “You will give me an answer now, that I can return to the Roman senate, or face war with the Roman legions.”  There was nothing to do but for Antiochus to capitulate, so he lifted the siege of Alexandria, and took his Syrian army out of Egypt.  And on his way northward, to the capital at Antioch, a rumor came to him that Jerusalem had rebelled against Syrian rule.  And being enraged and humiliated and disappointed anyway, he took his Syrian army to Jerusalem, and on a Sabbath day, when the Jew refused to resist, he massacred the people.  Then, in his fury and in his rage, he made a decree that Hellenic culture and Greek gods and Greek customs should prevail throughout his empire, and that included the Jew in Jerusalem and Judea.  It was his announced purpose, he said, to destroy, and forever, the worship of Jehovah from the face of the earth.  So to implement that decree, Antiochus Epiphanes did three things.

First, he desecrated the holy temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem.  He renamed it “the temple Jupiter Olympus.”  He offered swine before Jupiter on the great altar of burnt offering, and took the juice of the swine and poured it over the holy places and over the holy vessels to desecrate them.  And then he set up an idol of Jupiter in the Kadosh Kadoshim, in the Holy of Holies, and upon pain of death demanded every Jew to bow down and offer unclean sacrifices to the Greek god Jupiter.  He changed the feasts into festivals of Bacchanalia and Saturnalia.  For example, the Feast of Tabernacles he turned into the Feast of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, with its Bacchanalia.  And he filled the holy temple with temple harlots and prostitutes, in the way that the ancient Greek worshiped his Greek god.

The second thing Epiphanes did was to destroy every copy of the Holy Scriptures that could be found, and he burned them publicly before the people; God’s Holy Word. 

And the third and final thing he did: he made a decree that no Jewish traditional observance, feast, fast, custom, religious practice should be held anymore.  And if one was found observing any part of a Mosaic legislation, he was to be slain.  No Sabbath day, no prayer, no feast or festival or fast, no worship of God, all of it to be obliterated from the memory of man.  And Antiochus carried out that decree with superlative and refined mercilessness, and ruthlessness, and murderous design.

For example, he led through the streets of Jerusalem two Jewish mothers who had circumcised their babies, and the murdered and dead babies were hung around the neck of the two mothers as they were led through the streets of Jerusalem and then to the top of the high wall, where they were flung down to their death.  Ancient Eleazar, more than ninety years of age, one of the chief scribes who refused to renounce the name of Jehovah God, they tortured to death in the presence of the people.  And one of the most famous of all of the stories of that age that has entered into the literature of the world is the story of the mother and her seven sons.  Because they refused to offer unclean sacrifices to the Greek god, they took the eldest son, who spoke for the family, they cut out his tongue, they cut off the extremities of his hands and feet, they heated a large pan and fried him alive in the presence of his mother and his six brothers.  Then they took the second son, and when he refused to renounce the name of God, they did the same thing to him.  Then they took the third son, and the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth, and the seventh; and as each boy faced the horrible death and agony, the mother each time encouraged the boy to be true to God.  And last of all they hacked in pieces the mother.  This storm of blood was in 168 BC.

The next year, 167 BC, the king’s officer Apelles was sent to the little Jewish town of Modin, northwest of Jerusalem, there to enforce God’s people to bow down before an altar of a heathen idol and to offer unclean sacrifices.  In that town lived an aged priest from Jerusalem by the name of Mattathias.  And Mattathias had five wonderful sons:  John, and Simon, and Judas, and Eleazar, and Jonathan.  And when the king’s officer came to compel the people of that little city to bow down and to worship a heathen god, Mattathias and his sons refused.  Because of his great influence, the Syrian officer offered a great reward to Mattathias if he would conform.  For days Mattathias had been walking through the streets of Modin with his garments rent and lamenting the apostasy of Israel.  While the king’s officer was talking to Mattathias, the aged priest, there came an apostate Jew to the altar and there prepared to sacrifice unclean things to a heathen god.  And when the priest saw him, he slew him on the very altar on which he was purporting to sacrifice.  And then the priest turned and slew Apelles, the officer of the Syrian king; and the war of liberation was on.  Mattathias, with his five sons, fled to the mountains, and there repaired unto them men of Israel, God’s people, with their families, their wives, and their children.

That year of 167 BC, old Mattathias died; but before he died, he placed in the hands of his third son, Judas Maccabeus, Judas the Hammer, he placed in the hands of his third son the torch of light and hope and liberty, and appointed him as the head of the little army, and to carry on the war of resistance.  Judas Maccabeus, Judas the Hammer, and from his name the Maccabeans—the word “Maccabean” was made to refer to all of the family—and as one of those boys would fall, another would rise and take his place; the War of the Maccabees.

It’s the same kind of an epithet as history has given to Charles Martel, King of France.  Charles Martel, Charles the Hammer:  this is the great Charles who, in 732 AD, at the Battle of Tours, France, turned back the Saracen.  Had it not been for the victory God gave to Charles the Hammer, Charles Martel, that day, all Europe would have been like Africa and like the Levant today:  it would have been Mohammedan.

Judas Maccabeus, Judas the Maccabean:  and under that brave and mighty son, God granted deliverance to his people.  In 166 BC, the first year of his command, Antiochus Epiphanes gathered a great army, and at Beth Horan a battle was fought.  And Apollonius, the chief of staff, the great general under the Syrian king, Judas slew him, and taking his sword, fought thereafter in the campaigns with that sword.  When that battle was lost, Antiochus Epiphanes was enraged, keeping with his name Epimenes, Antiochus the Madman, the Insane.  And he gathered a great army together, and he announced to the entire civilized world, and he published the decree throughout all of the cities of civilization, that the merchants were to come, and the Syrian army would deliver to the merchants of the world the entire Jewish nation as slaves. And he said, “We will sell ninety Jews for a talent of silver.”  So when the Syrian army invaded Palestine, in 165 BC, when the Syrian army came, they were followed by a horde of merchants with gold, and with silver, and with fetters to take the Jewish nation to the slave markets of the world.  And once again, in the goodness of God, and in the astuteness of Judas Maccabeus, who fought by ambush and by surprise and by night marches, the army of Antiochus Epiphanes was utterly defeated at the little town of Emmaus.

Once again, in 164 BC, Antiochus gathered together his last army and fought his last battle.  This time the war raged at Beth Sura, in Idumea, just south of the Dead Sea.  And once again, that brave and incomparable Maccabean, Judas the son of Mattathias, the son of Hasman—it’s where they get the name the “Hasmonian” line—Judas was given an incomparable victory over Antiochus Epiphanes at Beth Sura in Idumea.  The king died; and Palestine was free.

The first thing that Judas Maccabeus and his brethren did after God bestowed upon them that incomparable victory was to make his way to the holy city of God, there to reconsecrate to the worship of Jehovah the place where God said, “And My name shall be there” [1 Kings 8:29].

How many of those psalms—and they flood in my mind—how many of those psalms are centered around the glory of God in that holy mount in Jerusalem?

 

Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.

[Psalm 122:2]

 

He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

[Psalm 121:4]

 

They shall prosper who pray for thy peace, O Jerusalem.

[Psalm 122:6]

 

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.  If I prefer not thee above my chief joy, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not thee, O Jerusalem.

[Psalm 137:5-6]

 

They found the city a wilderness.  The gates had been burned, the homes destroyed, the temple desecrated.  For three weeks, Judas Maccabeus and his brethren worked to cleanse the holy precincts of the temple of God.  And after three full weeks of dedicated labor, the temple was finally cleansed.  And what should they do with the great altar of burnt sacrifice that had been polluted with the juice and the blasphemies of swine’s flesh and unclean offerings and prayers to idols?  They tore it down, and placed the stones in an unclean area outside of the city of Jerusalem, until a prophet should come who should tell them what to do [1 Maccabees 4:46].  To me that is one of the most pathetic and poignant of all of the passages in the story of the Maccabees.  It shows how alive and how expectant and how deeply yearning was the soul of the people of God for the great Prophet that was yet to come! [Deuteronomy 18:15].

This is the story as you read it in the first Book of the Maccabees:

 

And Judas said to his brethren, Let us go up to cleanse the Holy Place, and to dedicate it to God afresh.  He chose blameless priests, and they cleansed the Holy Place, and bear out the stones of defilement.  They pulled down the altar, and laid up the stones in the mountain of the house, in a convenient place, until there should come that prophet to give answer what to do.  They rose up early in the morning on the fifth and twentieth day of the month Kislev, December.  And the people all fell upon their faces, and worshiped, and gave praise to God.  And there was exceeding great gladness among the people.  And Judas Maccabeus, 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, beginning the five and twentieth day of the month Kislev.  And there was gladness and great joy.

[from 1 Maccabees 4:41-59]

 

That is this:  “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].  It is a strange thing:  I would have thought that Feast of Dedication referred to the incomparable consecration of God’s house in the days of King Solomon [1 Kings 8:1-66].  No, not at all; far beyond what it meant, the dedication of the temple in the days of Solomon, was the meaning of the dedication of the temple when God, in His goodness and sovereign grace, spared His people and His name in the earth, and the temple was reconsecrated and rededicated under Judas Maccabeus [1 Maccabees 4:52-59].  It was also called—and so today in Jewry through the world—it was also called the Feast of Lights, Hanukkah.  And where that Feast of Lights comes from is, of course, the darkness of the wintertime and the beginning of the overcoming of light, when, pretty soon the nights will grow shorter and the days will grow longer; and, of course, the darkness of apostasy that swept and threatened the whole nation of God; and a thing that Judas Maccabeus did when the temple was dedicated:  they needed oil for the lamps.  No oil could be found.  There was eventually one cruse of olive oil discovered, and it should have burned for one day and ceased, but that one small cruse of olive oil burned one day, and two, three days, and four, five days, and six, seven days, and eight.  Thus the Feast of Lights was observed eight full days [John 10:22].  And as the Jewish people observe it today, the first day, one lamp; and the second day, two lamps; and the third day, three lamps; the fourth day, four lamps; five days, five; six days, six; seven days, seven; and the eighth day, eight lamps burning unto God in memory of the deliverance of the Lord for His people.

When I think of that in terms of our own day and dedication to God, it was first a feast of deliverance:   God had spared His people, and in the sovereign grace of the Almighty kept His name in the hearts of His chosen in the earth, then and forever.  That’s why I had you read the Psalm 121:  “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” [Psalm 121:4].  And when you read this tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, there is not a devout Christian in the world who has not memorized its verses and found in them an incomparable hope and godly assurance.  At that Feast of Dedication, Jesus said,

 

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 any one 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 hands.

 [John 10:27-29]

 

The assurance, the sovereign grace, the elective purpose of God abides forever; and all the hosts of hell, and all the powers of Satan, and all of the generals who ever marched their armies up and down the earth are never able to subvert God’s sovereign grace that reaches down to His people.

 

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned 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]

 

It was a feast of deliverance and praise to God for His sovereign and elective and almighty grace.

It was a feast of dedication, of commitment again, anew, afresh, of all God’s children meant to the kingdom.  It is a feast of reconsecration.  I am sensitive to the fact that it seems out of place in the revelry of this time of the year for there to be such a service and such a festival of rededication and recommitment.  That’s because we have followed Greek patterns and Greek cultures, and we look upon this season of the year as a time of revelry, and drunkenness, and rioting, and all of the other things that deny the very spirit of the grace and mercy of God that blesses His people.  Dear friends in this congregation, if there is any season in the year that ought to be filled with the spirit of praise and of glory and of sacrifice unto God, it is this time in the Feast of Lights, the five and twentieth day of this winter month of December.

It was, last, a feast of lights.  I would not think many of us have ever considered, against the background of that feast, how largely the New Testament enters into the spirit of the light that shines upon the hearts of men from the mercy and the forgiveness and the goodness of God.  “For God, who made the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6].  Matthew, who wrote his Gospel for the Jews, presenting Jesus as the King Messiah, Matthew begins with a glorious introduction, quoting the prophet Isaiah:  “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; by the way of the sea, they that sat in darkness have seen great light; and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up…and Jesus the Son of God walked in the midst of the Galileans” [Matthew 4:15-18].  And when you turn to the Gospel of John, it would surprise you how many times the Lord Christ is presented as the light of the world [John 8:12, 9:5].  In his introduction, John says, “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcomes it not” [John 1:4-5].  And in that incomparable story of the opening of the eyes of the blind man, in the ninth chapter of the book, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day:  the night cometh, when no man should work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” [John 9:4-5]; and He opened the eyes of the man born blind [John 9:6-7].  It was a parable of the great symbol:  Jesus is to this world light, light, light; “I am the light of the world” [John 8:12].  In the twelfth chapter, one, two, three, four times you’ll find Him using that same symbolism:  “I come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on Me should not abide in darkness” [John 12:35, 36, 46]; Jesus the light of the world.

I asked Lee Roy Till, I said, “You know, to me there’s not a quartet, an arrangement for four men to sing, that has more beautiful significance and meaning than the beautiful song ‘Jesus the Light of the World,’ and when I get through preaching Sunday morning, I want you to sing it.  I want you to sing it.”  Lee Roy, sing it now, with your soul and your heart.  “I am the Light of the World”: He said it, Jesus the Son of God.

 

All ye saints of light proclaim,

Jesus, the Light of the World.

Life and mercy in His name,

Jesus, the Light of the World.

 

We’ll walk in the Light, beautiful Light;

Come where the dewdrops of mercy are bright.

Shine all around us by day and by night,

Jesus, the Light of the World.

 

Hear the Savior’s earnest call,

Jesus, the Light of the World.

Send the gospel truth to all,

Jesus, the Light of the World.

 

We’ll walk in the Light, beautiful Light;

Come where the dewdrops of mercy are bright.

Shine all around us by day and by night,

Jesus, the Light of the World.

 

Why not seek Him then today,

Jesus, the Light of the World?

Go with truth the narrow way,

Jesus, the Light of the World.

 

We’ll walk in the Light, beautiful Light;

Come where the dewdrops of mercy are bright.

Shine all around us by day and by night,

Jesus, the Light of the World.

[“Jesus, the Light of the World,” Author Unknown]

 

Amen.

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]

 

And while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, take the Lord as your Savior this glorious day, a family you, put your life in the circle of this dear church, as the Spirit of appeal shall lay the message in invitation upon your heart, come this morning; come now.  “Pastor, I give you my hand; I have given my heart to God.”

“Pastor, today I openly confess my faith in Jesus the Christ of God.”

“Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children; all of us are coming today.”  As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, make it today, while we stand and while we sing.