THE FEAST OF LIGHTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-12-67 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Jesus the Light of the World, or The Feast of Lights. Now turn to the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, and we shall begin reading at verse 22 and read through verse 30. In the middle of the chapter, the Gospel of John chapter 10; beginning at verse 22 and reading through chapter 30; the Gospel of John chapter 10; now we all have it? John chapter 10, verse 22 through verse 30. Now share your Bible and everybody read out loud together, beginning at verse 22, closing at verse 30. The tenth chapter of John:
And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication, and it was winter.
And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.
Then came the Jews round about Him, and said unto Him, How long dost Thou make us to doubt? If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not; the works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.
But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you.
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 man pluck them out of My hand.
My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.
And I and My Father are one.
Now as I came to this passage in preaching through the life of Christ, I thought it would be apropos if I waited for a month to deliver this message. “And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication,” or the Feast of Lights [John 10:22]. That is Hanukkah: it was established on the twenty-fifth day of the month Kislev, and that’s at our Christmas time, so I thought possibly it would be in order to wait until that time of the year when the Feast of Dedication is celebrated in world Jewry to speak of this. Then as I considered it, I thought what I’d been doing through the years: every Sunday night I’d preach a sermon on the life of Jesus, and following the life of our Lord, chronologically, as He lived in the days of His flesh. And this is the passage immediately before me. So I decided rather than put it off for some other time, I shall just continue following through the life of the Lord, and we have come to this tenth chapter of John and verse 22: “And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication, the Feast of Lights” [John 10:22], so we shall just speak of our Lord in that hour in Jerusalem. Now the Feast of Dedication; it is a long and a most impressive story.
Alexander the Great died drunken in an orgy in Babylon in 323 BC, and having no heir, he left an enormous, worldwide, extensive empire. He had no child, and it was divided into four parts by his four great generals. Cassander, who married his sister, Thessalonike, and who renamed his capital Thessalonica—to which church and the city, 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written—Cassander took all of Macedonia and Achaea, what we know as Greece today. And his general Lysimachus took Asia Minor. His general Seleucus took Syria. His general Ptolemy took Egypt. The father of Seleucus, who was the king of Syria, was named Antiochus—Antioch—and in honor of his father he built the city of Antioch, his capital on the Orontes River. In the line of kings that followed Seleucus, we come to the year 200 BC, and Seleucus III, and Antiochus III, is the king of the glorious kingdom of Syria, and he was very gifted; a wonderful statesman. And he extended the borders of his kingdom, Syria; conquered Ptolemy in Egypt; extended to the boundaries to the old Alexandrian Empire, except to the west where he came into contact for the first time with a rising power called Rome. Antiochus the Great reigned until 175 BC, and he was succeeded by his son Antiochus IV, and he took to himself the title Antiochus Theos Epiphanes: Antiochus “God Manifest,” and he lived like that and he reigned like that: as though he was God manifest. So Antiochus Epiphanes—and when we study Daniel, as we follow through in the book later on, you’re going to find him a great figure in the Book of Daniel, in prophecy, a type of the final and ultimate Antichrist [Daniel 9:26-27, 11:21-45].
Antiochus IV Epiphanes also followed in the ambitious footsteps of his father and went down into the land of Egypt to fight against Ptolemy, and he conquered Egypt and shut up the Egyptian army, Ptolemy’s’ army, in the city of Alexandria. Now, Rome, I say, at that time, was beginning to appear on the horizon of history, and Rome was looking to the Nile Valley as her granary; raising wheat and exporting it to the city of Rome. So when Antiochus Epiphanes came down into Egypt and began to ravage the land and to shut up Ptolemy in Alexandria, this is the second time that a great king in the East came in contact with the rising power of the West, of Rome. So the Roman senate sent a member of their forum, Gaius Popillius Laenas, to confront Antiochus Epiphanes in Egypt. So Gaius Popillius Laenas came to Antiochus Epiphanes as he was besieging the army of Ptolemy in the city of Alexandria, and Popillius delivered to Antiochus an ultimatum: he was either to withdraw out of Egypt and turn back to his own country, or face war with the Roman legionaries. Antiochus answered that he would consider the mandate of the Roman senate and return an answer later, upon which Popillius took the end of his staff and drew a circle around Antiochus in the sand and said, “You will give me an answer that I can return to the Roman senate before you leave that circle, or face war with the Roman legions!” There was nothing to do but for Antiochus to capitulate. So he took his army out of Egypt and back north toward the capital of Antioch.
On the way, returning to his capital city of Antioch, a rumor reached him—whether it’s true or not true, I can’t find out—but a rumor reached him that the Jews had rebelled. Being furious and frustrated by his confrontation with Rome, the king took his soldiers and his army and surrounded Jerusalem, waited until the Sabbath day when he knew the Jews would not bear arms, entered into the city and frightfully massacred thousands and thousands of its people. Then he set himself to destroy the Jews’ religion forever—to extirpate it out of the land and out of the earth. So Antiochus Epiphanes—whom the Jews call Antiochus Epimanes: the madman, the insane man—Antiochus entered the temple, and in the qodesh qodashim, in the sanctum sanctorum, in the Holy of all the holy places, there he set up an idol to Jupiter called the “abomination of desolation” [Daniel 11:31]; set up the idol of Olympus-Jupiter in the Holy of Holies. And he dedicated the temple at Jerusalem to Jupiter, and he offered a sow on the great altar, and took the juice from the sow and spread it all over the temple to desecrate its vessels, its rooms, its sanctuary, its every part. He burned all the Scriptures, the Holy Word of God, and he made it a penalty of death to observe any of the laws of Moses. For example, he drove through the city of Jerusalem two women with their dead babies around their necks, and, taking them to the top of the highest wall, cast those two mothers down to their death below; they had circumcised their children. He was forcing the people to give up the Jews’ religion.
And an instance that you will read in 2 Maccabees is a mother of seven sons. And forcing them to disregard and disobey God’s Book and God’s Mosaic legislation for them, he said, “You will conform, or we will burn you alive!” and the eldest son spoke up for the family and said, “We will not conform!” They cut out his tongue, and before the eyes of his six brothers and mother, they heated pans and fried him alive. They turned to the second son, and when he refused to bow before the mandate of Antiochus, they cut out his tongue and fried him before the eyes of the other brothers. And they did that with each one of those seven sons, and the mother, standing by, urged and encouraged each boy to be faithful to God unto death; and last of all, she was murdered. This is a type of the kind of terrific persecution that the Jews were suffering under Antiochus Epiphanes.
In those days there was a priest in Jerusalem by the name of Mattathias. He had his home in Modein, northwest of Jerusalem, and when he saw what was happening—the temple dedicated to Jupiter and all of its area sacrilegiously defiled by Antiochus, and the people wasted and massacred by the cruel mandates of the king—he rent his clothes and lamented and mourned before God. And while Mattathias the priest was lamenting before God, officers from the king came to Modein, the little city of Modein, in order to make all of the Jewish people there conform to the worship of Jupiter. They erected an altar to the idol of Jupiter in Modein and were compelling the people to worship before that idol. And when one of the apostates came to kneel down and to worship before that idol in Modein, Mattathias the priest rose up and slew the apostate and slew the officer from the king, and, with his five sons, fled to the mountains; and the war of liberation was on. Old man, the old priest Mattathias died not long after he took his five sons and fled to the mountains. Upon his death, using the example of Daniel and the three Hebrew children, he gave a commission to his son, Judas called Maccabeus,”The Hammerer”—he gave a commission to Judas Maccabeus to carry on the war until death, and Judas received that mandate from his aged father, the priest Mattathias, and continued the war against the Syrian army of Antiochus Epiphanes. That was in 167 BC.
In 166 BC, Judas Maccabeus annihilated, by ambush and surprise, the army of Antiochus under Apollonius. And in the next year, 166 BC, he defeated the army of Antiochus in the battle of Emmaus. And in 165 BC, won it again; and in 164 BC, he won it again! And Antiochus died; and for the first time, and for just a little while, the nation had cast off a foreign yoke. And with gladness and with gratitude, the people returned to Jerusalem, found it waste, found it empty, found it largely, mostly destroyed. But they gave themselves to the work, with a yielded and a willing heart, and in the twenty fifth day of Kislev—the twenty fifth of our December—they were ready to dedicate a new and a reconsecrated temple to the Lord. And that is the Feast of Dedication [John 10:22], and it meant more to the Jews than the dedication of the beautiful temple of Solomon [2 Chronicles 6:12-7:11].
One of the things that I have spoken of already in preaching through Daniel: they could not decide what to do with the stones of the altar that had been polluted by the offering up of a sow. So they tore it down, stone at a time, and took it outside of the temple area and placed the stones in a heap until—and I quote from 1 Maccabees—until a prophet should arise who should tell them what to do. So they rebuilt the altar, and on this twenty-fifth day they rededicated and reconsecrated the temple to the Lord.
Now, how it came to be called, also, the Feast of Lights: the tradition is— and this is tradition and not a part of history—the tradition is that when Judas Maccabeus sought for a cruse of oil in Jerusalem to light the candle, he could find none in the city, accept one small, little vial of olive oil; enough for one day. And the tradition is that they took that cruse of oil, enough for one day, and they lighted it before God in the ceremony of dedication and consecration. And the Feast of Dedication and rejoicing lasted eight days, and that little cruse of oil miraculously lasted one day and two, three days and four, five days and six, seven days and eight. All through the eight days the little cruse of oil burned; so they called it the Feast of Lights, Hanukkah-The Feast of Lights. And on the first day of it they light one candle, and on the second day they light two candles, and on the third day they have three candles; on the fourth day, four candles; on the fifth day, five candles; on the sixth day, six; on the seventh day, seven; and on the eighth day, in every orthodox Jewish home, and in every family in Jewry that celebrates Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, there will be eight candles burning in the home.
It was in that Feast of Dedication that Jesus stood up to speak [John 10:22]. And I can see the preparation of the city as they rejoice in the glory of God and the blessing of the Lord upon them, and at night, when the whole city and temple area was lighted up, and when the light shone across the Kidron Valley against the towering heights of Olivet beyond; and it was in that background that Jesus spoke these words, that “I am the light of the world” [John 8:12].
And these words, and I speak of them now, first: “And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of Lights” [John 10:22]—it is a feast of the presence, and of the light, and of the visitation from God. As Psalm 121 says, “He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” [Psalm 121:4]. A Feast of Lights [John 10:22], and Jesus the light of the world [John 8:12]; for “They who sat in darkness have seen a great light; and upon them who sat in the valley of the shadow of death Light is sprung up…” [Matthew 4:16; Isaiah 9:2].
The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin,
But Jesus is the Light of the world.
Like sunshine at noonday, His glory shone in,
For Lord Jesus is 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
Jesus, the Light of the world.
[adapted from “The Light of the World is Jesus,” Phillip Bliss]
And it was at Jerusalem, the Feast of Lights, the Feast of Dedication [John 10:22]. It is not only the Feast of Lights, in Christ for us; it is the feast of great assurance.
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;
I and My Father are one.
Do you believe that? A thousand times a thousand times am I asked, “Do you believe that people who are saved are forever saved?” And you ask that, and you discuss that, and practically all of Christendom does not believe it. For to them salvation is a matter of our ability to hang onto God. “If I can just hang on, if I can just keep doing good works, if I can just not fall away, I will finally be saved; but I’m not saved now. I don’t know whether I ever will be or not, and five minutes before I die, I may fall away and into hell and perish forever.” Practically all of Christendom believes that, as though our salvation depended upon us.
My brother, my brother, you may serve God until the last day of your life, and if your salvation depends upon you, at the last day of your life you may fall away; you may sin away your opportunity of grace. Why, you’d never have any assurance, you’d never have any quiet in your heart, you’d never be at ease before God; “O God! I may fall into hell anytime. I may sin the unpardonable sin any day [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10]. O God, I don’t know whether I’m saved, and I’m miserable; I don’t know whether I’m going to heaven when I die.” What an unhappy and what a miserable way to live! What does God say? “I give unto them eternal life” [John 10:28].
Now, how long is that, eternal life? Well, eternal life is forty years, ten days and six hours, and then it may stop: is that right? Eternal life is two years and fifteen minutes, and then it may stop. How long is eternal life? “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish!” [John 10:28]. It’s today, and it’s tomorrow, and it’s the next day, and the year following, and it’s the score of years and the next score, and it’s until I get to heaven. That’s how long eternal life is; and forever. “Oh, but, preacher, if I believe that, why, I’d just go down that aisle, and I’d get myself saved, and I’d go out and just live like the devil. That’s what I’d do, that’s what I’d do. I’d come down the aisle, I’d give my life to Jesus, and I’d go out that door, and I’d just sin all I want to. I’d just cuss all I want to, and I’d just tell all the dirty stories I want to, and I’d get drunk all I want to, and I’d just desecrate all I want to. I am free from the law and bondage of sin and death, I’ve been saved, and I’d just do it all I want to.”
Problem is, when you get saved, you don’t want to. I don’t like that stuff; I don’t like the stuff they drink, I don’t like their filthy conversations, I don’t like their dirty jokes, and I don’t like to desecrate God’s Holy Day. If I were in a theater right now, I would be the most miserable critter you ever saw in your life; I wouldn’t enjoy it, I just couldn’t. You here in this church house, this choir up here singing the praises of God; we’re getting ready to give an invitation for somebody lost to take Jesus as Savior, and while you were here praying and preaching and reading God’s Book, I’d be sitting down there in somebody’s theater; I’d be so miserable I just wouldn’t do it. I’d be right here. And if I’m alive next Sunday night, I’d be right here, and if I’m alive the next Sunday night, I’ll be right here! Except you and I are going to be in Alabama in a revival meeting!
That’s life, eternal life. And when you’re saved, God gives you a new love, and a new heart, and a new song—I don’t like to go with that crowd, I don’t! I like you, and I don’t like to be in those places, I like to be here. And I don’t like to do those things; I love what we do, I’m happy in this.
Eternal life: “and they shall never perish” [John 10:28]. And I may worry about lots of things, but I don’t worry about getting to heaven. When the roll is called up yonder and they open the Book of Life, you’re going to see my name written up there large in that book; my name up there in the Book of Life. “Well, how do you know that, preacher?” Because when I was ten years old at a weekday service, when the preacher preached his message and gave the invitation, I’d been under conviction. And I’d been talked to by the preacher that held the Bible meeting; and every night when he got through preaching, staying in our house, he’d sit in the kitchen and drink a glass of buttermilk that my mother would place before him, and talk to me about Jesus. And I felt in my heart God calling me, and that weekday morning service, in that revival in that little white crackerbox of a church house, when the preacher preached and they stood up and sang “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood,” my mother turned around and said to me, “Son, today, will you take Jesus as your Savior? Will you, son?” And I said, “Mother, I will. Today, I will take the Lord as my Savior!” And I walked down that aisle and gave the preacher my hand, and my heart to God. John 1:11: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them that believed in His name.” “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish” [John 10:28].
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I’ll never, no never desert to his foes.
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
[“How Firm a Foundation,” Rippon, 1787]
Let me tell you something, my friend: if you have ever been saved, if you have ever been saved, and you go out there and live in sin in the world, you’re going to be the most miserable somebody in this world. You never get away from it; it’s in your soul, it’s in your heart, it’s in your life, and someday you’ll come back. I’m not saying you won’t backslide, and I’m not saying you won’t fall away, and I’m not saying you won’t make lots of mistakes and a lot of other things; but I am a-saying, according to the Word of God, if you’ve ever been saved, if you’ve ever been born again [John 3:3, 7], it will never die within you, never, never, never. My salvation and getting to heaven doesn’t depend on me, it depends upon God [John 19:28].
It’s exactly like this: when our little girl was very small, we were walking down Akard and came to Main Street and stood at the light. And the little thing said to me, “Daddy, the light has turned green, let me take you by the hand and let’s cross the street.” So she took my hand to cross the street, and I said, “Oh, no, sweet child. You’re not going to take my hand and we step out there in that busy street. I’m going to take your hand.” And I loosened her hold on my hand, and I got a firm, strong grip on her hand, and I walked across the street with the little child—because she might have let go, let loose; she’d see a little pet dog, or poodle, or little toy, or a little ball, or something, it would distract her attention, she might turn loose and step out into busy traffic; but I wasn’t going to turn loose, and we walked across the street with her hand in mine. And that’s exactly the way it is we live with God. It’s not that we are holding onto God, and maybe if we hold on long enough and closely enough, we’ll finally be let into heaven; it isn’t that way at all. It is God’s hand who holds us, and we’re going to make it someday in His grace, in His goodness, in His power, in His mercy. God’s hand holding us: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:28]. Oh, what a comfort and what a promise!
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal, and you, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, while we sing our song of appeal, would you come and stand by me? To give your heart to Jesus—“Tonight, I take the Lord as my Savior”—or to put your life in the fellowship of the church, however God shall press the appeal, would you make it tonight? Come now, on the first note of the first stanza; in the balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, come and say, “Preacher, I feel in my heart God calling me,” maybe to rededicate your life to Jesus; maybe for the first time in your life, standing here to confess your faith in Him, to ask Him to forgive your sins and to save you and keep you forever, or to walk with us in the glory of our Lord. As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come. Make the decision now, right where you are seated, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming. Into that aisle, down one of these stairways and to the preacher: “Here’s my hand, pastor, I give my heart to God” [Ephesians 2:8]. Do it tonight, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Background of the feast
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
Palestine, Judea from Ptolemies
C. 175-164 B.C.
Antiochus IV, “Antiochus Epiphanes”, central in Daniel
168 B.C. conquered Ptolemy, touching Rome
Roman senate demanded the siege be lifted
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
B.C. Enraged, Antiochus Epiphanes resolves to deliver Israel as slaves to the
world; defeated by Judas Maccabeus
B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes utterly defeated at Beth Sura
returned to Jerusalem to reconsecrate temple
Tradition of the Feast of Lights
In that feast Jesus stood up to speak (John 8:12)
II. What it means to us
A. Feast of presence,
light, visitation from God (Psalm 121:4, Matthew