THE FEAST OF LIGHTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-13-87 10:50 a.m.
Once again welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our precious congregation, the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor delivering the message entitled Jesus, the Light of The World; it is a message concerning The Feast Of Lights, the Feast of Dedication. In the Jewish community, they call it Hanukkah. In the Christian community, we call it Christmas. One of the most unusual things I know of in religious history, Hanukkah is not mentioned or named or referred to in the Old Testament, but it is in the New.
One of the coincidences of life, in my preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 10. And in chapter 10, verse 22, John 10:22, "And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication," the feast of Hanukkah, the feast of lights, the feast of winter, the feast of deliverance, of dedication. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch [John 10:23] because it was cold. It was in the wintertime. It was the twenty-fifth of Kislev, of December.
The institution of this "Feast of the Dedication," named here with our Lord in John 10:22, has one of the most remarkable backgrounds and one of the most vivid histories to be found in human literature. Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, at the age of thirty-three in the city of Babylon. He had conquered the civilized world. And the same passion that moved the apostle Paul to be an emissary of the Christian faith burned in the heart of Alexander to make Greek the civilized culture and language of all the nations of the world. And he succeeded in that. Alexander made the civilized world Greek, Greek customs, Greek literature, Greek architecture, Greek language. When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, he did not write it in Latin; he wrote it in Greek. As there was a Pax Romana, a universal peace, so there was a lingua franca, a universal language, and it was Greek.
The passion that moved Alexander to spread Greek culture also moved in the hearts of his warring generals. Alexander left no heir and his empire was divided into four parts and given to his four great generals. Cassander took Greece, Macedonia. He had married Alexander’s sister, named Thessalonike; and he built his capital in Macedonia and named it for Alexander’s sister, the daughter of King Philip II. He named it Thessalonica. Lysimachus took Asia Minor. Seleucus took Syria. And Ptolemy took Egypt.
Seleucus had a father named Antiochus. And Seleucus built his capital at the bend of the Orontes River, flowing out of the beautiful snow-capped mountains of Lebanon. And where the river turns to the sea, there he built his capital and named it for his father, Antiochus. He built the port for Syria at the mouth of the Orontes River and called it for him, Seleucus. But the capital itself, he built and named it Antioch, Antiochus. If you have ever been there, it was one and is one of the most beautifully situated cities in the world. And that beautiful Orontes Valley with mountains on either side; it was a tremendously effective thing that Seleucus did. In the Roman Empire, his capital became the third among the cities. Rome was first, Alexandria was second, and Antioch was third.
In 200 BC, Antiochus III came to the throne of Syria. He was called "Antiochus the Great," and he greatly extended the boundaries and influence of that part of the Greek world. In 175 BC, Antiochus IV came to the throne. He was an amazing character. He assumed the name of Theos Epiphanēs, "God manifest." He is extensively presented in prophecy in Daniel chapter 8 [Daniel 8:9-14], and in Daniel chapter 11 [Daniel 11:21-35]. There he is described as the prototype, the antitype of the ultimate final Antichrist, this Antiochus IV, Theos Epiphanēs.
In 168 BC, this Antiochus went to war against Ptolemy in Egypt and conquered him and his army. And he shut up the remaining part of Ptolemy’s army in the city of Alexandria, where he was besieging the last outpost. But when he conquered Egypt he touched Rome – for Egypt was the granary of Rome. And the Roman Senate sent Gaius Popillius Laenas down to Egypt to confront Antiochus. And Popillius said to him, "You will raise this siege. You will desist from this incursion. You will take your armies back to Syria or you face war with the Roman legions."
Before such an ultimatum Antiochus demurred, and hesitated and asked for time to consider it. But Popillius drew a circle around him in the sand and said to him, "Before you leave that circle, you will give me an answer that I can return to the Roman Senate." Unable to face the legions of Rome, Antiochus was forced to capitulate. So he led his army out of Egypt.
But in his return to Antioch, passing through Israel, he vented his vengeance and frustration and hatred upon Israel. Waiting for the Sabbath day, when the Jew refused to bear arms, he turned loose his army into an awesome massacre of the Jews in Jerusalem. Then he took an idol of Jupiter Olympus, and placed that idol in the kadosh kadoshim, in the Holy of Holies. And he offered a swine on the sacred altar. And from the juice of the swine, he desecrated all of the holy vessels of the temple. He called for harlots, and in the sacred temple itself they observed a Bacchanalia. He made a bonfire of the sacred rolls of Holy Scripture. And he set himself to force every Jew, all the Israelites to conform to Greek idolatry and customs.
You read vividly, how those persecuting measures in two of the most remarkable books in that period of time, 1 and 2 Maccabaeus. Good doctor, in my humble opinion, first Maccabaeus belongs in the Bible. It’s one of the finest pieces of the revelation of the presence of God to be read.
Just as an example of the fierceness of the persecution, there were two mothers who circumcised their little boys. Antiochus slew the babies, put those dead babies around the necks of those two mothers, and paraded the mothers through the city with those dead babies hanging from their necks. In another typical instance, there was a mother who had seven sons. And Antiochus fried them, all seven of them before her eyes, heated pans, cut off their tongues, fingers, and toes, and fried them before the mother. To show you also the devotion of those Jewish people, that mother encouraged those boys to be true unto death.
Anyway, in 167 BC, the king sent an officer to the town of Modein which is northwest of Jerusalem. In that town lived an aged priest by the name of Mattathias. He had five sons – John, and Simon, and Judas, and Eleazar, and Jonathan – and the officer was commissioned to make this aged priest sacrifice before a Greek idol. The aged priest refused to do it. But in his refusal, an apostate and renegade Jew came forward to offer the sacrifice. When he did, Mattathias slew him and slew also the Syrian officer. The aged priest, with his five boys, fled to the mountains, and Jews began to gather around him and to him.
Mattathias the old priest soon died; before he did, he commissioned the revolt into the hands of Judas, whom they called Maccabaeus, "the Hammer." Like Charles Martel, "Charles the Hammer," that in 732 AD turned back the Muslims. Had it not been for that, Europe would have been Islamic. So they named Judas Maccabaeus, and then the other boys, the Maccabaeus. And they lead the revolt against Antiochus, Theos Epiphanēs.
In 166 BC, Antiochus sent a sent a great army, under Apollonius, to crush the Maccabaeus, the revolt. But Judas overwhelmed the Syrians with a much smaller army and took the sword of Apollonius, and thereafter fought with it. They came then, in a rage indescribable – announced to the whole Roman world that they were to bring gold and silver and fetters to Israel. And his Syrian army would deliver to any man who had a talent of silver, ninety Jews to be sold on the slave markets of the world. So Antiochus, in 165 BC, entered Palestine with a great army, and followed by the merchants of the world, laden with gold and silver and fetters, to take the slaves, the Jews, and sell them at auction on the slave markets of the earth.
In Emmaus – does that bring to your heart the memory of the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke: the two on the way to Emmaus when Jesus, unknown to them, walked by their side [Luke 24:13-15], and opened unto them the Scriptures? [Luke 24:32]. That’s the place – in Emmaus, Judas Maccabaeus with his army surprised Antiochus by night and routed the king and totally defeated his cohorts.
Then in 165 BC, the king came back for the last time, for this time he wouldn’t return. Gathering another army, he invaded Israel. And at a battle of Bethsura in Idumea, just south of the Sea of Galilee, Judas Maccabeus totally defeated Antiochus, Theos Epiphanēs. And the king did not outlive that confrontation. And Judah, Israel was free. So, Judas Maccabaeus and his army and his people came to Jerusalem to re-consecrate and to rededicate the temple.
Could I make an aside here to show how deeply ingrained was the expectation of the Jew for a coming Prophet, a Messiah? The sacred altar had been desecrated; they knew not what to do with the stones. So they carefully set them aside until a Prophet should come who would tell them what to do, built a new altar, reconsecrated the whole temple of God to the worship of Jehovah. They had no oil. They had no light. Someone found in the sacred precincts a little cruse of olive oil. They lighted that cruse. It was oil for one day.
And they celebrated the victory God had given them and the reconsecration for the temple for the length of that light, one day. But it miraculously burned two days, and they celebrated two days. It miraculously burned three days, and they celebrated three days. It miraculously burned four days, and five days, and six days, and seven days, and eight days. And they celebrated the re-consecration and rededication of the temple eight days, the Feast of Lights – the Feast of Dedication, the feast of consecration, the feast of deliverance beginning the twenty-fifth day of Kislev – they call it Hanukkah. We call it Christmas.
The Feast of Lights: that pertains to our blessed Lord Jesus. It is a remarkable thing the way Matthew begins his Gospel of the Son of God, "Leaving Nazareth," in chapter 4, verse 13:
Leaving Nazareth, Jesus came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali:
That it might be fulfilled which was written by Isaiah the prophet saying –
and he quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 –
The land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
Think of the people in the darkness of death and the grave and the judgment! "They have seen a great light; and on them who sat in the region and shadow of death upon them light has shined." And that’s why I had you read the first chapter of John. John begins his Gospel the same way:
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overwhelmed It not,
He was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
[John 1:4-5, 9]
And in the chapters that succeed, chapter 8 and chapter 9, Jesus says, "I am the Light of the world" [John 8:12, 9:5]. The Feast of Lights magnifies and glorifies and proclaims our glorious Lord, the Light and hope of the world.
As you’ve heard me say so many times, people have a revulsion against the commercialization of Christmas. I say to them, "You don’t understand; you don’t judge correctly. There’s no way in this earth you can take Christ out of Christmas. You can’t do it, even the name of it "C-h-r-I-s-t-mass." And every light that is shining and every decoration up and down the streets and in the stores, every song that is sung, all of it magnifies the Lord Jesus, the Light of the world. I could not think of Christmas without lights. When you come to see this tree, there will be lights all up and down it. These lights around the balcony, They’re everywhere. They celebrate 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," by Philip Bliss]
It is a festival of lights. It glorifies Him. It pertains to Him.
It is also a festival of deliverance; that pertains to us. A deliverance from death, a deliverance from the grave, a deliverance from the darkness of an ultimate and final judgment, it is a feast of celebration, a gladness, and a glory of deliverance.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the Lord,
My help cometh from Him
Who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber. . . .
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.
God be praised! We’re celebrating a feast of deliverance:
My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me:
I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never ever perish,
My Father, who gave them unto 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.
We’re celebrating a feast of deliverance; God hath saved us. The Lord has called us, and chosen us, and redeemed us, and hath bestowed upon us in His infallible, inerrant Word eternal life.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said-
To you who for refuge to Jesus has fled?
That 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 will never, no never, no never forsake.
["How Firm a Foundation," John Keith, 1787]
It is a feast of salvation, of deliverance for us, this feast, Christmas.
Last: it is a feast of dedication, called "the Feast of Dedication." It is Hanukkah, it is Christmas, it is the twenty-fifth of Kislev. It’s a celebration, a dedication, a consecration of our blessed church – the temple of God, the household of faith, the family of the Lord – it’s a dedication of us unto Him. What a beautiful thing, as I walk around this sacred place, these lights on this beautiful sanctuary magnifying the Lord, the house dedicated to Jesus.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Savior bought
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear is the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall
For her my prayers ascend,
For her my toil and cares be given
Till toils and cares shall end.
["I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord," Timothy Dwight]
What a glorious, incomparably meaningful moment in life and in the wonderful time of the year – for the Jew, Hanukkah; for the Christian, Christmas – the Feast of Lights, the feast of deliverance, the Feast of Dedication and consecration. Lord, thank You for letting us be a part of the glory of the day and to share in the beauty of the season!
We are going to sing us a song now, and while we sing the hymn, a family you, to come into our precious church. "Pastor, this is God’s day for us, and we are answering the call of the Spirit in our hearts, and we are coming." A couple you, placing heart and home in this family, or just one somebody you, "Pastor, today I take the Lord Jesus as my Savior, and I give my heart and life to Him." Or to answer the call of the Spirit of God in your heart, make the decision now. And in this moment when we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza come and stand with us. In the balcony round down one of those stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles. "The Lord has spoken to me, pastor, and here I am."
Come, come, and welcome. While we stand and while we sing.
THE FEAST OF LIGHTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
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
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, vented frustration and hatred on Israel
a. On a Sabbath massacred the people
b. Desecrated temple; destroyed copies of Scriptures
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. People returned to Jerusalem to reconsecrate temple
I. Tradition of the Feast of Lights
II. What it means to us
A. Feast of Lights pertains to our Lord Jesus (John 1:4-5, 9, Matthew 4:13-16)
B. Festival of deliverance; pertains to us (Psalm 121, John 10:27-30)