John 10:22-30 April 21, 2013
22At one time, the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It happened in the winter, for the same reason we celebrate Independence Day in the summer…because that’s when the event happened that they were celebrating.
“The Dedication”; or more precisely, the Re-Dedication of the temple, which was the center of their life and faith and social interaction there in Jerusalem.
If a community could have a physical heart; the Temple would have been it for the Jewish people in Jerusalem.
And so it makes sense, doesn’t it, that they would celebrate the dedication of this facility to the Most-High God, right?
And so, they would hold the Festival of the Dedication…or we might be more familiar with it’s present-day manifestation; Hanukkah.
The Festival of Lights-an eight day celebration of Jewish faith and life.
So, why is it, that this detail is here in John, about Jesus walking in the temple at this particular time…during this particular festival?
Why is it important that Jesus was walking in the portico of Solomon (or “Solomon’s Porch”), when the Jews came to him and asked him what they did?
Well, it all starts with Alexander the Great. Have you heard of him?
You might know that during his 33 years of life he built an enormous empire.
And after he died, it was divided into smaller segments, each one ruled by one of his generals.
And as we might expect, these generals fought among themselves, each one wanting more land, more power, more wealth…whatever it might be, so that eventually the empire was fractured.
One of his commanders, a guy named Seleucus, had a section of the empire under his control, and developed a dynasty of his own.
So, back in the day, if you started a dynasty, you would probably take on a different name. You’d pick something you’d want to be known for, or something that’s meaningful to you; something worthy of being passed down from one generation to another.
It might be kind of like how the Pope takes on a different name when they become pope.
It signals the importance of the event, as well as the change in that person’s identity…and it allows the person to choose, in a way, the characteristics they want people to think of when they hear their new name.
For example, the newest Pope is a fan of Saint Francis, the servant of the poor and the lover of nature.
Those things are pretty good things to draw attention to by choosing a name.
Well, in the Seleucid dynasty, the rulers gave themselves the title “Antiochus” which means something like “opposed” or “stubborn” or “Resistor”.
They also liked to add a second name, to identify the individual, and how they would like to be remembered or thought of.
For example, the dynasty started with Antiochus Soter…the stubborn savior.
Then the line went to Antiochus Theos…Theos is Greek for God, as in Theology.
Stubborn God…that’s a title worthy of a king, right?
The third Antiochus was Antiochus the Great…a little more generic, but in light of the accomplishments of Alexander the Great, it was still a pretty high claim, right?
Our story stems from the fourth Antiochus of the Seleucid dynasty.
Antiochus Epiphanes; Antiochus…The stubborn one who is the Manifest God!
Now, what Antiochus Epiphanes is best known for, is severely persecuting the Jewish people. He was concerned with cementing his power, as all kings are, and decided that to do that, he needed all the people living in his domain, to subscribe to the same political and religious agenda.
His subjects needed to be Greek in thought, Greek in worship, Greek in body, mind, and soul, so to speak.
Jerusalem posed a problem to this agenda, because the Jews could be just as stubborn as their king.
So he basically he went into Jerusalem, killed all the men and enslaved the women and children, and then he issued a decree that everyone needs to be one in religion, law, and custom…all Greek.
This didn’t go over real well. Some Jews refused to obey this edict.
So Antiochus, the manifest god marched into Jerusalem again, he sacrificed a pig on the holy altar in the temple to defile it, and erected a statue either of Zeus or of himself (it’s not entirely clear, because he thought of himself as a Greek god) within it.
This act is known as the desecration of the temple.
It was a way of ripping out the cultural heart of this people.
So where does this fit into Today’s scripture, right?
A guy named Judas Maccabeus was one of the leaders of the resistance.
Maccabeus sounds like a word for “hammer” or “sledge”, so we could call him Judas the Hammer. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
And one of the things he did was reclaim Jerusalem from Antiochus Epiphanes, and remove the statue from the temple. They reclaimed a little bit of their identity from their oppressor, and they were able to start using it again for worship.
Hence, the beginning of the festival of the dedication…the precursor to Hanukkah.
It’s kind of like a religious fourth of July.
So it’s no small detail that when John writes this passage, he opens by setting the stage…it was the feast of the dedication, it was in Jerusalem, it was in the winter, and Jesus was at the temple.
Once again, a foreign oppressor was in control of the beloved city, once again the time was right for a resistance; a revolution was underfoot…and all the Jews needed was another Judas Maccabeus.
Can you see what the people were getting at when they ask him if he is the Messiah? When they tell him to stop keeping them in suspense?
-This has been an eventful week to say the least. You could pick the tragedy that affected you most personally this week; the Marathon bombings, the ensuing manhunt, the explosion in Texas, the poison sent through the mail.
You don’t need a long memory to remember when things were better, right?
Can you remember when things were better?
Maybe when your guy was in office, or back when your team was doing well?
Do you remember back when you had a pastor you really liked, or a job that gave you more money, or status, or power? Weren’t things better then?
Back before terrorists flew planes into buildings; back when a Marathon was just a Marathon and we could fly without taking off our shoes?
Weren’t things better back then, when nobody had to check their mail for poison, when the weather was calmer, and when the world didn’t seem quite so broken?
We can often think we’re the first ones asking those questions; remembering those times; back when things were better.
But in reality, those questions are merely echoes.
This is the conversation they were wanting to pull Jesus into…and it’s exactly the conversation we’re still intent on having. We want proof that Jesus really is who we think He is.
We want a messiah; and we want one on OUR terms, right?
We want a messiah who will prove us right and conquer our enemies.
But Jesus’ response is so classicly Jesus. He doesn’t take on their anxiety, or their agenda.
He simply tells them what they already know. “The problem isn’t that I haven’t been showing you who I am,” He says.
“The problem is you don’t believe in this kind of Messiah…the kind who will die for his enemies rather than kill them.”
“I know who I am, and nothing and nobody is going to change that or take that away,” Jesus says.
I know who I am…
Who do you think you are?
Every day we are given the opportunity to choose our identity, and who we will become.
Every day the world will clamour for our attention, begging us to get swept up in the cycle of anxious fear because of this threat or that violence and all the noise that surrounds us.
But we always have a choice; to live into the reality that we’ve been telling ourselves-that things were so much better back then…that the world is so messed up now, and that it could be so much better again if we just had that Messiah we’ve been looking for?
Or will we trust the Father and the Son, living into the reality that our lives are eternal, that nobody in the world will snatch us from the loving hand of God our Father, though the winds may blow and the brokenness of this world cannot be kept at bay; we are still beloved children of the Most High God…
This has been a pretty horrific week for our country.
And the temptation, for many of us, is to consume too much of the news.
I do think you can tune in to this stuff too much, to the point where it overwhelms you with grief and you begin to live in fear and trepidation.
But that’s not what we’re called to.
I’m not saying to ignore the news, and I’m not suggesting we stick our heads in the sand.
But I’d like to challenge all of us to keep the world and our place in it in perspective.
We bear the Christ-light. We carry candles of hope in a windy world. So it’s important to guard our flames, to pay attention to these lights that we carry.
For I’ve been reminded this week that the world can be a very dark place, broken, and full of evil.
But the light will always overcome the darkness. That’s what it means to have a resurrection faith, you know? There is evil, and there is also good by the grace of God. Choose the good. Choose to live your life by the power of the Holy Spirit, who enables you to recognize the good shepherd’s voice. Contribute your light to the world and do not shy from sharing your hope; that the love of God is a mighty strong rock upon which to build our lives and our hope.