Jesus and Hanukkah: From Cradle to Dreidel

Delivered December 13, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
John 10:22-30
22 Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter,
23 and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.
24 The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in
suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
25 Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I
do in my Father’s name speak for me,
26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can
snatch them out of my hand.
29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one
can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.
30 I and the Father are one."

Tomorrow begins Hanukkah, that eight day festival, and our Jewish brothers and sisters will be lighting another candle on the Menorah every day, and they will be exchanging gifts. They will greet us with Happy Hanukkah; should we return the greeting? Should Christians have anything to do with the festival of Hanukkah? Should we care that in 164 B.C. the tyrannical Syrian despot Antiochus Epiphanes destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, but not after totally desecrating it by sacrificing pigs on the altar? Should we care that he looted the temple treasury, and made it a capital offense to circumcise a child or to own a copy of the Torah? Women that circumcised their little boys were crucified, with the infants hung around their necks.

Hanukkah recalls that great military victory by the Hebrew warrior Judas Maccabeus and then the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. Now to rededicate and cleanse the temple took eight days, but they found that they only had enough oil in the temple lamp for one day, and interestingly enough, as Judas Maccabeus begins to rededicate the temple in 165 BC it was the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which would correspond to December 25th. Only enough oil for one day – but miraculously the temple lamp burns for eight days, and so Hanukkah is sometimes known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication.

Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah? Perhaps it is very appropriate on this third Sunday in Advent, on this day before Hanukkah begins that you and I are about to sit under the one text in the Bible where Hanukkah is mentioned – The Feast of Dedication. And we are going to find Jesus in Jerusalem, on Hanukkah, at the temple — so you figure it out!

Turn with me now and keep your Bibles open during the sermon because we are going to be referring back to the text, turn with me to the 10th chapter of John’s gospel as we begin to read at the 22nd verse. John 10:22-30.

This is the Word of the God:
Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Join me as we pray: And now, Father, as my words are true to Your Word, may they be taken to heart; but as my words should stray from Your Word, may they be quickly forgotten, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Like a sheep surrounded by a ravenous pack of wolves, Jesus finds Himself in Solomon’s Colonnade next to the temple on a Hanukkah day nearly 2,000 years ago. Cornered like a sheep, except He is not a sheep He is the Shepherd. But it doesn’t seem to make any difference to that pack of wolves because they ambush Him. There in Solomon’s Colonnade that cloistered walkway that runs the entire length on the east side of the temple, along the court of the Gentiles, 45 feet wide lined by 30 foot high columns — Jesus is cornered and ambushed. Like Custer at Little Bighorn He finds himself outnumbered, and surrounded, and the stakes are no less – life and death.

Nobody likes to be left hanging in suspense. You and I enjoy suspense and we enjoy intrigue up to a point. That is why murder mysteries are so popular. That is why the remake of Psycho is packing them in. We love suspense and we enjoy intrigue up to a point, then we want resolution. So the murder mystery eventually tells you who done it. After awhile you find out who Norman Bates’s mother really is. When that happens you and I have what we can call an Ahaaaa! experience. We crave Ahaaaa! experiences but when we are left hanging in suspense and we don’t have that Ahaaaa! we don’t like that.

That pack of wolves that has surrounded Jesus in Solomon’s Colonnade are dying of suspense and it all boils over in verse 24 of our text when they nail Jesus between the eyes with a plea. Look – tell us if you are the Messiah. Spell it out, tell us clearly and that is a plea that begs a question Are you the Messiah? A question that has left every good Jew from the first century down to today hanging in suspense. In fact every good Jew – that is the question that they have got to resolve and Toby Michaelson was no exception.

My dear friend and partner in youth ministry, Toby was born a Jew and he grew up celebrating Hanukkah not Christmas. Toby arrived at a point in his life where he told me Ron, I got tired of hanging in suspense and I knew that I needed to resolve the question of Jesus. Growing up in a pseudo Christian culture you hear about Jesus all the time, Ron, and so we Jews have to come to some kind of decision one way or the other as to who this guy is. So for Toby it meant, when he was in college at The University Of Texas, going into the library and checking out every book that he could find on Jesus and then holding up in his apartment by himself and for three days he read and he read and he read. At the end of the weekend Toby emerged from his apartment a believer. He went on to be a Youth For Christ leader in San Antonio and led dozens and dozens of kids to the Lord. Toby and I established a ministry to a particular high school in that city that continues to this very day even though Toby and I are no longer a part of it. I went off to Baltimore and Toby went off to something far greater – to be with the Lord – dying of a brain tumor about six years ago; but Toby Michaelson did not die in suspense. He died with such a security, an eternal security, a security that comes only when the lamb is held in the arms of the Shepherd – Happy Hanukkah, Toby, and Merry Christmas my brother.

In verse 25 of our text Jesus addresses the Jews suspense head on. He says I’ve told you who I am but you don’t believe me. In fact I don’t just talk about it I have backed up who I am with miracles. You see anybody can talk – anybody can claim to be anything. Stuart Berger for many years was a health writer with The New York Post. In fact he was the author of many diet and health books. Books such as Forever Young, Twenty Years Off Your Life In Twenty Weeks and Dr. Berger’s Immune Power Diet. In all of those books he claimed that you could add longevity to your life if you followed his regimen. Which led to quite a shock for many of his readers when he died back in 1994 at age 40 and weighing 365 pounds. When Dr. Berger died his credibility died with him.

With Jesus it is just the opposite. Jesus established His credibility. He did things miraculous things that only the Messiah could do and when Jesus died, His credibility didn’t die – it became incredibly more credible. So why – why there in the Colonnade of Solomon, nearly 2,000 years ago, why did those hanging-in-suspense-Jews not embrace Him as their Messiah? For the same reason that Jews and Gentiles, you and me, don’t or didn’t. They were not sheep – at least not yet. They didn’t belong to the Shepherd – at least not yet.

Look at verses 26 and 27 of your text. Jesus says you can’t hear His voice, you can’t understand who He is until you are His sheep, until you are turned from a wolf into a sheep. It is sort of like Jesus leads his flock not with a crook and not with a staff but with a silent sheep whistle that only the sheep can hear. He says You can’t hear my voice unless you’re one of my sheep. That is why back then in Solomon’s Colonnade or tomorrow on the first day of Hanukkah, no matter who the person is no matter how well they present it, the gospel cannot be heard by anyone until the Shepherd tunes their ear to His voice; until He unstops their ears and until the Lord lifts the veil and they are able to see who Jesus really is.

For this Gentile wolf it happened when I was 10 years old at a Billy Graham Crusade. For a Jew named Toby Michaelson it happened in the midst of a stack of books when he was 20 years old. How about you? When was it, where was it that you heard the Shepherd’s voice for the very first time? Or have you heard? It’s not leaving me in suspense, but the suspense could kill you; not just in this life, but eternally. So listen – it makes all the difference in the world as to whether you hear the Shepherd’s voice or not. Whether or not you hear His voice has great eternal consequences. And if you never hear His voice that has great eternal consequences as well. But we are not going to talk about roast wolves this morning. We are going to finish up here this morning by seeing what great benefits there are to being a sheep in Jesus’s fold. Only God makes sheep. You can’t make yourself into one but we can leave ourselves open and pray that God will turn us into sheep. When He does, there are some marvelous benefits.

In fact, in the text before us are some of the most spectacularly precious mind-blowing promises in all of scripture that deal with eternal security. In fact the promises that we are going to look at in just a minute — and there are four of them in verses 28 and 29 if you can hear these promises and embrace them and store them in your heart and live out of them they will move you and me from suspense to security when it comes to eternal matters of life and death. They are promises that are so incredible that they can only become credible through the miraculous life, death and resurrection of the Messiah – Jesus Christ. Let’s look at these four promises.

The first one we find in verse 28 when Jesus says that He promises His sheep eternal life. The Greek word for eternal is ioneon, which picks up the concept not just of a life that never ends but that goes on and on and on forever – (There are probably some of you sitting here this morning saying If that’s what eternal life is, just like this life going on and on you know I don’t want any part of it. ) – but also refers to a quality of life. A depth of quality of life. Eternal life doesn’t begin when you die. It begins when you become a sheep: when God regenerates your heart and turns you into a follower of Jesus Christ. And the quality side of that has nothing to do with you but it has everything to do with the fact that you begin to live out of a relationship with Jesus Christ – that’s where the quality is. It is quantitative too, a life that never ends. Jesus says My sheep will never perish. Oh yeah, you and I will die in this life unless Christ returns before hand, and I pray to God that He does, but we are probably going to die. But remember John 3:16? For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Will not perish! That is why a few weeks ago when we celebrated Jonathan Edwards’ memorial service here we could stand and say and know that it is true that he is more alive now than we ever knew him in this veil of tears here on earth. Will not perish! That means that for anyone who dies in the Lord hell drops completely out of the picture as any sort of possibility for any believer – eternal life in Christ.

Look at the end of verse 28, where Christ gives us a second precious promise. He says No one can snatch my sheep from my hand. Do you have any idea if you are a Christian, if you’ve given your life to Christ of how secure you are in terms of eternal life?

Last night Ricky Williams, from The University Of Texas, won the Heisman Trophy. Man, he’s a good ball carrier! The Heisman Trophy says that he is the best collegiate football player in America. And if you’ve ever seen Ricky Williams carry the ball it is quite a treat. But do you know what? As good as he really is, every once in awhile Ricky Williams fumbles. Jesus never fumbles! Julia Child drops a dish once in awhile. Nothing slips through Christ’s fingers! Do you see the promise here? Your eternal life does not depend on how you and I are able to hold on to Christ. It has everything to do with Christ’s infinite, omnipotent ability to hold on to you and me. Oh yeah – we might stray out of the pasture, sheep do that. But Christ never lets us go and He still has His hand on us and He still draws us back. The hope of eternal life and eternal salvation for you and me is not based in our ability, by faith or anything else, to cling to Christ. It is solely based on His ability in grace to cling to you and me. So you see we are not only saved by grace, we are kept by grace.

There is a third promise in verse 29 and it ought to do a number on our self- esteem. Basically it says God is the greatest and then you and me are God’s greatest gift to His son Jesus Christ. That is what verse 29 is saying. God makes sheep by regenerating hearts and by giving people faith in Christ, and then Jesus says there in the first part of verse 29 The Father gives those sheep to His Son. You are God the Father’s gift to Jesus! So, do you ever wonder what Christ gets for Christmas? Do you wonder what Christ finds under the tree on Christmas morning? He finds you and you and you and you and me! And the mind-blowing thing is: Christ does not say Oh, Dad, I was hoping for a bike! And the only reason He doesn’t say that is because of grace. It is sheer grace that Jesus actually prefers you and me over a bike or even over a fruit cake – sheer, sheer grace.

On that first Christmas God’s greatest gift to you and me was His Son Jesus. And every Christmas after that, God the Father’s greatest gift to His Son is you and me. Think about it!

The fourth promise, there at the end of verse 29, is that you and I, when it comes to eternal life – eternal security, are doubly held . Jesus says The sheep are also held in the hands of the Father, and no one can snatch those sheep out of the Father’s hand. Paul drives it home in Romans 8:38-39 where he says I am convinced that nothing in all of creation – heights, depths, powers, principalities, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord. You and I are doubly held, in fact it is not going too far to say that we are triply held . It is not going too far out on a limb to say there is a third pair of hands involved – the hands of the Holy Spirit. Think about that. That is how secure you and I are in a relationship with Christ. We don’t arrive in eternal life by accident . When God has chosen you, made you his sheep, and regenerated your heart your eternal life has then been sealed. Praise be to God for His indescribable gift of life in Christ!

Jesus puts the final nail in the coffin in verse 30 His own coffin — when He makes a pretty audacious statement. He ends in our text in verse 30 by saying I and the Father are one. Hey – has He said it plainly enough for that pack of wolves that have surrounded Him? Is it clear? Is He making it clear that He is the Messiah, that He is God in the flesh? Is He spelling it out enough for them? Do they have any idea of what claim Christ is making here? You better believe it! So it all boils down to this. You and I hear these promises, we hear this claim and we either believe them and embrace them or let us do what we ought to do if we can’t do that. And that is call Jesus what He is, a liar and a fake and walk away. Those are really the only two options that are out there. You can surround Jesus or blow Him off all together, but the sheep come into His arms and He makes this claim – I and the Father are one and does that pack of wolves surrounding Him understand what He is saying? You better believe they do because you see Jesus’s life has taken Him from cradle to Dreidel and now because of this statement it is going to take Him to a cross but more about that next week when we pick up at verse 31.

Join me as we pray:
Father, we thank you that you are a God of sheer grace and that you are our Shepherd. That despite our short comings and no matter who we are and what we’ve done you have come and chosen us and elected us unconditionally and drawn us into your fold. O Lord, if there are any here this morning who don’t hear your voice prod their hearts and give them such an overwhelming burden of suspense that they must pursue you. And in your right time and in your right way O Lord, unstop their ears that they might hear your loving invitation to come home and to become really human and to live with you forever. For we ask this in Jesus’ name and for His sake – Amen.