Jesus and Hanukkah: From Stone to Throne

Delivered December 20, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
John 10:31-39
31 Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him,
32 but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the
Father. For which of these do you stone me?"
33 "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for
blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’
35 If he called them `gods,’ to whom the word of God came–and the Scripture
cannot be broken–
36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into
the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am
God’s Son’?
37 Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.
38 But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you
may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."
39 Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

What a Hanukkah week this has been! Almost dazzling with history unfolding daily if not hourly. The presidency — not to mention the lives of American servicemen and Iraq citizens – hanging in the balance. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Bill Clinton. Saddam Hussein. Bob Livingston. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” or launch the first cruise missile. “There is none righteous no not one” says the Bible and that means you and me. These events of Hanukkah week can remind us of the real reason for Christmas, that God came personally in Jesus Christ to rescue us and to save you and me from our sin, and to save you and me from ourselves. The events of Hanukkah week past find our President being impeached, Saddam Hussein probably on the receiving end of another load of smart bombs as soon as Ramadan ends, and Jesus facing a vigilante execution squad who want to stone Him to death.

Last week we left off at John 10:30 where Jesus said “I and the Father are one?” Now I invite you to turn with me, for the rest of the story, to John 10 as we pick up at verse thirty-one and we catch the latest opinion poll on the people’s reaction to that statement. John 10 beginning to read at the thirty-first verse. This is the Word of God:

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came–and the Scripture cannot be broken– what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

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.

Hanukkah was not all light and menorahs for Jesus, it was all about dodging a death sentence. The Bible makes clear that the worst, most awful sin that human beings can commit is the sin of idolatry – where we confuse the creation with the Creator. The zenith of idolatry would be to confuse yourself with God. The Jews come after Jesus for making the statement “I and the Father are one,” and Jesus asks them in verse thirty-two to clarify the charges against Him before they deliver a barrage of rocks. They say “Sure we’ll do that, the charge is blasphemy, because you being a mere man claim to be God.” Did Jesus claim to be God – did He? That is the question on that Hanukkah day nearly two-thousand years ago. That is the question before us here five days before Christmas 1998. In fact, that is the Christmas question. Is Jesus God? Christmas makes the mind-boggling claim that lying in that manger is not some run-of-the-mill baby; but no less than God Himself in the flesh. Jesus is God and that is the only basis on which you and I can rightly celebrate Christmas. But is He God? If not then Bethlehem is just one more small town, backwater birth. Yeah, it might be the birth of a real swell guy, but certainly no one to base your life and your death around. It is sadly funny that some of Jesus’ liberal defenders today – people like those who are a part of the “Jesus Seminar” – go to great lengths to say “No, no. Jesus never claimed to be God.” While Jesus staunchest enemies – like some of the folks that we meet in the text before us today — go to great lengths to say “Yes that is exactly what He was claiming to be.” Is Jesus God?

This is one time that you and I need to side with Jesus’ enemies. They got it right this time because Jesus unabashedly claimed to be God – right here in our text – and this is not an isolated instance. Many times Jesus claimed to have transcendence over the Mosaic Law. He said that He was preexistent. He said that prayers made in His name would be answered. He said that He had all power over the realm of death. He claimed that His teaching had absolute authority. He said that He had the power to forgive sins and grant eternal life. When Nathaniel and Peter made their confession that He was the Son Of God He gladly accepted that. And He did not refuse Thomas’s worship when Thomas fell before Him and said “My Lord and my God.” Jesus claimed to be God and there is no doubt about it in Scripture. But was He? How can we be sure?

Before the first rock is launched at Him, Jesus makes a biblical defense of His claims and He quotes Psalm 82:6. Jerry read that Psalm, one that we don’t read very much. It is a Psalm of Asaph. In that Psalm, Asaph points out that the Jewish judges and magistrates are corrupt because they are not providing justice for the poor and the weak and the oppressed and Asaph refers to these judges and magistrates as gods (small g). So Jesus points to this verse in scripture as a warrant for referring to human beings as being gods without necessarily being blasphemous. What is Jesus doing here? Is He backing away from His unique claims to deity? Not at all, not at all. What Asaph is saying when he refers to Jewish magistrates and judges as “gods” is that they are men and women who have been given the God-like task of serving as God’s judges over the people of Israel. In Exodus 7:1 Moses himself is referred to as a “god” as God takes him and sets him apart and says “You are going to be my mouthpiece Moses to the people of Israel.” In fact you and me, when we are chosen by God and set apart to be His ambassadors it is not totally out in left field to say that we are kind of God-like in the tasks that the Lord has put before us. The Lord sometimes chooses to speak through us and touches other people’s lives through us.

Now it is one thing to look at human beings in that light and it is a whole other thing to claim to be God, the almighty God, the maker of heaven and earth, which is what Jesus does. But the question is: was He really? And if so, what kind of evidence do we have to back that up? Christmas hinges on whether Jesus really was God or not. There are all kinds of people in the Bible that produced miracles, but you can look from Genesis to Revelation and none of them ever claimed to be God. There are all kinds of people throughout Jewish history who have claimed to be the Messiah, but were unable to perform miracles. But along comes Jesus and He is able to do both. Jesus backs up His claims with action and what Jesus does by citing Psalm 82:6 is to remind the Jews that they have violated a key theological principle, and it is one that you and I violate to our own peril. The principle is this: that you cannot separate who Jesus is from what Jesus does. You can’t separate His words from His actions. In Psalm 82:6 Jesus interprets that verse using a very common rabbinical teaching devise: arguing from the lesser to the greater. What He says by quoting Psalm 82:6 is this “Hey permission has been given to call unholy, unjust judges ‘gods’. Then how much more the one person whom God has chosen as His own and sent into the world,” meaning of course Himself. All kinds of people have claimed to be God but they can’t back it up with miracles. Others have produced miracles but they have never claimed to be God. Jesus says “I am God and I can back it up with what I’ve done.” Jump back to verse thirty-two. Notice that Jesus, when He asks them what the charges are, He says “Which of these miracles, which of the things I did are you going to stone me for?” What the Jews have done is they’ve compartmentalized. In their spiritual blindness they have compartmentalized who Jesus is from what He does; what He says from those miracles, and so they try to nail Him for His words totally overlooking His actions.

A lot of people have said that President Clinton is being impeached due to mere semantics. I believe that Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 because He wants semantics to be not at all a part of what He is up against. Basically he is saying “If you’re going to stone me don’t stone me over what I’ve said, stone me over what I’ve done, because what I’ve done backs up who I say that I am.”

Is Christmas just one more fuzzy sentimental holiday that rolls around every year or is it the hinge point of human history? Scripture says the latter, Jesus says the latter and even our calendars cry out to us that it is the latter. When you and I talk about Y2K we are talking about 2000 years after the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Is Christmas just another excuse to have a party and decorate our houses, or is it all about the arrival on earth of the God-man? Is it all about lights and presents and Christmas trees and being with family or is it about the fact that God has done something cosmic that has changed your eternal destiny and mine?

Christmas is really all about God’s cross purposes with humanity because in our sinfulness – and I don’t care if it is the people of Iraq or us as Americans – we are all mired in the same boat. Christmas is all about God coming. In the life and death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ something has happened and something has changed. Some grip has been broken over your life and mine because Christmas is all about Jesus reigning from a throne. Ironically not from a throne that we usually think about but the only throne He ever reigned from here on this earth which is a cross.

The Jews got it all backwards. As they were trying to convict Jesus of blasphemy. They said “Here you are, Jesus, a mere man claiming to be God.” By doing that they turned Christmas on its head, because the incarnation is all about Almighty God becoming man without becoming unlike Himself as God. A God who enters this world and is willing to risk even being stoned so that you and I might be set free from eternal death. That is what the cross is all about. So the Hanukkah lights cast a shadow over Christmas: the shadow of a cross.

In verse thirty-nine they still want to kill Jesus. It says they tried to seize Him again and Christ escapes. In verse thirty-eight once again He has reiterated His claim “The Father is in Me and I in the Father” which is another way of saying “I am God”. They want to nail Him with stones but somehow (it doesn’t tell us how) He escapes. Think about it. It’s a good thing He did, because if He didn’t we would be wearing rocks around our necks rather than crosses. He escapes, but not for long. It won’t be long till He is seated on His throne – spread eagle with His arms outstretched. If your are a fool enough for Christ to believe that in the manger is God, then you know that hanging on that cross was also God. If God was hanging on that cross then that also means that you and I have been set free to exercise our god-like privilege of eternal life. But if Jesus wasn’t God — well, you and I have been left in one heck of a lurch, and Christmas is nothing but a farce about the birth of the greatest blasphemer in all of human history. But I’ll tell you this: Jesus was who He said He was, and He is who He says He is, and He has accomplished for you and me what we could not do for ourselves. He has given you and me a gift that none of us could earn enough money to purchase for ourselves or each other. Jesus reigns from another throne now and He has set you and me free for eternal life. My friends, that is the only way and the only reason that you and I can truly say to each other “Merry, Merry Christmas.”

Join me as we pray:
Lord God, we thank you that you did something that blows our minds. We can’t understand how you could take on human flesh but we know that you did it. We thank you that you have changed our hearts. And Lord, give us this Christmas an ever deepening gift of faith that we might truly believe your sovereignty and trust your providence and know your presence and your peace and your power unleashed in our lives. Lord, draw us ever closer into that personal relationship with Christ that you offer so graciously to us this day and every day and may we walk straight into your arms and into eternal life for your glory and for the sake of the God-man Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen.