Sample Sermon: 1 Maccabees 4:36-56 and John 10:22-30 (Easter 4C)

To go the first article in this series, click here.


This is a “sample sermon” on preaching from the Apocrypha (Anagignoskomena/Deuterocanon), which is in a presentation I will lead for a pastoral circuit conference.  This sermon is more didactic than usual because the average listener is clueless as to how the Feast of Dedication ties in with what Jesus is doing in John Chapter 10.  This sermon ties both events together well, so the hearer can understand Jesus’ words in historical context in light of the full Old Testament.

Today, we are following Jesus.  As we walk behind Him, we see that He has made His way to the Temple to celebrate a festival.  But this festival is different.  For it is not a festival that God had set up for His people, but one that His people started in response for what God had done for them.

And so we must learn the story of the Feast of Dedication, of reconsecration of the Temple, of what will later become for Jews, Hanukkah.  But today, we learn of the real Hanukkah, the Hanukkah began in the 2nd century before Christ.

We find ourselves going back to the 167 BC.  Then, Antiochus IV was the occupier of Israel.  He didn’t care much for Israel’s worship of Yahweh, and so he turned the Jerusalem Temple into a shrine for Zeus.  And to throw gasoline on the fire, Antiochus IV insisted that others called him Antiochus Epiphanes: the manifestation of God.

While all this going on, a Jewish resistance leader arose, named Judah Maccabees.  He arose at a time, not only when hatred toward foreign rule was growing, but internal dissensions within Israel were deepening.

On one side there were those who took God’s Law seriously.  They called themselves Chasidim, “the holy ones.”  But the Chasidim also added traditions and observances of their Jewish ancestors to God’s Law and claimed an even deeper holiness beyond the Old Testament’s Ceremonial Law.  Yet, the Chasidim properly believed in life after death, in heaven and hell, in the body’s resurrection, in angels and spirits, and in all the Scripture of the Old Testament.

It was from the Chasidim that Judah Maccabees got his support.  They became most of his army of resistance fighters.  (The descendants of this movement also became the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.)

The other great division called themselves Zadikim, “the righteous ones.”  They believed in the Law of Moses, accepted the prophets, but denied many traditions the Chasidim held so dearly.  The Zadikim did not believe in life after death, a resurrection, angels or spirits, and held that only the five books of Moses were Scripture.  They believed this life was heaven or hell depending on how one lived it.

The Zadikim would later become bitter foes of the Pharisees.  They would make up most of the judges and priests in Jesus’ day.  And if it looks to you as if the Zadikim are a bit like the Sadducees, you are right.  For it is the Zadikim from which the Sadducees descended.

At first, Judah Maccabees and his followers focused their efforts against the Zadakim.  And Judah was successful, so successful that the persecuted Zadakim sought outside help.  The Zadakim, the forerunners of the Sadducees, appealed to the Syria for help.  And Syria responded, giving the people more war than they wanted.

At first, Syrian forces hastily went in with an ill-equipped force to destroy Judah Maccabees and his movement.  The Syrians underestimated the tactical skills of Judah and the fighting prowess of his men.  By the battle’s end, Judah had captured and killed the governor of Syria.

A couple of more attacks against Judah took place all orchestrated by Antiochus Epiphanes.  But each attack from this General, who claimed to be God, and his underlings failed.  And after each failure, the followers of Judah grew more in number and in zeal, until his following became a ten-thousand man army of crack, disciplined troops.

Finally, Antiochus sent in a force to defeat the Israelites for good.  He was tired of that pestering little country and wanted the problem of Israel to go away.  So he gathered an army of 60,000 men and 5,000 cavalry.  With these, he began his land campaign against Judea from the south.

With a force of only 10,000, Judah met the Syrian army.  Syria should have soundly defeated Israel with such numerical superiority.  But instead of a crushing defeat, Judah and his army were the victors.  And with the victory, Judah Maccabees controlled all of Judea and Israel was once again in independent nation.

In great joy, Judah and his army entered Jerusalem, surrounded the powerful garrison fortress called the Citadel, and cleansed the temple.  They found weeds and shrubs growing in the Temple courtyards, the priests’ quarters destroyed, and the entire Temple area profaned.  After cleansing the area, they rebuilt the Altar of Burnt Offering, replaced the sacred vessels from their war spoils, and consecrated priests.  An eight-day feast of dedication or reconsecration was held on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month of Chislev in 164 BC.  Today, for Jews, this celebration has changed into something called “Hanukkah,” a celebration so different from the original Feast of Dedication.

Now, we find ourselves almost 200 years later in the Temple with Jesus, celebrating the Feast of Dedication, remembering the great victory.  We remember with joy how the imposter who claimed to be God–Antiochus Epiphanes–was put in his place.  God had brought His people to victory even during a time when He provided no prophets to speak to His people.  We remember also when the Most Holy Place was restored, consecrated, and set apart, so God would continue to bring His forgiveness to His people through His mandated sacrifices.

Yes, the Feast of Dedication was a jubilant celebration: it remembered the defeat of wrong, the defeat of one who claimed to be God.  It also remembered the victory of right, the victory where God pointed His people again to His sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins.

It was within the backdrop of what the Feast of Dedication brought to mind that Israelites then asked Jesus if He was the Messiah.  Jesus said, “I did tell you, but you won’t believe.”  Jesus then continued His conversation until its climax where He said: “The Father and I are one.”

Jesus just said that He was God right in the middle of the Feast of Dedication.  Those who believed understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah.  Those who did not, boiled over in anger: here’s this man claiming to be God just like Antiochus Epiphanes.  He should now be in the grave just like Antiochus Epiphanes.  And so they picked up rocks to stone Jesus.

They knew exactly that Jesus called Himself God.  In anger they responded, “We aren’t stoning you for good work, but for blasphemy, because You–being a man–make Yourself God.”

So there Jesus is, saying He is God.  How was it supposed to be understood?  In this way: Yes, Antiochus Epiphanes was nothing but a fraud who claimed to be God, but here before you is God in the flesh–Jesus the Messiah.  That was what they were meant to learn and take in.  Jesus is the real deal.

Sadly, most responded in unbelief and not from faith.  Most believed that Jesus was a phony just like Antiochus Epiphanes.  They missed the teaching moment of the Feast of Dedication that Jesus used to point to His divinity–just like we do, since we’ve largely lost books like 1st Maccabees from our Old Testament.

But Jesus still had more to teach.  He takes the accusations against Him of blasphemy, during the Feast of Dedication, and asks the crowd, “Do you say [to Me], ‘You are blaspheming’ to the One the Father set apart and consecrated?”

Right in the middle of a festival where the people remembered the Most Holy Place being reconsecrated, Jesus says He is consecrated and set apart by the Father just like the Most Holy Place and just like the Temple.  Jesus used the same language as for setting apart an altar and consecrating it as holy.  Are you beginning to get the picture?

Yes, even the Temple pointed to Jesus.  He said as much earlier in St. John’s Gospel.  Referring to Himself, Jesus said, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days” (John 2:19).  And so in the middle of the Feast of Dedication, Jesus uses the festival to show that He outstrips and fulfills the Feast of Dedication.  Yes, even an Old Testament feast started in the time of the Apocrypha points forward to Jesus.

Suddenly, by faith, it is all clear.  God the Father has already consecrated Jesus to be THE sacrifice.  He fulfills what the Feast of Dedication foreshadowed.

The Feast of Dedication remembers the altars rebuilt and rededicated to be set apart to bring God’s people God’s forgiveness.  But that forgiveness would soon come in THE Sacrifice by the One whom God the Father set apart and consecrated for that purpose.

That forgiveness would come by Jesus Christ and His death to pay for our wrongdoings.  And that is what Jesus still gives today.  For Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!  Amen.