1 Maccabees 4:36-51, John 10:22-33

I and the Father are OneToday, we are following Jesus.  We walk behind Him, and He makes His way to the Temple to celebrate a festival.  For us, it is spring; for Jesus, the season is now winter.  So, Jesus chooses to make His way to the Temple to celebrate a religious festival God never commanded for His people.

Why would Jesus do this, for He didn’t need to do so to fulfill the Law?  God never commanded this festival to be part of His people’s lives.  But Jesus still goes, doing all for our salvation.  He chooses to celebrate the Feast of Dedication, even going above and beyond what God’s Law commanded.

So, we must learn of the Feast of Dedication, to understand what Jesus is doing.  We find ourselves going back to the 167 BC.  The Greek-speaking Syrian general, Antiochus IV, occupies Israel.  He doesn’t care about Israel’s culture and religion, wanting to turn all the Israelites into cultural Greeks.

Antiochus turns the Jerusalem Temple into a shrine for the Greek god, Zeus.  He sacrifices a pig on the altar to show he is the boss.  And if you think it couldn’t get any worse, he even insists that others call him Antiochus Epiphanes, which means “Antiochus, God revealed.”

When this was going on, a Jewish resistance leader arose, named Judah Maccabeus. He lived when hatred toward foreign rule grew and festered within the people—but a time when internal divisions also grew and deepened among God’s people.

Two sides formed around their understanding of Scripture.  One group tried to hold God’s Law above all else.  They called themselves “the holy ones,” Chasidim.  To make sure they didn’t violate the Law, they started traditions, demanding a greater, visible holiness, beyond what even God expected in His ceremonial Law.

Of course, the Chasidim were right in some areas.  They believed in life after death, in heaven and hell, in the body’s resurrection, and in angels and spirits.  The Chasidim supported Judah Maccabeus.  They became his army of resistance fighters.

The descendants of the Chasidim became the Pharisees.  For them, the Septuagint, the Greek-language Old Testament, was Scripture, including our Old-Testament reading from 1 Maccabees, as it was also for Jesus and His disciples.

The other group went by the name Zaddikim, “the righteous ones.”  The Law of Moses was the center of their lives, but not much else.  They denied many teachings of the Chasidim.  They didn’t believe in eternal life, the resurrection, or angels and spirits.  For them, only the five books of Moses were Scripture.

The Zaddikim become bitter foes of the Chasidim.  Later, they will become most of the judges and priests in Jesus’ day.  You might think they sound like the Sadducees; if so, you’re right.  For the they are the theological ancestors of the Sadducees.

At first, Judah Maccabeus wanted to rid himself of his opponents among the Israelites.  So, he focused his efforts against the Zaddikim.  He succeeded—perhaps, too much.  For the Zaddikim suffered many losses and sought outside help.  They asked Syria to come and save them.  So, Syria responded, giving more war than the people wanted!

Syrian forces rushed in, but they came in under-equipped to destroy Judah Maccabeus and his followers.  The Syrians underestimated the tactical skills of Judah and the fighting valor 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.  Each attack, however, from this General, who claimed to be God, failed.  Following each failure of Antiochus, the followers of Judah grew more in number and zeal.  Soon his army became a 10,000-strong force of hardened, disciplined troops.

Frustrated, Antiochus sent an army to conquer the Israelites for good.  He grew tired of that pestering, tiny nation and wanted the problem to go away.  So, he gathered an army of 60,000 soldiers and 5,000 horsemen.  With these, he began his land campaign against them from the south.

With a force of only 10,000 soldiers, Judah met the Syrian army.  With such superior numbers, Syria should have sneezed Israel into defeat.  But Judah and his army remained, undaunted.  They triumphed, and with the victory, Judah Maccabeus now controlled the land.  Israel again became an independent nation.

Judah and his army enter Jerusalem in jubilation.  They surround the garrison fortress called “The Citadel” to cleanse the Temple.  They find weeds and shrubs growing in the courtyards, the priests’ quarters in ruins, and the entire Temple area in disarray.

After clearing the area, they rebuild the Altar of Burnt Offering, replace the sacred vessels from their war spoils, and consecrate priests.  They celebrate an eight-day feast of dedication, or re-consecration, on the 25th day of the ninth month of Chislev, in 164 BC.

Well, back to Jesus.  We now find ourselves almost 200 years later in the Temple.  Jesus is celebrating the Feast of Dedication, remembering Judah’s impressive victory.  We recall with joy how the imposter who claimed to be God—Antiochus Epiphanes—was put in his place.

We are reminded of the Holy of Holies being restored, consecrated, and set apart.  We rejoice, for God still brings His forgiveness to His people through His Old-Covenant sacrifices.  The Feast of Dedication is a joyous celebration, remembering the defeat of wrong, the overthrow of a tyrant, who claimed to be God.  It also recalls the victory of right, where God again pointed His people to where He gives them His forgiveness.

Within the backdrop of what the Feast of Dedication brought to mind, some Jews ask Jesus a question. “Are you the Messiah?”  His answer: “I did tell you, but you won’t believe.”  Jesus then moves to make His driving point: “The Father and I are one.”

Jesus calls God His “Father”!  Anger now burns in the belly of many a Jew, considering such words to be blasphemy.  To have God as Your Father means you are equal to God (John 5:18).  Earlier, their ears distressed over Jesus’ words: “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Itching hands then found their stones to injure Jesus (John 8:58-59).  Now, at the Feast of Dedication, Jesus doesn’t imply He’s divine.  He states it, so no one misunderstands Him: “The Father and I are one.”

Anger erupts!  Jesus claims to God during of the Feast of Dedication.  Those who believe, understand what Jesus means—He is the Messiah!  Those who don’t, explode in anger.  “Here’s this man claiming to be God like the pagan ruler, Antiochus, did.  This Jesus should be dead, just like Antiochus!”  Soon, rocks find themselves in willing hands, ready to harm Jesus.

They knew Jesus called Himself God.  Picking up rocks in anger, they lashed out.  “We aren’t stoning you for a good work, but for blasphemy, because You—being a man—make Yourself God.”

So, there Jesus is, saying He is God.  How should they understand His words?  In this way: Antiochus Epiphanes was nothing but a fraud, who claimed to be God—but I am before you, as God and Messiah.  That was what Jesus wanted them to learn and take in, for He IS the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Most responded in unbelief, not from faith.  Most believed Jesus was a phony, just as they thought of Antiochus Epiphanes.  They missed the teaching moment of the Feast of Dedication, which Jesus used to point to His divinity.  We do, as well.  For we don’t realize what Jesus was doing because we don’t know the story of Judah Maccabeus, having lost those books of the Bible when we transitioned from German to English.

But Jesus isn’t finished, for He still needs to teach the people.  He takes those accusations of blasphemy against Him and turns it back to them.  “Do you say [to Me], ‘You are blaspheming’ to the One whom the Father set apart and consecrated?”

The Feast of Dedication remembers the Holy of Holies being re-consecrated.  There, in such a setting, Jesus says He is set apart by the Father.  Jesus uses the same language used for setting apart an altar and dedicating it as holy.  He IS the prophesied fulfillment of the Temple’s Holy of Holies.  Do you understand the connection Jesus is making?

Yes, even the Temple points to Jesus.  He said as much earlier in St. John’s Gospel.  Referring to Himself, Jesus told them, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days” (John 2:19).  Jesus uses the Feast of Dedication to show that He surpasses and fulfills the feast He came to celebrate.  Yes, even a feast that God never commanded, started during the time of the Apocrypha, pointed forward to Jesus.

By faith, all becomes clear.  God the Father consecrates Jesus to be THE sacrifice.  He fulfills what the Feast of Dedication foreshadowed.  Jesus even goes above and beyond for our salvation, celebrating something God never commanded and even fulfilling it for our salvation!

The Feast of Dedication remembers the Temple altar, rebuilt and dedicated, set apart to bring God’s people His forgiveness.  But that forgiveness would soon come in THE Sacrifice by the One, whom God the Father set apart and consecrated for such a purpose—Jesus!

Unlike Antiochus IV, Jesus was and is God.  Like Judah Maccabeus, whom some thought to be the Messiah, Jesus will die for His people.  Jesus, the real Messiah, will die on the cross for His people’s freedom from sin.  He will die to give them, and us, new life.  Even more, He will rise from death, making it so.

Today, God gives us something much greater to celebrate than Judah Maccabeus purifying God’s Old-Covenant Temple.  We have a Feast of Dedication lasting our entire lives, an unending celebration of the Messiah, who still cleanses us by His holy blood.

So, come now to receive the purification our Lord gives to you this day—Jesus Himself in His body and blood.  Jesus sets a feast before you, which dedicates you, once more, to God the Father.  Amen.