Summary: If you have dedicated yourself the following Christ, to live as Jesus lived and do what Jesus did, he will never let you go. Remember, God is reaching down to us. When we reach back up and grasp his hand, he’s the one doing the holding.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Gospel reading today begins by mentioning the “Feast of the Dedication” which took place in Jerusalem. We don’t hear too much about the Feast of the Dedication. It’s also known as the Festival of Lights, or Hanukah.
In order to really understand the people of Jesus’ time, and their reaction to what Jesus said, we need to know some of the history of Hanukah.
Around the year 168 B.C., Israel’s history changed, and they gained their freedom. This period lasted until approximately 40 B.C., and started when a priest named Mattathias and his sons, especially Judas Maccabeus, opposed attempts by the government to force Greek, or Hellenistic, practices and culture into Jewish life.
When Alexander the Great conquered the region in 332 B.C., most of the area adopted the Greek culture and language. However, the people of Judea remained strong in their Jewish tradition and faith.
The Ptolemies, the Syrians, and even the Romans pressed for political control over Judea. Greek culture had spread through the region, and we see this in the fact that the New Testament books were all written in Greek. The Ptolemies encouraged learning and built the Library of Alexandria competing with Athens itself in Greek culture.
But not everything Greek was good. The aim of the Hellenists was to force Greek culture on the Near East, by encouraging intermarriage between Greeks and Asians, forcing assimilation, ensuring that National Heritage would be lost, and guaranteeing the regional religions would diminish and the people would accept the Greek gods.
Even though Judah was a small nation their steadfast resistance to Hellenist assimilation was a thorn in the side of the Seleucid dynasty, Alexander’s generals, and all the rulers seeking long-term control.
Around 200 B.C., Judea reached an agreement with Syria giving Syria control over them. In appreciation, Antiochus the Great of Syria allowed Judea to remain tax-free for three years and offered to pay to rebuild the cities destroyed in the battles. Priests, scribes, and temple singers were exempted from taxes. Money was available for sacrifices and many Jewish prisoners were set free.
But by 175 B.C., things had changed. Antiochus IV Epiphanes usurped the throne of Syria by killing his brother and the rightful heir to the kingdom. He decided to spread Greek philosophy and traditions at a rapid pace throughout the region.
In Judaism, the high priest had been a descendent of Aaron. This position was held by a strong inspiring leader, firm in his face, and someone who could lead by example. When Antiochus tried to install his own henchman, Menelaus, as high priest the Jews were upset to say the least. While Antiochus was away invading Egypt, the Jews removed Menelaus and reinstated their own former high priest. So Antiochus ordered that the city be sacked. He had many of the people killed, desecrated the temple, and stole its treasure.
Antiochus outlawed Judaism by outlawing their traditions and observances. He outlawed observing the Sabbath, religious festivals, sacrifices, circumcision, and had copies of the Torah destroyed.
He had altars to the Greek gods built, and ordered all the Jews to eat the flesh of pigs. The temple in Jerusalem was made a shrine for Zeus, and Antiochus sacrificed a pig on the altar.
In every village in Judea he had an altar set up and ordered a sacrifice under the watchful eye of a Syrian officer. In 166 B.C., an old priest with five sons was scheduled to offer a sacrifice of unclean flash to a pagan god. His name was Matathias, and he refused to offer the sacrifice.
The priest killed an apostate Jew who had offered the sacrifice and the Syrian officer supervising the offering. He called upon supporters of Mosaic Law to follow him, and he and his sons took to the hills. He and his supporters waged a very successful guerrilla war from bases in those Judean hills. Mattathias died in 166 B.C., and his son, Judas Maccabeus became the leader of the Jewish resistance. Despite huge odds against him, Judas was successful in many battles and had virtual control of the country.
Judas Maccabeus then began to restore the temple. He destroyed the altar that had been used for sacrifices to Zeus, and faithful priests rededicated the temple so daily worship could resume. While they were rededicating the temple, they discovered only one bottle of holy oil that had not been desecrated — enough for just one day. Miraculously, this oil lasted for eight days, until new holy oil could be brought to the temple.
The temple desecration by Antioch us and 167 B.C., was prophesied in the book of Daniel 11:31, “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.”