Did Jesus Observe Hanukkah?

1. Introduction 

We are about to celebrate our communion service, so instead of opening with a communion song, we will watch this video.

Dim the lights. Here we go.

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Some of you might be asking “What in the world does this have to do with Christmas?”

And the answer is: The Dreidel Song.

Some of you are saying “Jesus I know, and Santa I know, but who are you? What a Hanukkah song doing at my church service”

Well, there’s a side to Jesus that you might not be aware of…he was Jewish.

And he grew up with Hanukkah.

And he celebrated Hanukkah.

To what degree? We don’t really know.

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Please turn to John 10

John 10:22-42

22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about 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 will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[c]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” 33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “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”’[d]? 35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 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 the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works 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.

40 Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, 41 and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.” 42 And in that place many believed in Jesus.

2. Festivals

How many festivals were instituted by Moses?

There were 7 festivals.

Around 1400 BC, Moses instituted exactly 7 feasts that the Jewish people were to respect each year.

That’s a lot of partying!

There were 3 feasts in the spring time, 1 at the end of May, and 3 at the harvest (in Autumn).

So which of the 7 is the “Festival of Dedication”?

It’s not.

The word “Dedication” in Hebrew is…Hanukkah.

So catch your breath, relax and take it in: Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.

3. Jesus was intentional about attending feasts

See, Jesus didn’t live in Jerusalem.

He came to Jerusalem for special occasions, especially to celebrate 7 Jewish Festivals (I guess 8 now).

You might say, “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean he celebrated Hanukkah”.

You’re right. All I know is that he traveled a long distance, took a week off his normal job (traveling, countryside preacher) and hung out in Jerusalem.

And he used this as an opportunity to preach.

He went into Solomon’s colonnade (a great spot in the temple to teach – later used by the early church as a gathering spot).

And he preached about the Kingdom of God.

4. A brief history of Hanukkah

So what DID Hanukkah conjure in the minds of the people at the time of Christ?

Judah the Hammer

Let me give you a 25 sentence history lesson here on Hanukkah:

  • Around 350 years before Jesus preached, Alexander the Great took over the Middle East and Southern Europe.
  • When he died, his Greek kingdom got divided up between his generals, who also eventually battled one another.
  • And guess which country is smack-dab in the middle of all this? Israel
  • Almost exactly 200 years before Jesus preached, the Greek king (Antiochus Epiphanes) over Syria attacked Jerusalem – and decided to “make a point”.
  • So – he outlawed the Jewish religion.
  • He marched into the temple and erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies.
  • He banned their required, 2000 year old covenant with God that was instituted by Abraham – the covenant of Circumcision.
  • He ordered that pigs would be sacrificed on the altar. “You think pigs are unclean?” Well let me flood your “clean” altars with the blood of pigs.
  • Well – one brave family of brothers, let by the 3rd oldest brother, Judah, arose and said, “Enough”.
  • This was the family of the Maccabeus, and the man was Judas.
  • And his nickname throughout Jewish history was “Judah the Hammer”.
  • He began a revolt that is nothing short of miraculous.
  • Although completely outnumbered, he rallied the people toward guerilla warfare against their tormentors.
  • And they won the war – and restored the temple back to its biblical purpose.
  • And at the end of this battle, they commemorated the victory by re-DEDICATING the temple to God.
  • That’s why it is called the Festival of Dedication.
  • Josephus, the historian, also called it the Festival of Lights.
  • You see, at this 8 day rededication festival, they couldn’t use normal oil to light the menorah (the Jewish candle).
  • They were required to use “holy oil”. And holy oil takes about 8 days to become purified.
  • And they only had 1 day’s supply of oil.
  • So the miracle that Hanukkah represents for most Jews is that this 1 day’s supply of oil actually lasted 8 days – similar to the miracle of Elisha.

5. What Hanukkah “felt like” in 30 AD

So I want you to wrap you mind around what this celebration meant for the people here in John 10.

The easiest analogy to grasp this is our own Revolutionary War.

In a sense, Hanukkah for them – was a bit like our own July 4th.

When you think of July 4th, what comes to mind?

We think of a war for freedom – a bit more than 200 years ago.

George Washington

A war to stand up for ourselves.

We’re not gonna take it! No we’re not gonna take it. We’re not gonna take it anymore!

A war where a professional army from a long way away – comes to My Turf.

So we wage guerilla warfare.

And regardless of the fact that we are outnumbered, we embrace the underdog position.

And we say, “Give me liberty. Or give me Death!”

You might be thinking, “Lights and Dreidels”, but at the time of Christ, this was their 4th of July!

This was not ancient history.

Instead, we are well aware of the great men involved with this war.

Take out your 1 dollar bill. Whose face is on it? George Washington!

To us, this is real – and it is recent.

We know the stories, we know the names of the Paul Revere and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

And Judas Maccabeus, to them, – was like our George Washington to us.

A brave general who saved the people from oppression.

6. Jesus the Hammer

So now, hopefully the words of John 10 will make more sense to you.

They hear Jesus speak about the Kingdom of God being greater than ALL other Kingdoms.

And they’ve heard of, or even seen, Jesus’ miracles.

So they say, “Stop teasing us, Jesus”

Are you the messiah or not?”

“Rome is now oppressing us, Jesus.”

“Rome is awfully close to shutting down our religion!”

“Emperor Tiberius calls himself the Son of God (he did), and he refers to his proclamations as The Gospel (he did).”

“And you call yourself The Son of God.”

“And you refer to your teachings as The Gospel.”

So Jesus, when will you lead us?

When can we put your face on our $1 coin?

When can we start calling you, JESUS THE HAMMER!

7. Jesus’ sheep

And Jesus says “You are not my sheep”.

My sheep don’t talk like that.

My sheep don’t think like that.

My sheep are a people of love.

Yes, my sheep fight a subversive battle – and use guerilla warfare.

But the battle is a battle of love, forgiveness, and truth.

My enemy is not the political leader who has s different ideology or set of priorities.

My enemy is sin, selfishness and Satan.

“You…are not my sheep.”

I will never be your JESUS THE HAMMER!

So they tried to stone him.

They tried to kill him.

See, if we come to God with a militant, political mindset, we will eventually get deadly angry at God.

8. Concluding Communion thoughts

So as we approach Christmas time, and as we experience the Hanukkah season, let’s remember how strong Jesus was as a leader of HIS sheep.

And let’s remember how adamant he was to never be called JESUS THE HAMMER.

He referred to himself as JESUS THE SHEPHERD, not THE HAMMER.

He led sheep, not warriors.

So as we take the bread the represents his body and the juice which represents his blood, I hope you are inspired by your Jesus – a STRONG leader who preferred the humble title of “Shepherd” over the forceful title of “Hammer”.

9. Prayer

Father, thank you that Jesus meets all our needs as a leader.

Thank you for his subversive guerilla tactics of love and forgiveness and truth – of peace, righteousness and faith.

We remember him in this season.

Not just Jesus the baby, but Jesus the clear-minded leader.

We pledge to be his sheep father, and put our lives into the hand of the shepherd you provide.

In Jesus name, Amen.


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