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19. Jesus at the Festival of Dedication

| Martin Charlesworth
Series 8: Episode 19
John 10:22-42

When asked to make it clear that he is the Messiah, Jesus answers that he has already made it clear and his miracles proved it. It was their own unbelief that stopped them recognising it and Gentile rulers were called 'gods' in Psalm 82.

When asked to make it clear that he is the Messiah, Jesus answers that he has already made it clear and his miracles proved it. It was their own unbelief that stopped them recognising it and Gentile rulers were called 'gods' in Psalm 82.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Series 8 and Episode 19, which is the last episode in this series. Our text is going to be John 10: 22 - 42. In this episode, 'Jesus is at the Feast of Dedication' in Jerusalem.

Introduction and Recap

 It's another visit to Jerusalem that Jesus makes. If you've been following the last few episodes recently,  you'll know that we've been in Luke's Gospel for quite a long period of time, following his narrative and looking at the events, parables and teaching that Luke brings at this particular time of Jesus' ministry, in which he is heading south towards Jerusalem. He's going to make a final grand entry into Jerusalem, which he's planning some time in the future. Luke has been telling us much about the story and it's Luke also who explained the earlier transition, where Jesus moved from three years' ministry in Galilee and decided to head south through central Samaria to southern Judea, where Jerusalem is situated. In Series 8, we've also been using some material from John's Gospel; John and Luke are the two main authors to help us with this particular period.

In John's Gospel, in the early part of Series 8, we noticed Jesus making a private visit to Jerusalem for one of the major festivals, the Feast of Tabernacles. A number of incidents took place there which were recorded at the beginning of Series 8 - miracles, teaching, confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. Having laid that aside, we spent a lot of time looking at Luke's account and then John adds in some material in this episode which doesn't appear in any of the other Gospels. It tells us that Jesus went back again a few months later for a quick visit to another festival in Jerusalem. This is not his final entry, which was going to be something completely different. It looks from the text as though it's very informal. Jesus is going as a worshipper. He's going to speak a few things in the context of Jerusalem. He's preparing the way for his final arrival there which will take place later on. 

Amazing things have happened, and in fact in the last episode, we saw a remarkable miracle taking place in a synagogue on the Sabbath where a woman, crippled for 18 years, bent over double, suddenly was able to stand up straight and was healed. We've experienced a lot of Jesus' profound teaching about discipleship and the need for individuals to make decisions to follow him.

We've experienced some teaching from Luke in which we've discovered Jesus speaking again very clearly about the fact that the nation of Israel was entering a time of crisis and decision because they really needed to decide, as a nation, whether they were going to be followers of Christ or not. It looked as though the religious authorities were setting themselves very firmly against Jesus and we've seen that develop during Luke's narrative in the chapters that we've been studying recently. The opposition from the religious leaders is growing, sometimes very outspoken and very clear-cut. The crowds are confused, so there's a growing tension in the nation of Israel because the time of crisis is coming when Jesus will come with huge crowds into the city of Jerusalem. He'll plan that; he'll prepare for it; and we'll see that unfold in future series and future episodes. We're seeing a preparation process for all that to happen.

The Feast of Dedication

This is another step in Jesus' preparation. We don't exactly know everything that he had in mind when he made this unusual visit to Jerusalem, but lots of interesting things happened on this particular occasion, which are worth studying. Please turn with me to John 10 and we're going to look at the opening section first, just to orientate ourselves and work out the context of what exactly is happening. John 10: 22 - 23,

‘Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you're the Messiah tell us plainly.”’

John 10:22-24, NIV

Jesus comes during something called the Feast of Dedication which took place in the winter, so this is likely to be in the winter that follows the autumn Feast of Tabernacles where he visited, according to John 7, 8, 9 and the first half of John 10. This is probably just a few months later - two or three months after he'd been before. The Feast of Dedication mentioned here is not one of the major religious festivals of Israel. You'll know that I've said on many occasions that the three major religious festivals in Israel, not the only ones but the major ones, were Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, which took place at different times of the year. Passover, March or April; Pentecost, May or June; and Tabernacles, September or October. During these festivals, as I've stated on a number of occasions before, there were large crowds coming from all over the country and other nations, coming into the city to worship, to attend the Temple, to make sacrifices, to fulfil religious duties, and to reconnect with national life and be re-energised in their faith.

Later on in the history of Israel, another festival was added in, which became known as the Festival of Dedication, known to Jews as Hanukkah, which takes place usually in December.

This came about through circumstances that happened in the history of Israel - very dramatic circumstances, long after the Old Testament books were concluded, in the history recorded in a period known as the inter-testamental period, a 400-year period between the end of the Old Testament writing period and the coming of Jesus. During that time, a very dramatic crisis took place in the nation of Israel because it was ruled over by a Greek-speaking monarchy, known as the Seleucid monarchy for a period of time. One of those rulers, named Antiochus Epiphanese, was a notorious ruler, who really despised Judaism and Jews, and he wanted throughout his Empire, including Israel, to have a single Greek religion. He tried to abolish Judaism: he said circumcision couldn't be practised any more; the Law of Moses couldn't be followed any more; he went into the Jewish Temple and he set up a statue to the god Zeus; and he tried to suppress all Jewish religious practices. This took place in about 168 before Christ, BC. This sparked a rebellion and four years later the Temple was recaptured by Jewish fighters, and they rededicated the Temple in about 164 BC. - about one and a half centuries before this time, and this became a matter of celebration. The Temple was rededicated to Yahweh, the Jewish God, after this terrible crisis.

This is the Festival of Dedication which Jesus attends on this occasion. It's the only mention of this festival that we have in the life of Jesus.

Answers to the Questions of Messiahship


‘The Jews who were gathered around him said how long will you keep us in suspense if you're the Messiah. Tell us plainly.’

John 10:24, NIV

Questions about Jesus's Messiahship were always at the forefront when Jesus was in Jerusalem. If you remember our discussion of previous visits to Jerusalem, as recorded by John, we notice that the atmosphere in Jerusalem is particularly brittle and hostile to Jesus because the influence of the religious authorities is by far the greatest in the capital city, where the Sanhedrin ruled. The High Priest presided over the Temple and the religious authorities were in control of everything. The people in Jerusalem were much more ambivalent about Jesus. They didn't see him very often. They didn't understand what he was doing. He came from northern Galilee, and the voices of the religious leaders in their ears were very strong, denouncing Jesus as a false messiah. Some opponents demanded that he was clear about whether he was the Jewish Messiah. As Jesus pointed out, he's already made this plain in previous visits, for example in John 8::58 he said,

“Very truly I tell you before Abraham was born, I am.”

John 8:58, NIV

This is a discussion about the significance of Abraham, and Jesus said that he pre-existed Abraham, in other words he had an eternal existence. He performed a miracle on his last visit to Jerusalem - healing a man born blind - which was commonly understood to be a messianic miracle on the basis of the prophecy of Isaiah 35:  5.

Jesus' answer is that he's been pretty clear with them and let's give his full answer now as we read verses 25 - 39; 

‘Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify about me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30I and the Father are one.” 31Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32but 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.” 34Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? 35If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 36what 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’? 37Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38But 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.” 39Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.’

John 10:25-39, NIV

This really is a tense situation isn't it? Characteristic of Jesus' visits to Jerusalem. Right from the very beginning there was an awful lot of tension when Jesus was in Jerusalem. His very first recorded visit in his ministry, as described in John 2, was the situation in which Jesus for the first time cleansed the Temple, went through the money-changers and the traders, turned their tables over and challenged them that they shouldn't be turning God's house of prayer into a marketplace. That really set the tone for a confrontational relationship between Jesus and the religious authorities, and when John uses the expression ‘the Jews’, he's usually meaning the leaders and representatives of the Jewish establishment - Pharisees, Sadducees, Teachers of the Law, members of the Sanhedrin, priests. These are the sort of people who are in contention here. When they saw him walking in the Temple precinct, they challenged him. They saw he'd come back. He'd only been there a few months ago and he'd created quite a stir. There's an immediate confrontation. It doesn't take long for that confrontation to happen.

Jesus gives three answers to the question about whether he is the Messiah. As I've already said, he said that he'd already made it clear to the Jews that he was the Messiah by things he'd said previously when he'd been in the city. His miracles backed up that claim, such as the healing of the man born blind. His second explanation about why this was a problem for them is that in verse 26 ‘You do not believe because you're not my sheep’. It's not that he hadn't told them; it's just that their unbelief was related to the fact that they'd set themselves against him in the first place. Jesus describes those who believe in him as ‘sheep of his pasture’. He describes himself in the earlier teaching at the beginning of John 10, which took place at the Feast of Tabernacle, as the Good Shepherd and the gate of the sheep, and he has an extended metaphor of sheep and their shepherds to describe the dynamics of the kingdom of God. Those who followed him, he described as his sheep who he had cared for, he loved and he would lay his life down for them - a very powerful metaphor. He said the other sheep would need to join the flock, referring to Gentile nations. This all comes in the first part of chapter 10 and so he comes back to this theme here and says: you're not my sheep, you are Jews who are unbelieving, resisting and if you resist something long enough, you don't hear the message that's coming to you. You block your ears, you block your heart to that message. I wonder if you know what I mean - human beings do that in all sorts of different ways, don't we? If there's something we really don't want to hear, we'll often block it out of our consciousness, or reinterpret it in a different way or marginalise it, or perhaps even not notice it at all. Jesus is basically saying, in my previous visits to Jerusalem I've made my claims clear to you, but because of your initial and overwhelming resistance, you can't really hear the significance of what I'm saying. In his previous visit, he makes it very clear that he is the Good Shepherd, and God was sometimes called the Shepherd of Israel in the Old Testament, the great Shepherd of the sheep of Israel watching over the flock. Jesus was claiming to be connected to that. The confusion in their minds secondly, is because they're not believing in Jesus although he's already made his claims very clear.

He uses, thirdly, what appears to be a rather obscure scriptural argument. Verse 34,

‘“Is it not written in your law I have said you are ‘god's’If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?”’

John 10:34-36, NIV

Going back into the Old Testament to Psalm 82, we find the origin of this statement, the quotation that Jesus is making, Psalm 82: 1 says,

‘God resides in the great assembly he renders judgement among the ‘gods’.’

Psalm 82:1, NIV

In the NIV we have inverted commas around ‘gods’ because this is probably a reference to Gentile rulers who are ruling over the nations and the psalmist is saying God is ruling over these people even though there they are leaders of nations; God is greater than them but they are office bearers on God's behalf. He's allowed them to rise to power. That's one of the themes of Psalm 82. Gentile rulers have been allowed to come to power by God; they are bearing the office of God in the sense of having a responsibility to look after the people on God's behalf. Whether they do it or not is a separate matter. They're office bearers. Jesus is saying if the psalmist can call Gentile rulers, who are office bearers of God in a spiritual sense, if you can call them gods, then why can't Jesus who's far greater than them be described as the Son of God? Surely God can call Jesus his own Son in the full sense of the word, because he is an office bearer in a much more permanent, substantial and saving way than the Gentile rulers described in the Old Testament. He is the permanent Son of God, bringing a permanent and wonderful salvation and a new covenant to the people of Israel. This type of argumentation and discussion can sometimes feel very obscure to us when we read John's Gospel. Sometimes we get a little bit muddled when we look at the rather detailed debates about subtle Jewish things that are going on. I'm trying to unravel the section and think, what is Jesus saying?

First of all, he's saying I've made my claims clear on previous visits; secondly, you don't understand because of unbelief, not because of lack of clarity on my part; and thirdly why are you offended at the idea that God is giving me the title of Messiah, or Son of God, when he has given the title of ‘god’ - inverted commas - a secondary type of god to even Gentile rulers who don't even believe in him in Psalm 82. The conflict here about Jesus' identity is so severe that even a short conversation provokes the possibility of them trying to take his life, picking up stones - verse 31.

‘Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him’.

John 10:31, NIV

This has already happened on previous visits. In the last visit; John 8:59,

‘they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the Temple grounds.’

John 8:59, NIV

Jesus knew what to expect but it was illegal under Roman law in Judea for Jews to execute, kill or murder anyone through stoning them, or any other means, so what they were trying to do was technically speaking, illegal. They weren't allowed to do it but because of the emotion of the occasion, it may well have happened. It didn't on this occasion. This shows how very dangerous Jesus' life was at this time. We've already noted from Luke's Gospel the level of opposition of people, coming from Jerusalem, travelling around, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law are really hostile against him. If Jesus comes into their headquarters, into the centre of their operations, how much more dangerous is that going to be for him? We don't know how many of his disciples were with him at this time but he was in a very dangerous situation. However, amazingly the stoning didn't take place.

This passage concludes - verse 39 ‘They tried to seize him but he escaped their grasp.’ This is again very similar to John 8:59 Jesus escapes from their grasp. We don't quite know whether there's a miraculous dimension to this. It sounds a bit like it and that he was cornered and threatened but he managed to escape, certainly not by force. We don't quite know the details but Jesus managed to escape from this very dangerous situation where his life literally was in danger of being ended by stoning to death.

Beyond the Reach of the Authorities

John concludes this section by describing what happens next. This is Jesus' last visit to Jerusalem until his Triumphal Entry in the last week of his life. He won't come back to Jerusalem again as an individual, as a worshipper coming to a feast to worship. He'll be coming ina large crowd with people welcoming him in huge numbers when he comes next time. It will be totally different from this rather private visit that is being made here. John concludes, verses 40 - 42

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

John 10:40-42, NIV

This is actually a wonderful conclusion to a rather difficult passage because the place here wasn't that far from Jerusalem. You go down from Jerusalem through the Judean hills towards the River Jordan and then straight across the River Jordan to the other side. This particular place which is identified in John 1: 28. It's called ‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’, that's the place where John operated that we mentioned a number of times earlier on, when we were looking at the career of John the Baptist. Jesus comes back to that same place, which is an archaeological ruin today, and we're pretty certain in archaeology where this place was, right in the southern end of the River Jordan - not far from Jerusalem. Going over the River Jordan, Jesus went into a different territory. He went outside the territory of Judea, into a territory known as Perea, which belonged to Herod Antipas, the king who ruled Galilee, and so it was a different territory. He was slightly out of reach of the authorities in Jerusalem who would find it harder to challenge him effectively in this particular location. That might have been one reason why he went there. Notice the contrast - the hostility and prickliness of Jerusalem is all gone. Here, not so far away in Bethany beyond the Jordan, many believed in Jesus. Crowds came, many believed; there was huge interest in him. Why was there such a great response? A combination of factors I think. Luke has already told us that in Jesus' southern journey from Galilee through Samaria down to Judea, there were 72 disciples sent out in teams of two each, 36 teams travelling all over the country, preaching, teaching, healing and giving the message of Jesus. That's going to create excitement wherever Jesus goes. Probably some of those preachers had been nearby - that's one factor. The second factor is this was the headquarters of John the Baptist; this is where he operated from, and he was remembered here by people living in that area and people who remember the vast crowds that came to hear him. Because the Jerusalem authorities were not as directly able to undermine everything Jesus was doing, there was more of a sense of freedom that people could respond to Jesus. A great response took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan. Isn't it interesting how different places have different spiritual atmospheres, and people are more or less responsive to the Gospel in different places, even in the same country or in neighbouring countries. I'm sure you've experienced that and I think that's the reality of what we see happening in Israel at this time. The responsiveness varied according to the geographical context, the ethnic component and the previous history of that area and the spiritual dynamics operating within it.

Reflections

As we come to the end of this passage, I want to make one or two concluding reflections and comments. In Jerusalem, we see the power of systematic unbelief, which is dominating the culture of the whole city, making it very difficult for Jesus to bring his message there. In Bethany, we see the power of faith and the power of the past witness to Christ. What John did in the past there, still has an influence on how people respond to Jesus - how they remember John the Baptist. There's a very interesting principle which Jesus brings in John 4: 34 - 38 concerning the harvest of the kingdom. In other words, the people who respond to Christ he says one sows and another reaps; some people give out the message and other people receive the response of the message, and in a sense John here is the one who sowed the message three years earlier, roughly speaking. John has died now - he's been executed by Herod and he's gone from the stage. He's not there but his influence remains. He opened people up to God - John sows and Jesus reaps. Jesus got the benefit of John's witness at an earlier stage.

Finally, I want to make a comment about that very interesting and intriguing phrase in John 10: 35, a passing phrase ‘Scripture cannot be set aside’. Some translations say Scripture cannot be broken. This is when Jesus is quoting from Psalm 82, using the authority of the Old Testament to back up some of his claims, as I explained earlier on. He makes this much more general statement - ‘Scripture cannot be set aside’. The authority of Scripture is an important issue to note continually. During the ministry of Jesus he always shows highest respect for the Old Testament and he authorises it as divinely inspired. He quotes it freely in terms of history, in terms of prophecy and prediction and an example. He gives it the highest authority, claiming on occasion that it is divinely inspired, and here it's just a passing reference to Jesus' fundamental commitment to the authority of the Old Testament - ‘Scripture cannot be set aside’. You can't downgrade its authority. It still has power; that's a great encouragement to us. If Jesus felt that about the Old Testament, how much more should we also feel that about the New Testament, which was yet to be written when Jesus uttered these words. We've now reached the end of Series 8. I hope you'll rejoin us in Series 9 as we continue the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus and his disciples.

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