Stone Becomes Flesh
We are told in our text that Jesus was present during the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. This is a relatively new festival added to the Jewish calendar. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC. The history of this festival is an important setting to our text. In 175 BC Antiochus IV ascended the throne in Syria. He became the regional power and overlord. He had plans to conquer Egypt and on his way he captured and ruled over Jerusalem for awhile.
Antiochus built a large sports stadium in Jerusalem. There all the people including the Jews participated and watched spectacular sporting events. He gradually removed the holy things of Israel from the Temple and filled it with images and ideas that were foreign to Israel. Eventually, he covered the altar of sacrifice to the God of Israel with an altar to a foreign god. He commanded the people to worship the Greek god, Zeus Olympios. Antiochus also began to call himself divine, the manifestation of god, that is, the son of god. All this was done so that the people should forget the Law of Moses, and to forget their God. In this way Antiochus would have truly conquered Israel and be free to rule over them as he pleased.
Opposition and persecution became widespread as a result to the demands of the Emperor. Death was a common result to the persecution received from the Emperor. Continued revolts against the forces of the Emperor were eventually successful and concluded by Judas Maccabeus in 164 BC. The first task that Judas attended to was the purification of the Temple. The Temple was rededicated on the 25th Kislev (December), 164 BC, three years after defilement. The feast of the Dedication was the yearly celebration of this event.
Through these brief historical notes, what did it mean for the Israelites to loose their Temple? To a few Israelites it meant a loss of personal income and status. To these few, the Temple provided a means of exploiting the poor and a seat of power over others. But to many Israelites the Temple meant God’s presence. It reminded them of the Exodus, and the wilderness wanderings. It reminded them of God’s gracious acts as He led them out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land flowing with milk and honey.
The Temple also reminded them of their continued failure to follow God. In their eagerness to go their own way and to follow after the temptations from others, they experienced pain, suffering, and death. God who is the Good Shepherd continues to restore his people to himself because of his love for them.
Most importantly, the Temple provided the means of reconciliation with God. With the Temple defiled by Antiochus how could the people make peace with their God? How could they come to terms with their guilt from sin? Where was their hope for peace in their life? Where was God?
It had happened before, people with self interest would come and defile the Temple leaving them without hope for salvation. They would snatch away the holy things in the Temple, snatch away their beliefs and values, snatch away their hope and peace, and snatch away the Temple itself as if God wasn’t there. Such destruction could only leave people to feel as if their own life had been snatched away form God.
The massive stone Temple over the centuries had shown to be fragile and inadequate to reassure people of God’s continued presence and ongoing care of His people. The recapture of the Temple and its rededication in 164 BC became a yearly celebration to mark God’s ongoing care of His people. The revolt and the following feast of the Dedication were merely human efforts to patch up and restore some form of confidence back to the people. Nonetheless, the Temple could not be disguised. It was merely a stone that could be snatched away leaving its worshippers doubting their God. It was inadequate.
Many people come to a place in their lives where things have changed. Even for our congregation, our parish we are at a place where everything we love could be snatched away from us. All the holy things and the building itself could be all snatched away from us during this time of change.
Pain and suffering can also come to us in our own personal life in many ways. For example, when relationships have fallen apart, sickness has taken hold of the body, unemployment or financial disaster strike, feelings of failure and inadequacy, and death of a loved one all make us feel as if live has been snatched away from us. Where then, can a person go to be reassured that all things will be made better? Where is the hope of ongoing care for all of us?
Although the stone Temple is inadequate to reassure us of God’s presence and of his ongoing love and care for us all, let us nonetheless search for an answer there. At the Temple, during the Feast of Dedication, a celebration marking the ongoing care of God we find Jesus in the portico of Solomon.
Unlike the former ruler Antiochus, Jesus rightfully claims to be the Son of God. He is there walking amongst those who have taken shelter in the porch of Solomon. There are the homeless, the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the fearful all taking shelter. I imagine them to be like a ravaged flock of sheep gathered around a new found shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he is there preaching and teaching, healing, comforting and restoring all that have heard his voice and turned to him for help. The good works of Jesus are all about him. Just look into the porch of Solomon to see what he has been doing. These people may have once felt that their life had been snatched away from them, but now with Jesus in their life, they have life now and forever.
It appears what the Temple could not do; Jesus fulfils. The Feast of Dedication celebrating the ongoing care of God is just doing that through Christ Jesus. The stone of the Temple has become flesh. We have a new Temple, a living Temple through Christ Jesus.
Can the living Temple of Christ Jesus be defiled like the old of stone? No! Although, the evil that comes out of our fallen human nature attempted to do so. Jesus was crucified on the cross because of our pride and selfishness. Jesus died, but on the third day rose again from the dead. Jesus lives today. No longer can the body of Jesus be defiled or his life snatched away leaving us feeling abandoned and without hope. Jesus lives forever and so, can provide ongoing care for all of us, now and forever.
Jesus is the living Temple, he is the means to restored life. He provides forgiveness and healing with God, with one another, and with ourselves. No matter where you are with pain and suffering you will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Mary heard it when she was weeping outside the tomb. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” The ten disciples heard it when they were hiding in the upper room. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.” Thomas heard it, and Jesus said to him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side, do not be faithless, but believing.” Another two disciples heard it when they were walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus joined them and said, “What are you both talking about?” Peter heard it when he was fishing on the lake. He heard a voice from the beach say, “Children, have you any fish”?
Let us listen then with great expectation to the voice of comfort that comes to us in the flesh. It may be a family member, a friend, a work-mate, a child, or even a stranger who speaks to us. Through them, Jesus who is the living Temple can come and speak to us. Those who are of his flock know the voice of the Good Shepherd and respond with peace in their hearts, “It is the Lord”.
Jesus rose from the grave to show that he has the victory over death, that he has eternal life, that his kingdom is established forever. And forever he is the Good Shepherd to give us life now and forever, even victory over death.
Furthermore, let us come to fully know the Good Shepherd, and know his voice. The voice of the Good Shepherd can be heard in the Bible. His good works can be seen there too. They can not be defiled. They can not be snatched away. They are there forever to give us the reassurance of God’s continued presence and ongoing care for us.
And so, let us rejoice and continue to celebrate the Feast of Dedication for we have a Saviour in Christ Jesus.