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April 25, 2010 Revelation 7:9-17 John

10:22-30 “Hearing the Voice”


Dr. Ted H. Sandberg

“It was the Festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was
walking in the Temple precincts in Solomon’s Porch.” Do you ever wonder why
John gives us the details he does in his narrative, or maybe why he doesn’t give
us more? Is he just being a good story teller, or good historian and giving us
added historical detail to liven our interest and make the biblical account more
readable? Or perhaps, there’s more to it than this. Maybe hidden to us in some
of the details of an account are keys to unlocking the meanings of the passages.
Maybe details aren’t added to the account just for color but are important in
themselves to our understanding of a verse or passage.
I suspect that there’s no one answer to those questions. Some details are added
for interest and color, while at other times the detail is important to John’s
meaning. It’s up to us to learn all we can about the details in each passage in
order for us to uncover any hidden keys which may unlock our understanding of
the passage. That’s why in any Bible study, it’s always important to study all the
details because we can never know what will unlock the meaning of a passage for
us.
Putting this principal to work with our text this morning, what do we find? Does
John tell us about the Festival of the Dedication to prove the historicity of his
account, to enliven his story, or to help us understand what Jesus was saying to
the Jews and is now saying to us? Let’s look at the details John gives us to see
what we may unlock.
The Festival of the Dedication was the last of the great Jewish festivals to be
founded. It was sometimes called The Festival of Lights and its Jewish name was,
and is, Hanukkah. Its date is the 25th of the Jewish month called Chislew which
corresponds with our December. This Festival therefore is celebrated around our
Christmas time and is still universally observed by Jews today.
The origin of the Festival of the Dedication lies in one of the greatest times of
ordeal and heroism in Jewish history. There was a king of Syria called Antiochus
Epiphanes who reigned from 175 to 164 B.C.E. He was a lover of all things Greek.
He decided that he would eliminate the Jewish religion once and for all, and
introduce Greek ways and thoughts, Greek religion and gods into Palestine. At
first he tried to do so by peaceful penetration of ideas. Some of the Jews
welcomed the new ways, but most were stubbornly loyal to their ancestral faith.
In 170 B.C.E., the deluge really came. In that year Antiochus attacked Jerusalem.
It was said that 80,000 Jews perished, and as many were sold into slavery. A
fortune was stolen from the Temple. It became a capital offense to possess a
copy of the law, or to circumcise a child; and mothers who did circumcise their
sons were crucified with their children hanging round their necks. The Temple
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courts were profaned; the Temple chambers were turned into brothels; and finally
Antiochus took the dreadful step of turning the great altar of the burnt-offering
into an altar to Olympian Zeus, and on it proceeded to offer swine’s flesh to the
pagan gods. (Pigs, of course, were abhorrent to the Jews.)
It was then that Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers rose to fight their epic fight
for freedom. In 164 B.C.E. the struggle was finally won; and in that year the
Temple was cleansed and purified. The altar was rebuilt and the robes and the
utensils were replaced, after 3 years of pollution. It was to commemorate this
purification of the Temple and the cleansing of the altar that the Feast of the
Dedication was instituted. For that reason the festival was sometimes called the
Festival of the Dedication of the Altar, and sometimes the Memorial of the
Purification of the Temple.
The story is told that when the Temple had been purified and the great seven-
branched candlestick re-lit, only one little container of unpolluted oil could be
found. This cruse was still intact, and still sealed with the impress of the ring of
the High Priest. By all normal measures, there was only enough oil in that cruse
to light the lamps for a single day. But by a miracle it lasted for 8 days, until new
oil had been prepared according to the correct formula and had been consecrated
for its sacred use. So for 8 days during the Feast of the Dedication the lights burn
in the Temple and in the homes of the people in memory of the cruse which God
had made to last for 8 days instead of for one.
The significance of John’s specific mentioning of this Feast may rest in this
commemoration of the rescue of the Jews from the hands of Antiochus with the
resulting longing for a new military victory. The freedom under Maccabaeus was
short lived because Rome conquered Israel shortly there after, and so the Jews of
the time of Jesus longed for their freedom from Rome just as they had from
Antiochus. And it’s this continual longing for freedom which John again highlights
for us in this passage. The Jews are looking for the one who’s going to free them
forever from being subjects of an earthly power, and they knew only the Messiah
could do this. That’s why it’s so important for them to find out if Jesus is claiming
to be the Messiah. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ,
the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Are you the one who’s going to free us from Rome
and all our human captors by military might? Tell us now! To their persistent
questioning, Jesus responded, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that
I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe,
because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know
them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never
perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” I told you, and you don’t
believe. I showed you, and you still don’t believe! You don’t believe because
you aren’t one of my sheep.
Why did the Jews refuse to believe? Why did they refuse to be one of Jesus’
sheep? It’s here that John’s historical detail concerning the Festival of the

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Dedication comes into play. One of the main reasons for the Jewish disbelief of
Jesus was his lack of military force. By specifically mentioning Hanukkah, John
seems to be suggesting that the Jews were waiting for, were praying for, another
Judas Maccabaeus, a ruler who would by force defeat the Roman armies. For
them, the Messiah was going to be the perfect military ruler who would establish
their freedom for all time, unlike the human Maccabaeus who brought only
temporary freedom.
It was only natural for them to ask Jesus if he was the one for whom they’d been
waiting. We know that throughout the Gospels, Jesus is viewed as the Good
Shepherd. We’ve all seen the pictures of Jesus standing with his shepherd’s staff
in one hand, and the lamb in the other. That picture is very meaningful because
Jesus often refers to himself as the shepherd as he does throughout the 10th
chapter of John.
But the image of the shepherd wasn’t just a passive image, the nice pastoral,
peaceful image I often think of when I think of a shepherd. In the OT, the
shepherd was a frequent symbol for the Davidic King, and thus the Messiah,
probably because King David started out as a shepherd. In Ezekiel we read, “And
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them:
he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” When Jesus therefore talks of being
the shepherd, the messianic implications are clearly understood by the Jewish
authorities. Couple this to the fact that their idea of the Messiah was very warlike;
one who shatters unjust rulers, breaks sinners into pieces with a rod of iron, and
causes nations to flee before him, and we begin to get a picture of why the Jews
were pressing Jesus so strongly for an answer to their questions. “If you are the
Christ, the Messiah, then tell us and we’ll get on with the revolution. We’ve
waited long enough. We’re ready NOW!” But we’ve got to know if you’re the one
who’s going to rescue us from Rome.
I wonder if many in the world today aren’t looking for the dramatic rescuer just as
the Jews of Jesus’ day? “Give us the sign, Jesus,” they say, “and we’ll follow you.
Show us that our problems will be solved – we’ll get a job, we’ll be able to buy that
new house, we’ll strengthen our marriage without having to go to the bother and
work of seeing a counselor. Show us that you’ll rescue us Jesus, and we’ll be your
followers for ever!” Just like the Jews of Jesus’ day, many today don’t try to
understand the message of Christ, but instead want Jesus to fit their own ideas of
a Savior, or rescuer. Rather than trying to find out what Jesus teaches, rather
than trying to find out what Jesus wants of us, we project our own wishes and
needs onto Jesus. We end up, therefore, demanding from Jesus something which
Jesus isn’t.
It’s this demand for Jesus to be something he isn’t which leads the people of today
to false Messiahs, or we might say, wolves in shepherds’ clothing. The Gospels
use the image of the sheep in a very positive way. Jesus is the Shepherd, and his
followers are to be the sheep. We know Jesus, and Jesus watches over us like any

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good shepherd does the sheep. But in reality, sheep aren’t all that great an
animal to which to be compared. Ask any child which animal they’d like to be and
you’d hear lions, or bears, or tigers, or panthers, or horses, but I doubt you’d hear
many requests to be a sheep. Sheep aren’t all that smart, and they’re easily led
astray.
And make no mistake about it, there are plenty of men and women who like to
lead sheep astray! It seems like every time we turn around nowadays, we read
about another cult. There are all kinds of wolves trying to snatch the sheep.
Whereas once we talked about wolves in sheep’s clothing, wolves trying to sneak
in amongst us undetected, now we should talk of wolves in shepherd’s clothing,
wolves trying to lead the whole flock away by acting like the true shepherd. Too
often, the wolves are successful, and a sheep, or even a flock, is stolen. This
happens because the sheep wants its own way, and follows the shepherd who too
often is willing to promise that the sheep will get what it wants.
To drop the image of the sheep, too often we follow who ever will promise us what
we want, rather than following the Truth in Jesus Christ. If we believe that our
nation is in trouble, there are those who will preach that Jesus is a military
Messiah. If we’re lonely and hurting, there are those who’ll propose that their
group alone will bring us the friendships and joy we need. If we want a lot of
money, there are those who’ll proclaim that that’s what Christianity is all about –
God blessing his people with riches. In each case, the false shepherd gives the
sheep exactly what they want, and the sheep are led away from the True
Shepherd. That’s essentially why Israel and Judah had so much trouble
throughout their histories. That’s why Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. That’s why today
we have so much trouble with false shepherds. We’ve wanted our Shepherds to
tell us what we want to hear, and they’ve been only too willing to oblige.
Sometimes you and I even think we can be a shepherd unto ourselves, and we
seek to follow our own wills. Perhaps this is worst of all.
So what does it take not to follow the false shepherd, but to follow Jesus Christ
instead? How can we know the false shepherd from the true Shepherd? Jesus
himself gives us the answer in this passage from John. “My sheep hear my voice,”
he says. In other words, his sheep are listening for the words of Jesus, not for an
echo of their own wants or needs. The sheep of Jesus are studying the Bible – in
all its complexity – to hear the words of the Good Shepherd, so they won’t be led
astray. They know that Jesus and God are one, and to follow Jesus is to obey the
will of the loving God. The sheep of Jesus work at placing the will of God before
anything else, knowing if they do, they in turn will have their needs met. If the
sheep seek first to meet their own needs, they can easily be led astray. But if the
sheep first seek to do God's will, then they’ll in turn have their needs met. Seek
first the Kingdom of God, to be His sheep, and all these other things will be added
unto us. It’s not what we want from God which is most important, but rather what
God wants from us. May you and I continually follow the True shepherd for only in

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that way will we find peace.