Jesus: The Light of the World

Andy Woods

Jesus: The Light of the World

Christmas Message

12-24-17     John 8:12

I thought I’d start off with a joke.  What did Adam say the day before Christmas?  He said, “It’s Christmas, Eve.”  [Laughter]  I know…. You know who you can blame that joke on, right?  What member of my family, and it’s not my daughter.

But you know, when we talk about jokes the world system kind of think that the joke is on us.  First of all, we’re gathered here to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  We celebrate it Dec 25th and our own scholars can’t even agree when Jesus was born.  I was reading one scholar and he said in his book Jesus was born December 5th 4BC.  Another one said no, Jesus was born January 4th, 5BC.  Another one said no, Jesus was born September 24th2BC.  So who’s right?  I’m not entirely sure that it matters who’s right, the important thing is that Jesus was born.

But it is interesting to think about why is it that we have selected December 25th to commemorate the birthdate of Jesus Christ.  And it really doesn’t have much to do with when Jesus was born; it has more to do with the companion holiday that can be documented historically, something called the Feast of Lights.  And I wanted to talk a little bit this evening about the Feast of Lights because the Feast of Lights explains the background of so many things that Jesus spoke of.

The Feast of Lights can be documented as taking place in the Jewish month of Kislev, the 25th, which sort of overplays our month of December.  So the Feast of Lights basically takes place either early December of mid December and so we have sort of decided that we’re going to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ that same time period.

But what is the Feast of Lights exactly?  Most Christians know almost nothing about it and yet it’s the background for the Christmas season.  It’s really the background for our candle lighting service.  In a few minutes this whole room is going to be lit with candles.  So let’s spend just a couple of minutes learning a little bit, if we could, about the Feast of Lights.

Some of you already know a lot about it because we’ve been teaching the Book of Daniel on Sunday mornings.  We were in Daniel 8, we spent a lot of time talking about the Feast of Lights and some of you may be saying well I’m glad I missed that.  Well, cheer up, we’re hitting Daniel 11 which is also about the Feast of Lights.  So apparently the Holy Spirit wants us to know something about this. It’s very prominent in the Book of Daniel.

But in what we would call the intertestamental period, that’s the period between the two testaments, the prophet Malachi, I used to think the prophet’s name was Ma-lach-ee, the first Italian.  But it’s actually Malachi; he finishes his book and then the Gospel of Matthew starts and there’s a window in there of about 400 years.  And some people refer to it as the silent years but what you discover is it was silent in the sense that no new books of the Bible were being written at that time.  No new revelation from God, but it was not silent, God was fulfilling prophecies of the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Daniel and He was setting the stage for the coming of Jesus Christ that we read about in the New Testament.

And there was a group of people that got control of the land of Israel during that time period, about 171 B.C. roughly, and they are called the Seleucid Dynasty.  From the Seleucid Dynasty there arose a very wicked ruler that the Holy Spirit spends a lot of time revealing to us because he’s sort of a type, if you will, a prefigurement of the coming antichrist.  His name is Antiochus Epiphanes which basically means God manifest.  So no ego problem there, right, in that name.

And he basically brought in something called Hellenism where he wanted to create a monolithic Greek culture.  The problem is the tiny nation of Israel stood in his way because they had their own culture, they had their own language, they had their own religion and so isn’t it interesting that Israel is always in the way of people, kind of like how it is today.  Today the United Nations gets together and votes and their latest vote and what are they voting against?  They’re voting against Israel.  Israel, by the design of God, has always been sort of viewed as a hindrance to world progress.

And so this man, Antiochus, was infuriated with the Jews because they were in his way of building his new world order.  So he basically, during that intertestamental time period, beginning around 171, it stretches really to about 167 is when it got really bad, is he outlawed Judaism.  He told the Jews you can’t practice circumcision any more.  We know that Jewish babies are circumcised, Genesis 17, on the eighth day.  He outlawed that.  As you know the Jews can’t eat pork so he humiliated the Jews by bringing a pig and sacrificing it in their temple.  He set up a pagan image (in the temple) of Zeus.  And the Holy Spirit uses this as sort of a foreshadowing of what the future antichrist will do.  As Solomon said, what has been will be again.  [Ecclesiastes 1:9, “That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.”]

And sort of to make a long story short, since I told you I’d only talk for ten minutes, is there arose sort of a guerilla warfare movement within the nation of Israel.  It’s called the Maccabean Revolt, led by a man named Judas Maccabaeus, whose name means the hammer.  And the only reason we know about this Maccabean revolt is the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which we as Protestants don’t accept as inspired, yet they reveal very good history, sort of like reading Josephus, and we see reading those books a lot about the Maccabean Revolt, how the Jews waged guerilla warfare against this man, Antiochus Epiphanes, and they were actually successful, although greatly outnumbered in liberating the temple.

And this is something that God does for the nation of Israel over and over again.  No matter what war they’re in they’re outnumbered and somehow they come out the winner.  In modern times this happened in their War of Independence, 1948 in what’s called The Six Day War, 1967, the Yom Kippur War, 1973, these are all wars that were basically self-defensive by the nation of Israel, and  yet nobody bet on the Israelis in those wars. And  yet look at today; there is today in our day the sovereign functioning nation of Israel.

And so it was sort of like this in the days of the Maccabees; the Maccabees should have never won.  And yet the Maccabees were successful in removing the Seleucids and Antiochus’ diabolical reign from the temple and this happened on Kislev 25, 164 B.C.  So from about 167-164 is three years of warfare and the temple is finally liberated from all of this desecration about 164 B.C.  And this revolt and victory is actually predicted by Daniel, the prophet.   Daniel 11:32 makes this prediction about 400 years in advance.  It says, “but the people who know their God” in the midst of this desecration by Antiochus, “…but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.”

The greatest, most effective vessels of God in world history are people, first of all that know God,  if you don’t know God you can’t live for God and I’m going to give you an opportunity in just a minute, if you’re here today as an unbeliever to get to know God, to enter into a personal relationship with God.  And so this victory happened Kislev 25th, 164 B.C.

And there is something in Judaism called the Menorah, you’ve seen that haven’t you?  It’s got the giant candlestick in the middle and four candlesticks on each side, and according to Jewish tradition in order to rededicate the temple the Menorah had to burn for eight days.  The problem with that is the Greeks had been in control of the temple for all those years and they had so desecrated it that there wasn’t enough oil, there was only enough oil for one day.  So the nation of Israel said well, we need to be obedient to God, we need to be obedient to our traditions, so they lit the Menorah anyway and according to tradition guess what happened?  God did a miracle!  Even though there was one day supply of oil the Menorah miraculously burned for eight days.

And all of this furnishes the background for what we call the Feast of Lights.  And this year around this time the Jewish people have a celebration where they have the lighting of the candles for eight days.  And it’s basically commemorating what God did for them in the reign of Antiochus, the overthrow of the Seleucids, the Maccabean Revolt, etc.   And this became known as the Feast of Dedication.  Why is it called Dedication?  Because it was in this time period that the temple was rededicated away from service to an antichrist like figure to service to God.  So it’s known as Dedication, Feast of Lights.  It’s also known as what Jewish name?  Hanukah.

And you say well, I thought this was a Protestant Church I was in here, what are you going into all this Jewish stuff for?  It is interesting that when you go into the New Testament Jesus Himself celebrated this feast.  John 10:22-23 says this: “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; [23] it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.” Speaking of Solomon’s temple.  So the Feast of Lights or Hanukkah is one of the two feasts added alongside the seven Jewish feasts that are mentioned in the Law of Moses, Leviticus 23, seven feasts total.   Leviticus 23,  things that you know: Pentecost, Booths and so forth.   [The Feast of Passover, The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Firstfruits, The Feast of Pentecost, The Feast of Trumpets, The Feast of Atonement, The Feast of Tabernacles.]

So to that calendar was added Hanukkah because of this event, this miracle that God did.  And then one other feast was added during the time of Esther.  Anybody know the name of it?  Purim, which means lots, the “im” ending in Hebrew means plurality., “lots.”  And that was celebrating how God once again did a miracle on behalf of the Jewish people and rescued the Jewish people from the wicked plot of Haman, the Persian, to wipe out Israel.

It’s interesting that when you look at all this history all of these things are reoccurring in our own day.  Persia, the modern day Persia is Iran, and the former leader of Iran, Ahmadinejad…  How do you say Ahmadinejad?  Just say genocide really fast and it sounds like Ahmadinejad.  He would over and over again say he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. In fact, he did his doctoral dissertation on denying the holocaust.  And we need to understand that there’s a movement today  to pretend like the holocaust never happened.  Why is that?  Because the holocaust gives world sympathy to Israel and what better way to remove that sympathy than to deny the holocaust ever happened.

But anyway, these recurring cyclical things is really what the Feast of Lights is about and it’s what the Jews celebrate.  And it’s what Jesus was celebrating.   The nation of Israel, at that time, got the true light of God instead of the false light, the fake light… you know how today we talk about fake news, there was a fake light in this man, Antiochus Epiphanes, whose name means God manifest.  The Jews rejected that and they wanted the temple rededicated for God’s service.

And when you understand this background then all of a sudden the teachings of Christ start to make sense. For example, Jesus, in John 8:12 says, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  Jesus entered history about 150 years or so after these events happened, these ideas were fresh in the Jewish mind and when He said I am the light of the world it was a phrase that was pregnant with meaning.

John 1:9, of Jesus, says, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”  And just as the Jews needed that true Light in their day how desperately today the human race needs the Light of Christ.  Why is that?  Because when our forbearers sinned in Eden the light went out in the human race.  Genesis 2:17 says this, God warned our forbearers, Adam and Eve, He says, “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely” what? “die.”  Physical death didn’t happen that split second; the process of physical death started, but they died spiritually, the light went out.

A human being basically has three parts, body, soul, spirit.  And when they rejected God in Eden the spiritual part of them died.  The spiritual ability to relate to God died.  The capacity to think the way God would have us to think died.  And that has haunted the human race ever since.  That’s why the Book of Ephesians, chapter 2 and verse 1 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.”  The idea here is walking dead, that’s what the human race is without the light of Christ.

Isaiah 59:1-2 says, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that it cannot save;  nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.  [2] But your iniquities have made a separation” that’s what death is, a separation, “have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”  The greatest blight today on the human race is not just physical death; it’s spiritual death.  We are born into the world without the light of God.  And the whole program of the cross and the resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is that that light might come back on, just as the light came on in the temple there in the days of Antiochus, as the temple was liberated from Seleucid’s reign, Seleucid control.

And that’s really what our church is all about; it’s about the promotion and the proclamation of the light going on in people.  That’s what Jesus Christ came into the world to do by removing the sin barrier.  And simply by exercising faith alone in Christ alone the Menorah comes on in human being.  And it’s one of our greatest concerns that people can come to our church and participate in our activities and  yet never have the spiritual light turned on because they never got saved; they never fulfilled God’s condition of faith alone in Christ alone.

It’s a little bit personal to me because I spent the first 16 years of my life in a church, being very religious and yet the light wasn’t on, I wasn’t saved.  I wasn’t what the Bible calls regenerated.  And so if the Holy Spirit is doing something, if He’s knocking, whatever term you want to use, if he’s convicting, what He is after is the light coming on.  He wants the light to come on and He wants to take your temple, your body, which has been the domain of Satan and He wants the light to come on just like the Menorah came on in the intertestamental time period.  And just as that temple was rededicated He wants your body to be dedicated to Him for His service.

And as I’m talking you can receive the gift of the Light simply by trusting in Jesus Christ.  It’s not something you have to raise a hand to do, join a church to do, walk an aisle to do, it’s really a matter of privacy between you and the Lord where you trust in Him and if  you trust in Him and what He has done for you through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead and His bridging of the sin barrier between God and man, He promises  you a gift, many gifts.  But one of those gifts is the Holy Spirit coming into your temple,  your body.  The light comes on,  you become alive in all three areas that God had Adam and Eve in before the fall.  They were alive physically; they were alive at the soulish level and they were alive spiritually.   The spiritual light went out and when a person trusts Christ the spiritual light comes on.

Beyond that, following up with this theme of light, and I’m almost finished, Jesus made this statement in the Sermon on the Mount.  He said to His disciples, [Matthew 5:14]  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, [15] nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. [16] Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

And what are these Jews, these Hebrews that He’s talking to thinking of?  They’re thinking of the light that went on, the Menorah, through the liberation of the temple from Seleucid’s rule.  And so the plan and program of God is not just for people to get saved; that’s wonderful, that keeps you out of hell (which is a good thing, amen!)  But now God wants to use  YOU as His ambassador of light to a world that is sick and it’s sinful and it’s war torn and whatever difficult situation you’re in He wants to give you a ministry, whether it’s at your church, your job, your family, and He wants to use you as His ambassador of light.

And some of you are saying to yourselves, well, you know, Andy,  you really don’t know the year that I’ve just had, 2017, I am just so tired.  You know, I’ve been trying to life for God but I am just fatigued and I am just wiped out.  But let’s go back for a minute to the oil.  The light doesn’t burn by itself; the light only has power when the oil is empowering the flame.  God, in the days of the Maccabees did a tremendous job, did He not, providing miraculously oil for the light to burn.  And God wants to give you extra oil tonight, for your life, for your struggles, for your ministry.  He doesn’t expect  you to let your light shine through your own power.  He wants to empower you!  And in the Bible oil is referred to as what?  Anybody know?  The Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is analogized over and over again to oil.  Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners;”  notice that Jesus says “the LORD has anointed me” oil, empowerment for His mission.  And it’s not just Christ that was empowered for His mission; that Holy Spirit is available to us as well.

1 John 2:20 says, “But you have an anointing” speaking of oil, “from the Holy One, and you all know.”  So really my message tonight is really two-fold: if you’re here and you’re unsaved you need the light to go on.  That’s the greatest need you have and that can happen simply by trusting in Christ and Christ alone where you’re seated.

But my second message, using this background of Hanukah, the Feast of Lights, is to remember that as you move into 2018 I know some of you are going through really severe struggles; I see the prayer requests.  But the Lord wants you to understand that you’re not to walk through those things on  your own strength.  You’re not to walk through those things in  your own power.   You’re not to do your ministry to your own ingenuity.   You’re to rely, by faith, moment by moment, in the oil of the Holy Spirit so that your light can shine.  And it’s just a matter of facing life and saying, you know Lord, I can’t handle this—and the Lord sweetly says you’re right, you can’t, but I can do it through you.

So if you’re unsaved  trust in Christ and get saved so the light can go on.  If you are saved and you’re struggling this year try to do something different than what you did in 2017; try to rest in the provision of God understanding that God doesn’t expect you to have a ministry and fight life’s battles through your power as the anointing of the Holy Spirit  is available.

So those are some things that I’d like for us to keep in mind as we now light our candles.  So music team or Chris or one of the two is going to come up and we’re going to sing Silent Night and before the we start singing Silent Night we’re going to have Earl Chandler… now Earl, don’t burn the church down.  [laughter]  He’s going to light the light and then he’s going to pass it off to the next person, then you get your candle lit and pass if off to the next person and by the time we’re finished it will be a beautiful time because this whole room will be filled with light and we can remember what the Light is all about.  We also have people from the back working their way in with candle lighting as well.   And then once we conclude I’ll come back with a few announcements and a closing prayer.