Category Archives: feast of dedication

Feast of Dedication (part three): an unexpected renewal

“Again, they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed…’” (John 10:39-40).

A journey back to the Jordan, to the place of initial understanding where the voice of God was clearly evident for Jesus, marking the beginning of his public ministry.

Jordan. A name meaning “the descender”; an appropriate fit for this two-hundred mile winding river with its headwaters beginning more than 1000 feet above sea level in the foothills of Mount Hermon, descending through the Sea of Galilee, to eventually landing 1300 feet below sea level into the Dead Sea. The Jordan is the longest and most important river in Israel, nourishing the fertile river valley that surrounds its borders.

While sometimes a disappointment to the casual tourist longing for the grandeur befitting its historical and biblical mention, to the people who dwell there—the farmers and the commoners—the Jordan is the life-blood behind their survival.

Fitting that the Christ would receive his sacred commendation from his Father in that place:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17).

With those words of consecrated beginning, Jesus began his winding navigation of the waters that would become the life-blood behind humanity’s survival. Sometimes the river’s ride carried him gently; sometimes more violently. Regardless of its pulse, the Jordan River was Christ’s “point of understanding”—his “go to moment” in seasons when he needed a reminder as to the reason behind his journey on this earth.

He couldn’t find that reminder in the Temple, at least not on that day during the Feast of Dedication. What he found in its place were the disdain and mockery of a people who refused to believe the truth behind his Jordan moment. Instead of receiving him as the one true “Light” during this festival of lights, they sought to extinguish his flames through the dousing of stones.

But Christ escaped their grasp. Both spiritually and literally. When they couldn’t “grasp” the truth behind the Truth, Truth removed himself from their grip and found his way back to the one place where life made sense. Where the memory of his Father’s voice and his Father’s love resonated in his recollection.

Instead of continuing in the fray and confusion of man’s attempts at worship and celebratory remembrance at the Temple, Jesus took his worship to the Jordan River and paused with Father God for a time of reflection and renewal. There he would feel the pulse behind his calling. There he would experience, once again, the watery embrace of an earlier remembrance, reminding him of his calling and fueling his heart for a continued obedience.

“…and many people came to him. They said, ‘Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.’ And in that place many believed in Jesus.” (John 10:41-42).

In that place, many believed. In that place, Jesus received an unexpected renewal from his Father for the road ahead. Christ’s escape to the Jordan refueled his “descending” walk to the cross.

Sometimes, like Jesus, the return to the Jordan is a journey we need to make. Not to hide from the calling we’ve received from our Father, but simply to remember his summons and to re-invite the whispers of an earlier season when our initial walk to the cross seemed more clearly defined and, therefore, more readily embraced.

Time has a way of separating us from these moments of beginning understanding. Given enough occasions of misunderstanding—times when the world refuses to acknowledge the worth behind our walks—we become susceptible to our own questions, our doubts, and our relevance as it pertains to God’s kingdom purposes. If the world’s refusal regarding our “baptism” by God is not tended to by the Jordan’s reminder—the time when we first “knew what we knew and believed it to be true”—then we are at risk of forgetting. Of relegating that “calling” to the shadows of a louder, more intrusive voice that forcefully demands selfish pursuit over selfless denial.

The Temple has always been a good place for loud voices. But the Jordan? The best place for God’s whispered reminders.

This is my Son, this is my child, whom I dearly love. With him … with you … I am well pleased.

How long has it been, my friends, since you’ve heard the whispers of heaven’s grace spoken over your well-worn and war-torn souls? Could you, like Jesus, use a trip to the banks of the Jordan to remember, to reflect, and to relive those glimmers of truth when they first filtered past your unbelief to cast their brilliance upon your heart of understanding?

I need the Jordan’s renewal. I need its nourishing “wet” to overflow its borders and to wash me clean of the doubts and confusion that amply cling to my heart because of the world’s refusal to recognize the truth behind what my Father has spoken over my life—

His love and his pleasure regarding my status as his child.

He’s spoken the same over you. May we, each one, know the depth and breadth of such an understanding this night and in the days to come. Thus, I pray…

Thank you, Father, for the Jordan and for all that it means to me. For your Son’s baptism and for my own and for their collective understanding that births new life in me, through me, and most days in spite of me. When I can’t find you in the exterior places that fill my day and when the voices of those places speak louder than the truth within, bring me back to the place of understanding where truth is evident through the whispers of an earlier summons. Your descent into my dismal sin, has allowed me my ascent into your marvelous grace.

“On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand, this night, and cast a wishful eye; to Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie. I am bound for the Promised Land.”

Even so, come Lord Jesus to the Jordan this night, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

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PS: This concludes my thoughts on the “Feast of Dedication” as presented in John 10. I hope to do more mini-series in the weeks to come. Truly, this type of the writing is the pulse that continues to push my pen along. May you, each one, know our God more fully this week through the study his Word. It is the greatest treasure we hold. Shalom.

Feast of Dedication (part two): an unexpected question

“Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’” (John 10:31-32).

I’m not comfortable with the question; still and yet, it’s mine to answer. It’s yours too.

I’m a firm believer in the questions of Scripture … the ones issuing forth from a Father’s heart. Whether they come to us through the Old Testament prophets, God’s angels, his Son Jesus, or through his own voice, when God asks a question, he intends for it to transcend the pages of a “long ago and far away” to become a question for our “here and now”.

God’s Word is alive and active. As Christians, we can do one of two things with it:

Pick out the more seemingly applicable points and derive a partial theology based on human inclinations. Or, allow the entirety of its pulse to course through our veins so as to exact a change within based on divine perfection rather than fleshly preferences.

If we choose the latter, and I happen to view the latter as the correct approach to the handling of God’s Word, then we must be willing to sit before God and allow him his voice via his history. It’s a history that includes some direct questions, both in the context in which they were initially asked and in the context that surrounds our current faith.

On that day of Dedication 2000 years ago, in the shadows of a festival designed with the “lights” in mind, Jesus offered his people a question that would force them to wrestle with the truth of who he was … who he still is.

“‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’”

For which of these do we? Do you? Do I … stone him?


Indeed, a difficult wrestling for my spirit these past few days. The more research I do on the topic, the less I understand about why God would sanction any such cruelty toward his people. Swifter retribution seems an easier swallow than that of stoning—a slower death brought about through a collective group of smaller stones, intended to prolong the suffering. Still and yet, God’s Law allowed for stoning—for retributive killing based on certain offenses laid out in his Word. Things like…

Oxen and their owners who were in the habit of goring (Ex. 21:23, 32);
Anyone sacrificing a child to Molech (Lev. 20:2);
Any medium or wizard (Lev. 20:27);
Anyone blaspheming the divine name (Lev. 24:14, 16, 23);
Anyone leading the congregation astray to serve other gods (Dt. 13:10);
Anyone serving other gods (Dt. 17:5);
A stubborn or rebellious son (Dt. 21:21);
A woman who is without her virginity upon marriage (Dt. 22:21);
A man and a betrothed virgin who have sexual relations within the city (Dt. 22:24);

Things like that. There are more, but I’m certain you get the idea. And tonight, I’m confident that, but for the grace of God, a “stoning” I deserve. Who of us couldn’t confess the same? Without the shed blood of Jesus Christ, none of us are clothed with innocence. With him? Well, we’re found faultless, worthy to stand before the throne.

The grace of the cross is a very good gift to us. It means everything to me. I confess I don’t know why God waited so long to send his Son to earth to pay penalty for his children. I don’t understand this kind of Old Testament justice that came through the filling up of hands with stones in order to release them upon another for death’s arrival. It seems cruel and harsh and hardly in line with the mercy and love of a very good God.

I cannot imagine holding stones in my hands, wanting to cast them at anyone, let alone the Christ. But there were those that did. There are those who still do. Perhaps in our civil way of doing life with Jesus in 2009, we mask it better than the people of 2000 years ago. Perhaps our stones aren’t as obvious, more hidden, more private, yet nevertheless just as sharp. Stones we cling to with harsh resentment and that speak the same answer as that of Israelites on a day in Solomon’s Colonnade so long ago…

“‘We are not stoning you for any of these [miracles],’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’” (John 10:33).

Oh yes, we’ll take your miracles Jesus, but when you fail to act like God … when it seems you’ve abandoned your Kingly throne and instead respond to our need like a mere man? When you claim to be God, yet your actions seem to speak otherwise? Well, for that we’ll pick up a few stones. We may not throw them, but we’ll pocket them, touch them, cradle them and keep them until they collect and become too heavy for the holding. And then, if there is strength enough left, we’ll empty our pockets. Either at you or surrendered to you.

Both ways are burdensome to us because stones carry their weight, and when clutched for long seasons and collected en masse, their heaviness penetrates our hearts with doubt, with fear, and with a hardness that refuses to know Christ for the Savior that he is.

I have shown you many miracles, elaine. For which of these do you stone me? Is grace not enough to warrant your trust? Did my blood shed shallow … too little and not enough to clean up your sinful mess? Have you not known my favor and my provision for the past forty-three years?

For which of these do you stone me, child?

Do you not yet believe I am who I say I Am? Who I’ve proved I Am over and over again? It isn’t within your rights to fully comprehend my thoughts, but it is your privilege to wrestle with them … to answer my questions, and in doing so, draw closer to my heart of understanding. Thus, I ask you again, elaine…

For which miracle have I wrought forth in your life, do you stone me?

And with that question, friends, I am undone before my God. How about you? Would you be willing to entreat the thoughts of our Father this night, examine your own heart beneath the light of his great love and mercy for you, and answer his prompt in order to grow closer to him?

I’m heading to my knees just now, and I do so with the song below, playing over in my heart again. Would you join me on my prayer quilt and leave your stones where they lie? I’m praying for you this night. As always…

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Feast of Dedication (part one): an unexpected Visitor

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” (John 10:22).

They should have expected his presence in the midst of their celebration. After all, these were his people and this was his history to remember—an eight-day “festival of lights” commemorating the re-dedication of the temple nearly 200 years earlier.

Rewind the clock those 200 years and you will find a people of God under the oppressive rule of an evil emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes (a name he gave himself meaning “god manifest”). Antiochus feared the Jewish religious establishment and how it might usurp his power. Instead of allowing the Israelites their continuing, relatively peaceful assimilation into Greek culture, Antiochus imposed greater taxes and restrictions on them. He stole from the Temple; not just the physical treasures that would immediately line his pockets with a temporal wealth, but the spiritual treasures that would rob God’s children of a wealth more precious to them than gold—

Their freedom to worship God in God’s house.

In 165-164 B.C., a Jewish man named Mattathias and his five sons (known as the Maccabees, a Hebrew word meaning “hammer”) led a bloody revolt against the oppression and recaptured the Temple, ending nearly 175 years of Greek rule over Jerusalem. Once restoration of the Temple was complete, the Israelites celebrated its re-dedication on the 25th of Kislev, marking the beginnings of a traditional remembrance that is still practiced today by the Jewish people, a festival known as Chanukkah.

The celebration gets a brief mention in John 10, a seemingly casual inclusion, setting the stage for a showdown between these celebrants of religious tradition and the One who came to be celebrated.

Do you see him there? Walking beneath the magnificent shaded portico that enclosed the outer court of the Temple grounds? Milling with a people he came to complete, yet so few of them understanding their need along these lines?

I see him there, quietly engaging with the moment. His steps are heavy and his eyes are filled with depth … with insight that looks past their tradition and straight into their hearts of emptiness. His feet are dusty, soiled by a day’s walk in a sometimes unforgiving climate. His robes? They comfort him, perhaps even protect him from the cold embrace of others who barely notice his participation.

But then, a few do.

Notice him. Confront him and question him regarding his participation in their festival of lights:

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24).

He thought he had … told them plainly regarding the truth of who he is on an early occasion:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

Still and yet, they refused the certainty of Christ’s words, along with his many accompanying miraculous indications. He simply didn’t fit into their festival. Their “lights” stood on a seven-branch lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40). His light stood on a single tree stand. The understanding between the two was a difficult leap for these people entrenched in their tradition.

It still is for many of us … this moving on from the ritualistic and ceremonial worship of our well- meaning traditions to the single-hearted and unbridled worship of the One for whom tradition was instituted. Festivals and feasts were never meant to be an “ends” in and of themselves; rather, they were given to us as a means to that “end”—an avenue to draw our attention and our hearts back to Father God.

Sometimes we, too, get stuck on ritual and on our own festival of lights, all the while negating the Light amongst us. We relegate him to the shadows and to the outskirts of our gatherings in favor of the “show” that’s up front and on stage. Why? Because we’re sometimes more comfortable with the lights we can control rather than inviting the Light his control over us.

Jesus didn’t force the matter 2000 years ago. Instead, he walked in the shadows of a people’s tradition, at least for a season longer. And today, I’m wondering how much longer he will patiently wait in our shadows as we languish in our attempts to mandate worship and the celebration therein? Even as Jesus was their unexpected visitor in Solomon’s Colonnade on that winter day so long ago, I wonder…

Is it the same for us? Do we anticipate Christ’s arrival, or are we surprised when he actually shows up and illuminates our darkness with the Light of his presence? Are we expecting the Son of God, or are we content with imitation?

God is walking amongst our lampstands, friends. His presence is real, and he longs to participate in our celebrations, especially the ones where he is the center of attention and the source of our remembrance. Today, unlike the Maccabees of long ago, we don’t have to “fight” for our freedom to worship in God’s house. There is ample room in our land for our worship; if not in our buildings, then most assuredly within our hearts.

See him there today, lingering in the shadows and more than willing to be the Light in the festival of our worship. The suspense is over. Truth has been revealed. His name is Jesus Christ, and he is the Son of the Living God. May our hearts re-dedicate toward this good and perfect end as we remember. As always,

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PS: Join me later this week for “part two” this series when an “unexpected question” from this “unexpected visitor” takes the stage, inviting our dialogue therein.

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