Are You The Messiah?
1. About when we have Christmas, the Jews celebrate Hanukah. In the Jewish [lunar] calendar it is eight days long starting from the twenty-fifth day [of the Hebrew month] of Chisleu, [which roughly corresponds to November-December of the solar based calendar]. At Hanukah, which is also called "The Festival Of Lights," they celebrate just like at our Christmas, by putting up decorations, lighting candles, and singing songs of blessing. I hear they even give their children presents [for Hanukah] nowadays; probably because of the influence of Christmas, I would suppose.
2. Well, the scene of the biblical passage we read today is the feast of Hanukah, which still is celebrated in modern times. Incidentally, the word "Hanukah" in Hebrew has the meaning, "dedication, offering." From this passage in the Bible, it calls it "The Memorial Festival Of The Temple Dedication." Actually, the festival of Hanukah is not set forth in the Old Testament scriptures like Passover and The Feast Of Booths. It is a comparatively new holiday, but even though I'm calling it new, its story is one that began more than two thousand years ago. To put it accurately, when the celebration began it was the year 164 B.C.E.
3. To give a simple account of it, it would go like this. In the second century before the common era, Antiochus IV of Syria issued an imperial order that all the people in the lands under his rule would become one and that each and every group of peoples should give up their customs. He prohibited the Jews under his rule from practicing circumcision on their children and from worshipping freely by offering up sacrifices in the temple. Furthermore, he set up an idol of Zeus in the temple at Jerusalem, burned up their law books, and resorted to violence in making them offer up pigs as sacrifices of worship, which the Jews considered as unclean animals. Those who went against the imperial edict were punished one after the other and slaughtered. In addition, the persecution extended even as far as women and children.
4. Under these circumstances, at last the war for independence began with the leadership of the priestly line of the Hasmonean family. Ultimately, the army under the command of a man named Judah Maccabee defeated the Syrian* army and recaptured the Jerusalem temple. It was 164 B.C.E. That year on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chisleu, the Jews purified the temple by removing the idol from it and they dedicated the temple anew.
5. Chapter ten of the book of Second Maccabees, a sequel to the OT**, records the following about those days. "Maccabee and his comrades recaptured the temple and the capital by the Lord's lead. Without any trace of them at all they removed the mounded altars which the foreigners had built in the city, cleansed the temple, and built a fresh altar. ... The Jews publicly made a proposal in regard to that day and in obtaining the approval of the peoples, all the Jewish people decided to celebrate that day as a yearly holiday," (Second Maccabees 10:1-8). This is the origin of Hanukah. Thus, this festival is one that commemorates the liberation of the people and the recovery of the freedom of worship.
6. Therefore, at the time of this festival which rolls around each year, we can easily imagine how that the hopes of the people for independence would mushroom. In the time of Jesus, the Jews were not under the rule of the Greeks, but the Romans. The way these Jews were they were expecting the messiah. Their messiah was defined as one who would certainly liberate them politically and bring back their independence and freedom. He would be just like Judas Maccabee once was. For that reason, the Jews here grabbed Jesus and said, "If you are such a messiah, say so plainly." In other words, they questioned him asking, "Are you truly the messiah who will set us free?" or "Are you the messiah who will topple Rome?"
7. In regard to this, Jesus never gave a direct answer. Instead, he said, "You don't believe because you aren't my sheep." What does this imply? Surrounding Jesus, they had this request of him that went according to their own liking. They had their own understanding of what he was supposed to be and had ideas of their own of "If you were the messiah you are supposed to be this way." Bringing this with them, they approached him with the question of "How long will you keep us in suspense?" But, before saying whether he himself was the messiah who would fulfill their demands, he made an issue of whether they were the sheep of the messiah, the christ. If they didn't believe, Jesus told them the problem was with them and not with him.
8. [The problem] wasn't just with the Jews of that day and age. It is the same with us today. People are always shoving their selfish demands on Christ. People say, if Christ is the way I want him, then I'll accept him, then I'll believe on him. You will respond to my expectations. You will make my wishes come true. You will be the messiah like I think you are, you will be the messiah like I am looking for. Won't you? Aren't you? That's what they ask him to be. But, the Lord has a question or two for us in return when we're like that. He asks us in return, "What kind of person are you? Are you truly my sheep?" It is not Jesus, who is to be questioned about who he really is, but us. Who are we? What kind of person are we?
Are You A Sheep Of The Messiah?
9. So then, as for the definition of the sheep of Christ, it means the kind of person you are. Sheep recognize the sound of their shepherd's voice. They don't fail to hear his voice, but listen to it carefully. They follow the owner of that voice. They don't follow other voices. That's what it means that a person is Christ's sheep. He said it like this, "My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, they follow me," (verse twenty-seven).
10. After I was baptized, harsh words were often said to me, like "Are you STILL a christian [after doing what you just did]?" Sometimes it was people from my family, sometimes friends. But, what of it? We've all had an experience [like that] once or twice I'm sure. It might sound extreme, but whenever it is a word spoken to point out a character flaw in us or a human weakness, I don't think we need to pay it much attention. Because that is not essentially it at all. Because we were not made the sheep of Christ due to character perfection. "Are you still a christian? - "Yes, I still am [despite myself]. I am a sheep of Christ, I have become his." We should give an answer like that. If there is a point where we must be changed, in the process of growth, in the hands of Christ, we should hope to be transformed.
11. But still, if somebody said words like that to us truly questioning our character, I think we should remember them. If they are saying, "You don't really want to listen to Christ one bit, do you? You don't want to follow Christ, do you? Didn't you break off from him for selfish reasons? - If people said "Are you still a christian?," with this intent, I think then we ought to be greatly saddened and repent.
12. Everyone, it is not human weakness that blocks one from following after Jesus. Rather, it is our strengths. It is the haughtiness that supposes, "I can do without some shepherd in my life. I don't need the likes of a shepherd." Or else, it is the pride that is not about to listen to his voice, but shoves its selfish requests at him.
13. Jesus says, "My sheep recognize my voice and follow me." He also goes further with that, "I will give them eternal life. they will never be destroyed and no one is able to steal them out of my hand," (verse twenty-eight). If we are the sheep of the shepherd Christ, the shepherd will guard us his sheep with all his power. Jesus says that he will give eternal life to the sheep who follow after him. It is a life that will never be lost by anything. It is a life that will not be stolen by even the power of death. Therefore, Jesus says, "They will never be destroyed." This means that it can't be stolen out of Christ's hands by anybody. Neither will death be able to steal Christ's sheep from his hands.
14. When I read this passage, I think of the first question in the famous Heidelberg catechism. There it says, "In the time we live and the time we die, what is your sole consolation?" How would you answer this? As the feel of the Japanese word for "consolation" is somewhat weak, I should probably re-word it like this, "In the time we live and the time we die, what is the help that can ultimately support you? If put more simply, "In the days we live and the day we die, what is it that will allow us to say 'It's all right' come life or death?" It asks us, "What makes [things] okay for you?" and "Do you have this very such [element]?" It is not just "in the time we live." It is even for "the time we die." Is it property? Is it ability? Is it family? Is it friends? These are definitely so very much important. But, come what may with them, would you be okay? Even in the hour of death, will they be an ultimate help to give you hope and give you strength and support? This document gives the following answer to this question. "I, both my body and soul, in the time I live and the time I die, do not belong to myself, but belong to my loyal savior Jesus Christ."
15. Surely, in the passage we read today, this is what Christ is promising us. "No one can steal them out of my hand." "No one can steal them out of my father's hand." We had better incline our ears to his voice and follow him fully trusting. That's it, the sheep of Christ means to be a person who listens to the voice of Christ, who believes in Christ as savior, the sent son of God, and who follows him fully trusting. On our own we are helpless to do any thing for ourselves, aren't we? But, we're all right. Because the Lord says this, "I will give them eternal life. They will never be destroyed, no one can steal them from my hand."
*The Syrians were part of the Hellenized Greek world for a time, as alluded to in paragraph six.
**One of the fourteen books in the Apocrypha, books which were not accepted as Holy Scripture by all of Christendom, but are still recognized as valuable for scholarly study.