Rector’s weekly letter to the congregation for Sunday, May 19, 2019
Jewish Feast of Dedication
The Jewish Feast of Dedication is not mentioned in the Bible, but still, it is an important feast to the Jews. In the modern era, it is celebrated under the name Hanukkah. It lasts for eight days. To get to the bottom of its origin we go back into the third century BC.
When Alexander the Great died on June 11, 323 BC, his empire was divided into four parts and given to his four generals, Ptolemy, Cassander, Antigonus, and Seleucus. Ptolemy and Seleucus became more prominent than the other two. Actually, the other two eventually faded out. Ptolemy ruled Egypt and the surrounding regions, while Seleucus took Syria and the surrounding regions which included Judea. The Ptolemy dynasty became the Ptolemies of history, and the Seleucus dynasty became the Seleucids. In the book of Daniel (especially chapter 11), the Seleucid king is referred to as the king of the north, and the Ptolemy king is called the king of the south.
In 175 BC a king by the name Antiochus Epiphanes IV came to power in Syria. He was very proud of Greek culture and aspired to see it spread far and wide. He came to Jerusalem and was determined to do away with Jewish culture and stamp Greek culture, Greek ways, Greek thought, and Greek religion on the Jewish people. Antiochus started out with persuasion, explaining with sweet, attractive language, how good Greek culture and religion were, and the benefits the Jewish people would derive from giving up their “superstition” of worshiping Yahweh and adopting what everyone else in the world was adopting at the time, namely, Greek religion, culture, and thought.
In Jerusalem itself, there had just been a succession feud to the high priesthood between one Jason and one Menelaus. Jason had the larger support of the people and won the day. The supporters of Menelaus were furious and defected to Antiochus. They told him they were ready to abandon their Jewish religion and take on the Greek one. They even asked him to build a gymnasium in Jerusalem. A gymnasium was a place for exercises and games in which participants played naked so as not to be encumbered. Such a place was most repugnant to Jewish sensitivities. The defectors became ashamed of their circumcision and took steps to render themselves uncircumcised through some kind of surgery. They completely abandoned Jewish practices and took on Greek ones. Antiochus was hopeful. But still, the majority of the people remained determinedly Jewish.
When Antiochus realized that the majority of the people were adamantly refusing to adopt Greek culture and ways and religion, he changed strategy from persuasion to brutal force. He outlawed the Jewish religion altogether and stopped the temple sacrifices. He declared that it was a capital offense to own a copy of the law or to circumcise a child. Some women defied him and circumcised their children anyway. Those women were crucified alive and their children killed and their bodies made to hang on their mothers’ necks. The many rooms of the temple were turned into brothels. The great altar of the burnt offering was turned into an altar to the Greek god Zeus and a pig was offered on it. The temple courts were polluted and profaned. Jewish identity was in shambles, flatly humiliated. However, much as the Jews were down, they were not out.
Things came to a head in the year 170 BC, when Antiochus formally attacked Jerusalem. He killed as many as 80 000 Jews and sold about the same number into slavery, mainly to Egypt. He plundered the temple and took at least 1800 talents of gold. A talent weighed about 75 of today’s pounds. Today an ounce of gold costs about $1200. Therefore, in today’s currency the money Antiochus took from the temple was 1800 X $1200 X 75 X 16. You do the math.
In the same year, a Jewish man called Mattathias mobilized his five sons and the Jewish people who were still faithful to Yahweh and started a revolt against Antiochus by way of guerilla warfare. A guerilla war is different from conventional war. In a guerilla war, there’s no frontline. Guerillas use sabotage, ambushes, hit and run, and irregular raids to fight a larger and better-armed force. Humanly speaking, the ragtag Jewish fighter force had no chance against the large and advanced Greek military, but the Jews fought still
Mattathias died in the war in 166 BC and was succeeded by his son Judas as leader of the Jewish force. The war raged on until 164 BC when the Greek military withdrew from Jerusalem and all Judea. The Jews had won. The temple was cleaned up, and all the articles of worship cleansed and restored. When all was ready, a day was declared to dedicate the temple to God. Judas decreed that that day should be observed every year for all time to commemorate how the temple of God was restored after being desecrated by the Greeks. This year, 2019, Hanukkah will start on Sunday, December 22 and end in the evening of Monday, December 30.
Is it not amazing that a people called Jews is still around? How they have been hounded and brutalized over and over and over in history! The Bible says they will never be annihilated from the earth, that God fights for them. (For more enlightenment please read Daniel 11:20 – 45; 1 Maccabees 1 – 16, an Apocryphal book.)
The Disciplines of a Godly Man
by R. Kent Hughes (2001: 11,12, 13, 14, 15)
Discipline for Godliness
fall I determined to become a tennis player. I spent my hoarded
savings on one of those old beautifully laminated Davis Imperial
tennis rackets—a treasure which I actually took to bed with me. I
was disciplined! I played every day after school (except during
basketball season) and every weekend. When spring came, I biked to
the courts where the local high school team practiced and longingly
watched until they finally gave in and let me play with them. The
next two summers I took lessons, played some tournaments, and
practiced about six to eight hours a day—coming home only when they
turned off the lights.
And I became good. Good enough, in fact, that as a twelve-and-a-half-year-old, one-hundred-and-ten-pound freshman I was second man on the varsity tennis team of my large 3,000-student California high school.
Not only did I play at a high level, [but also] I learned that personal discipline is the indispensable key for accomplishing anything in life. I have since come to understand even more that it is, in fact, the mother and handmaiden of what we call genius.
….as children of grace, our spiritual discipline is everything—everything. I repeat. . .discipline is everything.
In traditional Greek athletic contests, the participants competed without clothing, so as not to be encumbered. Therefore, the word “train” originally carried the literal meaning, “to exercise naked.” By New Testament times it referred to exercise and training in general. But even then it was, and is, a word with the smell of the gym in it—the sweat of a good workout. “Gymnasticize (exercise, work out, train) yourself for the purpose of godliness” conveys the feel of what Paul is saying in 1 Timothy 4:7— “train yourself to be godly.”
a word, he is calling for some spiritual sweat. Just as the athletes
discarded everything and competed gumnos [naked]—free from
everything that could possibly burden them—so we must get rid of
every encumbrance, every association, habit, and tendency which
impedes godliness. If we are to excel, we must strip ourselves to a
lean, spiritual nakedness. The writer of Hebrews explains it like
this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of
witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that
so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked
out for us. (Hebrews 12:1). Men, we will never get anywhere
spiritually without a conscious divestment of the things that are
holding us back. What things are weighing you down? The call to
discipline demands that you throw it off. Are you man enough [to do
The call to train ourselves for godliness also suggests directing all our energy toward godliness. Paul pictures this elsewhere: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. . . . Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave” (1 Corinthians 9:25 -27). Intense, energetic sweat! We should regularly note that a sentence later in the context of Paul’s command to “train yourself to be godly,” he comments on the command and the intervening words, saying, “for this we labor and strive.” “Labor” means “strenuous toil,” and “strive” is the Greek word from which we get “agonize.” Toil and agony are called for if one is to be holy. When one seriously trains, he willingly undergoes hours of discipline and even pain so as to win the prize—running 10,000 miles to run 100 yards at one’s best. The successful Christian life is a sweaty affair. No manliness no maturity. No discipline no discipleship? No sweat no sainthood.