The Gospel of John today ends half-way through the story.
I would like to read more, where it continues at chapter 10, verse 31:
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
There once was a boy named Alexander. His father was the king of a small country called Macedon. Because his father was king, Alexander received a good education from his own private tutor – Aristotle.
Like many of us who had generous parents and good educations — you might say that a great deal was expected of Alexander.
So how did he do?
Well, he did o.k.
In fact, he changed the world. Not in some relatively minor way, like George Washington, Queen Victoria, or Oprah Winfrey.
You see, Alexander the Great conquered nearly the entire world he knew. By the time he turned thirty, people from Macedon to Babylon, from the Nile to the Indus, would get down on their knees and confess that Alexander the Great was Lord.
In his own lifetime, Alexander the Great would be called a God.
And maybe it was a deserved appelation – his Greatness and Divinity. After all, the imperial creation of this so-called God Man would determine the history of Europe, Asia and North Africa forever.
And not only the physical culture of commerce, architecture and art. The Greek empire would get so deep into the mind of the ancient world, that it even made it’s way into the Bible passages you and I are reading today.
For not only did the Jews of Alexandria get the Old Testament translated into Greek so their congregations could understand it when they no longer spoke Hebrew.
Not only was the New Testament written in Greek and built on a framework of Greek Philosophy.
The very Gospel of John we read this morning tells us a story about Jesus in the Jewish Temple of Solomon, which could not have happened, were it not for Alexander the Great.
It’s a story which starts during the reign of Antiochus the Fourth – the ruler of Syria, and an heir to Alexander’s empire.
Now this Greek was hardly the man his predecessor Alexander was. But proud Antiochus required that people call him “Epiphanes” – which means “God Made Manifest.” Like his forebears, Antiochus had this idea that he was a God.
Well, the Jews of his time did not believe this, and they did not appreciate that he thought so. In fact, his claim to divinity made them sick at heart, because of the one immortal God they knew and loved.
And so they would not fall down before him, or his statue, and call him “God” — no matter what threats or blows would be dealt them.
Their faithful stubbornness made him so mad, that Antiochus Epiphanes the Fourth sent his armies to smash up the Temple at Jerusalem, steal the sacred stuff, and put up statues of himself inside. They set up altars around the countryside and required the Jews to violate God’s law, and offer unclean sacrifices to the Pagan Gods, and to the emperor himself.
And one day, on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Chislev, Antiochus, the Syrian “God Man” ordered that a pig be sacrificed on the altar to himself, and thousands of Jews were slaughtered outside.
The Greeks waged a holocaust against the Jews, and scripture calls it a Desolating Sacrilege.
But the Jews’ outrage was great. And three years later, they revolted, taking the Temple back. On the anniversary of the Desolating Sacrilege, the 25th Day of the Winter month of Chislev, they built a new altar, and made their offering unto God, in accordance with God’s word.
And in case you didn’t know, this feast is the first day of Hannukah.
Which is why in today’s Gospel, at midwinter, on the 25th day of the month of Chislev, we encounter Jesus walking around the Temple like the faithful Jew he was.
Put yourself there with him.
“What’s going on in the mind of this Jewish young man – who has come into his own as a teacher, preacher and healer, and sought to do the will of Him who formed him in the womb, and has been His Father in Heaven, each day of His life?”
“What’s going on in the heart of this faithful Jewish man as he walks along the paving stones of Solomon’s Temple – a man who has lived the humble life of a common man – knowing neither wealth, nor higher education, nor widespread travel, nor even a second language?”
What if he is recalling what happened a hundred and eighty years before, when a Pagan King called himself God, and sacrificed a pig on the altar of Yahweh?
What if he is recalling that just as that bygone man of pride and power and worldy sin desecrated the holy ground of God, so too were the corrupting powers of his own day turning the Temple of God into anything but the place where the True God could be worshipped in holiness?
John tells us that Jesus recalls the words of Scripture, Psalm 82, where God says to mankind: “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the poor and orphan, uphold the rights of the oppressed and destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the power of the wicked. … For I say, You are gods; you are all children of the Most High …”
What if Jesus realizes that the ministry he has been given to share is the very ministry that God wants all humanity to share, to be like him, as children of the Most High?
What if Jesus realizes that when they ask him “are you the Messiah,” he understands that he is not the Messiah they want him to be, but is instead the Messiah they need him to be.
A Messiah which would again recapture the Temple. Not from Hellenistic conquerors of fire and desecration, but legalistic conquerors of falsehood and blindness.
A Messiah who would rebuild the Temple not from the cold stone of history and a petrified law, but from the warm stone of human hearts, animated by the spirit of God’s Holy Word.
It’s pretty easy to see that when Jesus stands in the oldest part of the Temple of Solomon, and says, “the Father and I are one,” … everybody’s gonna go nuts. They’re ready for just such a declaration.
Not because they’re evil Jews who hate poor Jesus. But because they are faithful people who bear the scars of a tragic and violent history – in which they have been faithful to a relationship with the One God, for which they have been slaughtered again and again by men who put themselves in God’s place.
So I do not blame the Jews of Jesus’ day for not recognizing him to be the Way of Truth and Life. I do not blame them for not seeing the Truth of Jesus anymore than I blame people today for not seeing the Truth.
Just as modern people have all sorts of blinders, so did ancient people. I do not blame them for seeing their history and the pain and terror they knew in defense of the One God anymore than I blame people today who are taught a pack of lies about what God wants inside Church or on Cable TV.
How many of us here have seen hypocrisy, hatred, violence, lying, and a callous apathy to the pain of the world among people who call themselves Christians?
So you know, that it is not hard to harden your heart to the Truth of the Gospel when the only people you’ve heard preach it are con-men, liars and cowards.
And it is even harder to see the work and workers of God’s Word when our own eyes have grown blind in an everyday world of selfishness, comfort and complacency.
Yes, it is hard to see the Shepherd my friends. We have been misled before. We have been hurt before. We have trusted others who called themselves our shepherds, and they have turned out to be wolves. We have decided from time to time that the only Shepherd we can really trust is our own will and vision.
So let us not blame the Jews who did not recognize the Shepherd in their midst. For my friends, the spirit of God will tell you if you will hear “it wasn’t the Jews – it was us.”
We are the ones who cannot always see the Shepherd.
And we are the ones who must remember that when we do see him, we are not to despise those who cannot still – but to live to them as the Shepherd has done to us — living as if we truly were the children of the Most High.
For Being As God means bringing health to the weak, defending the needy, rescuing the poor from the power of their afflictions, and delivering them all from the power of the wicked.