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    Hanukkah 2000 and the Ten Virgins

    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 30 December 2000

    Click here for Part 1

    Today is the last day of Hanukkah and providentially it falls on the Sabbath so that I can complete the second of two talks I want to give you on this important festival. The original Hanukkah, you will remember, marked the end of the reign of the tyrant and antichrist Antiochus Epiphanes and the restoration of Jewish independence after centuries of foreign occupation. Many at the time believed that the Messiah would come and that Israel would once again be great. Though the Jews of the Hasmonean Kingdom didn't know it at the time, the Messiah was to arrive a little over a century later though not in the way they had expected and hoped for.

    Hanukkah marked the first day in a kind of Jewish 'Millennium' for they fervently hoped that finally the end of foreign occupation had come - permanently. In actual fact, the Hasmonean Kingdom lasted only a century and it was beset with one trouble after another. It was to be no millennium of peace and prosperity. And as I told you last week, it was brought to an end by the Roman General Pompey.

    Whatever the Hasmonean Kingdom was, it was not the Kingdom of God on earth, even though many of its leading figures probably hoped it would be. This Kingdom was won by the sword and it was, as Yah'shua (Jesus) later prophesied of all armed insurrections, destroyed by the sword. And yet Yahweh wanted this brief period of history to be remembered by His people as a time when He miraculously intervened in the temple to make one day's oil last eight days. Why did He bother to do so? And shall we believe, as we have every right to, that an important mystery is hidden up in this incident involving the Eternal Flame? If the Hasmonean Kingdom was a shadow - albeit it weak and pale one - of the coming mighty Kingdom of God, then might there be some clue as to what Kingdom Life is all about? If we are to solve this mystery, we must keep in mind the central symbols of the miracle: Light and oil.

    A little over a century later Yah'shua (Jesus) told His disciples a number of very important parables about the Kingdom of Heaven which He linked with the last days immediately prior to, and after, the Judgment. You've all heard of them - the parable of the Ten Virgins, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Today I want to talk to you about the Parable of the Ten Virgins because it's a wonderful way of focussing our lives on the things that really matter.

    I wonder if you've ever closely looked at your hands and wondered why they are made the way they are? We have two wrists and dangling on the end of them are two sets of five fingers. Our whole system of mathematics is inspired by the decimal system. God gave us Ten Commandments - ten fingers by which to measure our lives - which are the most potent moral and ethical instructions ever given. As if to emphasise their relationship to the human hand, Yahweh wrote them with His own finger! It's the only part of the Bible written by God personally, and on stone to teach us the permanence of His Laws.

    When Yah'shua (Jesus) came to earth, He summarised the Ten Commandments into two. He said, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength - with everything that you've got', and second,' love your neighbour in the same way as you would wish to be loved yourself'. He then said that the Ten Commandments, and all that the prophets had ever said, hung on these two commandments.

    What a beautifully simple picture! Ten commandments hanging on two commandments just like ten fingers hanging on two wrists. Have you ever noticed that the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) was written on two stone tablets? Interesting, isn't it? Every time you look at your hands you should be reminded of the Ten Commandments. Meditate on them every day. And what are these ten finger-commandments on our hands? I know you know them but I'm going to share them with you again but this time looking from a slightly new angle. I think you will be astonished.

    But before I do, I want to remind you of something Yah'shua (Jesus) said which sometimes shocks people. Once He said that if your left hand causes you to sin and lose your soul, cut it off! Better, he said, to go into heaven maimed than into hell with both your hands intact. Of course, He wasn't talking about literally chopping your hand off, but He did want to shock people into realising that sin is such a serious matter that sometimes we must take drastic measures to deal with it, especially if it is the only way of finding happiness for all eternity.

    These are the Ten Commandments:

      (1) You shall worship no other God than Yahweh. Only God shall be the most important Person in your life. The English word "worship" means to "have worth" - in other words, for a believer, there is nothing more worthwhile that our Father in Heaven. That is your RIGHT THUMB.

      (2) You shall not make any idols, that is, create physical, emotional or mental substitutes for Yahweh. When people turn away from God that's the first thing they do. When they stop making God number one in their lives, they start worshipping other things like money, power, sex, sports, career, or any number of other things both lawful and lawful. They give these things priority. That's your RIGHT INDEX FINGER.

      (3) You shall not misuse the Name of Yahweh. That doesn't just mean abstaining from swearing that uses "God", "Lord", "Yahweh", "Jesus", "Yah'shua", or "Christ", though it's a part of it. The "name" of God also represents His character and everything good and holy that He stands for. This means we should never make fun of anything that is good or pure. Ever. Because when we make fun of that which is dear to the heart of God, we make fun of God and break this commandment. We should hold these things therefire in the deepest respect because God is the author of them. That's your THIRD RIGHT FINGER.

      (4) You shall remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. That means observing the seventh day in the week as a day of rest - from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset - by using it to stop all worldlly activity, to cease from our career activities, and to really rest body and soul. You rest the body by not doing any unnecessary work and you rest the soul by focussing on holy things by joining in worshipping, singinging and studying with other Christians and making it a family day with God. That's your FOURTH RIGHT RINGER.

      (5) You shall honour your father and mother all your life, treating them respectfully, honouring and caring for them. This means that even if you strongly disagree with them you must still treat them a little differently than you would a brother, sister or friend. Parents are God's respresentatives in the family, and the family is an eternal principle. God has given them authority over the lives of son's and daughters until they leave home and start their own families. But even after the children are married, parents are to be respected, spoken to politely and kindly, no matter how terrible some of them may be ... and some are awful to be sure. A good example is how Christ treated His mother or David treated King Saul. That's your FIFTH RIGHT FINGER.

    That completes the right hand. By obeying these five commandments you are obeying Christ's first commandment to love God with all your soul. It is a summary of them.

    Now the left hand.

      (6) You shall not murder, meaning, you shall not unlawfully kill another human being. That law is defined elsewhere in other commandments given by God. This is your LEFT THUMB.

      (7) You shall not commit adultery. You shall never desire or have sex with another man's wife whether you are married or single, and you shall never desire or have sex another woman's husband if you are married. Elsewhere Yahweh's explains His sexual laws in more detail, telling us that marriage is the only acceptable form of sexual relationship between male and female. To put it simply, sex is something that only married people are allowed to do. There is not such thing as lawful sex before marriage. Everything else is either fornication or adultery. This is your LEFT INDEX FINGER.

      (8) You shall not steal. That's obvious, isn't it? We are not to take something that doesn't belong to us. We must respect other people's property. This is your THIRD LEFT FINGER.

      (9) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. In other words, you shall always be truthful and protect the good name of a man or woman. This means you must always acknowledge the good things about a person whether you like them or not. This is your FOURTH LEFT FINGER.

      (10) Finally, you shall not covet your neighbour's property - his home, wife, possessions, etc.. The word "covet" means to desire something with an evil motivation. The only things we are allowed to desire are the things that God has said are lawful and those lawful things which are in His will for you personally. This is your FIFTH LEFT FINGER.

    Yah'shua (Jesus) sums up these last five commandments by saying that we should love other people as our selves. We should treat them the way we want to be treated. But if we've loving GOD with all our hearts first, we will, in fact, love them even more, because we will love them the way God loves us. We are to continually raise our standards of goodness, imitating the standards set by Yah'shua (Jesus). .

    Ten fingers on two hands - ten commandments on two tablets of stone. As any pianist will tell you, all ten fingers are important. All ten commandments are important - all of them - which is why Yahweh gave us ten fingers and not eight or seven or two.

    Now people often tell me that living the Ten Commandments is hard. And they're right. It can be tough especially for immature, growing Christians, or those who are forced by their circumstances to live in a bad environment. But nowhere did either Yahweh or Yah'shua (Christ) tell us that we could focus on the few we found easy and neglect the others. All, they insisted, are vital. We can tell, by measuring ourselves against them, whether we are truly loving God and truly loving other people, because the Ten Commandments are the only way we can know for sure if we really loving. A person who steals from someone else isn't loving them, is he? A person who works needlessly on the Sabbath doesn't love God or himself, does he? These Ten Commandments, written in our hands, tell us what is and isn't important, in the moral life.

    God knew they would be hard but not impossible. In fact, the evidence suggests that most Christians struggle with at least half of these commandments. But Christ didn't say: "Oh, don't worry. Just keep the commandments you can!" Absolultely not. He said, if your left hand is leading you into sin, CUT IT OFF! If you have problems with being faithful to your wife, keep away from other women! Cut the temptation off! Far better to deprive yourself of the friendship and good company of married women than to risk losing your soul into hell. Isn't that what Yah'shua (Jesus) taught? Yes. He taught that we should forsake some lawful things - like the company of those of the opposite sex - if we are so weak as not to be able to stop ourselves commiting fornication or adultery. If you have problems watching worldly films on the Sabbath, lock the TV away and give the key to someone who won't give it back to you until Saturday evening. Yes, these examples sound rather silly, don't they, but that is the commandment Chist has given to us. Why ruin your whole life by walking deliberately into temptation?

    Now I'm not saying that any of you here necessarily have such serious problems, though you might. More often than not we're a bit weak in one or the others commandments. We like God rather than love Him. We may steal one sweet from our brother's Saturday sweets as opposed to robbing a bank. But both of these are sins that break our relationship with Yahweh. But both persons fail the commandments. And if you fail in one, it affects your life in all the others. Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself taught that if you break one commandment then that is the same as breaking all the rest. But the point is not to stop or give up there but to acccept Christ's free pardon by admitting the sin and promising not to repeat it.

    The solution Christ gave was two-fold. Firstly, He reminded us that we couldn't actually live pure and holy lives in our own strength. Utterly impossible. Secondly, we are able to live them in His strength. But more than even these two, we can understand why living them is such a wonderful thing and not a burden to bear. Because behind all the commandments lies the promise of the happiness we are deep down searching for, a happiness which can be obtained without power, influence, popularity, or any of the things that most people long for as a substitute for a relationship with Christ. The great moving power behind these commandments is love because God knows what is best for us.

    The Ten Commandments are the most wonderful rules that anyone could ever live by. God guarantees us that when we do, life is a pure joy, no matter how much wickedness there may be around is or other problems we may be facing. But what we must not be tempted to do is try to improve upon them. Many men and women have tried and failed miserably.

    But what have the Ten Commandments to do with the Parable of the Ten Virgins? Almost everything. For one thing I hope you have by now noted, firstly, that there were ten virgins, not eight or twelve. Secondly, that five of them didn't make it - they got locked out of the marriage feast, just like a left hand being cut off a body.

    Before I even go into detail about the Ten Virgins it is important to say this: that in order to get anything good and worthwhile in this life we must be prepared to sacrifice some good things. Every human being is born with numerous talents but it is impossible to fully realise all of them. Indeed, choosing which ones to follow in a career can be agonising. I wanted to be an architect like my father and grandfather but I also wanted to be a biochemist. In the end I had to sacrifice architecture and biochemistry because I felt the calling to become a teacher and, finally, a minister. I even nearly went into politics.

    Choosing a career can be agonising for some people. For others they are 100% sure what they want to do. And yet I have met many of those "100% sure people" who have ended up doing something else, because that is where God called them. Like the tennis star who was told to go and preach the Gospel in the South American Amazon. So long as they resisted His call they were miserable, but once they yielded they found joy.

    I think most will agree that it is an axiom of life that in order to enjoy one set of things you must give up some others. To follow God's way - His choice for us which He knows will make us happy and fulfilled - means giving up many things we thing we would have preferred but which in the end were a dead-end in terms of what we really needed. And because we are sometimes stubborn and so convinced we are right, He permits us to go through hell until we come to our senses and do things His way. It took a lot to stop me from being a teacher because I was so afraid it was the wrong thing to stop because I had been doing it all my life. In the end I had to suffer bad health to get me out and into doing what I know I must do for the rest of my life. He had to metaphorically chop off one of my hands.

    A surgeon does not use every surgical instrument he has on one patient any more than we ever actually need to use all our talents all at once. Think about the Patriatch Joseph, a gifted statesman who ruled Egypt with great wisdom and blessed his family. You'd have thought he should have been a statesman from the beginning. But no, first God got him hated by His brothers to wear down his pride and cockiness. Then he had him sold into slavery, falsely accused, and put into prison. Only a fraction of his talents could possible have been used in Pharaoh's prison but it was all important training for him nonetheless. Nobody in his family could have remotely guessed that an Israelite shepherd living in Palestine was destined to be Prime Minister of Egypt! Let that is what he became both for his blessing and for millions of others, including his own father and wicked brothers. God knows the best path for us, even if the way sometimes seems a bit strange, hard and painful. Joseph is one of my favourite Biblical characters - he touches my heart every time I read about him.

    Now there were once ten unnamed young women who were the brides of an unnamed bridegroom. It was a polygamous marriage of ten women to one man, and was itself a parable of the relationship between the human soul and Christ as well as the whole fellowship of true believers and our Lord. In this parable Yah'shua (Jesus) brilliantly explained the life we, as Christians, are called to lead. I am not so much interested in the relationship between Christ and His Church in this story, important though that is, as I between Christ and us as individual believers. The other parables clearly teach that many who call themselves Christians will not make it - as many as, if not more than, 50% of them. He talks in another parable of a great separation of the sheep and goats - of the true, Spirit-filled and those who are symbolic or nominal Christians, who are all words but no deeds. The latter, He tells us, go away to everlasting punishment because they were hypocrites.

    Now there is nothing accidental in anything that Christ says. When in His story He used ten virgins and not six or thirteen, there was a reason. It should be clear, by now, that each of the ten virgins represents one of the Ten Commandments which we are supposed to be living, on at least on one level. The five foolish ones represent those areas where we fail but which must be sorted out if we are not to be locked out of heaven.

    According to the parable the thing that excluded the five foolish virgins from the bridal feast, which represents the Kingdom of Heaven, was the fact that they had been negligent. Most of you have probably seen illustrations of this parable showing ten beautifully clothed women carrying little oil lamps because some of the older translations of our Bible use the word "lamp" which had a rather different meaning to what it does today. They were not your ordinary household lamps such as the Arabian type you may have seen Alladin holding in the fairy tales of the same name. These were large torches wrapped with rags at the top and soaked in oil. They were used anciently for lighting streets and big palaces. Moreover, they burned up very quickly. The burned rag had to be replaced by trimming it and the torches had to be doused in oil again. A lot of oil was needed to keep them going.

    The five wise virgins, knowing that the wait for their husband would probably take a while, brought lots of spare oil with them, in the same way that wise Christians know that life is long and hard, involving much struggle, requiring much spiritual preparation. The foolish virgins believed, quite wrongly, that their husband would come very soon and that they didn't need to worry about extra supplies of oil, much as many Christians believe that little is required in the Christian life and that they can just sit around doing their own thing.

    Oil always represents the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God. Like a car which has to be refilled with petrol, so a Christian must constantly be replenished with the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God fills those who walk in His will, striving to be obedient to God's commandments and plans for their lives. They are careful people, knowing that though time may appear to never end, that in truth in this life it is very, very short.

    According to a prophetic word received about ten years ago (NC&C 270), each of the ten virgins is a particular attitude and set of behaviour patterns.

      (1) Of the five foolish virgins, the first is utterly selfish and wrapped up in herself. She doesn't care about anyone and is quite willing to lie to discredit someone or get her own way. There is spite and hatred in her heart. She is the centre of her own universe and expects everyone else to revolve around it.

      (2) The second foolish virgin has little or no sense of justice and loves to blame others for her own faults. She is very conceited and is arrogant enough to reject God if He doesn't do things the way she wants. She loves to accuse others of their faults in order to not to face up to her own, and will even go so far as to call white black, and black white.

      (3) The third foolish virgin is the spirit of hate. She hates everyone, it highly irritable, and loses her temper at the slightest provocation. She wants everyone else to be as miserable as she is.

      (4) The fourth foolish virgin is without reason. She doesn't think things through and acts impulsively. She breaks her promises and can't be trusted, and because she is the way she is, she brings disaster to others. She isn't what one would call "evil", just thoughtless. She overdoes everything so that when she's happy she does it in such a way as to turn everyone else off. Her discernment is bad and things the wise are stupid, and the stupid are wise.

      (5) The fifth foolish virgin is the spirit of deceit. She loves lying about others, likes spinning rumours and gossipping. But she deceives herself more than anyone else, and is often deluded by her own imagination and fantasy, and gets herself trapped inside it.

    Now perhaps you recognise a little of some or all of these character traits in you. If you do, it means there is much spiritual work yet to be done. As you surrender your life to Christ, forget yourself, and start serving others of your own free will, going above what is expected of you and your duty, then your personality will gradually change. And when it does, you will begin to recognise the character traits of the five wise virgins who were admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven at the final judgment.

      (6) The first wise virgin is called Goodness. She is always running around helping other people, even without parental guidance. She loves nature, the trees, flowers and animals, and enjoys taking care of them. She loves sharing her things with the poor. All love her except those who are envious and jealous of her.

      (7) The second wise virgin is called Justice & Righteousness which she learns by living a strict life. She shares everything and loves to watch her father to imitate him in his goodness. She is very curious and wants to learn new things all the time, and sees God at work all around her in nature.

      (8) The third wise virgin is called Love which she learns by being willing to sacrifice for others and gains much inspiration from her mother. Everything is lovely to her, especially children, the good and the naughty.

      (9) The fourth wise virgin is called Wisdom and knows how to quietly think and reflect on things. She is a good listener. She loves finding people filled with wisdom in order to learn from them. She loves collecting things in order to discover about life round about her. She's a good listener and does so respectfully and attentively.

      (10) The fifth wise virgin is called Truth. She is open and honest in all things, and learns how to discriminate between good and bad, copying only the good things she sees in other people. She is pure.

    I could say more about these ten people but I wanted to give you a very brief outline only. The point is that we are the lamps or torches and the Spirit of God is the oil. The godly are constantly replenished with this oil as they love and serve. And as they love and serve, so they become more and more Christ-like.

    The wise virgins are our right hands and the foolish are those who are on the left. For not only do our two hands represent the Ten holy commandments of Yahweh but also the two different natures in man - the spiritually five wise virgins and the carnal five foolish ones. In Scripture the left always represents condemnation and the right blessing. That is why Christ sits on the right hand side of Yahweh. There are two contrary natures in us - a carnal one like the five foolish virgins, and a spiritual one like the five wise ones. We are rarely purely good or purely bad, but admixtures. The question is: which nature rules us? The carnal or the spiritual? How can we know which is which, especially in the grey fuzzy area between good and evil? How can we find happiness and how can we be sure we are candidates for heaven?

    Like any garden, weeds grow up alongside the good plants and must continually be weeded up. Everytime we say or do something that is obviously wrong, we must be strict with ourself, and cut that offending hand off by saying: "No, I will not yield to you," followed by repenting to God for being rebellious and saying worry to those who may have offended. We are spiritual gardeners and we must often do backbreaking digging work to prepare the soul of our hearts so that the truth of Christ really can take root. And then we must be constantly weeding out impure thoughts and feelings, and stopping ourselves from doing sinful deeds.

    Though this may appear to be a daunting task, it is not so hard when you consider the message of Hanukkah. The Jewish people were suffering terribly under an antichrist, Antiochus Epiphanes, just as we suffer in our own souls when we allow the selfish non-spirtual, carnal self to dominate our thinking, feeling and actions. God permits us to create as much suffering for ourselves as we want to. It is we who must choose how to live. But in the end we have to put our foot down and declare, "Enough is enough!" It may take a particularly stubborn and rebellious person a while to come finally to that point, but the important thing is to come to it. Then, like the Jews, we must arise in rebellion against sin and desire Yahweh's commandments with all our hearts. And once our heart-felt desire is His righteeousness, then the miracles start happening. One cruise full of oil lasted eight days. Though our spiritual resources are small, Yahweh makes up the difference with the gree gift of His love and grace. He sends us the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower our lives to do what we failed to do in the flesh. And notice the symbolism: for our one, he gives seven. Yes, He gives us seven times as much as we have naturally. That is how Christians are ablöe to endure all the Satan throws at them because they have this extra power. That is why their light of faith continues burning when the light of unbelievers has long gone out.

    Remember, then, the promise of Hanukkah: that if we do our part, God will multiply our spiritual life seven times, just in the parable of the talents. He is extraordinarily generous but first - but FIRST - we have to make a decision and declare to the world and to our fleshy nature: "NO MORE!" And then to God: "I will follow in your ways all the days of my life." Amen.

    This page was created on 21 February 2001
    Last updated on 21 February 2001

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