• John Lemons

Peaches & Smash: That Time Jesus Ruined Hanukkah

Updated: Jan 4


“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise…”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity



As I write this, our Jewish friends around the world are celebrating the ancient holiday of Hanukkah. While it is not a holiday that I love or celebrate in the same way they do, it is one for which I have a deep appreciation. I mean, how many other modern holidays can we say were celebrated in the days of Jesus? Additionally, I love the story behind it – it is the story of overcoming evil and humiliation, of restoring pride in your people, and it contains, as do all good stories, the birth of some really great nicknames.


You can tell a lot about a person by their nicknames. The nicknames others give them. And the nicknames they give themselves.



A few years ago, I played in a golf tournament with some friends. Only one of us was really any good at golf, so we learned quickly that we were playing for fun and nothing else.


One of my friends on the team that day was John. I should say that his name is also John - I’m not calling myself my own friend. (To all the John Mulaney fans out there,

To everyone else… sorry, just keep reading).


Now, it’s hard for me to describe to you what kind of a man my friend John is without you being able to see him up close. But basically, what I’ll tell you is that if a tank could be a person, it would be my friend John.


This is a widely recognized fact. So widely recognized that every year at Halloween, John is asked to portray a certain character in a local costume parade. Here’s a picture of John in that parade:

That’s John dressed as Thor. Thor, the god of Thunder. This is the character that John is asked to portray.


Every. Year. In the town Halloween parade.


In the Marvel movies, Thor is portrayed by Chris Hemsworth. So, just for reference, here’s a picture of John dressed as Thor next to the actual Thor…

John has bigger arms than Thor.


So, needless to say, when “Thor” hits a golf ball… sometimes, it goes straight. Sometimes it goes into the woods. Sometimes, it hits a house.


But every time, it goes far. Very, very far.


So far, in fact, that sometimes you can hear the person who’s house John hits with a golf ball say, “What is happening? I don’t even live on a golf course.”


That’s how far John hits the ball.


So we are playing in this golf tournament and John does what he does and hits a ball, and it went far. How far? Very far. And as we are all hooting and hollering, the other guys on our team decide to start calling John “Smash.”


For the rest of the day. From then on, every time John hits a ball, “Smash!” “Smaaaaash.”


Nobody has ever looked at me, or at anything I’ve ever done, and thought to call me “Smash.”


You can tell a lot about a person by their nicknames. Especially the nicknames others give them.



There’s a mention in the Bible, in John Chapter 10, of Jesus being at something called the “Festival of Dedication.” If you are observant, included with that is probably a notation in your Bible that says something like, “that is, Hanukkah.” And to really understand what is happening in the rest of Chapter 10, you have to grasp Hanukkah as the backdrop.


About 165 years before the time of Jesus, Judea was invaded by the Seleucids, who were basically the Romans before there were the Romans. They sieged Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple of God, the holiest site for a Jewish person and the kind of thing that would have absolutely upended their world. The ruler who led this attack, named Antiochus Epiphanes, walked to the altar of God and sacrificed a pig on it, which, if you know anything about ancient Judaism, you know is the highest of insults.


Antiochus Epiphanes, by the way, is a self-given nickname – and it meant “god manifest.”


His contemporaries didn’t think too highly of that, and they called him “Antiochus Epimanes” which meant “the Madman.” This is an important detail to remember.


Because as you know, you can tell a lot about a person by their nicknames. The nicknames others give them. And the nicknames they give themselves.


This act by Epiphanes obviously doesn’t sit well with the Jewish people, so after a while they stage a revolt, win back the Temple, and eventually rededicate it. This rededication in 164 BC is the first Hanukkah. The Jews re-purify the Temple and have an 8 day celebration – which is where we get the 8-day Festival of Lights, during which in this passage from John 10, Jesus is preaching.


This revolt, by the way, was led by a man named Judas Maccabeus – Judas being the name given by his father. And Maccabeus the nickname given by his friends. It meant “the Hammer.”


You can tell a lot about a person by their nicknames. Especially the nicknames others give them.


No one has ever looked at me, or at anything I’ve ever done, and thought to call me “the Hammer.”



When the religious leaders come to Jesus in John Chapter 10, they say to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.


But… look around. It’s Hanukkah. Jesus is standing in the Temple. And the Romans are standing right outside the door. They say history repeats itself... in this case, it certainly has.


The religious leaders aren’t looking for Jesus – at least, not who or what he actually is. They are looking for “the Hammer.”


But instead of giving them what they are looking for – instead of saying “yes, I am here to overthrow the Romans,” Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.


Once again…. Jesus, in the Temple, during Hanukkah, is asked “are you the Messiah?” Translation: “Are you the next Judas Maccabeus?’


And Jesus responds, “I and the Father are One.” Translation: “No. I am not the next Hammer. I’m Epiphanes. I am God Manifest.”


After this statement by Jesus that he and the Father “are One,” the account states that the religious leaders wanted to kill him. Without the context, this seems like it could be an overreach. Most people explain it away as “the religious leaders think Jesus is being blasphemous,” but it is much, much more than that. Given this backdrop of Hanukkah, with the Romans in power, and this particular statement by Jesus, do you now see why?


And, it's tough to blame them. Jesus has just, apparently, trashed a cherished holiday celebration. More than that, he just had the audacity during this cherished holiday celebration to link himself to the "bad guy." What's a good Jewish leader to do? How does one not link themselves to the "good guy," and to the revolt, in response? They think they are standing up for what they believe... for honoring God. These are noble things to defend.


And you and I would probably have responded the same way.


There are also accounts further linking Jesus to Antiochus Epiphanes where Jesus is called a…. madman.


Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Jesus didn’t claim to be God, that the church just made it up hundreds of years later. There is no other reason to kill him, especially when you understand what he did against this historical backdrop (and others like it). He claimed to be God, and he’s either Epimanes or Epiphanes – he’s either a Madman, or he truly is God Manifest.


You can tell a lot about a person by their nicknames. The nicknames others give them. And the nicknames they give themselves.



As we continue in the golf tournament, my friend John continues hitting bombs, and every time he does, we continue to all yell, “Smaaaash!”


And I don’t contribute much to our efforts, but every now and then I hit a shot that is useful to the team. When I do, the problem my friends begin to encounter is that they don’t know what to call me... So, they asked, “Do you have a nickname?”


I didn’t really think about my response my friends. If I had, I would have a different story to tell you today. But I didn’t, so I simply blurted out, “Well… back where I used to live, my friends called me ‘Peaches.’”

And as you maybe imagined, they exploded in laughter.


So, for the rest of the golf tournament, John and I became “Peaches & Smash.” Every time we did anything at all, it was “Peaches & Smaaash!”


I would give anything, for just once in my life, to be considered the “Smash” end of that equation.


That night, I checked my phone and I had a text from my Pastor. Now, when you get a text from your Pastor, I don’t know what it says. But I imagine it says something like, “Hey, I’m praying for you.” Or, “Hey, I read this Bible verse and it made me think of you.”


All my text from my Pastor said was, “Hey. Just checking in, Peaches.”


No one ever looks at me, or at anything I’ve ever done, and calls me “Smash.” Or “the Hammer.” Because they look at me and call me “Peaches.”


Or “Mouse.” That was a nickname once.

“Tangerine.” That was another one.

Or, the nickname I had in high school, “Johnny Bubbles,” which wasn't bad because it sounded like a 1920's gangster. But then everybody started shortening it to, simply, "Bubbles." A 17, 18-year old guy going around that everybody calls "Bubbles," well...that’s a story for another day.


You can tell a lot about a person by their nicknames. The nicknames others give them. And the nicknames they give themselves.



If you read through the rest of the New Testament, the same Jesus who is “God Manifest” to some and a “Madman” to others is given other nicknames. “Son of David,” “Son of Man,” and, the one you hear a lot this time of year, “God with us.


And he begins to call his people names. There’s the brothers, James and John, whom Jesus nicknames the “Sons of Thunder.” Simon gets the nickname “Petra” or Peter, which means “Rock.”


And there are names for me and you, and the rest of his people. “Ambassadors.” “Masterpieces.” “Children of God.


Elsewhere in John 10, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, because you can tell a lot about a person by their nicknames. And he calls us his sheep, because you can tell a lot about people by the names others give them.


In v.3 of Chapter 10, we read “the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.”


He not only calls us by name, he calls us to join him. CS Lewis once said… “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”


I love this time of year, because religion is on everyone’s minds. As Christians celebrate the Advent (literally, “Arrival”) of Christ, our Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah – the re-birth, of sorts, of their own tradition.


During such a time, I’d urge you to consider the claims of Jesus if you never have before. You can choose not to believe him (I choose to believe). You can decide that the claims are crazy (They are… but I also believe they are true). But you can’t say he didn’t make audacious claims. You can’t say that he didn’t come to disrupt the ways we go about living. You can’t say that he didn’t come and draw a line in the sand.


You can't say he didn't come to upend even your holiday traditions and assumptions, and mine.


There is no other reason for people to kill him.


If you are one of his followers, be encouraged: He is calling you by name, he has a new name to call you, and there may be some things that are hard for you to hear. But it's worth it, and it's true. And if you are not one of his followers, he is calling to you as well. If you've never given consideration to his claims before, there's no better time to start than now. He has a place for you. He has a new name to call you, too.


And as we all know... You can tell a lot about a person by their new names. The new names others give them. And the new names they give themselves.







Cover Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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