When Society Shuddered

When Society Shuddered

November 2016

Luke 21:5-19

The Word Of God

May the Lord as His Wisdom and Understanding

To Our Interpretation of His Word Today

We Are In Need of Healing, and God Will See Us Through…it is what our scriptures are telling us this morning.  We’ll take a quick look at the scriptures.  They come from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 21, versus 5-19 and tell of the destruction of the Temple.

Jesus has made his triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem.  He came across the Kindron valley and up the stairs to the top of the plateau and entered into Jerusalem.  He went through the Muster Gate and into the Temple through the Golden Gate, and was in the Temple’s outer courtyard, the Courtyard of the Gentiles.  In this courtyard were stalls and vendors selling everything from sparrows and doves to rams and bulls for sacrifices.  There were also moneychangers who exchanged the coin of the realm for Temple coins for money offerings.   Jesus overturns the tables of the vendors and chases them from the Temple, not because they were providing the products for the sacrifices, (if you were traveling from a distance it is easier to buy your sacrifice be it a bull, or goat, or sheep, or dove onsite…or to make a monetary sacrifice you had to have Temple coinage).  The vendors were cheating the people and that was the reason he cleared the courtyard..

We need a quick look at the Temple because of its importance to our message.  http://www.centuryone.com/images/Illustration-Temple-Mount.jpg  The Temple's scale is simply massive and therefore impressive:

  • east side 460 meters (1509 feet)
  • north side 315 meters (1033 feet) 
  • south side 280 meters (919 feet) 
  • west side 485 meters (1591 feet) 
  • the walls were 30 meters tall (98 feet) 
  • the foundation was 20 meters deep (66 feet) 
  • In volume it could hold about 29 football fields  

A city unto itself, the first Temple was built by Solomon approximately 1000 Before the Common Era (BCE), as the place where the Arc of the Covenant was stored in the Holy of Holies, and the priests performed ritual sacrifices for Israel, and sacrifices for the individuals. 

In 586 BCE Solomon’s Temple was destroyed when Jerusalem, and Judah, fell to the Babylonians.  Nebuchadnezzar II, the Babylonian King, physically picked up and transported the elite of Judah, meaning the rich, the ruling class, the priest and scribes, nearly 900 miles to an area just outside of Babylon.  This Babylonian Captivity (Exile) lasted for approximately 70 years until Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 BCE and Cyrus, the King of Persia, sent a remnant of the people back to Jerusalem to rebuilt the Temple in 538 BCE.  The rebuilt Temple was dedicated in 515 BCE.

In the 40 or so years (37 BCE to 4 CE) he ruled Herod, the Roman appointed King of Judaea, took on massive building projects more for his legacy than for the people he ruled which was the common practice among rulers.   Herod’s claim to beauty (building projects) in his competition with the other Roman Kings include:

  • Masada, a fort where Herod could flee his enemies
  • Jericho, the site of another fortress but also the place where Joshua commanded the horns be blown for the walls to tumble and the Israelites begin their march toward becoming a nation
  • Herodium National Park, another fortress 10 miles south of Jerusalem
  • The Tomb of the Patriarchs, at the Hebron Cave of Machpelah where Abraham and Sarah, patriarch and matriarch or the Jewish community are buried (along with their son Isaac and his son Jacob and Jacob’s wives Rebecca and Leah and Jacob’s son Joseph).

Probably Herod’s greatest achievement was the enlargement of the Temple into the massive structure it was in Jesus’s day.  A huge complex capable of holding nearly 400,000 people supporting all of the administrative tasks necessary to keep the Jewish religion functioning.  The enlarged Temple was majestic and beautiful as befitted a building for a God and testifying to the Jewish God’s majesty.

The Jews looked upon the Temple as a two edged sword.  On one hand the people knew Herod did not care about the people or their God.  He was a Jew when it suited him and as the ruler of a Jewish nation it benefited him to pay lip service to their God.  On the other hand the Temple was the Temple and not even Herod could change that.  It was the place where sacrifices and rituals were carried out.  It was God’s home on earth.

That is the reason in our scriptures this morning when one of the disciples comments on the beauty of the structure Jesus responds with how the Temple will be destroyed.  When asked when this will happen Jesus tells the disciples to beware, that many will come claiming they are the Messiah and Jesus warns his followers not to follow them. Do not worry about the rumors of wars for they must happen.  In fact there will be complete destruction as nations rise against nation in the wars of men.  And there will be natural disasters from earthquakes famines and pestilence. 

Jesus’ followers will be arrested and persecuted.  The will be brought before kings and their governors.  When before the kings and their governors Jesus' followers will give testimony to Jesus.  Jesus tells them not to worry, for he, Jesus, will give them the words to defend themselves when they need them.  Of his followers their friends and family will cast them aside and distance themselves from them.  But through perseverance Jesus will save them and not one hair on their head will perish.  They will win life.

The scriptures go on telling how Jerusalem is surrounded and falls.  How the people should flee to escape the destruction and how dreadful those days shall be as the country and people come to ruin.  There are not even words of comfort as the passages ends in verse 36 with Jesus telling the people to pray they might escape all that is going to happen and that ultimately they may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

This is an incredibly difficult passage to wind our way through.  It was especially difficult for me because as I read it over and over again there did not seem to be any hope, no silver lining to a dark cloud.  Just the total destruction of all civilization as the people knew it.

In many ways it reminds me of our recent events.

We have just gone through a brutal election period.  And I do not care who won, I just know that this is the first time in my 45 years of voting that both primary party candidates had higher "dislike" ratings than "like" ratings.

Without getting into the politics of what happened during last Tuesday's election I can safely say that our nation is so divided that politically we are a virtually immovable and dysfunctional society. 

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in Slate Magazine.  It was an interview with a person in a southeastern state who installed solar panels for a living.  He had taken time from his paying clients to finish the installation of panels on his own small escape cabin in the woods, where he and his family were going to retreat to when the shooting started.  In his view Trump was going to win by a landslide, but Obama was not going to relinquish the office of the president.  Obama was instead going to declare martial law and call out the National Guard.

This person saw a major battle coming and was going to move his family to safety.  He had the cabin all done except for the solar power, and all he needed to do was purchase some more ammunition so he could protect his family. 

What scared me about this is he made a living building these escape cabins, and has a friend who makes a living selling these remote places in the forest for these cabins.  In this area there is a real commercial demand founded in this survivalist train of thought.

On the other political side we people labeling the "others" as isolationists, backward, stupid hicks who are white national segregationists looking for society to revert back to a time when all was peaceful, understandable, and safe.

Today nobody is looking for a common ground.  Nobody wants to find a common ground.  We are all to hold our positions, whether we actually agree with the positions or not, and fight to the death.

What scares me, and it really scares me, is this kind of division could make its way into the church.

The Christian Church no matter what the denomination has a single common purpose.  The purpose is to spread the word and knowledge of Christ.  Is to touch the lives of all people and to heal the injured, care for the infirm, educate the illiterate, give an opportunity to the impoverished, and lift up those who have fallen.

And it does not matter which side of the political spectrum we are on, when we walk within the doors of the church we all have a common purpose, and straightforward goals.  If you want to know what our goals are in the Presbyterian Church USA they are written in Section G.10200The Great Ends of Church. in Presbyterian Church USA Book of Order.

We have a government and a process, a constitution, which guides our operations.

If you want to know what we believe look to our Book of Confessions.  The Book of Confessions explains our theology and how all of our foundational beliefs are taken directly from scripture, but that is another rant.

The purpose of this rant is that we do not need to bring the secular politics of the moment into the church.  The church has its own political agenda, and that is to put God’s goals and objectives as our first effort.

And so, as we look toward Thanksgiving in a few days I think it is time to take a look at what we should be thankful for:

  • We have the opportunity to worship as we see fit
  • We have the opportunity to do good works
  • We have the opportunity to travel, or stay home
  • We have each other….friends, families, communities
  • We know most people are basically good, and care for the welfare of others
  • We have world (creation) designed to sustain and support us
  • We have a world filled with wonder, laughter, and love
  • We have a God who loves us and looks after us

We truly are a blessed people.

We need to look at a time line here.  The Gospel of Luke was written somewhere between 70 and 90 CE.  This is about 40 to 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection.  The story it is telling, Jesus Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and his teaching in the Temple takes place around(let’s see…Jesus is born about 4 BCE, starts his ministry at about 30 and is in Galilee for 3 years…so) 29 CE.

Forty years after Jesus’ resurrection, in 70 CE, the Temple is destroyed by the Romans.  It is leveled to ground by the Roman army following a Jewish revolt, and the only thing left standing is a piece of the western wall, what we now refer to as the “Wailing Wall”.

In our scriptures this morning Jesus tells his disciples of the coming total destruction and devastation of society.  This destruction will lead to Geo-Political upheaval, and the reordering of all aspects of the Jewish life. (Remember, since the destruction of the Temple 2,000 years ago there has been no place to perform sacrifices and rituals needed to honor God.)  With the destruction of the Temple the whole of Jewish society changed.  

We that the person who wrote the Gospel of Luke lived through that change.  Because the destruction happened 60 years after the time of Jesus the writer witnessed the destruction of the Temple, the altering of social norms, the death of Jewish way of life, and the changing of the Jewish people forever.

The good news from our Gospel today is that the Jewish people lived through it. They adapted.  The author of Luke watched the growth and miracle of the Christian faith until he wrote two books (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) explaining this Christian phenomenon to someone named Theophilus.

If Luke could see beyond the destruction 2,000 years ago, we can see beyond the political issues of today and keep focused on God’s work.  This is God's community.  No matter what happens around us God will see us through.  All we need to do is keep working as God has directed us.

Let us pray