Its Tuesday of Holy week, and Jesus has just finished a grueling day in the temple answering the charges of Israel’s faithless shepherds. As He and the disciples make their leave, one of the twelve chimes in with words I can only assume were meant to soothe, and comfort: (1) And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” The stones in question were upwards of 37′ long, by 18′ high and 12′ wide, weighing more than 100 tons each! It had taken nearly 50 years to build the temple to this point, and it wasn’t done yet! … In essence what the fellow was trying to say was: I know it was rough in there today Jesus, but the church is more than those guys! Just look at all this glory and splendour that will outlive them all!
(2) And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Can you imagine their shock and dismay? Little did they know that this would be the last time Jesus would set foot in the Holy Temple. He would not return. Knowing this makes His words all the more poignant. Jesus’ last words for the Holy Temple are ones of destruction and dismay. It would not outlive even some of those standing there that day!
Not only does it throw a damp towel on their budding optimism, but it casts fear into their hearts! The temple was the visible presence of God with His people. It was the sign of His strength, His glory, His favour. People may come and go, but the House of the Lord was meant to stand forever! Is it any wonder that as soon as they could, they pursue it further? 3 And as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
Jesus’ answer to them has often been called “The Little Apocalypse.” It is an answer that rocked them to their very foundations. In it He blends into one picture His death, the destruction of Jerusalem within that generation, the second coming and end of the world. He gives ominous warnings of what will come, both in the world around us and within our own lives and families.
(5) And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.” False prophets lulling the world to sleep with words of appeasement and validation, wars at hand and wars in far off places … everyone fighting for their entitlement. Everyone seeking to claim their rights, their slice of the pie, their piece of the dream – no matter what it costs anyone else. Yet, no matter how bad it gets, it can and will get worse! For society will be ripped apart, and all creation will yet be shaken and blighted.
But Jesus isn’t done yet for He then warns His disciples about the coming troubles they will face as they bring God’s Word – the Holy Gospel – into the world. (9-10) “But be on your guard.” Made to answer for doing good and preaching Christ, being treated as criminals, called before rulers and authorities as disturbers of the peace, insurrectionists, or worse. Belittled and bemoaned, prohibited and persecuted, controlled and crushed … such is what lies in store for those who proclaim Christ. And not even within your own family will you be safe and free from it all! (12-13) And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
The warnings are stark and grim, blunt and direct. They have led Christians through the ages to try with fevered passion to decipher the signs and gain some forewarning. To shore up the walls of the church as a butress against persecution, to glory in the promise of God’s house when other homes are falling apart. But that is not why Jesus gave us these signs. He is seeking to draw His disciples away from trust in the old forms, hollow religion, and earth-bound glories.
What will save us when our Lord’s warnings come true (as they have since the day the temple fell until now) is not the work of our hands or the wealth of our storehouses, or the strength of our familial bonds. The church is more than buildings, and budgets or even you or me. What makes a house of worship worthy is not its outward appearances, but the Word of God in it. Christ Jesus is our church’s true cornerstone, and her sure foundation. A stone that no amount of persecution and opposition can tumble! (Mk 12:10-11) The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. (Eph. 2:19-20) The household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
There is no more need of the Temple for Jesus is the visible, bodily presence of God with His people. He is God’s strength, His glory, His favour in the flesh! He is the fulfillment of all that the Temple and its sacrifices and its worship once did in bringing God and men together. As we read in the Epistle, (Heb.14, 19-23) For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified … Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
As the end draws near dear friends, it is not really about the end, nor about the signs that tell you its coming. It is about centering our life and faith to trust in God, for His promises are faithful. It is about coming to rely not on all this (indicating building) … but on the Holy Spirit – even in the midst of opposition and persecution – especially in opposition and persecution!
This world will leave no stone unturned in its quest to try and topple your faith and crush your hopes. The assaults will come from out there, and sometimes from in here. It will come from total strangers and from your closest family. You will be hated for the name of Jesus you bear. But thanks be to God that He has the last word. And His word is that He has left not one stone unturned in building up for you an everlasting heavenly home in the life death and resurrection of His one and only Son. John 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The world tried to tear Him down, but it failed. He rose again, victorious and whole. So will you!
And until that coming day when He will return and take you from this world to that heavenly home He keeps you safe in His church. And while the building blocks of His Word and Sacraments are not much to look at, they are far sturdier than all the stones of the ancient temple together. For the building blocks of Christ’s House here on earth are the Word (preached and proclaimed to all the world) and the gift of the Holy Spirit and faith when and where this Holy Gospel is heard. And these cannot be overturned for they are from God Himself given in Christ, lived in the Holy Spirit … for your hope and protection. (Isaiah 55:11-12) so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace. This is a promise you can build your future on!