The 22nd Sunday After Trinity November 16, 2003
408, 428, 611, 608
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows. But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the Gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
In Christ Jesus, our returning Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
Picture in your mind’s eye a brand new skyscraper in downtown Chicago. Over many months you have watched it taking shape. Now it shoots hundreds of feet into the air with its massive steel girders and glass panels. It cost 500 million dollars to build, but it was worth it, because it was built to last. What would the reaction be, then, if suddenly a big banner were draped across the front of the building which said: “Scheduled for demolition”? That was the experience of the disciples in Jerusalem. As they left the temple with Jesus, they stopped to admire the magnificent building. “Look at these stones! What impressive construction!”
The temple truly was impressive. The temple was built of huge blocks of white stone, some 40 feet long, 15 feet high, and 20 feet wide, and weighing over 100 tons. There were porches graced with slender Corinthian columns and pinnacles nearly 200 feet high. It was built on a hill, and its marble and gold trim was dazzling in the light of the setting sun. It was the pride of Israel and built to last. The Jews saw it not just as a building but as a visible sign of God’s presence among them.
But then Jesus dropped a bombshell. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.” And it was not just the temple. Its destruction is a preview of the end of all things. With it, Jesus was putting a banner across the world warning: “Scheduled for demolition!”
The temple was brand new and built as solidly as men could make it, but the Lord pointed to the telltale signs that it would not last. There would be wars and rumors of wars. There would be upheavals in nature such as earthquakes and famines. When the disciples saw these, they could be sure that the promised destruction was on the way. There would be other signs as well. False christs would come who would claim to be the Messiah and would deceive many. The true followers of Jesus would be hated and persecuted, even by their own families. All these were signs of the coming destruction of the temple. It was a warning not to base faith and hope on earthly things and human works but on something more lasting.
The caution signs are there for us too. Look around. There are wars and conflicts throughout the world. The Middle East is still a major trouble spot, just as at Christ’s time. The signs are there in nature. We hear of hurricanes, floods, fires, and droughts. Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22 NIV). We live in a temporary, dying world.
Still, many live as though the world will stand forever. They pour all their time and effort into gaining as many possessions as they can. Our lives, too, are filled with things that seem so solid and important at the moment. Going to school, earning a living, buying and maintaining a home, and planning for retirement are all real, visible, tangible things, as solid as the girders holding up a skyscraper. But Jesus says, “Don’t get carried away with them. Don’t count on them. They are not going to last.”
There are also signs especially visible to believers. Instead of peace and harmony in this world, there will be persecution. Jesus told the disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20 NIV). Stephen was stoned to death because of his faith. Paul was thrown into prison numerous times and finally executed. The same pattern has continued through the centuries. In 1986 there were an estimated 300,000 Christian martyrs worldwide.
We will experience persecution. For us it will probably not take the form of physical threats or violence, but it will still be there. Tell others that homosexuality, abortion, sex outside marriage, and divorce are sin, and you will hear and feel the world’s hatred. State that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved but that everyone who does not believe will be condemned, and you will face strong opposition. Even family members, Jesus says, may turn on you.
What is even worse in some ways is the deception of those who claim to be Christian or at least spiritual people. They lead others to believe that the Bible has errors or needs to be re-interpreted for modern times. Some teach people to look for God in “Mother-Earth” or even in themselves. They deceive people into believing a lie rather than putting faith in Jesus as Savior.
The warning signs are all around. There are more everyday. They remind us just how completely sin has infected the whole human race and every part of God’s creation. They tell us in big, bold, billboard-size letters that sin will one day result in God’s destruction of the world and everything in it. We are living in a temporary home that is already scheduled for demolition on God’s calendar. “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree” (Isaiah 34:4 NIV). “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10 NIV).
If the signs all point to impending destruction for all we know, see, and depend upon on earth, what long-term meaning is there in life? What’s the use of getting up and facing a new day? The warnings are not a false alarm. The promised end will come. But what gives us great hope are the Gospel promises that Jesus offers along with the warnings. Yes, life here on the sinful earth is hard, and it is going to get harder the closer we come to the end. The attacks of Christ’s enemies on the Church will continue. But we are not alone. The Holy Spirit will stay at our side to give the courage to confess our faith and the words with which to express it.
The Spirit knows the spiritual gifts He has given you. He won’t put you into a situation without providing everything you need to come through it with your faith intact. The disciples had many weaknesses and failings too. Yet in every circumstance the Spirit strengthened and equipped them for the battle. As we read and study the Word of God throughout our lives, the Spirit is preparing us for the struggles we will face.
But why prolong the struggle? Why doesn’t the Lord simply say, “Enough!” and bring the world to an immediate end? There is one reason: The Gospel must first be preached to all the nations. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise…He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). The Lord allows time to continue so that still more people can hear the good news which will save them from sin and give eternal life.
This is also why our lives are so important. We have the opportunity, while we are living on this crumbling planet, to lead people to a solid foundation which will stand forever—the rock of Christ. By His suffering and death Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, and rescued us from the destruction which is going to come on the earth. If the sun rises tomorrow, it will be because the Lord is adding one more day to the world’s time of grace. If we open our eyes tomorrow, it will be because the Lord is giving us another opportunity to point out the signs of the end and witness to His love before it is too late.
While the signs point to troubles in this life and the eventual destruction of the world, they also remind us of the blessings that lie ahead. Jesus says these troubles are birth pains. Nothing can compare to the intensity and pain of giving birth, but likewise, there is nothing like the joy afterward of cradling a new baby in one’s arms. The pain leading up to the end of the world will run its course and result in the joy of our new, permanent home in heaven. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV).
The Jews trusted their magnificent temple as a sign of God’s favor and their security for the future. Standing next to it, Jesus looked small and insignificant. A few days later He would be crucified and buried. But then what happened? Within 40 years the temple was nothing but a pile of rubble. Today all that remains are a few ruined stones called the “Wailing Wall.” And what about Jesus? After being despised and rejected by God and man, He rose in victory from the grave and established a kingdom which will never be destroyed.
One day every skyscraper, every monument, every human accomplishment, and the earth itself will be demolished at the Word of Christ. The warning signs are flashing now for all to see. At the same time, the good news of salvation in Jesus offers rescue and a new eternal home to every sinner. Never forget that we are living in a dangerous demolition zone. In spite of trials and persecution along the way, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. For “he who endures to the end shall be saved!” Amen.
O Jesus Christ, do not delay,
But hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way
In fear and tribulation.
Then hear us when we cry to Thee;
Come, mighty Judge and make us free
From every evil! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.