“I think it was Mark Twain who once observed that the Bible is far too brutal a book to read to children. And in truth, despite the longstanding practice of having devotions at the dinner table and reading the Bible to our children, a good deal of what is actually said by even Jesus can be chilling. Luke 21 is a passage we’d all rather not hear. We want Jesus to say something else. We want a different set of predictions and an alternative set of promises. We want Jesus to say, “Don’t worry about trials and persecutions for I shall deliver you from them before they happen.” We want Jesus to say, “The world will be so impressed by the church’s rhetoric, accomplishments, and proclamations that they won’t dare lay a hand on you…”1
But that’s not the way of the world, is it? We live in a world with wars and rumors of wars, a world that seems to go out of its way to knock down what we’ve built, stone by stone.
Stones prompted the conversation we just heard about in our Gospel reading, the stones of the Temple.
“The Bible reports that the First Temple was built in 957 BC by King Solomon….The First Temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC when they sacked the city. According to the Book of Ezra, construction of the Second Temple was authorized by Cyrus the Great and began in 538 BCE, after the fall of the Babylonian Empire the year before…. Despite the fact that the new temple wasn’t as extravagant or imposing as its predecessor, it still dominated the Jerusalem skyline and remained an important structure throughout the time of Persian suzerainty. The temple narrowly avoided being destroyed again in 332 BCE when the Jews refused to acknowledge the deification of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Alexander was allegedly “turned from his anger” at the last minute by astute diplomacy and flattery.”2
This Second Temple was reconstructed by King Herod. Herod’s Temple was one of the larger construction projects of the 1st century BC…. The old temple…was replaced by a magnificent edifice. ”3 To build it, Herod’s engineers used massive stones; “some of these weighed well over 100 tons, the largest measuring 44.6 feet by 11 feet by 16.5 feet and weighing approximately 567 to 628 tons, while most were in the range of 2.5 by 3.5 by 15 feet (approximately 28 tons).”4
It was this magnificent Temple that Jesus knew during His time on earth, the Temple that He cleared of money changers and temple tax cheats only days before the conversation in today’s Gospel. And so when Jesus tells His disciples that the “days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,” that came as a bit of a shock. Some may have wondered if Jesus was just continuing to be upset about finding corruption and cheating in the Temple; others may have thought that Jesus was just exaggerating for the sake of rhetoric.
But, of course, the Temple did come down, the very sanctuary of God was destroyed by the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70A.D. Few standing with Jesus that day would have lived to see that day, but that wasn’t the point Jesus was trying to make anyway.
Jesus’ point was to remember where to put your trust. In the latter part of the Gospel lesson today, the part we might not want to read to children as they fall asleep, those warnings have come true over and over again in the last 2000 years, and as I’ve pointed out before, more people died for the sake of Christ in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined.
At one point or another, we will all find ourselves threatened or confused, led astray, made afraid, maybe even persecuted for our faith. Some of you will no doubt feel these things more than others, and certainly many of us will know or even be related to people who have lost everything for Christ. But Jesus tells us again today that we need not be anxious, we need not fear, we need not go looking for any savior than the One we already know, Jesus Himself. For in Christ we find our temple, our sanctuary; we find the glory of God that cannot be destroyed.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week
2Temple in Jerusalem, Wikipedia
3Second Temple, Wikipedia