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Second Last Sunday

Luke 21:5-36

James T. Batchelor

Twenty-fifth S a Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Nov 18, 2007
Twenty-fifth S a Pentecost

Standard LSB C Readings:
First: Mal 4:1-6
Epistle: 2 Thess 3:(1-5) 6-13
Gospel: Luke 21:5-28 (29-36)
Psalm: Ps 98 (9b)


Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims.  People from all over the known world came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  The citiy's normal population of about 125,000 had swollen to almost 1 million people.  The situation was so tight that most of the pilgrims to the Temple actually spent their nights camped out on the hills in the countryside around Jerusalem.

Then there was the construction in and around the Temple.  The Herod family project to remodel the Temple was almost ready to start its fiftieth year and was scheduled to continue for more than thirty years into the future.  Many of the Passover pilgrims were curious to see the new areas of the Temple complex that were under construction and there were many discussions about what had changed since the last time they had made the Passover pilgrimage.

To top it all off, there was this popular rabbi named Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.  His entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week had set off a patriotic display that nearly ended in a riot.  That rabbi then spent his days preaching in the Temple and many people even followed him and his disciples to their campsite on the Mount of Olives during the night.

This is the setting for the events recounted in today's Gospel.  From the parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark we are able to determine that the events of Today's Gospel occur late on Tuesday of Holy Week.  Jesus has finished a day of teaching and he and his disciples are headed for their campsite on the Mount of Olives.

As they leave the Temple area someone remarks at the beauty of the stones and the decorations.  They had probably been looking at the new construction and imagining the glory of the temple when it was all finished in about thirty years.  Of course the beauty of the Temple was about much more than its physical appearance.  It was the center of Hebrew culture and faith.  The Temple was the place where God communicated with His people.  He revealed himself to them in His Word and they sacrificed their offerings to Him.  The pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover saw the Temple as God's revelation of Himself on earth.  The Temple was where God dwelt with His people.

God had a long history of dwelling with His people.  [Genesis 5:22] Enoch walked with God. [Genesis 6:9] Noah walked with God.  Over thirteen chapters of Genesis tell about God's influence in the life of Abraham.  The entire content of four of Moses' five books tell how God brought forth a nation of people from Egypt and dwelt with them in fire and cloud, and in ark, altar, and tabernacle.  God said, [Exodus 29:45-46] "I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.  And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God."  God was with His people and blessed them and they became a great nation.  Eventually God's people built a temple.  When Solomon dedicated the Temple, it was very obvious that God dwelt with His people. [2 Chronicles 7:1-2] As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.  And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD's house.  All of this history of God dwelling with His people and much, much more was centered in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Now imagine how shocked and dismayed people must have been when they heard Jesus talk about the Temple and say, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down."  Jesus was telling them that the center and foundation of their culture and faith would be destroyed.  None of the Gospels tell us what the disciples talked about during the rest of the trip to their camp on the Mount of Olives or if they just walked in stunned silence, but as soon as they arrive and got settled at their camp, the disciples asked Jesus for more information.  So it was that, as they sat down on the Mount of Olives and looked across the valley at Jerusalem with the Temple complex gleaming in the light of the setting sun, Jesus warned them that it would all come to an end.

What those disciples and many other people forgot was that the Temple, the sacrifices, the festivals, and all the other requirements of the ceremonial law were only preparation for the day when God would dwell among His people as one of them.  The altar, the Temple, the incense, the Sabbath, and all the other requirements of the ceremonial law were only shadows pointing to a future reality.  The continuous blood and smoke that came from the sacrifices of sheep, goats, cattle, and birds at the altar in Jerusalem was only a reminder that one day Immanuel, God with us, would come and God would dwell with His people.

Yes, these sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sins, but the fact that they needed to be done daily showed that sin was ever present and that the sacrifices were never enough.  As the writer to the Hebrews says, [Hebrews 10:11] "And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins."  All these requirements of the ceremonial law were only shadows of the good things to come.

The danger for the people in first century Palestine is that many thought the shadows were the reality.  Many placed their trust for their lives here on earth and forever in eternity in the ceremonial laws of the Temple.  Many thought they would earn their way into God's heart by keeping the ceremonial law perfectly.  So they went through the motions and tried to keep the law perfectly in the hope that God would show favor to them.  They trusted the shadows instead of the reality.

Then the reality came, God in the flesh, the perfect unity of God and man in one person, Jesus Christ.  God came to dwell with man as man.  The people living in shadow tried to keep the law, but never could.  The reality of God in Jesus Christ kept the law in all perfection.  The people living in shadow offered sacrifices from their flocks and herds.  The reality offered Himself.  The people living in shadow offered sacrifices day after day, but it was never enough.  The reality offered Himself once and it was enough for all people in all places and all times.  As the writer to the Hebrews says, [Hebrews 10:12-14] But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

History tells us that Herod the Great began his Temple remodeling project in 20 B.C. and that the work was finished sometime during 64 A.D.  That is 84 years from start to finish.  Yet, only six years later, in 70 A.D. the Roman army laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed it.  Today, there is a Moslem shrine where the Temple once stood.  The only trace of the Temple is the scattering of stones around the Temple mount.

What shadows take the place of God in our lives today?  As Martin Luther says in The Large Catechism, "Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God."  Do we depend on our own hard work and the payment we receive for it as our reality?  Is the accumulation of things our reality?  Do we depend on our reputation, our popularity, our standing in the community for our reality?  Is pleasure our reality?  Upon what does your heart rely and depend?  Every one of us forgets that the things of this world are only shadows of the things to come.  Every one of us fears, loves, and trusts the created things of this world instead of the God who created them.  Yet, in the end, the things of this world that seem so solid, so real will pass away just like the Temple in Jerusalem.

Fortunately Jesus Christ still lives.  He who sacrificed himself on the cross for our sins now lives in the hearts of those whom he saves.  Since the temple is the place where God dwells that means the heart of every person he has saved is a temple.  How do we know that we are God's temples?  The Holy Spirit works through the reality of the Word and works faith in the heart.  Through baptism the reality of the Word is combined with water and the Holy Spirit comes to live in that heart.  That person trusts Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and no longer trusts in the shadows of this world for salvation.

It is appropriate that, as we near the end of the church year, we think about the end of our time on this earth.  Will our end come on the Last Day?  All the signs Jesus mentions in today's gospel have already happened.  We continually read about nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  We've had great earthquakes, famines and pestilences.  The terrors and great signs from heaven have already happened.  Every time you check the news and hear or read about another disaster or war, it is a reminder that this world is a shadow and that, one day, the reality of Jesus will come.  On the other hand, our end may come in our own death.  Either way when that end comes, those who trust in the shadows of this world will shriek in terror as the mouth of hell opens to swallow them into an eternity of pain and anguish.  On the other hand, those who trust in the reality of Jesus Christ will shout for joy as they enter into the blessings of the eternal reality.

There we shall dwell forever with God and He will dwell with us as John writes in Revelation [Revelation 21:1 4 ] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." [Revelation 21:22-23 ] And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  Amen.

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