PENTECOST 26, C – November 17, 2013

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 121; Malachi 4:1-6; 2 Thess. 3:6-13; Luke 20:27-40 

 While some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, [Jesus] said, “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… Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Luke 20 

The mind and ingenuity of man can conceive of and construct great and fabulous things: symphonies; poems; amazing buildings; beautiful works of art; computers and the internet that can connect people with vast amounts of information. Truly astounding are many of the things man has created!

The temple in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day was one such work. Its beauty and majesty were awe-inspiring! Josephus, a Jewish historian from the 1st century who saw it, wrote regarding it:
“The exterior of the sanctuary did not lack anything that could amaze either mind or eye. Overlaid on all sides with massive plates of gold, it reflected in the first rays of the sun so fierce a flash that those looking at it were forced to look away as from the very rays of the sun. To strangers as they approached it, it seemed in the distance like a mountain covered with snow, for any part not covered with gold was of the purest white.” (Wars, V, 5, 6)
No wonder those sitting with Jesus spoke with wonder about the temple and its marvelous stones. It was one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring buildings in the world!

And yet, Jesus told them that its stones would be thrown down. There is a stone that testifies to the fulfillment of what Jesus said: the Arch of Titus in Rome. Another beautiful work of art and engineering, the Arch of Titus was built to commemorate the triumph of Titus, the ruler of Rome, over the Jews after they rebelled against the Romans in 66 A.D. The huge stone arch – over 44’ wide, 50’ high, and 15’ deep – has carved on it a relief panel which shows Jewish prisoners carrying the treasures of Jerusalem’s destroyed temple to Rome. To this day the Arch of Titus stands in Rome and testifies to the truth of what Jesus said so long ago.

Everything Jesus said will come true. “Heaven and earth will pass away” – and so will all the works of men, even the things which so inspire and amaze. “But my words will not pass away.” We must hold onto them! Christ’s words are the greatest treasure, greater than any work that can come from the mind of man, for they come from the mind of God. They are the greatest treasure, for they bring to you a beauty greater than any beauty the mind of man can conceive or create. Christ’s words make you who hear and believe them into living stones, stones quarried from Christ Himself and receiving from Him an incredible beauty and life that will never be thrown down or destroyed!

Christ’s strength and life, received through His words, gave hope and strength to His followers in the years after His ascension into heaven. Many of those Christians were persecuted for their belief that Jesus was not only the Messiah but was God Himself, come in the flesh to save us from being condemned for our sins by taking them upon Himself and dying upon a cross to forgive them. “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons,” Jesus warned them; and this indeed happened to many. “Some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Now, how could not a hair of their heads perish if their heads were cut off, as was John the Baptist’s? How could they gain their lives if they were put to death for their faith? To the skeptic and doubter this made no sense. Christ’s people knew that He would raise them up from death to eternal life in heaven. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life,” He had promised (John 5:24). As He had Himself been put to death for holding to God’s words but had burst the bonds of death and risen to life again on the 3rd day, He could and would certainly raise them, also! Jesus’ powerful words led His people to look beyond this life to the life to come. His powerful words and powerful life gave His people the strength to hold to Him in the face of persecution and even death. He gives His strength and life to us, also, as we hold to them.

Christ’s words also saved His believers when His prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction was fulfilled. There was incredible suffering when the Roman army entered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Josephus reports that over a million people were killed, many by being burned to death. But, the Christian population was mostly spared. Why? Jesus had warned: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee.” And, that is what they did. Instead of withdrawing into the city for protection, as was normally done, the Christians near Jerusalem fled as a group when they heard the Romans were coming. They were spared much suffering.

What will come in your life? If you listen to and believe and follow Christ’s words He can protect you from many sufferings: divorces; substance abuse; lust and sexual sins; discontent and the continual yearning for more things. Then again, what sufferings and persecutions will come because you hold to Christ’s words? The will come, He warns. Wars and earthquakes and famines and pestilences will also impact our lives before the Son of Man comes in a cloud with power and great glory. Our Lord has warned of them, and indicates that such things will increase as His coming nears. It is very frightening, especially for us who, due to the incredible things the mind of man has conceived and created, are so used to ease and comfort.

When sufferings come, especially when you are spoken against and belittled because you believe the words of Jesus, then remember what He says: “your redemption is drawing near.” The glories of life eternal in heaven are close! The Lord, through His prophet Malachi, puts so beautifully how it will be when the Day of the Lord comes: “for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” (Mal. 4) For a calf, I imagine that the end of its time in the womb is difficult. Its home is very tight and restricted, and it is hardly able to move. Then comes the delivery, when it is horribly squeezed and all seems lost. But, suddenly, it’s out and everything is completely changed! The calf can stretch and move its legs. There is light, and a whole new world to see and enjoy and experience. It stands and gets its legs under it and then goes out leaping from the stall, filled with life and joy! This is what awaits us in Christ.

Perhaps Jesus had Malachi’s words in mind when He said, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus, the living Stone from whom you have been quarried, who lives for you and with you and even within you, is coming to bring forth your beauty and life in Him! Look forward eagerly to that day, and hold to His words that you may be readied for it. For, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” 

 The Arch of Titus in Rome 

Panel on the Arch depicting the Jews being forced
to carry the treasures of the temple to Rome