Luke 21:5-19; Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Today’s reading from the gospel of Luke happened during Jesus’ final week on earth. In the following chapter, chapter 22, Judas agreed to betrayed Jesus. Apparently, Jesus and his disciples are still inside the temple and some of them made remarks about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. We know from the Bible, history and archeology that the temple was impressive, not only for its beauty but also for its size. The foundation stones -that still can be seen today in Jerusalem- alone are 67 ft. long x 18 ft. wide x 12 ft. high. The temple was indeed impressive, covering about one-sixth of the land area of the ancient city of Jerusalem; the building complex was nearly 1500 feet long by 1200 feet wide.
Not only the disciples but any Jew, any visitor, felt overwhelmed before this majestic building that was not only a great architectural piece of art, but also the center of the Jewish faith. Therefore, I believe that the disciples were surprised by Jesus’ prophetic remarks since the temple was the heart and soul of Israel’s worship.
All this splendor and beauty might impress you, but all will be thrown down. That is essentially what Jesus told them. When will this happen? the disciples asked. Jesus did not give a day or a year. He only gave the description of how, as well as some advices which are: “Watch out that you are not deceived”, “bear testimony” and “stand firm, and you will win life.” The fact is that 37 years later, in 70 A.D, not only the temple, but most of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army led by general Titus, who later became emperor Titus.
Why would Jesus predict the destruction of the most beloved landmark of the Jewish Faith? Why would God allow this to happen? Those were -I am sure- some of the questions that many Jews had when it happened. And the answer to those questions seems to be: Because the temple that looked pretty on the outside, was also rotten on the inside. This magnificent building that Solomon inaugurated almost one thousand years before, was no longer being used for what it was intended. The purpose of the temple can be found in the book of 1 Kings chapter 8, and Beginning in verse 29, Salomon describes it as a place where the name of God shall be, a place where neighbors should get justice, as a place where sinners will be forgiven, a place where foreigners, -migrants it does not say documented or undocumented- will come because they heard about his “mighty hand and outstretched arm.” It is described as place of repentance. But what Jesus saw, was not what is described in Solomon’s dedication prayer. In Jesus’ words, what he saw, was “a den of thieves,” and a place to make business.
Many times, in the gospels we find the expression “Jesus knew their minds and hearts.” In here we can say that Jesus knew the heart of the temple and he saw that His Father’s presence was not there anymore. “May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.” 1 Kings 8:29. That is what Solomon prayed when he dedicated the temple. However, God’s name, which is the same that God’s presence was no longer there, and Jesus knew that. Tradition, money and power had changed the purpose of the temple.
1 Kings 8, Verses 31 and 32 says, about the purpose of the temple. “When anyone wrongs their neighbor and is required to take an oath and they come and swear the oath before your altar in this temple,32 then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing down on their heads what they have done, and vindicating the innocent by treating them in accordance with their innocence. The temple was supposed to be a place where God vindicated the innocentand punished the guilty. Instead, it was a place where those in control showed their power and shamed the poor, as we learn in the Pharisee’s prayer as described by Jesus in the parable in Luke 18:9-14, and in the way many people threw their offering in large amounts so all could hear how big their offering was and shame poor widows as it is described by Jesus in the widow’s offering relate in Luke 21:1-4.
Let us continue with the purpose of the temple. 1 Kings 8, verses 41 to 43 says, “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. The temple was built to be a place of refuge for the foreigners. A place where they could come as an equal. But it was not. The place in the temple where the Jews used to sell doves, cattle and exchange money, according to many scholars was the place assigned for foreigners. The fact that the Jews disrespected the foreigners by doing so, is what made Jesus angry, when he cleansed the temple. According to these scholars, it was not what they were doing, but where it was being done that upset Jesus. Once again, they had changed the purpose of the temple. Therefore, the temple had no purpose anymore.
How can this happen? How could Israel forget the purpose of the temple? The answer is in Luke 21:5, they admired the building in such a way that they forgot what for and who this building was for. They admired and took care of the exterior while they forgot to fully commit their hearts to the Lord their God, “whose name was there.” They forgot to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as it is required in 1 Kings 8: 61. “And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”
The lesson for us today is, forget about what is superficial, and practice what is essential. Do not forget your purpose as temple of the Holy Spirit and the purpose of the building where we get together. This building where we come to worship every Sunday was built for the glory of God. It was created to bear His name; it was created for people from all nations who had come because of His name. This temple was built to be a safe heaven, a place of reconciliation where everyone feels welcome, loved and respected. This must be a place of prayer where God will hear the cry out of those who look for Him, regardless of who they are or where they come from. That is the purpose of this building and any building where the name of God is proclaimed.
Matthew 27:51 says that after Jesus died on the cross, the veil of temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Some scholars say that this happened so that all, not just the High Priest could enter the Holy Place. I believe that is a fair interpretation. However, there is another interpretation, and it is better supported by the New Testament. This interpretation says that the veil was torn as a sign of God leaving the temple, his dwelling place to dwell in His people; to dwell in our hearts. Ever since this happened, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” We are God’s temple now and as God’s temple we have a purpose also. 1 Peter 2:9 and 10 tells us our purpose, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” The Bible version called The Message translates the same verse like this, “But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”
Our purpose, yours and mine according to Peter is to share with others what God has done in us. The difference he has made in our lives. Our purpose is to speak out for him. Thru us, his instruments, people must hear about who God is, about what he can and wants to do in their lives and in this world. I heard the story about a little girl who was drawing something, her mom asked her, what she was drawing, and the little girl responded that she was drawing a picture of God. “No one knows how God looks like” her mon replied. “I know” the little one says, “they must wait till I finish.” If we believe this world needs to hear the voice of God, then we must allow him to speak thru us. That is the reason, the purpose he called us for. If we do not do it, we have lost our purpose as did the temple in Jerusalem 2000 years ago and he will use the stones to proclaim his praises. Let’s not wait for God to speak thru us. Let’s not wait to fulfill our purpose as God’s Holy Spirit temple. The little girl from the story seemed to know how God look like and she was ready to show it to the world; my sisters and brothers we know what God can do in those who open their hearts and let Him in; we know the night-and-day difference he made in our lives; the difference He can make in others. To share that is our purpose. May God help us to do it. God bless you all.