Sermon for November 13, 2022

Walking Through Fire

Luke 21:5-19

 

    Wars and insurrections, Nation rising up against nation, kingdom against kingdom, great earthquakes, famines and plagues… It sounds a bit like today. Russia against Ukraine and Ukraine being supported by the United States and Western Europe. Russia receiving aid from Iran and China. Perhaps the ones paying the bigger price for the war is Africa who is dealing with a famine while wheat from Ukraine becomes but another piece on the chess board to Russia.

    Global warming, Ocean levels rising, Covid Pandemic, hurricanes blowing and floods rising. It was Billy Joel in 1989 who put out a song titled “We Didn’t start the Fire,” listing the turbulence of the world through-out current history.

    Maybe you have not heard of the song so let me play you a small part of it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDPnsTRAvIM&ab_channel=MatthewManley

    The point to the song is that our world has always been an ongoing field of turbulence. The nature of life is not one of placidness. This seems even more true today as we consider our political world and the midterm elections. What party is going to control the Senate? Are you of the red party or the blue party. Can you live with someone who is different? Sometimes I think the definition of politics is simply “The lies you want to believe.” But what has happened to that which is simply right, true, and compassionate. Our world seems to be burning.

    This was also true in Jesus’ day. No, we did not start the fire. As Jesus and his disciples journeyed to Jerusalem and visited the temple, they found reasons to be amazed. The temple was quite certainly one of the great ancient wonders of the world. King Herod the Great had begun reconstructing the temple around 20 BC, and the work continued on for 46 years. This means Jesus would have grown up watching the work being completed. The Temple became grander year by year. Jesus began his ministry, a little after the temple probably had its ribbon cutting ceremony. Although it was always being used surely, I imagine that they had some type of celebration when the work was largely finished. It was a new structure to behold and behold it the disciples did. “Jesus, master, look how fine of a structure this is? Have you ever seen anything so wonderous? The Temple itself seems to reach up to the sky, covered in white marble, and trimmed in gold. Such massive stones. How was it even built? The people of Israel gather to worship God in the splendor of this place.

    However, there is a great irony in all of this. Jesus and the temple should have gone together like Hot Fudge and Ice Cream, Biscuits and Gravy, Tarzan and Jane. I believed that Jesus greatly revered the significance and meaning of the temple. It was a house of prayer meant for the people, and a place where all could be in community with one another and God. As a boy when Jesus was found in the Temple he said to Mary, “Surely you must have known that I would be about my father’s business.” The Temple was his father’s house. In John 2:17 says, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.'” However, King Herod “The Great” who was responsible for the temple’s construction was also the person that wanted Jesus killed as a child. That is ironic. What I am talking about is God’s messiah and God’s House — freshly restored and beautified with gold, the finest marble, brass, and woodwork and yet it had no place for God’s messiah. Can you see the irony?

    The world is never ideal, or simple. Jesus looked over the temple as he had been doing all of his life, and he listened to the disciples tell him how fine everything was, and then he tells his disciples “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” The scriptures record the incredulous question of the disciples. “Lord when will this be.” The place was just restored. You mean it will not last? How? When? Why? Surely not!

    Now I can think of three reasons why Jesus said the temple was going to be destroyed. 1. There is prophecy in the book of Daniel (9:26) that tells of the anointed ones coming and the temple’s destruction. Jesus was not saying anything that was not already actually known from the scriptures. It is just a question if we can see and believe in the truth. 2. Jesus knew that the powers that controlled the Temple had already rejected him. The scriptures record the conflict that existed between Jesus and the ruling classes, and what is the purpose of the temple without God’s Messiah? The rejection of Jesus sealed the temple’s doom. 3. After Jesus resurrection the purpose of the temple was obsolete. The temple was largely about conveying forgiveness of sin to the people. All the sacrifices at the temple were but a foreshadow of God’s once and for all, all perfect gift of forgiveness found within Jesus’ sacrifice of himself. After Jesus death the curtain within the temple separating the holy of holies from the people was torn in two. Our way to God was no longer blocked but open because of Christ. Therefore, Jesus knew that the temple would come to an early end. The world was not going to stay still or calm, but it was just going to keep on burning.

It was 70 A.D. when Rome sacked Jerusalem and burnt the temple. I once heard a knowledgeable teacher claim that the Romans then disassembled the temple block by block in order to scrap any gold out that had melted in between the blocks. Thus, not one stone was left upon another. Out of the fire of the temple’s destruction, the people had to scatter, and ultimately as those who had come to believe journeyed out into the world the truth of the gospel was spread.

Now in the scriptures you must remember to read the longer answer Jesus seems to give from the perspective of a people for whom the temple had already been destroyed. This is because Luke was written at least a decade after Rome sacked Jerusalem and set the temple on fire. So, Luke’s message beyond Jesus’ prophesy of the temple’s loss takes on the genre of apocalyptic writings. The temple was already gone and Luke is writing to people for whom Jesus prophecy of loss has already been fulfilled. Therefore, the question of when this loss will occur is never really answered. Rather people are warned not to chase after those claiming that they are the second coming. They are told that the world will keep burning. There will be wars. Insurrections, famines, plagues, signs, persecutions, and some will be put to death. The objective of these words then is to offer reassurance to people who are part of a burning world. Principally the readers are being told to wait on the Lord. Don’t lose faith. For even if you are arrested, questioned, tried, and your life threatened, God will be with you. God will give you words to speak, and if you endure not even one hair on your head will be lost. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” The scriptures continue in this manner, attempting to stir within the reader the understanding that all things are in God’s plan and care –that they are in God’s plan and care.

    The temple is gone, but God is still at work, and even if the world is ending, this is when people will see all of heaven’s power and God’s redemption. Let the world burn, because God is not afraid, and nothing is outside of God’s control.

    This is also our hope in a burning, turbulent, and chaotic world. Are you worried about those republicans and democrats? Afraid of the storms? Worried about what might be lost, and not sure what tomorrow may bring? Don’t know if you can take it anymore? Well listen…

    Wait on the Lord. It is and always has been a waste of energy running over the next hill hoping and thinking that your answer will be there. The old song says “The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see, and all that he could see, was the other side of the mountain. That is all that he could see.” A lot of times people are like that old bear. We are in a rush to get where we think we need to be, only to discover that the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence, and one hill looks like another. The scriptures say don’t go chasing after rumors of Jesus return. In our hurry worry life, the Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46) If you have not read Psalm 46 in a while, maybe you should. The Bible says “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).

    How often do we think we live trusting in our own power and ingenuity, and how often do we just simply stop and wait for God to even the field and direct us. Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” That is a person who has realized the necessity of waiting on the Lord. Psalm 127 puts is this way, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” In this topsy turvy upside down world, first wait on the Lord, and fear not.

    Secondly, trust in God. The gospel writer encouraged his readers not to worry about their defense if they are arrested and put on trial because of their faith. Because the Lord will give them words and wisdom beyond the arguments of their opponents. That is telling us to remember no matter how the world stands against us, God is standing with us. That should help us to understand that the impossible may have a way of becoming possible. What can you do or accomplish if God is with you? Jesus said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you shall move mountains. The Bible is an endless supply of testimony of those who faced great odds and found deliverance. Moses against the pharaoh, David against Goliath. Esther against Mordecai, Daniel in the Lion’s den. Hebrews 11 has a such a list of those who are commended for their faith. God’s people have overcome all things and God’s people are ever moving toward the fulfillment of faith’s plan, and you are God’s people. Jesus once saw a man born blind, and his disciples asked him whose sin was responsible for the man’s blindness. Jesus looked the situation over and concluded no one, but rather this man’s disabling condition was nothing more than an opportunity to reveal God’s glory, and then he healed that man and gave him his sight. When you are down sometimes it is just an opportunity for God to show you how far up you can see, and when you are low, God loves dwelling in hopeless places because no where else is his work better proclaimed. It may just be that if we ask for a miracle God will provide. Proverbs 3:5-6  “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

    Finally in this burning world, endure to victory. For not a hair on your head shall be lost. God cares for you. We have to notice that that does not necessarily mean you will win a worldly victory. Before this text we are told, we might be on trial, we might be betrayed by our closest relatives and friends, and some will even be put to death. “You will be hated by all because of my name.” Yes, “good times.” Really, it just cannot get too much worse, but all of that negativity, degradation, and punishment the world sends your way is but a mist in the wind to the substantial reality of the life God had given us. In the end, if we are playing for the right side, the victory is ours. We shall know the salvation of our souls and all that seems to be lost God keeps secure.

The apostle Paul once wrote in Romans 5:3-5:

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

 

We are always more than conquerors through him who loves us. No, we did not start the fire, but God is the one who will walk us through it unharmed, lift us out of it and set us above it –all to the fulfillment of his promises and to the praise of his glory. Amen.


 

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Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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