3rd Last Sunday of the Church Year
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 13:1-13 Sermon
November 12, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
167 "Holy God We Praise Thy Name"
577 "Nearer My God To Thee"
379 "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me"
557 "Fight The Good Fight With All Thy Might"
WHAT WILL BE LEFT STANDING?
TEXT (vs. 1-2): “As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’"
Back in the 1970’s, I took a trip to the eastern part of the United States. One of my stops was New York City. I had never been in New York City before; and apart from a few short layovers in the airport, I haven’t been back since.
It’s not that I don’t like New York City; in fact I’d like to go back and visit there again someday, and maybe spend a bit more time than I did the first time, and see some of the things I didn’t see the first time I was there.
For a boy coming out of Lincoln, Nebraska, a first-time visit to New York is something else. Certainly I was used to big buildings and traffic and people; but nothing can ever quite prepare you for New York City. It’s unlike any other city in the United States, and I daresay the world. It boggles the mind, and that is an understatement.
I hit as many of the tourist attractions that I could. I went to the Statue of Liberty, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and of course the Empire State Building.
Going up to the top of the Empire State Building was a unique experience. It took two elevator rides to get there, because it was too tall for only one elevator to make the trip. You went up halfway on one elevator, got out, and then got into a second elevator, which took you to the observation deck on the top floor. It all was very interesting, and I soaked up everything like a sponge.
Looking out of the observation deck, I couldn’t believe all of the huge buildings I was looking at. There was every type of building imaginable, and they were absolutely everywhere. And here I was, like the king of the hill, looking down on all of them, except two. The two buildings I had to look up at were the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
As I was looking at these buildings, I remember thinking how invincible it all seemed. All of this brick and stone and concrete and steel…it had to be very strong to keep from collapsing.
Of course I’m sure that many of those buildings aren’t standing anymore. Most of those that aren’t standing would have been wrecked and demolished by some fashion—by dynamite or a wrecking ball, most likely to make way for a new building of some sort. But in a million years, I would have never thought that the twin towers of the World Trade Center would have disappeared from the horizon. Those two buildings had become permanent landmarks of the New York City skyline, and were symbols of capitalism and free enterprise.
But on September 11, 2001, Boeing 747’s took care of that. In a very short period of time, those two big buildings were reduced to a pile of rubble, and the New York City skyline was permanently altered. Two buildings which once stood tall and strong had been brought down. They were no match for jumbo jet aircraft.
I think of the awe and wonder I felt as a young man looking at the buildings, especially the World Trade Center towers in New York City as I studied our text for today. I would imagine that this was something like the disciple of Jesus felt when he made his remark. In fact, it was almost a natural reaction.
Verse 1 of our text says, “As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’”
Jesus had left the temple for the last time, and of course his disciples were with him. The temple itself was one of the most magnificent buildings, or rather group of buildings that one could imagine.
As magnificent as the temple was, it still was nothing compared to the temple built by King Solomon, which had been destroyed by the Babylonian army years before. Herod the great started the reconstruction of this temple in about 20 B.C. in order to get in good with the Jews. This rebuilding, which included the courtyard and surrounding walls, was still a work in progress at the time Jesus and his disciples were there, and the words of our text were spoken.
Still, this was quite a structure. It has been recorded by early historians that some of the stones were 40 feet by 12 feet by 8 feet. These massive stones were all set into place using manual labor and crude tools. The disciples would have thought that this building complex would stand as long as the world would stand. It seemed invincible to them.
But they were sadly mistaken. When those governing the temple rejected the Word of God, and rejected Jesus Christ, they brought destruction upon themselves. And it would only be a matter of time before Jesus’ words recorded in verse 2 of our text would be fulfilled: “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus, “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
And that is exactly what happened. In the year A.D. 70, the entire temple complex was demolished and destroyed by the Roman armies. The destruction was so complete, that it is impossible to determine the exact location of the buildings on the temple mount in Jerusalem today.
The testimony and symbolism here is awesome. The Jews rejected God’s Word and Jesus Christ, and their temple is reduced to a pile of rubble. The Muslims then erected two huge Mosques on the site, which is now known as “The Dome of the Rock.” Because of this, there can be no excavation or exploration of Herod’s temple beneath them. All that remains is part of one retaining wall on the western side, which is known as the “Wailing Wall.” Modern Jews of today go there to pray. They write prayers on little scraps of paper, roll them up and stick them in the crevices of the wall. Then they face the wall and pray out loud, which sounds like wailing.
The history of Israel shows that Jesus came to his own race of people, and they rejected him. Considering all that happened, they are still far from him. They are no closer to him today than they were so many years ago. The Jews still reject Christ, and will continue to do so. The result will be their eternal destruction.
There are several excellent lessons to be learned here. First of all, nothing in this world is invincible. As strong as things may appear to us, those things are still destructible. The World Trade towers in New York City were like that. Of any of us, who would have thought that they could be completely destroyed in a matter of hours? The Jerusalem temple with its massive stones and predominant stature would have seemed every bit as indestructible. Who of those people living in that day would have ever dreamed that the Romans could do what they did?
Secondly, we see what happens when people reject God and his Word, and reject Jesus Christ. Destruction and annihilation are sure to be eminent.
The World Trade Center towers were destroyed by terrorists who did it to the glory of Allah and the nation of Islam. Now certainly not all people who are Muslims act like the fundamentalist Muslims who are responsible for this. But yet many in this world have been made to suffer because of a false god and a heathen religion.
Even though there isn’t a close religious parallel here between the World Trade Center and Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem, yet we can see how destructive things can get when non-Christian heathen religions are involved.
I think it’s time to set the historical realm aside for a bit, and put things on a more personal level. In verses 12 and 13 of our Gospel lesson for today from Mark 13, we read the words of Jesus: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
The personal importance of the faith is obvious. Things will happen in this world. Buildings may be destroyed and people may turn against us. Things of this world which seem strong and invincible will fold like a house of cards.
But standing firm in the faith is the most important thing. I’ve used the illustration before about what people can do to us and what may happen. We can be stripped naked and left out in the middle of the desert with no food or water. Everything can be taken away from us except one thing, and that is our faith. Nobody can deprive us of that. We might be tempted to give it up on our own, and many people do that very thing. But it isn’t something that someone can walk right up to us and take.
There are times in our life however when we are tempted to put our faith in things of this world, and not in God. Those things might seem so strong and sturdy. We might even put our faith in another person. However when God is robbed of that position in our lives, the outcome is never good.
But we are tempted. Oh, we are tempted to wander so many times. And we do. When that happens, we can almost hear Jesus lament as he did for the Jews who rejected him. In Luke 13, 34 he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
And then he continues with some words very appropriate to our topic today in verse 35: “Look, your house is left to you desolate…” The future outlook is not good at all for those who reject Christ.
When we are tempted to go in a different direction, or to trust in things of this world, that’s when we need to come to Jesus in faith. We need to see how temporary such things are, and put our faith where it belongs.
Through faith in Christ, we know that our sins are forgiven and our faith is restored. The more we are tempted to stray from Jesus, then we need to seek him out all the more. We know that a faith placed in Christ is not misplaced at all; rather it is kept safe there and strengthened.
We also need to remember that we are continually dependent upon Jesus for everything. We can’t look at ourselves as the source of our faith, but see God as that source. In Proverbs it says, “Let he who thinks he stands firm take heed, lest he fall.” We stand firm not on ourselves or things of this world, but on Christ Jesus and his Word alone. That’s where we find strength, forgiveness, and our constant source of hope.
Of all the things that fail us, I think that the most heart breaking is other people. Jesus said that it can be, and often is those people who are closest to us. People we thought would never hurt us or betray us have gone and done that very thing.
Even though sinful people will fail us, Jesus never will. His love and understanding is constant. He knows our weaknesses and strengthens us. He is aware of our hurts, and gives us healing. He understands our sins and forgives them. In every way, faith in Jesus is something we can always cling to, with the knowledge that he will never let us go.
Things of this world will pass away. Buildings will be demolished, terrorists will do their dirty work, and people will hurt us. In the midst of all this, Jesus tells us that we must remain firm in the faith. If we have been found faithful until the end, we are promised a glorious reward in our eternal heavenly home, which shall be ours forever, and never be destroyed.
Remember the words from Luther’s famous hymn:
“And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.”