Luke 13:31-35 “O’ Jerusalem”
Do you remember that 2004 hit by the Eagles “Best of My Love”? There is that one line “I am going back in time, and it’s a sweet dream.” Okay, I want to take you all back in time this morning to the year 1872 BC. That is only 3890 years ago. The place will be what is today modern Jerusalem. Four thousand years ago it was still just a barren hillside in the Kidron Valley of Israel.
We pick up the story in Genesis 22: “After those things God tested Abraham. He said to him. . . .go to the land of Moriah. . .on one of the mountains that I shall show you. . . .” This is the first time we hear about that spot where the Temple in Jerusalem shall one day be built. By the way, the word “moriah” means “ordained by God.” So, we see that God pointed out this spot to Abraham, the one with whom God made the original covenant that we should be God’s people.
We are going to pick up this story with King David (about 850 BC) who after conquering so many enemies of Israel established his new capital city as Jerusalem on the site of Mount Moriah. Besides the significance of the site going back to the days of Abraham, Jerusalem helped to cement the twelve tribes by being in the middle or on the border between Judah and the Northern Israelite tribes. So, just like Washington DC was chosen as a capital by its location between the northern and southern states of America, so was Jerusalem a great political compromise. It was from here that David ruled over the first united kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem allowed for all the tribes to come together, and its name means “The foundation of peace.”
It was King David who moved the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Law of Moses that was brought down from Mount Sinai, from Shiloh to a new Temple that was built on a little hill on the larger side of Mount Moriah. This little hill is called Zion, by the way. It literally forms the base of the Temple of Jerusalem.
David never completed the temple. That was left to his son King Solomon. The temple became known therefore as Solomon’s Temple. Within that structure was a place for housing the Ark of the Covenant. On top of the Ark was the so-called “mercy seat” where God was supposed to sit. So it was believed that the very presence of God resided in the Temple of Jerusalem. This is critical to understanding what Jesus says in our scripture for today. We will get to that in a moment or two.
Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. By the way, Jerusalem has been attacked throughout history 52 times. (Not so much peace should be associated with Jerusalem despite its name). The Jews were taken again into captivity in Babylon. When the Persians came in to destroy Babylon under King Cyrus the Great (Xerxes), they allowed the Jews to resettle Jerusalem and rebuild the temple there. We can read in Ezra and Nehemiah about this period of re-establishing the central worship of God in Jerusalem. This is now referred to as the second temple.
This rebuilding of the Temple took so long that it stretched right into the time of Jesus. King Herod was quite a builder in fact. The temple expanded and became more ornate. This became known also as the Temple of Herod, or the Herodian Temple. This is the temple as Jesus and disciples knew it.
It was then in 70 AD that the Romans tore down the temple in order to quell a Jewish uprising. Jesus himself foretold of this happening in that famous verse from Matthew 24:1-2 “As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’” When the Romans were done, in fact, not one stone was left. All we have today from that temple is the shoring wall of one side of the foundation of that temple. This is today known as the “Wailing Wall” where Jews still gather in remembrance of the Temple that once stood.
In our scripture for today, Jesus makes mention of this in a unique way. He tells the Pharisees that have come to warn him about Herod that he has left the temple. The word in the Greek and in older versions of the bible we see the word “desolate” inserted here as well. Jesus leaves the temple desolate. In other words, God is no longer to be found in that manmade structure. God is not sitting on the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant in the Holiest of Holies in the Herodian Temple. So, if you miss the point, let me spell it out for you: God is found in the person of Jesus Christ His Son sent to save us. God is not to be sought in some geological or geopolitical rabbit hole. Amen to that!
Another way of putting this simply, if you think you can put the almighty omnipotent God of creation into a manmade structure, then you are not worshipping God—you are worshipping your own structure instead. That is Jesus’ point.
So, last week I mentioned in my sermon that you may have one day someone knocking on your door telling you that only 144,000 will be saved in the End Time. That in reference to Revelation 7. I pointed out that those who make that claim have stopped reading the entire text that goes on to read that the “uncountable multitudes of all nations” are mentioned right after that. So, we have seen some very selective reading going on.
In this same vein, you may one day run into someone who will tell you that Christians should support the rebuilding of what would be the now third temple in Jerusalem. Just because I have a Doctorate in Biblical Studies and can read the original Hebrew and Greek, please do not believe me when I tell you that nowhere in the Bible does it says that we must rebuild Jerusalem. Go look for yourself. When those people come knocking on your door, you tell them to go read their Bibles again. Challenge them to show you the scripture itself where Jesus says that Christians are supposed to rebuild the Temple.
Yes, Jesus says that he will tear down the Temple and rebuild it again in three days. Mark 14:58, “I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days rebuild it with one not made of hands.” You cannot get much more clear than that. Jesus is referring to the central idea of our faith that God is found in the person of Jesus who rises again on the third day after his crucifixion.
When we read our Bibles, when we believe the Word of the Lord, then we see that Jesus had nothing but disdain for the earthly city of Jerusalem. And, that is why that whole city will one day be supplanted by the “New Jerusalem” that comes out of heaven as we read in Revelation 21. This is again the heavenly kingdom coming down—it is not the Jerusalem built by hands. This is the promise of God’s kingdom, not an earthly kingdom.
The recent decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, otherwise meaning that our country now recognizes Jerusalem as the modern capital of the modern State of Israel, actually has no religious significance at all. Just because the US Ambassador, David Freedman, spends some time (He is only part time in Jerusalem because all of the other consular offices are in Tel Aviv) does not mean that God is back in the box on top of the hill. I am glad to say this because it would be against my own faith to think otherwise. I do not stand alone in this: Pope Francis, the 13 Patriarchs of Israel itself, and most protestant denominations have pointed out the same thing.
Jesus lays scorn on Jerusalem. He laments Jerusalem. He says that he would have liked to gather the children of Jerusalem under his wings (as a mother hen) but that the children refuse. When prophets are sent to Jerusalem by God, they are stoned. Please note that as we can read in Acts 7, the first Christian to ever speak the Truth of Jesus Christ before the powers that be in Jerusalem was stoned to death. That was of course Saint Stephen.
Luke in writing this gospel in his time is addressing the early church that knows very well that Stephen had been killed in Jerusalem most recently. When Saint Paul wants to go back to Jerusalem, those around him try to talk him out of it. The first recognized church of the Christian faith was not in Jerusalem, but it was in Antioch far, far to the north of Israel.
The last line of our scripture for today is clear: You will not see God again in Jerusalem until you see Christ! You will not see God on Mount Mariah until you say: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Saint Stephen came in the name of the Lord, and he got stoned! Jesus came in the name of the Lord, and he got crucified!
Now I have to be perfectly clear, that I am not anti-Israel. I believe that Israel has a right to exist in peace. I believe that the Jewish people as a race deserve to hold their ancestral homeland. I acknowledge in my bones the suffering that the Jewish people have endured mostly at the hands of people claiming to be Christians. I have said this many times that if I were not a Christian pastor I would most certainly be a Jewish Rabbi—if they would have me. I hold the deepest respect and chime in myself when at the Passover Feast glasses are raised and the blessing is spoken as “Next year in Jerusalem!” Like Jesus, I also want my Jewish brothers and sisters to be saved!
As a Christian therefore, my point is simply that when Jesus comes again, that He will be accepted rather than rejected on that Holy Mountain of Moriah. Jesus promised the New Jerusalem that the Angel of the Lord showed to John, where we will all be with God once again, and where Jesus shines like the sun in that perfect heaven on earth that we pray for.