Twenty Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
[13:1] And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!"  And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down."
 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,  "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?"  And Jesus began to say to them, "See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray.  And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.  "But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.  And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.  And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.  And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.  And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Mark 13:1-13 (ESV)
“Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
And thus Jesus begins his discourse on the end of the world, admonishing his disciples to stand firm until the end. His disciples wanted a sign. Jesus doesn’t really give them anything definitive. Rather he points them to all sorts of signs, wars, earthquakes, famines, etc. all signs that we live with daily. All signs that the world is not as it should be, and that it will finally die. It will come to an end. All reasons not to hold on to this world that will pass away, but to hold on to that which will endure and never pass away. His word. For the grass withers and the flower fades, but his word will never pass away.
It must have been quite a shock for the disciples to hear that this temple would be destroyed, not one stone sitting on another. Today we see that reality with a tour of Jerusalem. There where the temple once stood, is nothing but the foundation left, and up on top an edifice of evil, the dome of the rock. There where the one triune God was once worshiped, the only place on earth where sacrifices dedicated to Him were found acceptable, Allah, an evil conception of a god, is praised and worshiped by deluded men and women who adhere to a religion bent on global domination, a religion that has converted most of Asia, North Africa, and parts of Eastern Europe by the sword, and to this day fights to do the same to the rest of the world. There was a time when most of the Muslim world adhered to Christianity. To this day you can see the ruins of glorious churches dedicated to the Triune God, and now over these ruins, as over the ruins of the temple, mosques dedicated to the worship of Allah.
Jesus knew, but it had to be shocking to the disciples. The Temple, Israel’s glorious crown, the central symbol of their religion and identity, their pride, and God would allow it to be destroyed. Think of the pride we have in this little building standing firm, a testimony to the dedicated faith in the one true God, amidst this pagan community that is so hostile to our faith. Oh many of us, me included, would like to see the day perhaps, when our congregation could move to a new facility that is perhaps a little more visible in the community, a little more inviting. This little building has its problems, but despite these it is our little church, filled with the loving charms left by the faithful who have gone before us, and struggled to build it in the first place as a testimony to their faith. A church building is always more than just another building. I suppose I understand somewhat that necessity can demand a congregation renovate a warehouse, or rent a store front, but a building specifically built to be a church, a sanctuary of Sabbath rest where the gospel is to be heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, is a glorious thing. In many ways I think a church building, a place dedicated to God, is perhaps the best evangelism tool a congregation can have. I think you can almost tell the health of a congregation by the appearance of its church. It stands as a witness to the community seven days a week. It tells them that there is a place they can go to hear the gospel. That there is a place where people care not only about their earthly existence but the eternity of their soul. A place where a congregation of believers in Christ gather to hear the gospel, and call a pastor, that the community might hear it also. The pride that got Bonnie to pull the weeds from the planter box this last week, where our old sign used to be. It is that pride that grabbed hold of me this last week to fix the damage in the narthex. The first thing I have wired in five years, I try not to use my training as an electrician anymore. Think of that pride, and then think of the disciples as they see their temple. The temple Solomon built originally, the one Ezra and Nehemia worked so hard to rebuild, the one Herod had just spent forty years renovating. It was a national symbol of faith in the one true God. People would visit Jerusalem and actually be converted because of its beauty! The Temple stood amidst all the hardships the Jewish people endured at the hands of Roman occupation, a symbol that God had not forsaken them, And they had not forsaken Him. Now Jesus tells them that it will be destroyed, not one stone left on top of another.
Perhaps he was predicting the Triumph of Titus in Seventy A.D. When indeed the Temple was destroyed. It has now been destroyed for longer than it was ever standing. It has been in ruins for almost 2,000 years. I doubt it will ever be rebuilt. Nor do I care to see it rebuilt. It will never again be a place of worship, the dwelling place of the one true God, Jesus Christ, who is now worshiped in Spirit and Truth, and dwells in us who are the temple of God.
 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Cor. 3:16-17 (ESV)
But I don’t know that he is talking of that day alone, though that day was a sign of the times, an indication no less than earthquakes and famines that this world is coming to an end. The forces of evil in this world have now regrouped, refocused. Now they are no longer content to attack edifices of stone, but the temple of God that is you. The end is coming. We don’t know when this will be.
There is a tendency in us, as in the disciples, to want to know when the end will be. It is a day we sometimes dread, and a day we at times look forward too. One thing we do know is that every day God lets this world continue is a day of grace and mercy that he has bestowed on this world. It isn’t easy, not for us. The devil tortures us Christians in this world, persecutes us. He snatches our loved ones from us, and turns them against us. We see them forsaking the faith, and it hurts. Some of us embrace the faith, and our family forsakes us. We may not be handed over in the U.S to political authorities, imprisoned, and tortured for the faith as once happened in the Roman empire, and still today happens in places like China, or the Middle East. But we know the pain of losing loved ones all the same. Some of us suffer at work for our faith in subtle ways, being passed up for promotion, not being given a contract, or simply being forced to work when we would like to be at church, or perhaps a less than desirable shift.
Then there are just the harsh realities of this world that all have to deal with. Sickness, disease, fire, losing house and home to an earthquake, a flood. We see the people in New orleans who lost their homes to a hurricane. Natural disasters occur. All everyone worked so hard to build up, the supposed security they had put into their bank accounts and investments, gone over night to a bad economy. Then we hear of what God has in store for us believers in heaven: the mansions, the eternal feast, life without end, and without hardship. We look forward to that day. I do. I used to wonder why Christ couldn’t come back now the day before report cards when I was a kid. But God waits patiently for that day. He too would rescue us from this valley of the shadow of death in which we live, and take us home to Him in heaven, delivering us from evil once and for all.
But he waits, he extends grace and mercy on this world, because he loves our neighbors, the same ones that persecute us, as he loves us. He wants them to hear also the gospel of his Son Jesus Christ, who died for them on the Cross. He wants them to believe in his Son Jesus Christ, be forgiven of their sins, and saved, as we believe and are saved. So he extends mercy. For the day is coming when this world will come to an end, and then it is over. And for us it will be a glorious day of salvation, when we will see our beloved Lord and savior Jesus Christ face to face, to live with him to all eternity. But for this world it will be utter destruction, and damnation for those who have not believed, who have not heard!
So it is that every day we live in this world, we hold fast to his word, knowing that we no longer live for ourselves. This world will pass away. There will come a day when this building too will fall and be wiped out, as the temple has been destroyed. We know that there is nothing to fear in this world anymore, because we belong to Christ, that come what may in this world, our future is secure in Him who died to forgive us our sins, and rose again conquering death, who ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. So we live in this world by grace, no longer for us, but for our neighbors to show them the love of God who died for them to whether they want to believe it or not, who has forgiven them their sins. We live by grace in faith, to extend that grace of God to others so that they too might have their future secured with our in Him. For we know that without him, there is nothing but impending doom, destruction and damnation, but with Him, with Jesus Christ, there is nothing but grace, mercy, love and life eternal even amidst the death, destruction, and persecution of this world.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.