By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 13:1–8 (NRSV)
The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
(Mt 24:1–8; Lk 21:5–11)
13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
I have had the privilege to visit many monuments over the course of my life. I like monuments. They give us a sense of history, a story that is larger than ourselves, and that great things have happened around us. There are a few monuments that really stick with me though. One is the monument of the unknown sailors in Odessa, Ukraine. According to the guide during our visit, and our guide was our translator, so he was not exactly a historian, the monument was built to honor the sailors from the city that got into boat to fight the Nazis. They just got on any boat and went out, no one knew who was on what boat, but they bravely tried to protect their port. This monument had an impact on me because of the pride and the mystery. Fighters against all odds going out in whatever boat they could get on to do what they could.
The second monument that has had a profound effect on me is right here in Kansas City, the National World War I memorial. If you have not visited this monument recently please go and visit it. It is breath taking and allows us to see just a small glimpse into the conditions and the politics of that era. This monument is one that leaves me a bit uneasy. I am very passionate in my beliefs and one of those beliefs is our testimony against war, yet I visit these memorials and it makes my heart ache and swell with pride at the same time. I know the sacrifice, I know the desire to serve, I know the passion, but I also know the pain that is connected to these monuments. They remind us of all this and hopefully inspire us to try even more to prevent such bloodshed.
On our honeymoon, Kristy and I visited another monument, the crazy horse monument. This is a massive sculpture that is being built near Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. When we visited this monument, we were able to witness the workers conduct one of their strategic blasts, which was very exciting. But what impressed me the most about this monument was the flags from all the Native tribes across our nation that were represented on the site. And to see the hope of a university for native American studies that they intend to build on the site. I am impressed by this monument because of the unity and the strength of the tribes. They have faced many trials and hardships, yet they strive to maintain their culture.
I have visited many monuments, but probably the most impressive that I have visited is the actual city of Washington, D.C. This city is filled with monuments. The Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Arlington Cemetery, the Capital building, the list could go one. I visited this city when the summer before I entered Junior High, I remember this vacation because it was near the end of the first gulf war and we saw many military vehicles in the national mall. I remember looking down over the city from the top of the Washington monument and seeing the lights of all the federal building illuminating the skies. And at a young age I fell in love with everything American.
Monuments are a source of pride, and of hope. They let us who were not there join with those that were in the story of us. But there are sides to every story. We also visited the Vietnam Memorial. I am too young to know the actual war but know people who were there. I saw homeless veterans crying as they touched the names of friends. I saw flowers placed on the sidewalk. I saw this, and it etched things in my heart. In the city of monuments, I saw for the first-time real homelessness, and I also saw the first glimpse of pure hate as I saw two skinheads beating a man for no reason. These monuments, these structures to remind us of our greatness, often come with a cost.
As I reflected on this week’s passage I thought about those monuments. The feelings I felt as I approached. I considered the importance of each, even though some of them have very little connection to me. And then I considered the Temple of God.
It is hard for us to even imagine the colossal presence of this structure, because none of us have been to anything that would come close to its greatness. People throughout the ancient world would visit this temple. It was greater than any other religious structure at that time, it might even have been the most impressive religious structure of all time. The platform on which the temple was built covers thirty-six acres. And this platform is filled with arches and tunnels, aqueducts and storage vaults. And that is just the foundation of the temple. This structure was the central to the identity and culture of Israel.
When the disciples proclaim to Jesus their awe of this structure, they are voicing the pride of their nation. A massive structure that is more impressive than anything else in the entire empire. It was seen to be as close to perfection as humanity could build. And this structure was the temple of Israel’s God.
The stones, the buildings! Just look at them! Consider the most impressive building you have visited and then multiply it by a hundred. And that is just the part that they could see. The interior was of limits to all people except the priests, yet we can get a glimpse as to what it might be like if we were to read the histories of Israel in the Old Testament.
The disciples are just breathing in the pride of their nation and standing in reverence. But Jesus does not let them enjoy it. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Imagine their shock at those words.
What can he possibly mean by it? This would be the equivalent of every monument of Washington, D.C. being reduced to rubble. How would that make us feel? In a moment we would lose our entire identity. No more pride, no strength, we would seemingly be reduced to nomads or a people with no home. Imagine the feelings. Everything that you value, everything that you have built your life upon, toppled.
They proceed to the mount of olives which is opposite the temple complex, and they look back to the structure. This massive structure that we could fit twenty-six football fields within. To put this into perspective there are thirty-two NFL teams. This is like having all but six of their facilities in one place. twenty-six arrowhead stadiums. They observe the activities going on as they over look this structure. And Peter, James, John and Andrew come to speak to Jesus alone. Jesus has just told them that their entire lives are going to come crashing down around them, and they want answers. “How will we know when this is going to happen?”
We often fail to see the significance of this question, because we live so far removed from this time and place. We live so far from the context of this passage that we have begun to give new meaning to the words all together. So often when we read this passage, we look forward to the second coming of our Lord, and that is fine, I hope to see Him soon too. But we need to remember that this is before Jesus was even crucified, this is before the Jewish wars had even begun. As far as the religious culture is concerned things could not be better. Attendance is up, the treasury is full, people from all the corners of the Earth are coming to pay their respects to the God of Israel. Yet Jesus is saying, everything you have built your faith on is about to be demolished, and not one stone will be left standing.
He then uses apocalyptic words to describe it. There will be stories of Wars, earthquakes, famines but do not be alarmed. He even says there will be people that will come in his name, saying that “I am He.” But do not be led astray. For most of my life I have been taught these words in fear. People asking if I am ready for that day to come. I have fellow pastors that will send nearly weekly updates on the quantity of earthquakes that occur around the world, and attached to these messages is the question are you ready? When I was in high school on through to when I was married there were series of books focused on the very same thing. Earthquakes, wars, famines, false prophets. They were working us all up into a panicked frenzy. But we missed the most important part of what Jesus had to say, “Do not be alarmed.”
We miss the significance of this passage because we are in a rush for something else. Jesus is simply asking in what do we put our faith? He has just spent several days in the very temple’s courts teaching the masses about the kingdom. He has been asked questions by the religious leaders and has parried each to strike at the heart of truth. And those ended with one answer, “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor yourself.” He continued teach the disciples as they watched the religious leaders walking by in their long robes, and as people placed their offerings into the treasury boxes. Through all this teaching, illustrating, through all his life and ministry the one point he was trying to make is this. Love.
His life was dedicated to Loving God, as he made it his custom to worship with the community in the synagogues. He embraced the holy Spirit while he withdrew to the isolated places to pray. And he lived that love out as he had compassion for the people and healed them, fed them, and taught them the good news. Jesus showed us how to live a life of love. Yet every one of the disciples misinterpreted what was going on, and we see it in this passage.
Everything Jesus did was focused on the real application of the primary law of God. Yet the disciples argued about which one was the greatest. He would teach about being a servant to all, and a couple of them would then ask can I sit at your right hand and my brother on your left when you come into your kingdom? Their minds were caught in this unrelenting cycle of nationalism and pride. Everything about their lives revolved around restoring the kingdom of their ancestors, and that was centered on the temple. Just look at it they say, look at the huge stones! Look at the magnificent buildings! We are great, so when will you bring in the kingdom?
Their focus is not on God. Their focus is on themselves. Sure, they love their countrymen but ultimately, they want power to rule. They want influence. They do not want others to tell them what to do. We want to be great, so we can tell others what to do.
What is the result of these attitudes? Wars and rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, and earthquakes. People coming in his name saying I am the anointed one listen to me and if you do not, we will smite you with everything we have to available to us. Do not be alarmed Jesus says, because these things must happen. They must happen until we realize that there is a better way. They will continue to happen until we put our faith in the proper perspective.
Jesus bluntly tells the disciples, your way of thinking and the way of thinking of everyone else here is going to lead to your destruction. And it happened. The might of Rome marched into Jerusalem and they leveled the temple, and they removed everything of value and carried it back to Rome. We look at the monuments of Rome, and every one of them was financed by the looting of the Temple of God.
Jesus is saying there will be a day when you must decide. There will be a day where everything you have built your life on will fall and you must decide what to do next. There will be a day when the world around you will no longer be recognizable, how will you react? Jerusalem will fall, what remains?
Do not be alarmed. Jesus says this because he has shown them the truth. He has invited them to participate in that holy lifestyle that he enjoys. He knows that when everything we build for ourselves falls away, faith remains. A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook a few days ago that says, “Faith is not about everything turning out okay. Faith is about being okay no matter how things turn out.” This is the essence of what Jesus said that day. Do not be alarmed, the things that are going to cause you to fear, the things that will cause you to question yourself and everything you stand for, that might make you stumble they may even make you cry out but do not be alarmed. Keep living His holy lifestyle. Continue to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others. Because it is that lifestyle, that faith in action that will cause those around us to see something different. It is that faith that will cause those around us who are also facing their own monumental crashes to grab onto the faith that we have.
The disciples looked at their great city, with its massive stones and magnificent buildings and they were filled with pride. And many of those early disciples saw that city burn to the ground. On that day a great decision had to be made. What do we do now? How do we live our lives when there is no symbol to grasp hold of? How can we stand for truth when the very monuments to it lay in ruin? Choices were made, and those choices resulted in modern Judaism and Christianity. But since that time several other monumental events occurred and with each one a choice would have to be made, and each choice leads us another direction. Leaders emerge, and they say I am the one to follow and many are led away from Christ even though those leaders claim to speak in His name and they lead the people to more wars, more famines, more of the same. And with each war more destruction that causes more people to answer their own questions and make choices. This is how it is to be…until someone says no as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. And they look to Christ and live in his holy lifestyle once again.
Today is not so different than any other era of history. The main difference is the amount of harm we can cause with so little effort. The question remains the same, if everything you built you life on were to tumble what would you do? Would you be alarmed? Or would you continue to walk in faith?