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The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, November 14, 2010.  The text for this week’s message is Luke 21:5-6.

Last week, we looked at the second chapter of the prophet Haggai.  What we saw there was a very encouraging word from the Lord in the midst of a discouraging time for the people of Israel.  They had just returned from exile in Babylon when they were charged with the task of building a new temple to replace the one that had been destroyed nearly 50 years before.  It was certainly a daunting task, but it was not an impossible one.  Regardless, the people became discouraged and the building of the temple halted.
It is into this situation that the Lord speaks.  He speaks because complacency is not the ideal state for those who have been given a task by God.  The Lord comforts the people, reminds them of His presence with them, and encourages them to press on.  What we saw in that passage is that things change.  Plain and simple.  Things change.  And while it is good for us to remember and honor our past, we cannot live in the past.  We have to look forward to what could be, even when the road is unclear.  God has given us a great task, and we need to spend more time looking forward to where God is leading us, and less time looking back at the way things used to be.
When we come to today’s passage, we are several hundred years into the future.  The temple that the people were encouraged to continue with in Haggai was eventually completed.  It wasn’t the most magnificent building in the history of architecture, but it didn’t have to be.  That’s not what God intended for the people at that time.  By the time we get to the first century, the second temple has been torn down by Herod the Great, and he started rebuilding a new temple.  The previous temple was torn down in 20 B.C., and nearly fifty year later, which is where we find ourselves in today’s passage, the new one is still being built.  It would not be complete until 63 A.D., but at this point, it is already a magnificent building.
In verse 5, the disciples have spent the entire day with Jesus as he taught in the Temple.  They were getting ready to head back for the night, and on the way out, they were admiring the workmanship of the temple.  It was truly a wonderful sight to behold.  And yet, Jesus is not as impressed as the disciples.  Instead of taking part in the conversation and marveling at the beautiful building before him, Jesus uses it as a teaching moment.  He says, “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.”
Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples for just a minute now.  You are just walking around, after a very long day at the temple, looking up and taking in the sights.  It’s a beautiful building, and you can’t help but make a comment about it.  And along comes Jesus.  “Hey, Jesus!” you shout.  “Check out this building!  Isn’t it incredible?”  Then Jesus looks at you and says, “Eh, it’s not going to last forever.  It’s going to be torn down soon.”  Talk about a buzzkill, right?  I mean, can’t the guy just enjoy the splendor for just a few minutes?  Well… no.  Because there is something bigger going on here.
As beautiful and magnificent as this building was, it was just a façade.  What the disciples see and admire is the external adornment, but all that was doing was hiding a spiritual emptiness that had become the temple and the religious institution of the day.  At this very moment, the spiritual leaders of the Jewish community were plotting how to get rid of Jesus so he would stop being such a radical and stirring up trouble for them.
The problem was that the religious elite was not concerned about sharing the message with others.  Their primary concern was how they could hold on to the power that they had obtained.  The things that Jesus said, the way he undermined their authority in the religious sector was enough to make them want to kill him.  These are not the types of thoughts that spiritual leaders need to entertain.  The glory of the temple had nothing to do with the presence of God at this point, but that didn’t seem matter to those who just wanted an amazing looking building.  So, the disciples, like so many before them, were caught up in the beauty of the building, and Jesus very quickly had to bring their focus back to what was really important.
In some sense, Jesus is retelling a message given six hundred years prior by the prophet Jeremiah.  In the time of Jeremiah, the people were in trouble, but they didn’t know it.  Spiritually, they were just as empty and devoid of life as the people of Jesus’ time.  They had fallen into the trap that the Lord was there to serve their needs.  It was an easy trap to fall into in those days, because that is exactly what their neighbors believed.
In the polytheistic religions, or the religions with multiple gods, of ancient times, the basic belief was that if you did the right thing, or said the right thing, then the gods would take notice of you and do whatever it was that you asked of them.  Many times, in their prayers, the ancient people would call on the name of all the gods that they could possibly think of, especially if they were in dire need.  The thought was that surely one of them would respond.  Even worse, some believed that if you followed a particular formula, the gods had to help you in whatever way that you asked.
So, it’s not surprising that the Israelites came to believe that the Lord was there to serve them.  Everyone else they came into contact with had that same kind of thought.  However, there is a significant difference between the gods of the others nations and the Lord Almighty.  The God that we read about in Scripture is the Living God.  The gods of the nations were nothing more than wood carvings or metal figures.  They were idols.  They were nothing more than little toys to which people prayed.
There was a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God in the time of Jeremiah.  The people believed that as long as the presence of the Lord was with them – which was symbolized by the Temple – then they didn’t have to worry about anything.  They could just go on and live their lives in whatever way they wanted as long as they performed their sacrifices and kept their ritualistic duties.  In Jeremiah 7, the prophet says to the people, “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’”
Jeremiah is telling them that the temple doesn’t mean a thing.  And indeed it didn’t.  Not long after Jeremiah shared that message, the Babylonians came in and conquered Jerusalem, exiling most of its citizens back to Babylon.  The temple was still there.  Solomon’s Temple, in all its glory, did no good to the people of Jerusalem because they placed too much trust in the external trappings of their religion that they forgot the true purpose of their faith.  Later on in Jeremiah 7, God asks, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” 
And now, you may be wondering to yourself, “Haven’t I heard that phrase before?”  Hopefully you have.  Jesus refers to it.  Jesus comes into the temple one day, and in the Court of the Gentiles, moneychangers and people selling animals for sacrifices are making all kinds of noise.  They turned that part of the temple into a marketplace.  It’d be like putting a bank and a pet store in the back of the sanctuary.  The difference – the Court of the Gentiles was the only place in the temple where non-Jews were allowed to worship.  Because of all the commotion surrounding the busyness of the buyers and sellers, the Gentiles who came to worship God could not do so without significant distractions.  Jesus sees what is going on and he starts turning over the table, driving the animals out of the court and generally making a whole lot of people really upset.
The temple was supposed to be a place where all people could come and worship God.  But that wasn’t the case.  It wasn’t a sacred space anymore; it was a marketplace.  People were being cheated on money exchanges.  People were being forced to pay ridiculous prices for sacrificial animals.  This is the state of the temple; the same temple that the disciples are marveling about in today’s passage.  There nothing marvelous about such a place.
Jesus shuts down their amazement, not because he’s a buzzkill, but because they were missing something much more important.  What the temple looks like on the outside doesn’t matter if the inside is messed up.  That’s the key message that Jesus wants to get across to the disciples.   It doesn’t matter how the outside of something looks if the inside is rotten and worthless.  This place that was supposed to be for worship turned out to be a place of liars and thieves.
And what is it that Jesus says to them?  He says that all will be torn down.  This building, this marvelous structure, this great human accomplishment will be torn down one day.  And, indeed, it was.  The Jewish people finally revolted against the Romans in 66 A.D., taking control of Jerusalem and killing the Roman soldiers that were at the garrison.  They managed to hold on for another four years until Titus, son of the recently proclaimed Emperor Vespasian, destroyed the city following a seven-month siege.  Caught up in the destruction of the city was the temple, which was torn to the ground.
Jesus wasn’t just talking about how someday, eventually, the Temple would just fall apart.  He knew what was ahead for the people of Israel.  He knew not just because he was the Son of God, but because he could see the direction that things were going.  He was looking forward at the path the people were on, and there was only one destination for that path.  While all of this is interesting and informative, let me just go ahead and throw out the question that y’all are thinking, “So what?”
Why does it matter that the Temple was destroyed?  Why does it matter that Jesus wouldn’t let them admire the architecture?  Why does any of this matter?  It matters because, if we aren’t careful, we can miss out on the lesson of this passage.  Don’t get so caught up, don’t get so enamored with the things of this world.  They aren’t always what they seem, and they won’t last in the first place.
We talked a lot last week about remembering and honoring our past, but that it is more important for us to look to the future.  Whatever happened in 1972 is nice.  It was a good time.  It helped shape us into who we are today.  But we can’t recreate it.  We can’t go back to 1972 and have a grand ol’ time.  We have to start thinking about 2011, 2015, 2025.  Because, if we don’t, 1972 isn’t going to matter because nobody will be around to celebrate it.
The disciples thought that the Temple was the neatest thing that they had ever seen.  And, who knows, at the time, maybe it was, but it wasn’t going to be around forever.  In about 30 years, the construction on the temple would finally be completed, and in about 40 years, it would all be destroyed.  The things of this world simply don’t last.  No matter how much we adore them, no matter how hard we try, they simply aren’t meant to last for eternity.
Even some of the things that we think will last, things that are beautifully adorned, can have some major issues that we may not necessarily see on the outside.  Once again, we come to the question, “What is the condition of your heart?”  I certainly don’t mean your physical health either.  Is your heart in a place spiritually where you are receptive to the things that God is saying to you?  Do you put yourself in positions to hear from the Lord?  The condition of your heart is so much more important when it comes to matters of eternity, but we make it a habit to spend less and less time paying attention to it.
Let me encourage you this morning to really hear what it is that Jesus is trying to say because he’s not just talking to his disciples on one spring evening two thousand years ago.  He is speaking to us, right here in Veedersburg/Hillsboro on this November morning.  Don’t get too caught up in the things of this world.  Examine what is going on inside yourself, and don’t take things at face value.  Remember, that one day, all will indeed be thrown down, and only that which is truly eternal will last.
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