Text: Luke 21:5-28
Date: Pentecost XXVI + Proper 28 11/17/13
The Day of the Lord Comes. Today is the Day of the Lord, O come let us worship Him. When the Lord Jesus first came on the scene, as He approached His final week—His final offering, goal and purpose—He first warned of the coming destruction of the Jerusalem temple—“The days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another.” Then He spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem itself—“These are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” And finally He spoke also of the end of the world, judgment day when “they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” These are the three events He speaks about in today’s gospel reading. However, these otherwise fearful words are, rather, the occasion of joy and comfort for the believer, for faith that says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Jesus foretold of the coming destruction of the Jerusalem temple. A nameless “someone,” Luke tells us, turned tourist guide was pointing out the stunning beauty of the temple. This was the second temple rebuilt after the Babylonian exile (536-516 b.c.). Beautiful as it was the Old Testament scribe and author of the book that bears his name, Ezra, recorded the rebuilding event as it happened. There, of course, was great joy, great shouting and praise of the Lord. But then we read, “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid” (Ezra 3:12). When you’re young everything is new. When you get older, there are memories of past days we tend more to call the “good ol’” ones.
Remember Navin Field? Briggs Stadium or Tiger Stadium stood as “The Corner” in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit from 1912 until its demolition in 2009, 97 years. It took a decade to finally give up on any hopes of redevelopment or preservation. During that decade news reports on TV the radio and in newspapers sounded strangely like Psalm 137 and the mourning by God’s people for the first temple. Substitute the phrase “Tiger Stadium” for the words “Zion” and “Jerusalem” and you have a similar emotion with those exiled to Babylon, remembering what they had lost as they prayed,
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our lyres….
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget
its skill! (Ps 137:1-2, 5)
What’s even worse is that the fate of Tiger Stadium has been cited as an example of the decaying landscape of all of Detroit.
Jesus’ announcement of the coming destruction of the temple (which happened at the hands of the Romans in 70 a.d.) was more than just a foretelling of a future event. The people were talking about a building. Jesus was talking about God’s presence and how that was now shifting its locale, shifting from the old Jerusalem temple to the temple of the body of Jesus. The old temple was rendered obsolete by the incarnation of the Son of God. All people must look for God where He promises to be found; now no longer “in temples made with hands,” but in the Person of His Son, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, upholding the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). Remember how Jesus told the Jews asking for a sign of His authority, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:18-21).
The people were impressed with the noble, gleaming white stones of a building. When Christ came, He was “the stone that the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22). But even more than that, by faith in Him, in the words of St. Peter, “as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:4-6). And that is to say that now God is found in the body of Jesus, that is, in His Church, that is among you who gather constantly around His Word and Sacraments. And because He now dwells in you, in those baptized in His name, in the Gospel and in the Supper, Jesus warns of Christian persecution.
This is what is meant by the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. God has withdrawn His presence from the temple. So God withdraws His mercy and grace from those who reject the new temple of His Son. Sins are retained and not forgiven. Jesus says this destruction is in fulfillment of Scripture. Hosea 9 said, “The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it” (Hosea 9:7). Where is God’s punishment of your sins? The prophet Jeremiah preached, “Flee for safety, O people of Benjamin, from the midst of Jerusalem! Blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and raise a signal on Beth-haccherem [bayth-hak-keh-rem], for disaster looms out of the north, and great destruction…. For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Cut down her trees; cast up a siege mound against Jerusalem. This is the city that must be punished; there is nothing but oppression within her…. Be warned, O Jerusalem, lest I turn from you in disgust, lest I make you a desolation, an uninhabited land’” (Jer 6:1-8). Again, when is God’s punishment of your sins? This is the punishment foretold by Ezekiel (1:4-24), and Micah, saying, “Therefore because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height” (Micah 3:12), and Zephaniah, “The word of the Lord, saying, ‘I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;’ ‘those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him’” (Zeph 1:4, 6). Have you turned back from following the Lord? Jerusalem fell to Babylon in 587 b.c. returning once to rebuild. But because repentance was not to be found she grew ripe for destruction again. So it will be for all who reject Christ to the last day.
Of the last day the Lord concludes that the old heaven and earth will be shaken and must be destroyed before the new heaven and earth will be established by God. The creation itself will experience the power of death and resurrection with all the people of God. Therefore the coming of the Son of Man on the last day is not to be feared by God’s people but to be looked forward to as a comfort. So He says we are to “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
We approach the ending of another liturgical year. So we are reminded of the fleeting days of our life in this sinful world, the prospect of death, but even more importantly of the Day of Judgment. It will be a day of shocking expulsion from God’s life-giving presence for those who reject Christ today, but a day of comfort and great joy for those who have received Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, the grace and mercy of God by faith in Jesus. Therefore St. Paul said, “Working together with [God], then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:1-2).
May God draw you nearer to Himself, indeed live in you and in us all, give us strength to endure in the faith and the love that are in Christ Jesus our Lord and our eternal King.