Faith In The Rubble

by Sean Foster on November 17, 2013

Luke 21: 5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “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.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

This week I did a search on Google for false predictions and there are all kinds of them. Let me share a few with you this morning.

1. It will be years (not in my time) before a woman will become Prime Minister. (Margaret Thatcher, October 26th, 1969)

She became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom only 10 years after saying that, holding her chair from 1979 to 1990. But she wasn’t all that wrong since she is the only woman to have held this post. Maybe she should have added the word – again.

2. I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. (Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943)

It may sound ridiculous now, but the prediction was actually true for about ten years after it was made. Almost every forecaster would settle for a ten year limit on the testing of their forecasts. Of course, by the 1980s and the advent of the PC, such a statement looked plain daft.

3. That virus [HIV] is a pussycat.
(Dr. Peter Duesberg, molecular-biology professor at Berkeley, 1988)

By 2006, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization estimated that AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognized on December 1, 1981.

4. Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.
(Associates of Edwin L. Drake refusing his suggestion to drill for oil in 1859)

Only one hundred fifty years passed by since the first attempt to dig out oil from the ground met such contempt, and now the whole world is trying to look for unimaginable places to satiate the thirst for money that is propelled and sustained on this black gold.

5. A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. (New York Times, 1936)

10 years later, in 1946, the first American-built rocket to leave the earth’s atmosphere was launched from White Sands, attaining 50 miles of altitude.

6. The singer Mick Jagger will have to go; the BBC won’t like him.

We can only wonder what Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger, Golden Globe, Grammy Award-winning English singer-songwriter, rock musician and occasional actor, has to say about it now.

7. Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia. (Dr Dionysys Larder (1793-1859)

It may sound impossible to Dr. Larder, professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at the University College London back in the 1800, but in 1939 the first high speed train went from Milan to Florence at 165 km/h (102.5 mph). Thankfully no one died. Nowadays these trains go at 200 km/h (125 mph) and faster.

8. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.
(Lord Kelvin, 1895)

This was said by Lord Kelvin (British mathematician and physicist, president of the British Royal Society) only eight years before brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright took their home-built flyer to the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk, cranked up the engine, and took off into the history books.

9. If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one. (W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954)

In 1964 the United States Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health began suggesting the relationship between smoking and cancer, which confirmed its suggestions 20 years later in the 1980s. Nowadays, it’s well known that long-term exposure to tobacco smoke is the most common causes of lung cancer.
Predictions! Well today in our Scripture reading that Lawrence shared with us from Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus give a prediction. And it must have seemed so far fetched and unbelievable, that I am sure those who were listening may have even giggled.

Luke describes a group of people who were standing together talking about and admiring the beautiful temple in Jerusalem. And it was no wonder they were talking about it because it truly was an absolutely beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent structure. I mean, let me try to describe it’s magnificence so that you can try to picture in your mind.

Now the first temple was built by King Solomon. However, some 400 years after it had been built, it was destroyed by the Babylonians. And even though Solomon’s temple was extremely impressive, the second temple, which was built by Herod the King, was even more impressive. It was massive.

Herod nearly doubled the area of the temple mount. It encompassed an area of some 35 acres with retaining walls. Now if you are trying to imagine that, it is about the same as 25 football fields.

And get this! The stones that were used to build the retaining wall. They were massive. The largest measured 46 feet in length, 10 feet high, and 10 feet depth. That was one stone!!

And they would quarry out these rocks and cut them to size. I mean when you think about the immensity, and the size of these stones, it was no wonder people stood in awe, mesmerized by the magnificence of the Temple. Historians from that time period described it as breath-taking.
(Murray Stein, “How Herod Moved Gigantic Blocks to Construct the Temple Mount,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. VIII, No. 3, (Washington, D.C., May-June, 1981), p.42)

And so there they are (if you picture the text),… Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem, by the Temple. And they overhear some people talking about the majesty of the temple. And Jesus say’s something that must have been odd for them to hear. He say’s, The day is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble. I mean it was unimaginable! Looking at this massive structure. This very secure and well-built structure. Jesus say’s, The day is coming when it will end up a heap of rubble. Impossible! No force was believed to be strong enough.

This prediction of Jesus is incredible! Because just four decades later, the prediction, comes to pass.

So if we jump forward, from the time of the prediction to the actual event in 70 CE/ AD the Romans overran the city of Jerusalem. Just as Jesus had said: The 40-foot colon-nades that surrounded the temple mount, the temple itself, and Herod’s huge portico, they were all gone. All of it destroyed. Pushed down and pulled over, rolling into the Tyropoeon Valley to the West, and the Kidron Valley to the East. And for the most part today, the stones remain exactly where the Romans left them. The Roman army completely destroyed the temple, leaving not one stone upon another.

And of course when Jesus first made this prediction – the disciples were quite curious. They began asking: When will this happen Jesus? What signs should we look for to know that this is about to happen? Jesus, we want to know what signs we should be looking for to know that the end is near.

And of course, Jesus response to the disciples is that many things are going to happen, but they are not necessarily signs of the end. And he shares several examples:
• Nation will fight against nation.
o I mean, last Sunday we spent time remembering the brave men and women who fought, nation against nation.
• Ruler against ruler.
• There will be earthquakes and natural disasters.
o And right now our prayers are united with prayers around the world for the Philippians. Canadians have assembled. People have reached into the pockets and have given generously to help those many who have been devastated by the typhone that hit the Philippines. Close to 2 million homeless. Some 3600 dead.
• There will be great famines.
• And there will be times when you will think that the very sky is falling in on you.

And of course, all of these things that Jesus mentions are happening. Now! Jesus tells his disciples, things will go from bad to worse. We are in the end times.
• People will persecute you for your beliefs.
o We are so fortunate here in Canada to have feedom that we do. But we arer persecuted in lesser ways. Laughed for our beliefs.
• Not only that, but some of you will be killed because of me.
Jesus never did say that it would an easy life being a Christian. If you are looking for the easy life, don’t become a Christian. It is difficult, because the ways of Christ, and the ways of the Christian life, are different from the ways of the world.

But you know what? I think many times, we as Christians; we get hung up on this end time’s stuff. According to Jesus, wars, famines, disasters, they are part of life. The world is in a fallen state waiting to be redeemed. In Jesus own words, he say’s, they are not necessarily signs of the end, but they are things that must happen.

So if I can say it again for the sake of clarity. What Jesus was saying to his disciples is that wars, disasters, persecutions, it’s part of life. If we thought the end was going to happen because the world was at war – well the end would have happened already. There have been all kinds of wars. There have been all kinds of natural disasters. Throughout the ages, Christians have been persecuted for their faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Many have died because of their faith in Christ.

There is the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. An English officer and a fellow prisoner wrote these words about the last hours of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote: On Sunday, April the 8th, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a service of worship … He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us. That had only one meaning for all prisoners – it meant, the gallows. We said goodbye to him. He took me aside and said, This is the end, but for me, it is the beginning of life. The next day he was hanged at Flossenburg.

(John W. Doberstein, “Introduction,” Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John W. Doberstein, translator, (New York, Harper and Row, Publishers, 1954), p. 18)

Bonhoeffer died that day, and yet he remained faithful to God. Bonhoeffer’s faithfulness gained him the salvation of his soul.

There is Jesus, standing with his disciples while a group of people stand admiring the temple. They talk about it’s majesty. And Jesus turns to his disciples and says that temple. I mean, it was a beautiful, majestic, solid, well-built. Jesus say’s that temple,… a day is coming when it will lie in ruins.

The truth is today we are living in end times. It was Jesus coming into the world. The Messiah coming. That was the first sign. And the wars, the tragedies, the famines and disasters, the remind us that we are living in the end times.

As to the actual end, no one knows. But we are living in end times. Jesus came to this world to save us – that was the beginning of the end.

What was Jesus trying teach his disciples sharing this event that would happen some 40 years later?

Verse 8, Jesus gives a stern warning, Take heed, he say’s that you are not led astray.

How serious do we take this Christianity? Take heed that you are not led astray.

Yesterday, one of our members who doesn’t attend very often, he said, I read an interesting article in the Globe and Mail about the decline of the church, and in particular the decline in church attendance. And he said, I was going to cut it out and bring it down to the church for you to read, but I didn’t want you to take it the wrong way, and I didn’t want to discourage you. The article went on to describe the fall of the church and how many churches had been closed, the properties sold.

We are living in end times. These words of Jesus are perhaps the most important for our current time. Take heed that you are not led astray. I think the tragedy of people walking away from the church, because of their own selfish pride, or they don’t get their own way, or they hate to change, or worse yet, for no reason at all. This is a warning that some of you will stray from the church. Take heed.

I mean, the article in the Globe and Mail, I have read dozens of them. I see them in real life with my work in the Presbytery and National Church. Clergy are well aware of the fact that church is in decline. We are the last ones to be convinced of that – because we see it.

In the history of the church, this is one of the most difficult times to be a Pastor. People ask me if I hope that one of my own children receive a Call into ministry. And I respond, absolutely not! The Church today is hard on their clergy, and more and more I read of the lack of support they get from the congregations they serve. It is not easy being a minister in this day. We are living in the end times. And more and more clergy are leaving ministry because they are treated better by the world than they are by the church.

Take heed, that you are not led astray.

I come across all kinds of people, and I’m sure you do to, who used to go to church. And there seems to be this constant refrain that is played over and over again. Where do you go to church now? I don’t go anywhere, is the response. Why did you stop? The kids grew up, I got out of the habit.

Take heed that you are not led astray.

This is not an easy time for Christians. Not only is it one of the most difficult times for clergy, but it is also one of the most difficult times for Christians. It is not easy to be a Christian in this world. Even with all the freedoms that we enjoy.

One of the things that Ken Callahan says that I have said over and over again, 21st Century Christians, welcome to the first Century. This is the time of Mission! No longer do we live in the days when people come to church. The day we now live is the day to invite all to be alive in Christ.

Jesus say’s to his disciples, now, despite all of this. That phrase I hear ringing in my ears as I read this: Do not be afraid, keep the faith! Jesus say’s to them, I want you to remain faithful to me. Because, by your endurance, you will gain the salvation of your souls. (Luke 21:19) That was the point. That’s the teaching: Take heed – that you are not led astray.

Bonhoeffer did not want to die. Led to be hung by the gallows. This is the end, but for me, it is the beginning of life.

Gardner Taylor once made a challenging comment: He said, It is astonishing how much we spend on physical fitness and how little time, interest or money we invest in spiritual fitness. He writes, It is amazing how much attention parents will give to a balanced diet for a child’s physical growth and how little attention they will pay to the child’s moral and spiritual growth. Bread for the body, he writes, but no food for the soul.

(Gardner C. Taylor, “Homiletical Interpretation,” Proclamation 2, Pentecost 3, Series C, Elizabeth Achtemeier, Gerhard Krodel, and Charles P. Price, editors, (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1980), p. 57)

That’s the challenge for us today. Will we give ourselves whole-heartedly to God? Will we surrender ourselves completely to Christ? Giving all of ourselves to following Christ? Will we remain faithful?

The good news is that your endurance and faithfulness to Christ will gain for you, the salvation of your soul.

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