As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
“Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
The human race has defined itself by its buildings. We love building projects. From the ancient Ziggurats of the Mayan people to the massive Egyptian pyramids to the great Taj Mahal in India to the Colosseum and Pantheon in Rome to the Acropolis in Athens, the human race has defined itself by its building projects.
Far from an ancient thing, this practice continues to the present day. America is symbolized by its great buildings, from the United States Capitol to the White House to the massive marble memorials. It’s fascinating how the radical Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden launched his attack not so much against people but against the most symbolic buildings in our country. (To be clear, he intended to effect mass casualties.) And, in the case of this national tragedy, it turned out it wasn’t our buildings that defined us after all.
Today’s text proves the point yet again. The temple had become more important to the people than the God for whom the temple was built. And therein lies the problem with buildings. We unwittingly turn them into idols. The prophet Jeremiah had something to say about that.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:
“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”’safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.’” (Jer. 7:1–11)
Days after his cleansing visit to the temple, here’s how Jesus put it: “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
And with stunning accuracy, less than forty years later, it happened. Every stone was thrown down by the Roman armies in AD 70.
I’m convinced there’s a word in here for the contemporary church. It’s fascinating how much we make of church buildings here in North America. To be sure, they serve marvelous purposes and much good comes from them, but they are not the church. Despite that, just about anytime anyone speaks of going to the church they are referring to a building. All too often, our buildings have come to define our churches.
When people speak of a church in many parts of the world, the last thing they are talking about is a building. They are referring to a small group of men and women who have staked their lives on the Word of God and pledged their faith to follow Jesus.
A similar thing might be said about our own houses and the way we confuse our houses with our homes. Anyone who has built a house knows how easy it is to not keep the main thing the main thing. In the wake of disastrous storms or fires or other natural disasters that decimate peoples’ houses the story is always the same. They are sad about the loss of all their earthly belongings, but at the same time they are awakened and clinging to what matters most—each other—and they stand in awe of the mercy that spared their lives. When it becomes all about the building instead of what the building was built for, we may be headed for trouble.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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