Luke 21:5-19New International Version (NIV)
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
When you hear Luke 21:5-19 read aloud on November 13, you may have a slightly different take on this than you would have one week earlier. Please note that I chose this text for today before Election Day 2016, back when I assumed that the other candidate was going to win, and this is not meant to be a prediction for a Clinton or Trump-led USA. Furthermore, this is the Lectionary Gospel reading for this morning, so the fact that it falls on the first Sunday after selecting our next president is completely by chance.
Regardless of how or if you voted, we knew that close to 50% of our nation would believe that the outcome of this election would signify the end of the world as we know it. With so much division among us, it is inevitable that some people will be hurt, others disappointed, and others will predict that the world will come to an end. Nations will rise up against nations. There will be wars and rumors of wars. Kingdoms will rise and fall.
To many people living in the United States in the 21st century, it feels as if this is the end of the world as we know it. And it may be. But this does not change how we are called to live. In fact, it may just be the motivation that we need to start living life to its fullest potential.
None of this is new. Ever since the beginning of time, people have wondered when the end would come. Today we are going to look at this apocalyptic text, ask how Jesus’ first hearers would have interpreted this, and what does it mean for us today.
Our text begins with some disciples talking about the temple and how it was decorated with beautiful stones and precious gems. By many accounts, the temple was a magnificent architectural phenomenon. We know from our Bible that Solomon constructed the original temple, and it was adorned with many beautiful woods and stones. But that temple had been destroyed during the Babylonian Exile, and the temple was rebuilt when the Jews returned to Jerusalem by Zerubbabel. We find this story in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as other places.
But this reconstructed temple really didn’t compare to the first temple. It had a similar shape, similar rooms, and served a similar purpose, but it was not nearly as ornate.
Then along comes a king named Herod. Herod was known for his building projects. The historian Josephus claims that Herod was trying to build more than a bunch of buildings, he was trying to build a legacy. So through heavy taxation, Herod gathered the needed materials and funds to make the temple a site to behold. He had fine materials mined from surrounding lands, and quarried huge stones for the temple platform and structures. The largest stone, which is known as “The Western Stone,” measures 44.6 feet by 11 feet by 16.5 feet and weighs approximately 567 to 628 tons. It is believed to be among the largest objects moved by human beings without the use of modern machinery. You can still see this stone if you travel to Jerusalem today.
We don’t know exactly where in the temple Jesus and his disciples were walking at this time, but they may have been walking by this Western Stone, or one of the other stones that weighed over 100 tons. So I’m not surprised that the disciples were impressed by this scene. But what is surprising is Jesus’s response: “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
All things come to an end. Even the beautiful temple that Herod was building would be destroyed.
The gospels were all written about a generation after the death of Jesus when Christians realized that Jesus would not be back in their lifetime. Up until this time, the stories were passed on from one person to another as oral tradition, and there was likely a number of quotes from Jesus that had been written down. But when the last of the eye witnesses to Jesus began to die, there was an effort to make an ordered account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Luke states this directly in the opening verses of his gospel. Luke was probably writing somewhere around the year 80 AD.
This is significant because Luke would have had some important information that the disciples didn’t when Jesus spoke these words. Luke knew that in the year 70 AD, the Romans had come and leveled the temple that Herod had just renovated.
So now here is a fun question. Was Jesus talking about the fall of the temple, or was he talking about the end of the world? You may be surprised to know (where is my sarcastic font?) that not everyone agrees on the answer. Some claim that Jesus is talking about the fall of the temple in 70 AD, and others that he is speaking about his own second coming. We can debate this all day and all night, but we likely won’t come to an agreement. And that’s okay. That’s okay because the point is still the same, no matter which interpretation you favor.
All things come to an end.
So yes, in 70 AD, the Romans leveled the Temple, which was really the center of all Jewish practices. The Roman Empire was huge, it had power unlike anything else of their day. And to this day, when we hear about the Roman Empire, we shake in our boots! Right? No, because Rome is just a city in Italy today. The Roman Empire had a good run, and were a major power for 500 years. But then they fell to another superpower.
You’ve heard of great nations, like the Ottoman Empire, which dominated much of Europe and parts of Asia. There were various European Colonial empires who sailed around the world and expanded their borders into Africa, South American, India, and North America. When was the last time you heard about the Ottoman Empire or the Portuguese dominating another nation? No, these great powers have fallen.
All things come to an end. Even your life.
I’m not trying to be discouraging, but we are all dying. From the moment you took your first breath, and the first beat of your heart, you have been moving toward death. You aren’t going to live forever, and who would want to. Nations will rise and fall, we will live and die.
So what are we to do about it? We can make the most out of every second we have.
I know I sound like an old man going through a mid-life crisis, and maybe I am that. But take this passage as a reminder to seize every chance you have to make the most out of your life.
I find myself wasting too much time. I spend a lot of time playing on my phone, searching the internet, reading posts on Facebook. I hear that “ding” and I know that someone has sent me an email or a text message, so I stop everything that I’m doing to see what is going on. Even if I’m driving, I better check to see if someone needs me. It might be an emergency, like I’m expected to perform heart surgery or something!
I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone. Maybe it isn’t the internet for you, maybe it is watching television, playing video games, watching sports. I am becoming more and more aware of how much time I waste.
I heard a story this week about a family that has a rule that when they walk through the door into their home in the evening, they place their phones in a basket, and those phones need to stay there until after the dishes are done. There are other fun versions of this, like when friends go out to eat together—I remember those days—and they place their phones upside down on the table. The first one to pick up their phone and turn it over pays for the meal. Or my cousin challenged us recently that if you see a young couple out to eat and they go the entire meal without looking at their phones that you should pay for their meal.
We’ve only got so much time on this earth, let’s make the most of it!
I know how hard it is. Before we had children, it was a lot easier to spend time with friends, to go to their homes and invite people over to our place as well. But now our home is always messy and we are always tired. We don’t have the time or energy to make a fancy meal or to clean the house from top to bottom.
So don’t. After several months of living beside one another, we finally had our new neighbors over for dinner a few weeks ago. Our house was messy and we had spaghetti to eat. And within the first few minutes, their two-year-old spilled his drink and dumped his plate on the floor. We had a great time.
Now you might be thinking that Jesus would encourage us to use our time for spiritual things, not earthly, bodily things. Jesus goes on to talk about persecution and bearing witness to his kingdom, after all. But I don’t like to separate out our physical lives and our spiritual lives, as I think we make a mistake when we separate the two into distinct categories.
Put your hand over your chest and breathe in…and breathe out. That breath in your lungs is the very spirit that God has given you. What you do with your body, you do with your spirit. Everything is spiritual. Not everything is good for your spirit, but as embodied spirits, you can’t do anything without involving your spirit.
Just as you are feeding your spirit by sitting in church right now, you are feeding your spirit when you surround yourself with loved ones. You are feeding your spirit when you help those in need. You are feeding your spirit when you share the love of Jesus.
My friends, we are dying, and the world as we know it is coming to an end. I don’t know if Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton will make it come faster or not. What I do know is that what we do with our lives matters.
This is why I want to slow down. Today I plan to spend the afternoon with some of my favorite people in the world, cooking a big pot of stew over an open fire. We could have gone out and purchased a lot of food a lot easier and faster, but half of the fun is in the process.
I came into church on Friday and found our fridge filled with dead chickens. Just a few days earlier, some people from our church got together and butchered some layers who weren’t doing their job any more. You could have gone out and purchased chicken. But you had a chance to talk, to share, to learn, and to love.
In this busy world, we can easily get distracted by the next thing that needs to be done. And somehow we have convinced ourselves that if we don’t do something right away, the world will come to an end. If I don’t respond to that text or email, the world will come crashing down! That’s half right. The world will come to an end, regardless of what we do. So let’s make the most of our time. Let’s live each day to its fullest. Let’s slow down and care for our spirit.