When the Walls Come Tumbling Down
Text: Luke 21: 5-19
Our passage today has us between what I feel is the proverbial rock and the hard place. In the first place it is not an easy passage to hear. It is especially a difficult passage to hear from Jesus, who we so often think of as being pastoral, gentle, kind and loving. To hear him speak of destruction and division can be unsettling.
There is another tension that exists in our text and it is in relation to where we are in the Christian year. Our reading from Luke has Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. On the way to the cross, to his death and resurrection. In short our reading is sending us towards Easter and yet we are only five Sunday’s until Christmas. Advent begins on December 1, that’s two weeks from today. Our text for today has thrown us a curve ball. What do we do with a passage like this, a passage so close to Easter, when we are so close to Christmas?
Jesus is with the disciples in Jerusalem. The disciples are marvelling at the temple and rightly so. If you look up Herod’s temple you will find that it was an architectural marvel. As the disciples chatter on about the stones and gifts to God, what does Jesus do? He rains on their parade. He says, all the things that you see here, the day is coming when not one stone will be left on the other, all will be torn down.
When the Walls Come Tumbling Down – Audio Sermon
To you and I that is a dramatic statement. However, to the original readers of Luke’s gospel Jesus words would have been prophetic. Most biblical scholars feel that Luke’s gospel was written around 70 AD, which is significant because the Jewish Roman war occurred roughly between 66-73 AD. During this war Herod’s temple was destroyed.
So to us Jesus’ words sound terrible and ominous, but to that original audience his words were prophetic. Things do not get much better in our scripture passage. He warns of imposter who will pretend to be him, of war, natural disaster, and divisions within families. In short the picture that is painted is bleak. I don’t think there is any getting around that. There are many who look at this passage and think that given the state of our world today, the end must be here.
While I disagree with that notion, you can understand how they might arrive at that conclusion. When we look at the images in our passage we see the terror of war presented. I would ask you when in human history has there not been war? I typed that question into Google and almost all the results said that there hasn’t been a period where there has not been a war or conflict fought somewhere on the Earth. One of the instances that said there had been a sustained peace for 250 years under the Roman Empire, with the Pax Romana. The Peace of Rome, that was enforced by a large military presence. So it seems that humanity have lived with war for some time.
The present situation in the world highlights this. Conflict in Syria, unrest in Egypt, tension between North and South Korea. Canada has only recently disengaged from Afghanistan. War and the specter of war seems to be a present danger.
In the last decade we have witnessed massive natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina and Sandy. The tsunami in 2004 that struck Indonesia. The typhoon that only last week struck the Philippines.
Divorce rates climb higher. Families are split because of mistrust, anger and violence.
When we look at the world this way it is easy to become overwhelmed. To lose hope and perhaps to wonder, is the end nigh?
However, when we focus in on scripture like this. When we take it and compare our own world, suffering and hurts to the text it is very easy to come away with a grim picture. It is very easy to miss some of the very important things that Jesus says in this passage. Consider these two verses that are tucked into our reading from Luke.
Jesus tells us in verse nine not to be terrified. During the worst of times, do not be terrified but trust in Jesus. Trust in God’s providence, in God’s eternal promise for us. Jesus emphasises this promise with his words later in our passage, not a hair of your head will perish. Jesus is with us; through all that we might endure Jesus is with us. In this life and the next.
Consider that in all the events of history, all the destruction, all the war, all the hatred, the oppression, the injustice that Jesus has stood with the faithful and said trust in me. That all will be provided for. Friends our assurance is found in Christ. Our help comes from Christ and while at times it might be difficult to see, we can trust that Jesus is with us. That he walks with us and that he prepares a place for us.
Yes, there is loss and grief along the way. There are events we do not understand, that we do not want to comprehend. There are days when nothing makes sense, when the walls come tumbling down.
Friends, there is no denying the words of Jesus in our passage. There is no getting around the picture they paint of the future. However, I would suggest to you that they are not the primary focus here. That if we allow ourselves to get caught up in images of destruction, in images of apocalypse that we will be missing the very important message that Jesus has for us.
Friends, the message is that Jesus is with us, that Jesus is for us. That in Jesus we need not be afraid. That in Jesus our salvation is assured.
Jesus says do not be terrified, I will not allow a hair of your head to perish. That word perish has the ring of eternity to it doesn’t it. Because we will all die an earthly death, but in this statement is the promise of the resurrection! That in Christ we will not perish, but will be heirs to life eternal! Our reading this morning from Isaiah highlights this:
v.2 Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
For the Lord god is my strength and my might;
He has become my salvation.
So hold fast! The story goes that when Martin Luther was asked what he would do if the world was going to end tomorrow he answered that he would plant an apple tree. The story of planting the apple tree in the face of the unknown, in the face of the end underscores Martin Luther’s faith and trust in Christ. It also asks a poignant question of us. In the face of the unknown, in the face of war, natural destruction, unrest in our homes how will we respond?
When it feels like the walls of our lives are coming tumbling down how will we respond?
When it feels like all that we know will soon be gone how will we respond?
Jesus says a peculiar thing about this. He says “make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom…” Jesus says don’t worry, I’ll provide for you. Jesus says don’t be terrified. Jesus says not a hair on your head will perish. The words of Jesus are those of a protector. In fact his words remind me of the words that a mother or a father might say to a child. Don’t worry, things will work out alright. Don’t worry, in your time of need you will remember what I have taught you. Don’t worry, I will protect you. These are the words of Jesus to us. And so in the midst of tragedy, grief and loss I would ask how will you respond? Will you plant a tree as Luther suggested? Will you hold fast to your faith in Christ? Holding onto that faith, will you continue to live it out?
Friends, hold fast. Trust in Christ. For even in the worst of times Jesus is still with us. In the chaos of war, the terror of natural destruction and in our grief and our loss, Christ is with us.
There are many hymns that deal with struggling against grief and loss. One such hymn is Precious Lord, take my hand by Thomas Dorsey. Thomas Dorsey was born in 1889 in rural Georgia. He was a prolific songwriter and an excellent gospel and blues musician. While a young man, Dorsey moved to Chicago and found work as a piano player in the churches as well as in clubs and playing in theatres. Struggling to support his family, Dorsey divided his time between playing the clubs and playing the church. After some time of turbulence, Dorsey devoted his artistry to the church.
In August of 1932, Dorsey left his pregnant wife in Chicago and traveled to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting in St. Louis. After the first night of the revival, Dorsey received a telegram that simply said, “Your wife has just died.” Dorsey raced home and learned that his wife had given birth to a son before dying in childbirth. The next day his son died as well. Dorsey buried his wife and son in the same casket and withdrew in sorrow and agony from his family and friends. He refused to compose or play any music for quite some time.
While still in the midst of despair, Dorsey said that as he sat in front of a piano, a feeling of peace washed through him. He heard a melody in his head that he had never heard before and began to play it on the piano. That night, Dorsey recorded his testimony in the midst of his suffering.
Friends, as we contemplate our own loss and our own grief. As we think about the state of our world today, of events that have shaped our lives. Let us do so together as we sing Dorsey’s hymn, Precious Lord, take my hand.