"Hope is the bedrock of our faith. "
If there does seem to be a lot about signs in the sky, earthquakes and the like in Scripture, under the heading of dire warning, then you have to consider a world without the Met Office, internet, TV and newspaper headlines, a modern understanding of tectonic plate movements and science generally... Oh, and street lights.
If you were living in the first century then you’d probably consider anything out of the ordinary that happened in nature to be a potent of the fall of kings and empires. There’s was a much simpler understanding of the world and nature. The world had yet to start talking of global warming, but they looked to the skies to try and understand what was happening, and when bad things happened there had to be a reason. No wonder that Jesus’ disciples wanted to know what signs to look out for.
Do you remember that warning from Malachi, which had taken 400 years to come to fruition when John the Baptist appeared as a latter-day Elijah?
Well, Jesus wants the disciples to know that his prophesy is also going to entail a period of waiting, when they’ll have to be patient even when the going gets tough.
To put it more in context, Jesus and his disciples are in the Temple in Jerusalem and in Luke’s story we’ve just witnessed a poor widow place everything she had into the collection plate. Who wouldn’t look up at the wonder of the Temple? It was awesome, magnificent. If it were there today it would probably be one of the seven wonders of the world. The outer court could hold 400,000 people and was often full.
The scale of the place was overwhelming, as of course some would say it should be, for a building built to honour God. Perhaps a bit like our cathedrals.
It was as big and opulent as this because the man who had commissioned it, Herod, who incidentally liked to be known as King of the Jews had spent an absolute fortune building it. This is a man who had slaughtered his own family members as well as being such a generous benefactor! His purpose? Well, it was probably just one-upmanship, trying to outdo the rival pagan temples of the nations nearby.
Herod built temples for various pagan gods to serve the gentile populations, which were paid for by heavy taxes on the local Jewish population. But his masterpiece was the Temple of Jerusalem.
The early historian Josephus says of the Temple, "The outward face... was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back with a fiery splendour......But the Temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white."
It was a tricky one for the Jews, I would think. On the one hand it was a glorious testament to God’s glory and majesty, but at the back of their mind they knew it was also bringing glory to Herod, someone who could never be thought of as "one of the faithful!"
So when Jesus talks about the Temple being levelled, saying “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”, what were the Jews supposed to think? On the one hand this was their Temple, it was the place where they met with their God and surely even Herod’s sin couldn’t affect that? But there again, if it was levelled (even by Rome) it would remove the blot of Herod’s rule from Jerusalem.
Jesus’ message is that this will happen, but they must stand firm and patient through all that’s happening around them and the faithful would find life, resurrection and rescue in the destruction that will come.
These people would suffer and be hated because of their association with Jesus. Others would be tempted to follow false prophets and their faith would be challenged, as would their lives by wars and revolution, and without all our modern technology and newsflashes you can perhaps imagine just how rumours and fear would spread. Families and neighbours would be pitted against each other – dreadful times!
Could we stay and resolute in our faith under such conditions? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to keep your head down and just pretend you don’t know this Jesus character, even if he promises, as he did to give you words to say?
But, and it’s a big but, the history of the church in the years following the destruction of the temple bear out these prophesies, and Christians would testify that Jesus had indeed been with them and given them the words to say.
Don’t forget that by the time this was written down by Luke and circulated to believers, the Temple had already gone, around 30 years previously. The disaster prophesised had happened. There would be lots of people around who had lived through it and survived, and known people who died in the onslaught. This is Luke the historian bringing us real history.
The story of the Jews, of the People of God seems to have been a rollercoaster ride throughout their history as told in the Bible. They’ve been for and against their God, they’ve been in and out of exile and led to the Promised Land. Even now, when all this has happened they are a hopeful people, waiting for God to have the final say on evil and bring them home into his Kingdom.
For us, the message of Luke, Malachi and the rest of the Scriptures is that wherever Christians are persecuted for their faith, and even this week we’ve even heard members of the government pointing out that Christianity in many parts of the world is severely threatened by persecution, they need the support of their brothers and sisters in faith.
And amazingly we find that God does give them tremendous courage as he did in that first century, and hope.
Hope, that’s the word that leads us up to Advent. Hope is the
bedrock of our faith. Hope in a God who carries us through the good
and bad times of this life and onward to an eternity with Him, if we
will trust him, commit our lives to him and worship god alone.