Tag Archives: Temple

Stone Rejected

Stones from the Temple that were cast down by the Romans

Stones play a prominent role in the Holy Week story.

On Palm Sunday Jesus stated that if the crowd was quieted the stone would shout out (Luke 19:40).

Later when some of Jesus’ followers were admiring the Temple adorned with beautiful stones, Jesus responded, “As for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (Luke 21:5-6).   Less than forty years after Jesus’ death, the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

On Easter Sunday the stone covering Jesus’ tomb was rolled away to show how empty it was (Luke 24:2).

All this gives special meaning to Jesus’ comment to the scribes and chief priests during Holy Week.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Luke 20:17)

Jesus was rejected by humanity on the cross, but becomes our assurance of God’s love and grace.  While our trust shifts like sand, his love for us remains rock-steady.

In what ways have you rejected Jesus this week?
In what ways has Jesus become your cornerstone?

Lord Jesus, be my rock and fortress this day and always.

Redemption Draws Near

The Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem.

Adam Hamilton, a well-known Methodist pastor, took this picture and writes concerning it.

To the right you can see the temple mount and beyond it the old city of Jerusalem. To the left, out of frame, is the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. In the foreground is a Christian burial ground. On the Mount of Olives is the largest Jewish cemetery in the world. To the right, just beneath the walls of the temple mount, is a Muslim cemetery. It was thought, based upon several scriptures, that when the Messiah came for the Last Judgment he would come here, hence the cemeteries. Jesus passed across this valley twice each day during Holy Week.

On Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus taught in the Temple and told the crowds that his ministry was not some isolated historical event, but rather part of God’s great cosmic plan to redeem the world.

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).

As you walk with Jesus this week, remember you are a participant in God’s great plan. God is redeeming the entire world, including you. Your redemption is drawing near.

What part is God calling you to play in this cosmic event?

Lord Jesus, grant me courage and strength to trust in your plan of redemption

Where Do You Find God?

Door of the Duomo (cathedral) in Siena, Italy

A recent post by Opreach asked the question, “Where do you find God?” Many of us might first think of churches and cathedrals, places dedicated to God and utilized as gathering spaces to worship God. Over years these buildings can grow in holy significance as we baptize, confirm, marry and bury members of our family and community inside these structures. Candlelight Christmas Eve worship, Easter celebrations and numerous Sunday gatherings add to their spiritual aura.

But the danger of such concentrated focus on a building is that the building can become a box in which to contain or limit God. One must go to church to meet God. Sure, we may believe that God is not limited to the building, but our behavior and practice seems to limit our interaction with God to such spaces. How many of us have other places and practices for prayer, scripture reading or meditation? Do we behave as if God is with us wherever we go?

Tomorrow I will be preaching on King David’s desire to build God a temple.

The king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent” (2 Samuel 7:2).

Prior to David, God’s presence had been linked to the tent of meeting, first used by Moses and the Israelites when they wandered in the desert for 40 years.  Now at David’s request Nathan gives him his blessing to build God a house, but that night the Lord God redirects Nathan,

Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:4-7)

Friend Dave celebrating as he ran Twin Cities Marathon

The key phrase in the text is “whenever I have moved about among all the people of Israel.” God tells Nathan, David and us that God will not be restricted. God is on the move among us, whether we are running a marathon, buying groceries, finishing a spreadsheet or washing dishes. Is it possible to create behaviors and practices that help us recognize God’s presence in our daily lives?

Lord Jesus, thank you for the safe harbor of my church, but be my pilot as I sail out to sea each day.

Jesus Clears the Temple

A member of Resurrection sent me this cartoon today: “Jesus clears the temple.”* The cartoon got me thinking about the story in Jesus’ ministry (Mark 11:15-18). For many of us, the fact that Jesus cleared the temple of money changers is not significant or  meaningful. We don’t realize how upsetting and radical  Jesus’ action was for the ruling religious council in Jerusalem. We often see Jesus’ angry expression as some sort of deviation from the nice, kind Jesus we adore.  It was sort of “bizarre,” like someone “clearing” the temple on a skateboard.

But the Temple Cleansing was central piece of his Messianic vocation.  N. T. Wright helps to clarify this from the historical perspective of first century Judaism (the full essay is here):

Jesus believed he was Israel’s messiah, the one through whom God would restore the fortunes of his people. . . .  Anyone doing and saying what Jesus did and said must have faced the question “Will I be the one through whom the liberation will come?” All of the evidence—not least the Temple-action and the title on the cross—suggests that Jesus answered, “Yes.”

Second, Jesus’ radical and counter-cultural agenda, subverting both the political status quo and the movements of violent revolution, was focused in his awareness, of vocation.  John the Baptist re-enacted the Exodus in the wilderness; Jesus would do so in Jerusalem. Jesus’ gospel message constantly invokes Isaiah 40-55, in which God returns to Zion (Jerusalem), defeats Babylon, and liberates Israel from her exile. At the heart of that great passage there stands a job description. This would be the victory over evil; this would be the redefined messianic task. Jesus had warned that Israel’s national ideology, focused then upon the revolutionary movements, would lead to ruthless Roman suppression; as Israel’s representative he deliberately went to the place where that suppression found its symbolic focus. He drew his counter-Temple movement to a climax in Passover week, believing that as he went to his death Israel’s God was doing for Israel (and hence for the world) what Israel as a whole could not do.

Third, Jesus believed something else, I submit, that makes sense (albeit radical and shocking sense) within precisely that cultural, political, and theological setting of which I have been speaking. Jesus evoked, as the overtones of his own work, symbols that spoke of Israel’s God present with God’s people. He acted and spoke as if he were in some way a one-man, counter-Temple movement. He acted and spoke as if he were gathering and defining Israel at this eschatological moment—the job normally associated with Torah. He acted and spoke as the spokesperson of Wisdom. Temple, Torah, and Wisdom, however, were powerful symbols of central Jewish belief: that the transcendent creator and covenant God would dwell within Israel and order Israel’s life. Jesus used precisely those symbols as models for his own work. In particular, he not only told stories whose natural meaning was that YHWH (God) was returning to Zion, but he acted—dramatically and symbolically—as if it were his vocation to embody that event in himself.

Jesus saw himself as the means of salvation, no longer the Temple as the means. He became the sacrifice for our sins. He cleansed not only the Temple, but our hearts so that God can live in us. Amen.

Lord Jesus, continue to cleanse us.

*The cartoon is by Cuyler Black and you can find more of his cartoons here

Widow Problem

The story of the Widow’s Offering in Mark 12:41-44 troubles me. Or more exactly how we interpret it.

(Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

I grew up hearing the widow described as a model of Christian giving, a heroine of giving sacrificially. The moral is that we are to give more financially to the church. Yet, I never heard anyone teach or preach that I should give away everything like she had.

However, I rarely read the story in its context. Jesus observed the widow during his final week in Jerusalem. He had been in direct confrontation with the temple leadership and its institution throughout chapter twelve. Immediately preceding the story of the widow’s offering, Jesus warned against the religious officials, “Beware, of the scribes, who . . . have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at the banquets! They devour widow’s houses” (Mark 12:40).

Could it be that Jesus’ observation of the widow is a reinforcement of that warning? Could it be that instead of being observed as a heroine of giving, she is rather a living example of how the religious institution has devoured all her property? After all, Jesus observed what she has done, but he does not praise it.

Furthermore, the story is immediately followed by Jesus prediction that the temple will soon be destroyed. “Do you see these great buildings: Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). Would an offering to the temple treasury be such a laudable act if the temple itself will soon be destroyed?

I realize that the widow’s action may be a call to radical discipleship. One of my seminary professors, the late Don Juel, wrote,

She was able to part with her possessions—unlike the young man who came to Jesus and ‘goes away sorrowing’ because he cannot sell what he has. We can recall the promise of Jesus earlier: those who lose their lives will save them. The woman gives ‘her whole life,’ as Jesus will give himself as a ‘ransom for many.’ Donald H. Juel, Augsburg Commentary on Mark, 1990, p. 173

Can the widow be a model and a victim at the same time?

Lord Jesus, show me how to give myself completely to you.

Jesus and the Temple in John

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple by Michael Smithers

With my recent posts on Isaiah and the Temple in Jerusalem, I am reminded that Jesus had some harsh words about the Temple. Solomon’s temple had been destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians. The temple was rebuilt in 515 BC but it was not as grand as the previous temple. King Herod had started a major rebuilt of the temple prior to Jesus’ birth.

Early in John’s Gospel, Jesus had a confrontation with the Temple leaders. After driving the money changers from the courtyard with a whip, he was asked, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  (John 2:19-21)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman by He Qi

Later in the gospel, Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman regarding the proper place of worship. Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim while Jews claimed Mount Zion as the one true place to honor God. Jesus responded,

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)

Jesus redirected our understanding of worship away from rituals and places to the essence of worship, a transformed heart or spirit. When our spirit aligns with God’s Spirit worship becomes true and real.

Finally in John’s Gospel, after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, he appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room. Clearly this is not the Temple. But Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) The Spirit of God no longer resided in a building of stone, but in gathered human community. You are God’s Temple now. The temple of God has become the portable tabernacle again. Anyone have a tent?

Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit into my life today! Transform me into one who worships you in spirit and in truth.

Climb the Highest Mountain

Mount Everest

In the first chapter the prophet Isaiah attacked Temple worship in Jerusalem as a burden and abomination to God (see last post). Yet a chapter later Isaiah made a completely different declaration about temple worship.

In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountain and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his way. (Isaiah 2:2-3)

Isaiah is not saying that Mount Zion (where the temple sat) would suddenly become a volcano and literally become a new Mt. Everest for mountain climbers.  Rather, using metaphor, Isaiah declared that the Temple would become a magnate drawing all people into relationship with God and the esteem given to Mount Zion in Jerusalem would be sky-high. The temple would be a great blessing to all nations, just as Abraham had been promised in Genesis 12.

The shift from attack to blessing and promise may seem abrupt to our ears, but Isaiah believed the people’s hearts would be changed. No longer would they go through the empty motions of sacrifice and prayer, but rather their worship would be the avenue by which they renewed their covenant relationship with God. Worship would become real and heart-felt. Prayer would be honest and transforming.

Perhaps too often we approach worship as a kind of therapy session to fix our life problems. We want to consult God like Google: to type in our worries and have him list out possible solutions. Thomas Kelly proposed a deeper, more intensive view of worship similar to Isaiah.

Swiss Valley

It begins first of all in a mass revision of our total reaction to the world. Worshipping in the light we become new creatures, making wholly new and astonishing responses to the entire outer setting of life. These responses are not reasoned out. They are, in large measure, spontaneous reactions of felt incompatibility between the world’s judgment of value and the Supreme Value we adore deep in the Center. (A Testament of Devotion, p. 47)

Lord Jesus, you are the true temple which draws all people to yourself.

Sanctuary Light

On Sunday, our Biblical focus will be King Solomon’s building and dedicating the temple in Jerusalem. His father, King David, had wanted to build a temple, but through the prophet Nathan, God instructed him to wait.

Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?  I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.  Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word  saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:5-7)

The temple was a mixed blessing to Israel. Like many beautiful cathedrals it provided a place for the worship of God to flourish. Awe and wonder could be expressed in multiple ways within its walls. The book of Psalms captures some of the beauty of that magnificent structure.

One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4

But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the danger of a fixed structure is that we compartmentalize God’s activity and restrict God’s presence to the “box on the hill.” A temple, church or cathedral should draw us into the wondrous presence of God yet also send us out renewed and refreshed to be God’s people in the world. The light of Christ is to shine both inside and outside the sanctuary.

I have been rereading Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion.  A Quaker, Kelly testifies to how the light of prayer is to be transformative wherever we are:

A practicing Christian must above all be one who practices the perpetual return of the soul into it inner sanctuary, who brings the world into its Light and rejudges it, who brings the Light into the world with all its turmoil and it fitfulness and recreates it (p. 35).

Having worshipped in a simple Friend’s Meeting House, I know that it was not the magnificent space that inspired Kelly’s deep conviction, but rather the Light in the people who gathered to listen and be in the Light. The Light calls us together where we amplify its wavelength in community but then the Light directs us back into the world. Our meeting places are to be launch pads.

Lord Jesus, let your light shine in me.