Sermon for Trinity 10
August 9, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Learn your lessons of history. That’s what my high school history teacher Mr. Mac made sure to teach us. Learn your lessons of history. He was drawing on the famous quotation of George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The books of the New Testament are historical records, but they are much more than history. They are the revelation of God in Christ Jesus, written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing, you would have life in His name. So says St. John. But most of the history written in the New Testament is found only in the New Testament, so those who are without the faith granted by the New Testament simply dismiss it as tall tales at best and completely fabricated myth at worst.
But there are some happy coincidences when the history of the New Testament intersects with secular history. Today’s Gospel is not only an historical account of Jesus entering into Jerusalem to approach His passion, but He also foretells its destruction. Not just in general terms, but with some very peculiar details. When He came near and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If today you only knew — yes, you — the way to peace! But now it’s hidden so that you can’t see it. The time will come for you when your enemies will put up ramparts against you and surround you and press against you from every side. They’ll dash you and your children to the ground and not leave one stone on another in you, because you didn’t know the time your help came to you.”
This prophecy is specific: the ramparts aren’t just general ramparts, but Jesus uses the specific term for the Greco-Roman palisades, which is a fence of timbers erected to protect troops. He also alludes to a siege, and that the sack of Jerusalem will not even spare women and children. The stone structures will be completely razed to the ground.
Now liberal scholars take this as evidence that the Gospel of Luke must have been written after 70 A.D., and that the author must have retconned Jesus’ triumphal entry because obviously no one can tell the future. The only problem is that the account of this prophecy’s fulfillment isn’t in Scripture. It wasn’t even written by a Christian. It’s found in a secular history by a well-known historian by the name of Josephus. Josephus was a Jewish man of a priestly family. He initially fought against the Romans, but was taken captive. He found favor with the soon-to-be Roman emperor Vespasian and ended up as a negotiator, translator, and Roman historian. He was an eyewitness to the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction. This secular historian references the prophecy of Jesus and proceeds to report all the things that happened, confirming Jesus’ prophecy. Josephus’ account of the sack of Jerusalem is so important that our synod’s first hymnal compiled by Dr. CFW Walther included Josephus’s account of the destruction of Jerusalem as a liturgical reading.
If the Jews in 70 A.D. had learned their lessons of history, perhaps they would have avoided such a harsh fate. This destruction of the Temple wasn’t the first time it had happened. History repeats itself. Nearly 700 years earlier, another man wept over Jerusalem. Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet, was called into the thankless task of prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, and the exile of the Hebrews. Jeremiah himself tells us that this was not a political campaign, but rather God’s judgment for Israel’s unfaithfulness.
Wise men are ashamed, confused, and caught. You see, they have rejected the LORD’s Word, so what wisdom do they have? So I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors because all of them, small and great, are eager for dishonest money; all of them, prophet and priest, cheat. They heal My people’s wounds superficially, saying, “All is well, all is well!” when nothing is well.
Are they ashamed when they do detestable things? No, they aren’t ashamed. They don’t even know how to blush. So they will fall with those that fall. When I punish them, they will be brought down, says the LORD (Jer 8:10-12 AAT).
When Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, an entire host of religious and pseudo-religious commentators claimed it was God’s judgment for whatever sins they were railing against at that particular moment—decadence, abortion, racism, class warfare, you name it. But Scripture is clear that there is only one sin that God judges—the sin of rejecting God’s Word. Martin Luther puts it this way: “Learn well the lesson of this text: The sin which God considers the greatest sin of all, the one that he condones or tolerates less than any other, is the sin of his people not acknowledging his Day of Judgment. Here God lumps all sins into one, says nothing about all the other sins, and addresses only their sin of living in a false sense of security, of not only disregarding all the warnings and admonitions of the prophets, but of even persecuting them, shedding innocent blood, until as the Scriptures say, all Jerusalem was filled with blood” (Luther’s House Postils vol. 6, p. 369). This is the lesson from the history that we should learn, that God will judge those who despise His Word.
The destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple was so complete that, as Jesus says, A stone will not be left upon a stone (v 44). It sounds horrible. But this is only God’s alien work. It’s not His nature to judge, punish, and destroy. He only does these things to serve His proper work. He destroys every last stone of Jerusalem so that He can reveal another Stone and build a New Temple and a New Jerusalem.
St. Paul writes, What, then, shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, grasped righteousness—a righteousness that is from faith. Israel, who pursued a Law of righteousness, did not reach the Law. Why? Because it was not from faith, but from works. The stumbled the stone of stumbling, just as it is written: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of scandal, and the one who believes in Him will not be put to shame (Rom 9:30-33).
Christ Jesus is the Stone laid in Zion, the holy hill. The cross of Christ is where the Law ends; you can’t keep the Law any better than suffering innocently for the sins other people committed. There is no righteousness that exceeds the righteousness that is from faith in Christ. This Stone and Rock, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is finally the only Stone left in Jerusalem. When all works of our hands have finally been crushed and defeated, then Jesus alone is left.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone (Ps 118:22). And He is the Cornerstone of a new Temple and Jerusalem.
Jesus is the New Temple, the Temple not made with hands, but woven knitted together in the womb of His virgin mother. He is the Temple torn down into death, buried in the earth, and rebuilt again in resurrection on the third day. His is the Living Stone, and the Temple that is built upon Him is a temple of living stones. Come to Him, writes St. Peter, He is the living Stone Whom men rejected but God selected as precious. You also are being built as living stones into a spiritual temple, to be holy priests who bring spiritual sacrifices that God gladly accepts through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:4-5).
You are a spiritual temple, built upon the Cornerstone who is Christ, because you are now the dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit. And so long as the Spirit dwells in you the sins you commit cannot harm you. God does not judge those who trust in Him; you will never be put to shame. This is what it means to be prepared for judgment: to have the Holy Spirit.
That’s why the article, From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead is inseparably linked with the article, I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Faith is the escape from judgment, from God’s alien work. Faith is to find God’s proper work worked in Christ the Cornerstone. To be prepared for the Day of Judgment is to believe in the Holy Spirit, to trust that He is forming you into a brick in the spiritual and eternal temple that is the centerpiece of an eternal city, New Jerusalem.
CHRIST IS THE CORNERSTONE OF A NEW TEMPLE AND ETERNAL CITY OF GOD
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Irwin Scott.