The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
July 31, 2016
“Israel and the Church”
St. Luke 19:41-48
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation." Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'" And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him. Luke 19:41-48
Jesus is the Christ. His threefold office is that of prophet, priest, and king. As priest, he offered himself up on the altar of the cross as the final bloody sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. As priest he intercedes for his church before God, pleading his obedience and death as the all sufficient offering to take away our sin. As king, he rules over us by his grace, sending the Spirit of truth to lead us into the saving truth and keep us in the true faith until we die. As prophet, he speaks God’s word.
Jesus is the final prophet. Prophets spoke from God and they often predicted the future. As Jesus was facing his death – he would be crucified five days later – he looked down over the holy city and cried. He told her the future. He prophesied God’s punishment. The God who called her out of Egypt, gave her his holy law, led her to the promised land, protected her, guided her, and spoke to her through the prophets had come to her in the flesh and she did not recognize him. St. John the Evangelist put it this way:
They did not know what made for peace. They did not know the time of their visitation. The Prince of Peace came to them and they did not want him. They were not looking for a humble Savior who would rescue them from their sins. They wanted a political savior who would empower them. They rejected their God and Savior.
God destroyed that nation for their unbelief. Jesus saw what would happen. He predicted it thirty five years before it happened. The Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem, lay her to siege, and utterly destroyed the city. It was a terrible slaughter. The inhabitants of the city were driven mad by starvation. The Roman General Titus – a man who could not have cared less about Jesus Christ and the salvation he brought to this world – fulfilled the prophecy Jesus spoke in the year 70 A. D. The Jewish nation was destroyed.
Among American so called Evangelicals – a word that originally referred to us Lutherans, but nowadays refers to culturally conservative Protestants who downplay the righteousness of faith with which God clothes us and emphasize instead a political righteousness of works – it is popular to view the present day state of Israel as a political fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Their system of biblical interpretation is called dispensationalism. The entire history of the world is divided up into seven dispensations. During each of the seven dispensations, God tests mankind in a certain way, and mankind always fails the test. They say that we are presently living in the sixth dispensation: the dispensation of grace. This dispensation will give way to the final dispensation, that of the kingdom. The kingdom dispensation will have Jesus establishing his kingdom in the land of Israel, with Jerusalem as his holy city. The temple will be rebuilt, and Jesus will reign on earth for a thousand years from Jerusalem.
One could laugh off such speculative folly as the delusions of imaginations run wild if were not so serious. But millions upon millions of Christians all over the world have been hoodwinked by this teaching that was invented by a radical sect in Great Britain in the first part of the 19th century. They are sincerely convinced that the Bible teaches God has a special covenant with the Jews. This means, they say, that the Lord Jesus will establish a political kingdom in the nation of Israel with Jerusalem as the capital of his kingdom. People who look ahead to this mythical kingdom are like the Jews of Jesus’ day – blind to what is right before their eyes.
They do not know what makes for peace. They do not know the time of their visitation. They look in the wrong direction. If you turn your back on what God is saying to you he can say it and say it and say it and you won’t even be aware of it. You’re looking elsewhere. You’re not paying attention.
First Jesus cries over Jerusalem and then he cleanses the temple. These two events go together. They are part of the same event. The dignity and glory of Jerusalem was the temple. The temple was where God met his people. How can a holy God who hates sin and punishes sinners come to sinners in love without punishing them? The answer was in the temple. It was in the shedding of blood. The blood of the covenant was sprinkled on the mercy seat. Animal blood signified the need for and the promise of atonement. Sins cannot be forgiven unless forgiveness is purchased and the purchase price is the shedding of blood.
Only the blood of God himself would suffice. That’s why God joined the human race. He visited his people in order to offer up his own spotless, holy, sinless life. Offer up to whom? To God! Only God could demand payment for sin. He is the One against whom all sin is committed. But God is the One offering it up! Yes, he is! God doesn’t require human sacrifices as the pagan gods do. The ancient god called Moloch required those who worshipped him to sacrifice their children in fire if they wanted his favor. Moloch has made his appearance in our day. Those who would establish a worldly utopia imposed by military power demand the sacrifice of the sons – and now even the daughters – of their subjects, but war after war after war never establishes the order they so confidently predict. Those who would establish a heaven on earth by the imposition of social justice demand the sacrifice of the unborn so that women may enjoy the same rights as men, namely, the right to fornicate at will with no responsibility to care for the children born as a result. Only our God, our Father in heaven to whom we pray, provides the sacrifice he requires. He gives his Son, his only Son, whom he loves. As Jesus was facing that giving – which would lead him to the horrors of the cross – he wept divine tears of sorrow over his people. He was mourning, not his imminent suffering – that would come later in the Garden of Gethsemane – but the loss of those he loved.
The saddest story is always the one of unrequited love. It often involves someone not quite right in the head, like the fellow who cut off his ear to signify his love for a woman who didn’t want it. But God’s love is clear, direct, unwavering, and focused with divine intelligence to solve the deepest problems we face. This is the love that his people rejected. But God was not deterred by their rejection of him. God promised a sacrifice for sin. He kept the promise. He required sacrifice of himself. He becomes a man to offer as a man the sacrifice to wash away the sin of the whole world, to propitiate God’s anger against all sinners, to bring peace, true peace, between the holy God and his fallen creatures.
This is what the temple was all about. This is what the blood of animals typified. The temple of God is the body of Christ. Jesus said so. He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He did. The temple of God is where God meets sinners in love, washing their sins away, and embracing them as a loving Father. This happens where God in the flesh bears in his body our sin and pays for it by his holy precious blood. When that happens, the curtain in temple is torn.
The temple serves no more purpose. The crucifixion of Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple’s purpose. God has visited his people in the only way they could receive him, by taking their sin and bearing it in his own divine body. Now that the temple has no purpose the holy city will be destroyed. From that destruction, the temple of God is established all over the world – wherever the gospel is preached the sacraments of Christ are administered according to his institution.
While we must reject all of the unchristian notions of a divine covenant with the present day state of Israel along with the false promises that Christ will return to set up a thousand year reign on this earth with Jerusalem as his capitol city, we must also reject any smug, self-righteous, finger pointing at the Jews. Surely, if God destroyed the holy city that he himself established because of their unbelief, no church that trades off the divine mysteries for cheap carnal substitutes will survive. Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple because God’s house was a house of prayer. We cry out to God in our need. God answers our prayers in his holy word. The talking to and hearing from; hearing from and talking to; this conversation between God and us is what takes place here in God’s house Sunday after Sunday. This is the meeting place between God and us, not because these walls are holy, but because here it is that God’s word is proclaimed and Christ’s sacraments are administered. Here is the time of our visitation.
Jesus didn’t walk around wearing a halo. Yes, he displayed his divine power, but he hid that power under humility. He walked, talked, ate, and drank like any other man. They were offended by his lowly appearance. They denied he was their Savior and God. He visited them and they turned away in unbelief.
The church of Christ doesn’t rest under a canopy of bright lights shining from heaven revealing her holiness and unique status in this world. In fact, she looks quite ordinary. She’s made up of normal people with the usual problems, and some of these people can be very annoying. But should we begin to despise the church for her humble appearance, let us remember the humility of the church’s Lord as he sacrificed himself on the cross for her to make her holy. Let us also remember the holy zeal he displayed when he drove the money changers out of the temple. Will he stand up in defense of the temple that would shortly be destroyed and not stand up in defense of his church that will last forever? Jesus defends his church. His church is where the people are attentive to hear his voice.
Rolf D. Preus