Tag Archives: temple

THE GOSPEL OF MARK – BEWARE OF FALSE CONFIDENCE

BEWARE OF FALSE CONFIDENCE

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Mark 13:1-2

There is significance in the preamble that prompted the two sets of brothers to ask Jesus about the future. As they walked away from the temple, they were overwhelmed with the grandeur and seemingly indestructible permanence of the structure. They had a feeling of pride as they drew Jesus’ attention to what impressed them so deeply. Great stones fitted together with such precision that they didn’t even need mortar to hold them in place. Surely a magnificent work of such excellence was as permanent as the earth itself. And, to cap it all, it was the work of man. Their hearts swelled with pride at the thought that it was their temple.

But there was something that they had completely forgotten. The people in Jeremiah’s day had exactly the same attitude,,,

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” 5 Jeremiah 7:4

They thought that, as long as they had the temple, they had the security of God’s presence in their land. They thought that their temple was indestructible and ignored the prophet’s warning of coming disaster because of their disobedience. The prophet warned them that the presence of the temple was no guarantee that God’s judgment would not fall on them because of their sin.

Although the temple represented the presence of God among His people in Jesus’ day, it was no guarantee of protection against disaster if they failed to respond to what God was revealing about Himself. Jesus Himself was God’s last word to Israel. If they refused to listen, as they had done in the past, the same calamity would come on them as had happened in Jeremiah’s day. This seemingly indestructible structure would be torn down and reduced to rubble. In what, then would they put their confidence?

The disciples were appalled at His warning. If the temple was not permanent, what was? They must have pondered His words and puzzled over their significance because it was still in their minds when Peter, and Andrew, James and John drew Him aside and questioned Him about the future.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – CONSPIRACY!

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

CONSPIRACY!

“He spent His days in the Temple teaching but His nights out on the mountain called Olives. All the people were up at the crack of dawn to come to the Temple and listen to Him.

“The Feast of Unleavened Bread, also called Passover, drew near. The high priests and religion scholars were looking for a way to do away with Jesus but, fearful of the people, they were also looking for a way of covering their tracks.

“That’s when Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot. He was one of the Twelve. Leaving the others, he conferred with the high priests and temple guards about how he might betray Jesus to them. They couldn’t believe their good luck and agreed to pay him well. He gave them his word and started looking for a way to betray Jesus, but out of sight of the crowd.” Luke 21:37-38; 22:1-6.

The plot thickens, as they say!

How amazing that, in all of history, never had God and the devil worked so closely together to accomplish so daring a plan! Two opposing agendas meet and synchronise in the greatest drama the world has ever witnessed. God turns Satan’s hand to be His unwitting accomplice in signing his own doom.

None of this would make sense had it not been for Isaiah’s prophetic insight in predicting this event hundreds of years before it happened. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” Isaiah 53:10 (NIV).

Judas, one of Jesus’ closest associates, conspired with His enemies to sell Him out. Why? We will never really know. His greed for money was in the plot, but there had to be something more sinister than that. Was Judas disillusioned with Jesus because He had not met his expectations?

In this mix of ordinary men there were different ambitions and aspirations. They had agreed that Jesus was the Messiah but what did that mean to them? Their many squabbles over their pecking order suggest that their concept of Messiah was political. They were hoping for the overthrow of Roman occupation and the re-establishment of David’s glorious reign, free in a land that was their own. They were looking to Jesus to do something miraculous. Hadn’t He proved His power over nature, demons, sickness and even the people who were trying to destroy Him? Surely Rome would be a pushover for someone as powerful as He had proved to be!

But, to Judas’ frustration, Jesus gave no sign of making a move. He would have to orchestrate a showdown with Rome, and Passover was the most opportune time to do it. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, masterfully brings these agendas together and lays the responsibility for Jesus’ death on the shoulders of the Jews, but under the direction of God Himself. No novelist could have imagined a plot like that for a good story! It had to be God.

“‘This man was handed over by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:23-24; 36 (NIV).

It had to be Passover time because Jerusalem would be full of Jews from all over Israel, enough people to join Jesus in a successful uprising. If Jesus was cornered, would He strike out against His captors?

For the Jewish leaders, it was the perfect opportunity to get rid of Him. For God it was the perfect opportunity to set Jesus up as the sacrificial Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. For Satan it was the perfect opportunity to bring his arch enemy down and hold him in his power forever through death.

On December 11th, 1845, James Lowell published these words as the last verse of an anti-slavery hymn.

“Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ’tis truth alone is strong;                                                  Though her portion be the scaffold and upon the throne be wrong;                                            Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown                                                 Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.”

At the end of his magnificent presentation of the meaning of the cross, the Apostle Paul penned these words:

O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable are His judgments and His paths beyond tracing out!                               

Who has known the mind of the Lord?                                                                                           

Or who has been His counsellor? 

Who has ever given to God that God should ever repay him?                                                     

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.   Romans 8:33-36                                                  

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – A HEAP OF RUBBLE?

A HEAP OF RUBBLE?

“One day people were standing around talking about the temple, remarking how beautiful is was, the splendour of its stonework and memorial gifts. Jesus said, ‘All this you’re admiring so much — the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.’

“They asked Him, ‘Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it’s about to take place?'” Luke 21:5-7.

Amazing, isn’t it, how things that seem so permanent and indestructible can disappear without warning in a moment! The Israelites had put such confidence in the durability of their temple that they could not believe that it would ever be destroyed.

Jeremiah warned them, centuries before, about putting false hope in their temple.

“Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: ‘Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless and the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.'” Jeremiah 7:2b-8 (NIV).

The Babylonians came and did exactly what Jesus predicted was about to happen again – they reduced their temple to rubble and plundered all its treasures. Perhaps the people who commented to Jesus on its beauty had forgotten its history.

There are lessons for us to learn from this incident. God places no value on things if they do not serve the purpose of enhancing our relationship with Him and the fruit of that relationship. How many people foolishly put their confidence in inanimate things like crucifixes, St Christopher images or even a rabbit’s foot or family photograph to keep them safe instead of trusting in the living God! Even our money is not infallible!

Of course we have to remember that we live in a world where “stuff” happens. No one is immune from the problems and tragedies that affect all human beings. Jesus warned us that these things are inevitable (John 16:33), but He also promised that in Him we have a place of refuge – peace – that will protect us from the effects of these adversities.

Sometimes bad things happen just because we are part of an imperfect world; sometimes we are the victims of other people’s choices and sometimes we bear the consequences of our own poor choices. In this case, destruction was coming on Jerusalem because God’s people had rejected their Messiah and called down His blood on their own heads.

We may not escape the troubles that inevitably happen but we can have an eternal safeguard that carries us beyond the confines of this life. God’s promise to those who love Him is infallible:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29 (NIV).

We must never be caught up in foolish superstition that trusts in things and not in God. God and His word are reliable in a world that is fragile and transient. “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  1 John 2:17 (NIV).

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – A HOUSE OF PRAYER

A HOUSE OF PRAYER

“Going into the Temple He began to throw out everyone who had set up shop, selling everything and anything. He said, ‘It’s written in Scripture, “My house is a house of prayer,” but you have turned it into a religious bazaar.’

“From then on He taught each day in the Temple. The high priests, religion scholars, and the leaders of the people were trying their best to find a way to get rid of Him. But with the people hanging on every word He spoke, they couldn’t come up with anything.” Luke 19:45-49.

Jesus had made His intentions clear on Palm Sunday when He turned towards the Temple, not Pilate’s residence. The Temple, symbolic of God’s desire to make His dwelling with His people, was His focus. It was the place where He expected to find people whose hearts were after God and who were there to worship Him in the appropriate way. It was there that He spent time, while He was in Jerusalem, teaching the people about the kingdom of God.

What He found when He reached the Temple, appalled Him. Luke’s Gospel gives us few details, but we learn from the other gospels that the opportunists had set up shop in the outer court – the court of the Gentiles, which was the farthest non-Jews were allowed to go in the Temple. The merchants were no doubt there under the protection of the religious leaders who would take a cut of the profits for their co-operation!

So what were they doing? They were making a fine business out of selling ‘unblemished’ sacrificial animals at Passover. This seems innocent enough but a closer look, coupled with Jesus’ accusation, reveals that they were engaged in crooked business.

Every animal had to pass the scrutiny of the priests to be declared fit for a Passover offering. Many animals ‘failed’ the test which meant that they had to be scrapped and another bought from the merchants. The ‘failed’ animal was then sold to the next worshipper whose lamb had been rejected. This practice, together with the exorbitant exchange rate charged by the men handling the forex, was a lucrative business both for the merchants and for their religious overlords.

Jesus was incensed by the whole scene. It angered and sickened Him because it exposed the disposition of the human heart. It was the basest thing any human being could pull off on sincere worshippers, and it hijacked the only place in the Temple where Gentiles were permitted to worship God.

Since Jesus’ action has deeper significance than simply an outburst of righteous anger, we have to go to John’s Gospel to find out the underlying meaning of this incident. John records this event as happening at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It was a prophetic action which revealed the purpose of His coming. John’s record is authenticated by false witnesses at Jesus’ trial, which we find in Mark’s Gospel.

“Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against Him. ‘We heard Him say, “I will destroy this man-made temple, and in three days will build another, not made by man.”‘ Yet even then their testimony did not agree.”  Mark 14:57, 58.

By cleansing the Temple of the greedy merchants in cahoots with greedy religious leaders, Jesus was declaring the purpose of His own death. He had come to uncover and deal with the deep-seated reason why human beings need to be cleansed and reconciled to God so that He can make His dwelling within us. By giving His own sinless life as a sacrificial Passover lamb, He would set people free from their slavery to selfishness, greed and wickedness, and give them the right and power to become a ‘house of prayer’ for God, a place of loving, intimate fellowship with Him.

It was this ‘zeal for His house’ that sent Jesus to the cross, and it is still the zeal for God’s spiritual house that motivates His passion for people. God has purposed and will fulfill His plan to complete what He began, to build a family of men and women, boys and girls from every nation, tribe and clan on earth who be His dwelling place… who will receive His love, and will love and worship Him in return.

Will you be one of them? It’s your choice…

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – COMPLACENT OR REPENTANT?

COMPLACENT OR REPENTANT?

“He told His next story to those who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people. ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, crooks, adulterers or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’

“Meanwhile, the tax man, slumped in the shadows, face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner,’  

“Jesus commented, ‘This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.'” Luke 18:9-14.

Since prayer is essentially the interaction between the Father and His child, it is easy to recognise that the Pharisee in Jesus’ story did not, for one moment, fit into the category of a son. His attitude and words were completely foreign to a Father/son relationship. No true son would talk to his father the way this man talked to God. He was not praying. He was preening and boasting. His prayer was an unashamed, ‘Look at me, God. See how good I am. Aren’t you proud of me?’

Did his ‘thank you’ express true gratitude? Not at all! It was his way of congratulating himself on being a self-made man. The rest of his ‘eulogy’ was a summary of his religious achievements – his so-called ‘tsidaqahs’, his acts of generosity, but they were done out of duty, to gather ‘brownie points’ and for self-congratulation, not from a generous and loving heart that gladly obeyed God’s directives.

Who was the measure of his achievements and his judgement of everyone else? He was, of course. He did not realise that, if you measure imperfection against imperfection, you get imperfection! Since his standard was based on his own performance and not on his attitude and character, he would naturally judge himself top of the list. What he did not understand was that he was using entirely the wrong measure.

The tax man was fully aware that his life fell far short of what God required of him. He was so broken by guilt and shame that he did not even have the courage to be seen. He hid in the shadows with his eyes downcast and his face in his hands. His prayer was, ‘Don’t look at me, God. If you do, you might wipe me out of your sight.’

Which of these two men were accepted by God, the Pharisee who was so proud of his achievements or the tax man who was so ashamed of what he had done? Strangely enough, it was the tax man whom Jesus commended, not the Pharisee. But why? Surely, what the tax man had been doing was abhorrent to God? Was he not robbing people to line his own pocket? Was he not a liar, a thief and a fraudster? How could God even listen to him, let alone accept him?

He was all of these things but he was also something else – honest and repentant. He saw himself in the light of who God is and was so broken up that he pleaded for forgiveness and threw himself on the mercy of God. This is the heart attitude that God hears and the foundation of a renewed relationship with God as Father. You see, every wayward person is actually a son who has strayed from the Father and for whom the Father waits to return.

The Pharisee saw no need and had no desire for forgiveness. He was completely satisfied with his own standards and performance. What God thought about him was irrelevant. He was not yet a returning prodigal. He was a self-satisfied, self-righteous elder brother who had no felt need to repent. “Religion is the most difficult disease to cure because it infects with such self-righteousness that no sense of need remains.”

As always, Jesus told this story for identification. Which of the two men are you?