‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’
I am currently reading ‘Soldiers of Rome & the Rebellion of Judea’ by James Mace. This is set around 66 AD and is a historical novel based around the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
If you want to read about the climax of the destruction and devastation of this cataclysmic event then I can recommend David Kossof’s ‘Voices of Masada.’ In the year AD 70, at the close of a long and bloody battle that ended with the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, one thousand Jewish men, women and children stood atop a small mountain fortress located near the Dead Sea. Against such overwhelming odds they chose suicide to slavery or slaughter at the hands of the Romans.
For a contemporary account you could read 'The Jewish Wars' by the Jewish Historian, Josephus.
Why might this be important?
Because without an understanding and an appreciation of what happened in 70 AD passages of Scripture, such as our Gospel reading, will be difficult to understand.
And today being Bible Sunday when we are considering the Scriptures we need first of all to understand that, for the most part, the language of the Bible is from a Hebraic mind set. This language is largely conceptual; it is the language of the poet and the artist. It is full of hyperbole where trees clap their hands and fields shout for joy and mountains skip like rams. It is metaphor piled upon metaphor.
Without such an understanding today’s Gospel passage will sound very strange.
There is a great deal to explore here and we have not got the time to really do justice to this passage that I commend to you for further and deeper study.
However if we link up this Gospel passage from Matthew with the short extract from Colossians here is a short precis of what is happening.
One – in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 24 (from where our passage is situated) the reference is to the Signs of the End of the Age.
The Jews thought of life in two ages – the ‘Present Age’ and the ‘Age to Come.’ This was spoken of by prophets and poets alike. It would be a glorious time when all wrongs would be made right.
A time when the lion and lamb would live together and the whole of the created order would live in peace and harmony. Remembering what I said earlier about the Hebraic mind set and language.
And the coming of the Messiah would presage this new age, the age to come.
Two – Jesus is saying and demonstrating that the ‘Age to Come’ is now rushing forward into ‘The Present Age’. Jesus is saying that a New Covenant, a New Testament is being drawn up that fulfills and draws together all of the Old Covenant. And that he, Jesus, the Son of Man, is the long expected Messiah who would usher in the ‘Age to Come’ into the present moment.
We will return to this but let me move onto the short extract from Colossians and point Three.
Because it is here that the People of God, the People justified by Faith, inheritors of the promises made to Abraham by Faith (as Paul strongly argues particular in his Letter to the Romans) It is here that we are offered insights into how we should conduct ourselves as the People of God before a watching world.
Let’s look again at just a couple of those verses from Colossians 3…
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Imagine having that on the table at each and every meeting, each and every PCC or strategy meeting or whenever you gather to discuss something about your life together as the People of God in the place.
What difference do you think it would make?
I hope you would say it would serve as a salutary reminder of what it is we are about and how we are to conduct ourselves as the People of God.
And this is the joy of Scriptures and why it is important to have them always before us – as we read further on in verse 16…
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
Before we seek to share Good News we must be Good News. Would you say that the Faith Community here at St Paul’s is known in the wider community by some of the hallmarks from Colossians 3?
…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other;
You see the society around us has enough arguing and bickering, and people wanting their own way, people full of their own self-importance, people building their own little empires.
And in many ways it was ever thus – and it against this way of conducting our affairs that the People of God are called to offer a life affirming alternative way of being in community, of living together.
The People of the First Covenant, the Jews, were called to be a light to the Gentiles and the hope of all the nations.
Jesus argues that they have failed and the he is ushering in the Age to Come and will raise up a People of God under a New Covenant who will demonstrate to a watching world what it means to live as authentic human beings in God’s, good created order.
This is in large part what Jesus is speaking about in this Gospel passage.
How will it be demonstrated - that the 'Age to Come' has rushed into the present – what will be the signs of the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and bringing judgment and justice?
Principally it will be seen as a sign when the Temple is destroyed and the Jewish nation scattered to the four winds. With a new elect people of faith and promise will be drawn from all nations and become the New People of God.
How do we know this?
Because Jesus says…
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
And so it was that within a generation of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension the Temple was razed to the ground with not one stone standing on another.
And if that sounds familiar so it should, because that was also something Jesus said which we read in verse 2 of chapter 24…
"Do you see all these things?" he asked. "Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
I really don’t know what you think you are doing here at St Paul’s. What you think your role and purpose is. Perhaps you think it is to maintain this building or maybe to preserve a certain form of worship.
ABC Justin Welby has said the Church has only two purposes, to worship and to make disciples.
Bishop Michael has challenged us to deepen our discipleship, discover our vocation and engage in evangelism.
Our Gospel passage, whilst primarily speaking about the events surrounding the fall of the temple in 70 AD also carries overtones of Christ’s return.
This is something which we affirm in our Creeds at during the Eucharist, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Note the pattern and flow - HAS IS WILL
And we as the People of God are called to live in anticipation of that great and glorious day when all will be finally and fully revealed.
When the great cries of prophets like Isaiah and Hosea and many more will come to pass. When justice and peace flow like rivers. When wars, disease and death are no more, no more crying for the former things have passed away.
You and I are called to be heralds of the time when the whole of the cosmos is redeemed and there will be no need for a temple because God will dwell with His people.
Brothers and sisters in Christ as we consider the Scriptures on this Bible Sunday let me close by inviting you to heed the word of James who wrote…
But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
Let us not simply say the Lord’s Prayer but work with every fibre of our being and as much as lies within us to work, labour and toil to make it a present reality.
Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done…
in my family
in St Paul's
in my heart and life
Let us pray…
O Saviour Christ, in whose way of love lays the secret of all life, and the hope of all people, we pray for quiet courage to match this hour. We did not choose to be born or to live in such an age; but let its problems challenge us, its discoveries exhilarate us, its injustices anger us, its possibilities inspire us, and its vigour renew us. Pour out upon us a fresh indwelling of the Holy Spirit; make us bold and courageous in sharing faith in both word and deed for your Kingdom’s we ask sake. Amen