Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies


Sunday 15th November

Mark 13:1-8

Shaking the Foundations

I wonder if there’s ever been a time in your life when your foundations have been totally rocked – when something’s happened that’s completely altered the way you see things. For the nation of France the appalling random murder of 129 people – the worst terrorist attack the country has experienced - like the attack on the Twin Towers of the world trade centre in New York back in September 2001 means that for them the world will never be the same again. And we pray for them today and stand in solidarity against such mindless violence.

Well something like this is going on here in the gospel reading, even if, at first glance, its inclusion probably seems quite puzzling. The whole of Mark chapter 13 seems to be about cataclysmic happenings – and is often read as being all about the End of the Age, - but these first eight verses are all about the impending destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and Jesus’ warning to be wary of being led astray.

So we need to try and understand what might be going on.

As the disciples walked out of the Temple in Jerusalem, they’re marvelling at the building: "Look, teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" (Mk 13:1). And Jesus pauses with his disciples, looking back at the Temple and replies: "Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left upon another; every stone will be thrown down." (Mk 13:2)

Now to put it rather bluntly - the disciples would have been  absolutely ‘gobsmacked’ – utterly astonished at what he was saying. But why?

- well because, just like the Twin Towers were the emblem of American global commercial power, the Temple was the very foundation of the disciples’ Jewish faith. If you know a bit of history, first there was Solomon’s Temple (destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians); then a second one was rebuilt after the exile and renovated by Herod the Great. And it was a big part of Jesus’ own life:

And yet here Jesus is, prophesying its destruction. How could this be? – Surely nothing could bring down these huge, imposing walls? It was after all “God’s place”, wasn’t it?

Only the base of the Temple remains today – the Temple Mount, which is part of the area where the “Dome of the Rock” is built. But even that base is utterly awe-inspiring as you look at it from the other side of the Kidron Valley. It’s absolutely massive.

So the full, complete Temple building must have been breathtaking to behold - and though it was still incomplete in Jesus’ day it had the reputation of being the most beautiful building in the whole world.

We get some sense from the Old Testament of its size. The smallest stones in the structure weighed 2 to 3 tons. Many of them weighed 50 tons or more.

And the largest existing stone is 12 metres in length and 3 metres high, and weighs hundreds of tons! It’s no wonder people were impressed. The stones were so immense that they didn’t need to use any mortar – the very weight was enough to keep the walls in place; walls that towered over Jerusalem to over 400 feet in places.

And then inside the four walls was something like 45 acres of bedrock mountain that had been shaved flat and during Jesus’ day something like a quarter of a million people could fit comfortably inside.

Even today, where you can only see the base of the Temple, it simply towers over the road below.

And then, as history tells us, just 40 years after this conversation Jesus’ prediction came true. In 70 AD, Jerusalem and its great Temple were destroyed by the armies of the Emperor Titus as the Romans took the city.

So what’s going on? This must have been utterly demoralizing to the Jews who’d been led to believe that the Messiah would come to rid Palestine of the occupying Romans who’d brutally enslaved the people. And (crucially for this morning) what does this passage mean for us?

Well if we’ve been letting the message of the Kingdom of God seep into our lives, Jesus is continuing to teach his disciples something about a totally new foundation for their faith – and saying that the old ways of doing things simply had to go – and not to be afraid about all this – because he was (and is) right there to lead it all.

(Now we need to understand this) In the Old Testament, the Temple building was the place where God was supposed to dwell and this idea was utterly central to what the Jews believed as a nation – they’d come to understand that God’s presence was located in one fixed place - in Jerusalem. And we have similar ideas don’t we?

I remember doing an assembly down at the Primary School and one of the kids who was there was telling his mum about it afterwards – because I’d taken my guitar and got the kids singing. She was trying to ascertain from her little boy who’d actually been there – and the little boy was getting frustrated – he couldn’t quite remember ‘Reverend Ian’ so he said in exasperation – “you know the man that lives in the church”.

When Jesus came, all this thinking about where God was located, fixed – boxed if you like – all that had to change.
In the New Testament, we see that the Spirit of God is no longer confined to the city of Jerusalem and in the physical stone building of the Temple. There’s a new idea – and a completely revolutionary one for the Jews: it’s that there is a new Temple now that can become the dwelling place of God – and where is that do you think?

Well it’s each disciple’s heart – regardless of where he or she lives geographically. That’s yours and mine if we’ve let Jesus into our lives. And not just individually – but corporately as part of a Jesus community.

St. Paul put it so clearly to the Christians in Corinth when he said:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)
The focus of the new Kingdom of God ushered in by King Jesus is a New Covenant in Christ – and it’s nothing to do with buildings - however wonderful or majestic they may be, however nostalgic we can become. No, this is all about God himself living in & through us – you and me – what an amazing thought!

Now then - if we are God’s temple – which is what we become when we invite Jesus into our lives to be our Saviour and Lord, what do you think the consequences might be for us? If we can dispense with the ceremonial laws associated with the Temple building, does it means that we can disregard all that God was saying throughout history about how he wants us to live – Na ah!! – quite the opposite.

Here’s Paul’s take (again) on the Kingdom of God being established in our lives as Christian disciples:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Do not be conformed to this world (or “pressed into its mould”) but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1, 2).

As the world changes for ever with terrorist acts of violence, carnage and destruction – so the entry of the King into our world has changed things for ever – God is now with us – Emmanuel – and as we let him take up residence on the throne of our lives – as we allow him to make his home in us – our world also changes..for ever.