Jesus Christ Is Lord

That every knee should bow and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father!

When God Takes Down His House

Posted by Job on January 17, 2008

When God Takes Down His House

Ronald L. Dart of Born To Win Ministries

What do you do when God decides to take down his own house? What do you do
when things you have believed in, trusted, committed yourself to,
worked like the devil and sacrificed everything for, are completely
shattered—not by the devil, but by God himself? No, I am not talking
about this or that church splitting or falling apart. Nor am I dealing
in speculation. I am dealing in known events that are well documented
and understood.

Walk back with me to another place and time. It is late in the
seventh century BC. The place is the equivalent of our courthouse
steps. It is the gate of the Temple where cases in law were heard,
where contracts were finalized and witnessed, where news was announced,
and even sermons delivered.

There is a very young man standing there to speak, and over his
shoulder we can look up and see the most famous building in the
world—the Temple of Yahweh, built by Solomon, with no effort spared to
glorify God. Solomon’s Temple was legendary, not only in its beauty but
in the events that marked its history. You could ask any of the old men
seated near the gate and hear the whole story: how David had the
concept, how Solomon inherited the job, all the material that went into
the building, all the years it was under construction. They could tell
you about the incredible events of its dedication. They all knew the
story by heart. God himself actually entered this building and filled
it with smoke. That had never happened before anywhere in the world,
and it would never happen again.

This great Temple had hosted over 330 years of the Passover. For all
those years, it had been the hub for millions of camping pilgrims at
the Feast of Tabernacles. It had been the center of the worship of
Yahweh for generation after generation. It stood there looking as
permanent as the mountains around it. It was the very heart of their
faith, the symbol of their God, the rock around which all Israel
gathered. It was the very work of God, God’s own house.

And it was doomed.

The young man standing there to speak was no newcomer. He had been
there many times before. He was a preacher of righteousness, one who
condemned sin and corruption and warned of the anger of God for these
things. Not the least of the things that concerned him was the
corruption, not only of the worship at this place, but the corruption
of the courts of justice that had become commonplace.

The young man’s name was Jeremiah. He had been preaching to the
people who assembled there for some time. Day after day, Jeremiah had
gone to the courthouse steps and preached against the sin and
corruption of the religious leadership, and of the people. He had
enumerated their sins, he had cited the laws broken, he had railed
against the idolatry and the perversion of justice. But hardly anyone
paid him any heed. The reason may surprise you. The people did not
listen to Jeremiah because of the Temple standing there gleaming in the
sunlight.

The Temple was the very symbol of God and his power. It was just not
possible for Jeremiah to be right about this. “I worship God here,”
they thought. “I pray here, I offer sacrifice here, I’m okay. If I stay
close to the Temple, I’ll be okay. I will be safe here. God will never
allow anything to happen to his Temple.”

The Temple conveyed a false sense of security to the people, and so
God had Jeremiah explain it to them. “Stand in the gate of the Temple,”
he said, “and preach.” The message God gave him was simple: “Amend your
ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place”
(Jeremiah 7:3). It was not enough to merely be in the place where the Temple stood, a change in their deeds was necessary.

“Don’t trust in lying words,” Jeremiah said, with a sweep of his arm
over the temple gate, “saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of
the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.” Now the buildings were
indeed the Temple of the Lord. Why was it a lie to say that they were?
The answer seems to be that there were other prophets preaching that it
was enough to stand in the shadow of the Temple. That was the lie.
Jeremiah repeated the call to repentance with specifics: “If ye
thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute
judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the
stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in
this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I
cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your
fathers, for ever and ever” (vv. 5-7).

It is hard to imagine a simpler, cleaner sermon. It is a call to
repentance, upright conduct, and an honest system of justice. How could
a man not respond positively to this? But the sermon was not finished.
Jeremiah had more to say about the lies that had been told in the very
place he was standing.

“But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to
Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand
before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are
safe’—safe to do all these detestable things?” (vv. 8-10 NIV).

It seems strange that men would assume that they were perfectly safe
because they were in the right place, regardless of how they led their
lives. Apparently, they needed an object lesson, so Jeremiah gave them
one: “Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for
my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my
people Israel” (v. 12 NIV).

I was driving north from Jerusalem one day on my way to see Jacob’s
well, when I saw a sign by the side of the road pointing to the right.
The sign had one word: “Shiloh.” Jeremiah’s words came to mind, so I
felt compelled to “go to Shiloh.” I took a hard right turn and bounced
down a dirt road for a mile or so until it came to an end. I stopped,
got out and looked around. There was nothing there. Absolutely nothing.
So that was the point Jeremiah was driving home.

“While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke
to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you
did not answer. Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the
house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to
you and your fathers. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did
all your brothers, the people of Ephraim” (vv.13-15 NIV).

I’m not going to ask what you should do when you hear a preacher
like Jeremiah say these things. Everyone knows you should repent when
you hear a sermon like this. What I am asking is this: What do you do
when the die is cast, when God has finally decided to take down
his own house, his own work? For this is where Jeremiah found himself:
“Don’t pray for these people,” said God, “I will not listen to you.” It
was too late. So what should you do if you ever find yourself in that
place, that moment, when it becomes clear that God is taking down his
house?

There are several things to think about. First, you should not
attempt to rebuild what God is taking down. That would be pointless.
The first thing is to pray Daniel’s prayer of national and personal
confession and repentance (see Daniel 9). Then, you keep on doing the
right things. You keep the faith. You keep your head down and stay out
from under God’s anger. You make the best you can of what God has given
you. And you wait for God’s next move, realizing this: It may be a long
wait.

We don’t know with any certainty what happened to Jeremiah. We know
that he was in the city at its fall. We know he was well treated by the
invaders. We know he finally went to Egypt, of all places, with a band
of refugees. After that, we have nothing but legendary stories.

We know what happened to Daniel after the fall of Jerusalem, and
what happened is instructive in some important ways. Daniel kept the
faith in the face of all kinds of adverse pressures. Daniel
acknowledged, in one of the truly great prayers of the Bible, that God
was just in what he had done. Daniel rose to the very highest levels of
government in Babylon. Mind you, this was the real and original
Babylon, not a cheap imitation. This was the seat of every kind of
paganism, and yet Daniel still participated in, practically ran, the
government at one point. And at all times and in all circumstances,
Daniel kept the faith.

There was another man, Nehemiah, who had not yet been born when the
Temple fell. Born in exile, he still kept the faith. He was the wine
steward of the Persian king, some 140 years after the fall of
Jerusalem. There came a day when a kinsman of his arrived from
Jerusalem, and he asked them about the Jews who remained there. He was
crushed to learn that the people were in great affliction and reproach.
The walls of the city were broken down and all the gates burned. He was
heartbroken.

Nehemiah would eventually return, rebuild the walls, and secure
Jerusalem, but there was nothing this great man could have done until
it was God’s time to move. And he could easily have failed, had he been
a lesser man.

We know what happened to Ezekiel, and later to Ezra. These men are
all worthy role models. Following the example of Nehemiah, in
particular, has served me well and prevented me from giving up when I
might well have.

Now, looking back over the generations of time, we can take valuable
lessons from what happened to Jeremiah’s Temple, even if that were the
end of the story. But it is not. This would not be the last time that
God would become displeased with his house and take it down.

One day Jesus was walking near the Temple with his disciples, men
who loved the Temple and admired it greatly. “Do you see all these
things?” Jesus asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be
left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2 NIV). The
Temple and all its surrounds were already doomed, nearly 40 years
before they fell. The Temple remained for those years, but the
disciples could never look at it in the same way again.

Jesus foreshadowed this at a strange time and place. He was delayed
while traveling through Samaria and waited at a well while his
disciples went to buy food. As he rested there, a woman came to draw
water. After a brief exchange, the woman said, “Sir, I can see that you
are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews
claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (John
4:19-20 NIV). Jesus replied: “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when
you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You
Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know,
for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when
the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for
they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and
his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24 NIV).

Note well, the time was not only coming, but had arrived. Worship of
God would no longer be confined to a place. The die was cast. The time
of the Temple was already past. What were the disciples to do? For a
long time, nothing much different from what they had long done. They
went up to the Temple to pray regularly. Some even offered sacrifice
there. Nevertheless, it was doomed. It would stand for another 40
years, but its fate was already sealed.

Meanwhile, they had their commission, and they went to work on it.
The Book of Acts is a story of doors opened, doors closed, and of men
and women going about the task of doing what Jesus said they should do.
By the time the Temple fell, most of the Christian church was nowhere
near Jerusalem. But there were still a few there until they fled before
the cities fell.

Truth to tell, the fall of the Temple may well have been based on
precisely the same predicate as the first fall. It had become a kind of
idol. A substitute for doing what God’s servants were expected to do.
One of the ways Jesus ensured the survival of the church was by making
sure it was not dependent on the Temple, and that the church would not
be there when the Temple fell. In the Olivet Prophecy, he left concrete
instructions: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you
will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea
flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in
the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in
fulfillment of all that has been written” (Luke 21:20-22 NIV).

It all came down in 70 AD. Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote not
long after the event: “Besides these [signs], a few days after that
feast, on the one-and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a
certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the
account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those
that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so
considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before
sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen
running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at
that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night
into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform
their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they
felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a
sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence’” (Jewish Wars, VI-V3).

Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote much later (AD 115): “Prodigies
had occurred, but their expiation by the offering of victims or solemn
vows is held to be unlawful by a nation which is the slave of
superstition and the enemy of true beliefs. In the sky appeared a
vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightning
flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place
abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods
were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of
their departure. Few people placed a sinister interpretation upon this.
The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their
priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would
triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world” (Histories, Book 5, v. 13).

I have little doubt that the fall of the Temple was terribly
disorienting to the early Jewish Christians. But they and the new
Gentile believers carried on, in much the same way as they had
throughout the Book of Acts. That poses the question for our
generation: When God decides to take something down that we have
trusted in, looked to, even worked and sacrificed for, what do we do
next?

The answer is that, like the men and women in the Book of Acts, we
face challenges, and overcome them. Doors are closed in our faces, and
we try other doors. Doors are opened before us and we walk through
them. We have opportunities and we grasp them. Where will it finally
lead? God only knows. And only God knows how the efforts of widely
separated saints create results that only he can see, only he can
tabulate.

None of us knows the end from the beginning. I certainly don’t. Paul
didn’t either. I have no idea where I am going or what the next year
holds. I do know what I have to do today. I will know what doors are
open to me tomorrow. Sometimes, that just has to be enough. We walk by
faith, not by sight. Remember the old hymn, “All the way, my Savior
leads me, what have I to ask beside?”

But I will confess one thing. I can hardly wait to see what lies around the next bend.

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