Title: We Think We Know Beauty
Text: Matthew 24:1-2
FCF: We often struggle measuring God’s approval by earthly success.
Prop: Earthly opulence will all be destroyed in God’s wrath someday, so we must pursue God and His righteousness.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 24. We have completed 23 chapters in the book of Matthew. We have unpacked 813 verses, which is 76% of the book. In that time we have studied our way through the prologue and 5 sets of narrative and discourse.
We should very briefly review what we have learned thus far.
Matthew is writing to Jews of all kinds. Jews who were Christians and Jews who still saw Christianity as a cult. He writes his gospel in the early 50s AD.
[Slide 2] The prologue covering chapters 1-2 deal with Old Testament prophesy being fulfilled at the coming of the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the Son of David. It also explores the real dilemma of Gentile involvement in the line of the Messiah.
[Slide 3] The first Narrative and discourse cycle present Jesus Himself as the King of the Jews and the New Adam. A perfect God-man who does not sin, and fulfills all righteousness. His Kingdom is not of this world, and in the discourse called the Sermon on the Mount, He describes what His Kingdom’s citizens look like. In short, they seek God and His Righteousness above all else. They are lawkeepers. Matthew starts with this discourse, because literally every other theme he brings up, stems from this sermon.
[Slide 4] The second narrative and discourse cycle shows Jesus’ power and authority. He has authority over nature, sickness, demons, yet the religious leaders reject that authority. As opposition rises, the discourse that follows shows Jesus’ authority in sending out his disciples on a short term mission to preach the coming of the kingdom to the people of Galilee.
[Slide 5] The third narrative and discourse cycle shows an increase in the opposition to Jesus and His Kingdom. The Pride of the Israel and the religious elite causes them to turn their noses up at the message of the gospel, as they suppose that they are Jews and therefore inheritors of the Kingdom. But Jesus in the discourse that follows, shows parables of the true nature of the Kingdom of God, and how the weeds and wheat will grow together, but only the fruitful, the obedient, those who are changed will be harvested, and the rest burned.
[Slide 6] The fourth narrative and discourse cycle begins with general misunderstanding at who Jesus is, but finishes with the transfiguration and true revelation at the person and nature of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. Yet after such a grand identity is revealed, He both demonstrates humility by telling His disciples why He came, and then must preach humility to them because they are arguing over who is the greatest among them.
[Slide 7] And most recently, the fifth narrative and discourse Cycle, reveals Israel’s misunderstanding, misapplication, and outright disobedience of God’s Word, despite having had His word for centuries. This escalates to the breaking point as Jesus in his 5th discourse pronounces 7 woes on the religious elite, commanding them to go ahead with their plans to kill Him and so bring about judgment on themselves, 1st Century Judaism, and on Israel as a whole. The chief impact of that judgement is that God’s glory… Jesus Himself… would be removed from them, and would not return until their disposition toward Him has changed, and their nation is almost destroyed.
[Slide 8 (blank)] Today, will be a little bit different. We have seen a clear end to the previous discourse. But another discourse follows it in verse 3 of chapter 24. So these first two verses serve as the shortest narrative in the book of Matthew. Don’t worry, he’ll make up for it with quite a large narrative after the next discourse.
This narrative serves as a perfect bridge between what Jesus just said, and what He is going to say, all in a short narrative episode.
But that isn’t the only reason today will be a different kind of sermon. But I’ll save those surprises for later.
For now I am in chapter 24, I’ll be reading verses 1 and 2 from the NET. Follow along in whatever version you prefer, and if you want to follow along in the NET turn to page 1121 in your pew bible. And if you don’t have a bible, take that one.
Alright, lots to cover here, so let’s dive in.
I.) Earthly opulence does not indicate God’s divine blessing, so we must pursue God and His righteousness.
a. [Slide 9] 1 – Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away,
i. It may seem a little redundant for Matthew to tell us that Jesus both went out of the temple courts and walked away.
ii. However, given what Jesus has just said, about the departure of the glory of the Lord from the temple, these words are not redundant, but rather, emphatic.
iii. The glory of the Lord has left the temple. No one stopped Him. No one said… DON’T GO!
iv. With no shouts of protest, and no fanfare or catastrophe, the glory of the Lord was allowed to simply go out of the temple and walk away.
v. But as the glory of the Lord walks away, His disciples want to speak with Him.
vi. Perhaps they get it!
b. [Slide 10] His disciples came to show him the temple buildings
ii. They want to show him the buildings?
iii. In both Mark and Luke we are told specifically that they were marveling over the stones used to build the temple and the offerings that had been set in decoration upon it. So very briefly I want to attempt here to describe through visuals and words what the temple of Herod, or the second temple looked like.
1. [Slide 11] Roman and Jewish Historians alike describe the temple and its opulence in glowing terms. One put it this way, “until you see the Temple of Herod, you have never seen a beautiful building”
2. [Slide 12] It was described by Roman soldiers to be a mountain topped with glimmering snow.
3. [Slide 13] The stones of the temple were made of cut, and shaped white marble. Perfectly worked to fit seamlessly together. Some stones were as large as 40x 12x 12 feet. Many of them decorated in gold ornamentation. The entire eastern facing wall of the holy of holies was covered in gold plates that reflected the morning sun
4. [Slide 14] It would have been an almost blinding light to be seen for miles. As if a source of light emanated from the top of Jerusalem.
5. [Slide 15] If you are having trouble picturing it, I found a pretty cool video that I’d like to show you.
iv. [Slide 16] So you can see perhaps why the disciples wanted Jesus to observe the opulence of the temple. Bluntly, it WAS beautiful.
v. But do you think that Jesus hadn’t seen it before? Do you think that Jesus had not seen greater beauty? What are they trying to say to Jesus by encouraging Him to observe and marvel over the beauty of the temple?
vi. “Surely such a place so greatly fortified, and so magnificent, and a place necessary if God wanted worship from them, could never be left desolate!”
c. [Slide 17] Passage Truth: The disciples had not understood what Jesus said. They missed the enormity of it. They missed the gravity of it. They are talking about the grandeur of earthly beauty, while Jesus is talking about a greater beauty they all could have if they only believed, if they only obeyed. If they were only righteous pursuers of God. The opulence of the earthly temple does not wipe away the years of unfaithfulness and disobedience, nor does it indicate that God is blessing Israel.
d. Passage Application: Although nothing specifically comes out as an application of the text, there is an implied application that is essentially, that the disciples need to look for a greater thing than the temple. They need to look for something that is unshakable. Ironic that He stood right in front of them.
e. [Slide 18] Broader Biblical Truth: Of course the truth broadens for us in that we cannot look to earthly opulence for any guarantee that God is supporting, blessing, or otherwise in favor of our activity. Empires have come and gone, wealth has been distributed and redistributed. And the greatest of men have been replaced by greater men. The fact of the matter is that the way things are on earth, is not a valid indication of God’s disposition toward it. This truth has wide reaching cautions for us, but we will save those for the end of the sermon. For now, it is enough to warn ourselves with this truth… Earthly opulence does not indicate God’s divine blessing.
f. Broader Biblical Application: Broadening out this truth to all of scripture helps us to find what could be the center of Jesus’ message to the Jews and all humanity. Again it goes back to the sermon on the mount. In a list of things that people pursue, earthly things such as food and clothing – Jesus cautions them not to pursue such things first. But to pursue God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. Then all those things will be added. Israel is being judged for being unfaithful and disobedient to Yahweh, and for us then, we ought not seek earthly blessing, but rather, His Kingdom and His righteousness. Will we be blessed if we do that? Immeasurably. Perhaps not in earthly blessings, but immeasurably blessed nonetheless. This is our application for today.
[Slide 19 (blank)] But we are not quite done unpacking what this short episode tells us. While the disciples remain confused on how such obvious blessing of God could ever be left desolate, Jesus reorients their perspective in a quick and decisive way. And what he says ought to snap us out of our misaligned priorities too. Let’s look.
II.) All earthly opulence will be destroyed, so we must pursue God and His righteousness.
a. [Slide 20] 2 – And He said to them, do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down.
i. After observing the beauty and glory of the Lord’s dwelling place among His people.
ii. After seeing only a glimpse of it with our western eyes, never having really seen such a place as the center of our lives. We still are able to catch the majesty and beauty.
iii. And now to have Jesus say this, perhaps it is all starting to set in.
iv. Jesus is predicting, not only the desolation of the temple, but as an immediate impact of that departure of the glory of God – the temple’s complete and total annihilation.
v. He predicts that not one stone will rest upon another. That all of it will be torn down.
vi. And His prophesy comes true, 40 years after He makes it, and 20 years after Matthew’s readers read Jesus’ words. While we don’t have time for a full historical lesson on the Jewish-Roman war, and the siege of Jerusalem, we will attempt to hit the highlights.
1. [Slide 21] In 66AD tensions between Rome and the Jews escalated over religious practice and paying taxes to Rome. The Roman governor Gessius Florus plundered the temple claiming the money was to pay the taxes to the emperor. Then he had 6,000 Jews executed for sedition.
2. This ignited the Rebellion. Herod Agrippa II left Jerusalem at this point when he realized that things were beyond saving.
3. [Slide 22] Nero dispatched Vespasian and his son Titus to put down the revolt, and claim the temple for the empire.
4. [Slide 23] From 67 -68 AD Vespasian and Titus were able to defeat the Zealots (which comprised the primary rebel force). They were driven from Galilee and assembled in Jerusalem.
5. [Slide 24] Meanwhile back in Rome civil war broke out for a short time. Nero died and Vespasian was called back to Rome to become the Emperor. He commanded his son Titus to continue with putting down the rebellion.
6. [Slide 25] In this lull, the Jewish people could have probably rallied, but the zealot forces moving into Jerusalem were met by the Sadducees, whom we have known for a while were Roman loyalists. Fighting broke out between the zealots and the Sadducees.
7. [Slide 26] Just as this began to settle, that is when Titus came to Jerusalem.
8. The third wall was breached in 15 days. The second wall was breached, retaken, and breached again. For over 4 months fighting continued from the second wall to the first wall and the battlements of Antonia, which is a fortress on the outside of the temple.
9. [Slide 27] This fortresses western wall is the wailing wall in Jerusalem. It is not the temple, but actually, the foundation of where the temple stood.
10. [Slide 28 (blank)] During this time the Jews fought tenaciously and Titus was forced to make a very difficult decision. So he decides to put a blockade around Jerusalem. No one was able to go out or in.
11. People were starving, reduced to eating their shoes, boiled hay, and in some cases, even infant cannibalism. Their desperation is where our next video begins.
a. Stop at 2:45 - You can see God’s hand in making sure that the temple and Jerusalem was destroyed. The very tunnel they used to attack the siege towers, breached their own wall.
b. Stop 4:54 - It is unclear what Titus’ motives were. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “What is history but a fable agreed upon?” History is recorded by the winners of war. Josephus, a Jew who defected to Rome, was responsible to write the account of Jewish antiquity and the account of the Jewish-Roman war. His account is what this movie follows, which has Titus wanting to preserve the temple, albeit for selfish reasons. However, another historian, Sulpicius Severus basing his history on Tacitus’ lost history, says the opposite. He suggests that Titus demanded the temple be destroyed to hasten the victory. We may never know the truth, but judging by the amount of destruction and the heat of the fires necessary to destroy the temple, it seems to be a more deliberate destruction rather than accident. However, the idea that Titus tries to control his battle hardened men and they don’t hear his commands to put out the fires also smacks of divine intervention. So we still don’t know.
c. 7:15 – Not sure why the ark of the covenant is in the movie, but that was long lost – from the first temple destruction by the Babylonians. Anyway…
d. Stop at 8:40
13. [Slide 29] After the temple was burned, the fighting stopped and the Jews that remained surrendered. The revolt was finally put down. And in a final act to be sure that the message to all would be rebels would sink in, Titus gave orders for the whole city and what remained of the temple to be razed to the ground. Only the tallest towers were left as a trophy for the emperor.
14. This command along with some science shows us how Jesus’ prophesy came true. The temple was built primarily with white marble and limestone. These two rocks when heated to their melting point, which is achievable with a wood fire, would explain the utter desolation. The moisture in limestone causes the rock to explode, and the make up of marble reduces it to calcium and carbon. These rocks literally would have disintegrated if the temperatures were hot enough. The soliders afterward sifted the rocks for the melted gold. And historians say that the Romans gathered so much gold from the temple that the price of gold in the empire plummeted to half its original value.
vii. Jesus was not exaggerating. He was speaking the truth. Literally.
b. [Slide 30] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus teaching His disciples here? Well despite the opulence of the temple, because of the unfaithfulness and disobedience of the Jews, all this opulence would be laid to waste.
c. Passage Application: The application is simply to pursue God and His righteousness. Because that is what will ultimately endure, even when the temple does not. Almost as if to say that the temple would no longer be the center of worship.
d. [Slide 31] Broader Biblical Truth: And more broadly, we know that the end of the world is fast approaching. And we can see in scripture that this earth, this existence that we inhabit now, will be destroyed. So ultimately, we must understand that all earthly opulence, inevitably will be destroyed, specifically in the wrath of God.
e. Broader Biblical Application: So our application is not to pursue earthly opulence, because such a goal would be foolish. But instead, to pursue treasures that last. Treasures that are stored up in heaven. To pursue the kingdom and righteousness of God. That is forever. That is opulence that will not end. And we do that through faith that produces obedience.
[Slide 32 (blank)] So we see Jesus teaching that Earthly opulence does not indicate God’s blessing, in fact, we know that all earthly opulence will be destroyed. So what does that mean for us? God doesn’t desire to dwell in a beautiful house made with hands, but rather with a pure people. With a people who love and obey Him. A people who have been given a faith that produces works of righteousness.
Jesus clearly taught this to the Israelite people in the temple that day, and to His disciples as they left the temple. But was it a message that the Israelites have learned? What about today? We are approaching the 2000th anniversary of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. We are only 50 years away. What do Jews today think about the destruction of the temple?
I’ll read a quote for you from a Jewish website that exists to promote the heritage of the Jews for Jews.
“The destruction of the Second Temple is one of the most important events in the history of the Jewish people, and certainly one of the most depressing.
It is a sign that God has withdrawn from (though certainly not abandoned) the Jews. Although the Jews will survive ― in accordance with the promise that they will be an "eternal nation" ― the special relationship with God they enjoyed while the Temple stood is gone.
Sadly, this period of time, perhaps more than any other reflects the maxim that Jewish past is Jewish future, that Jewish history is Jewish destiny.
There's no period of time that more closely reflects what is going on today in Israel and among the Jewish people worldwide. We are still living in the consequences of the destruction of the Second Temple, spiritually and physically. And the same problems we had then are the same problems we have now.
States the Talmud (Yoma 9b): "Why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred of one Jew for another."
What is the antidote to this problem which is so rampant in the Jewish world today? The answer isahavat chinam, the Jews have to learn to love their fellow Jews.
There's no hope for the Jewish people until all learn how to communicate with each other, and respect each other, regardless of differences.
God has no patience for Jews fighting each other. It's extremely important to study this period of time carefully because there are many valuable lessons that we can learn about the pitfalls that need to be avoided.”
Do they get it? No. No they don’t. They think God is punishing them because they didn’t and still don’t love one another enough. And although during the Jewish Roman war, that certainly proved true… this falls woefully short of the real reason the temple was destroyed. If they would only learn from their history. The writer of this article is correct, their history is cyclical. The first temple was not destroyed because the Jews did not love each other. It was destroyed because they were idolaters and disobedient to Yahweh. And lo and behold the second temple was destroyed for the same reason.
God doesn’t desire to dwell in a beautiful house made with hands, but rather with a pure people. With a people who love and obey Him. A people who have been given a faith that produces works of righteousness. So how does this apply to us today? How can we avoid the same fate as Israel?
First let me focus on the negative so we can end on the positive.
There is a prevailing belief, particularly among Christians that the United States is a new Israel. A chosen nation by God. A nation that was established on Godly principles and values. A nation that has been blessed. Now some of that is true. Some of it isn’t. But listen to me… Your allegiance to this nation should be subservient to your allegiance to God. Our pledge of allegiance actually specifies that. We are under God. And can I caution you just a little. The reason we are such a great nation may not be because God is pleased with us.
Every single great nation, empire, kingdom, and oligarchy from the beginning of time has followed a similar pattern. One that we are at the end of. They get so wealthy, so big, so “blessed” and all that “blessing” leads to moral debauchery. And ultimately they collapse.
Friends, there is absolutely no reason to think that we are a chosen nation of God. And there is no reason to think that our wealth, affluence, or “blessings” we are experiencing is because God is pleased with us. In fact, He may be blessing us so that we will crumble.
And one day, the very government you swear allegiance to, may hunt you down for what this book says. The very government that we have tied our Christianity to will tell us to change our Christianity… Will you listen? If you are given the choice between King and Country… which will you choose? This nation is not so great that God cannot blink it out of existence. Indeed, as we mentioned last week, we know we are already under the judgment of God. How long will it be before the hammer strikes? Don’t put your trust in the might of the USA… because it is nothing compared to the might of Yahweh.
All earthly opulence will be swept away.
Another aspect of application we have to see is as believers, we must be careful not to be caught up with earthly signs of success. Many, MANY churches today judge their overall success by how large their church is, how many programs they have, how many conversions they see, and how huge an impact they are making in their community. And certainly some of these can be signs that a church is doing what God wants… but we have to understand that the only measure for a successful church is from the pages of scripture.
And do you know that God does not say anywhere in His word that if you are a successful church you’ll have a building program? Nowhere does He mention that if you are a success you’ll have 20 conversions a year. He doesn’t say anything about the success of the church being about your impact on the community, how much you give, how many members you have, or even how much theology you know.
What does God say is a successful church?
Ephesians 4:13 – Jesus gives gifts to the church so that the church can become… this.
[Slide 33 (end)] Ephesians 4:13 - until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
Until we are like Christ. That is a successful church. And that church could be 5 members, in rural Montana, having no impact on the world around them – or it can be 50,000 in Manhattan with new people experiencing new birth and growing in sanctification every day.
Earthly opulence will be destroyed my friends. Only a people who love and obey Him will escape the fire. Only they are gold and silver refined by fire. All else is wood, hay and stubble. All else is Herod’s temple.
And that leads us to the wonderfully positive application.
Jesus Christ did this through His death and resurrection. He provided a way for us to house the Spirit of God within us. We are the temple of God now. We are made pure. We have been given faith that produces obedience!
We can be living stones! Anchored on the cornerstone! Friends – we need no temple because our bodies have been MADE into a temple.
Now if you are not a believer… or a pretend believer… your temple may look great on the outside, but there is no mistaking what is inside, because what is inside will come out. The stale stench of an empty room full of the rot of sin… you can’t keep that from seeping out.
If this is you… If you are like the Jews having external signs with death inside… then you must repent. You must cry out to the Lord. He is ready with Mercy in His wings.
But if you are His, and He is yours. If you know Him, and more importantly, if He knows you… what is inside will come out. Your temple may bear the scars of Christ… but the Sweet smell of obedience will pour out – a wonderful LIVING sacrifice to the Lord.
So as believers… Rejoice in this! And work out that salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that it is His power and passion that enables you to obey.