What is the church? Many times when we talk about the church, we speak of a large building or a temple very beautiful and serene.
From the reign of Solomon to the time when our Lord lived on earth, a large building, the Temple of Jerusalem, was the center of worship for the people Israel. The first Temple of Jerusalem was built by King Solomon almost a thousand years before Christ to replace the tabernacle, a tent used for worship by the people of Israel in their journey in the desert, after the liberation from slavery in Egypt, to their arrival in the Promised Land.
There are detailed descriptions of Solomon's temple in 1 Kings, chapters 6-7, and 2 Chronicles chapters 3-4. The Temple itself was a rectangular building built of stone and cedar wood. Past the vestibule were two more enclosures. The first of these enclosures was called the Holy Place or Sanctuary, where the priests held regular ceremonies. The third chamber was the holiest place in the Temple of Solomon. In Latin it is known as Sancta Sanctorum and in Spanish as "Holy of Holies". All rooms in the temple was adorned with gold and precious stones.
The inner courtyard of the temple was surrounded by a wall made of three layers of stone blocks covered by cedar beams. A bronze altar for sacrifices was in the courtyard. Also a bronze fountain containing water for ritual purification. In this courtyard could enter the masses of faithful pilgrims and, but the sanctuary of the Temple was accessible only to the priests and the king by a gate between two large columns.
Barred windows near the ceiling illuminated the Holy Place. Here were the altar of incense, the table of shewbread, the five pairs of candlesticks, and tools for the sacrifices that God commanded in the Law of Moses. Double doors made of cypress leading to the Holy of Holies were rarely opened, only for the high priest during the ceremony of atonement. In the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, containing the stone tablets given to Moses on which were written the Ten Commandments.
The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians 587 years before Christ. Jeremiah and other prophets of the Old Testament prophesied the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple as consequences of the disobedience of God's chosen people.
After the Babylonian captivity, the Jews built the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 515 BC. It was not as big as the first temple, but stood for nearly 500 years, longer than the first temple, and the temple of Herod the Great. The Ark of the Covenant disappeared in the time of exile and was never recovered or replaced.
About 19 BC, Herod the Great began a massive renovation and expansion of the temple. The new structure is sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple, but is still called Second Temple as rituals and sacrifices continued. The new construction covered an area 500 meters long by 300 meters wide. The outer court was accessible by a gate within each wall. The south gate had four rows of columns. The entrances on the other sides had two rows of columns each. The first courtyard was called the court of the women. The men were allowed to enter a higher court than that of the women. The altar in front of the sanctuary was of uncut stone. The plan of the sanctuary was a copy of Solomon's with a curtain that divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.
It was a magnificent structure of gold and cream-colored stone. Yet we read in our text for today, another prophecy of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. "Oh if you had known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. Days will come upon you when your enemies will fence you in, and surround you, and tear you to the ground, and thy children with thee, and not leave in you one stone upon another because you knew not the time of thy visitation. "
Indeed, the church is not a large building, but us as we confess in the liturgy, we are the church, the living members of the Body of Christ and heirs of his eternal kingdom. A large and beautiful temple to meet for public worship is a blessing from God. But whether a large temple or humble chapel, the Lord's house is a place consecrated by the prayers and worship of saints, ie sinners redeemed by Christ.
Our new covenant is based on the body and blood of Christ sacrificed once for all on the cross, not in tablets of stone or blood of animals. Thus, in each place where believers listen to the Word of God and receive the sacraments, there are Christ and His church.
But we must be careful. Jerusalem, the holy city of God's people in the Old Testament, and its inhabitants had refused to recognize the time of their visitation, when the Lord came to them in the richness of His mercy and offered full atonement, life and salvation to all the people of Israel. If someone despises the Lord's grace when it comes, when the Word of God is brought to their attention, when the means of grace are there to use, then will come the time when spiritual blindness will be the penalty for such contempt, and then comes the judgment.
Our Lord's prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70. Jewish zealots rose in revolt against the Roman Empire and, in retaliation, the Romans destroyed the entire city and the great temple. To this day, the Temple of Jerusalem has never rebuilt the Temple. Its main remnant is the Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall.
"And he entered the temple and began to drive out all them that sold and bought in it, saying, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves."
The Lord's words are an echo of Jeremiah in Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 7.1-11): "Is this house a den of robbers in your eyes, in which my name is invoked? Behold, even I have seen, says the Lord. "
Jeremiah also says: "Do not trust in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of Jehovah, the temple of the Lord is this. But if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbor, do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, neither in this place shed innocent blood, neither walk after other gods who know not you hurt ... "
In this house of prayer, we are in the presence of God in a special way. He is revealed to us in His word and in His body and blood. So, let's enter into his presence with a humble and reverent attitude, to confess our sins with the genuine intention to improve our lives. Do not allow the wishes and concerns of this world distract us from the worship of God, but put all our needs in the hands of God through prayer.
The tears of Jesus Christ over the fate of Jerusalem indicates His will to save all the world. But, never despise the grace of God or forget that after the season of grace is the day of judgment.
The peace that passes all understanding be with each of you forever. Amen.
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