Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Garfield, NJ
Jerusalem, 70 A.D.
Roman general Titus and his armies surround the walled city of Jerusalem and lay siege. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us the details. And it was brutal.
The city was overcrowded, as people had fled from the armies to the safety of its walls. But now the city was surrounded by armies. Food would no longer be brought in. And the people could not escape. Josephus tells us the Jews became so desperate that they ate anything they could - leather, even straw - or resorted to cannibalism.
The Romans built a mound to encircle the city, and there they crucified attempted escapees - as many as 500 per day. The siege lasted 5 months.
In the end, over 100,000 are said to have died of hunger and 600,000 total died in the siege, with another 97,000 taken captive. Many of these were sold into slavery, sometimes sold for less than the price of an animal. Many of those slaves were sent to Roman arenas around the empire to be killed in as spectacles by wild animals.
All of this suffering and misery. All of this trouble and shame. All of this, because they did not know the time of their visitation. All of this, Jesus foresaw. All of this, Jesus speaks of in our Gospel reading today.
But other than a shocking history lesson, what difference does this make to you and me?
For one, we need to realize that God’s judgment is real, and it is serious business. And if you think that the judgment and wrath of 70 A.D. was bad - it’s child’s play compared to the final judgment day. In fact the destruction of Jerusalem serves as a foreshadowing of the final judgment. When Jesus speaks about one, he often weaves in talk of the other. For on that day - which is yet to come - God will also deal with those who reject his Son. He will separate sheep from goats, believers from unbelievers, the righteous from the wicked. And woe to those on the receiving end of his punishment.
Jesus himself shows this aspect of God’s nature when he cleanses the temple in righteous anger. A Jesus that some would be surprised to see - is he acting out of character? Who is this Jesus making a whip and overturning tables? But our loving God is also a just God. He is merciful, but he is also the judge of all. And his judgment is deadly serious.
Second, we must say of those who stand under God’s judgment - “there but for the grace of God go I”. Indeed, apart from Christ, such judgment is our fate and future. Apart from Christ - we would be wiped out with temporal and eternal punishment. Apart from Christ, without Christ, were it not for Christ - we would be in ruin, destined for death and destruction and eternal separation from God.
But we are not apart from Christ. And Christ has taken the punishment Jerusalem deserves, and then some. He himself suffered and was crucified, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. In the midst of his dying agony, he cried out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” He bore the wrath of God, the punishments of Hell, and God the Father turned his back on his own son. Whatever physical suffering Jesus endured, as terrible as it was, paled in comparison to this.
All this he does for you. To save you from the wrath of God. To save you from the punishment you deserve. To rescue you from death and the devil, and win the victory over sin. To purchase your place in paradise, and guarantee you mansions in heaven.
In fact there is another picture of Jerusalem we could consider. It is the heavenly Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ in her glory. It’s a picture that is described in the book of Revelation:
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall,with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb....
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Dear Christians, in this tale of two cities, thank God that he has recused us from the Jerusalem of Destruction, from the place of unbelief, from the suffering and shame and death we so deserve - and has made us a part of the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, glorious and holy.
The difference is not in anything that you do, or anything you are in yourself - the difference is only Christ. He who has died for you, whose Spirit calls you to faith, and who forgives your sins and clothes you in his own righteousness.
So repent of your sins daily. Give thanks and rejoice that he cleanses the temple of your body by baptism and absolution and in sacramental meal. And live in the hope of that day when all nations who trust in Christ will gather in his presence forever.