Where Eternity Meets Time and Place
Tenth Sunday after Trinity
Commemoration of Samuel
August 20, 2017
In the Gospel reading we are shown the moment Jesus had been looking toward was now at hand. Luke set down to write the account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and he showed how it was glorious that God’s Son would be born to a young woman who was a virgin. He showed how Jesus’ birth brought about peace, as declared by the angels, “Peace on earth and good will toward men.” He further showed the indescribable glory of God being given a glimpse as Jesus was transfigured in front of His disciples. After He came down the mountain Luke says that Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. Jesus did not stay on the mountain in the glory of His transfiguration but made His way to the place where He would suffer what appeared to be the opposite of glory. Along with the other evangelists Luke records the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. He rode in among crowds hailing Him as king and Messiah.
It was then that Luke says He approached the city and looked out over it as we hear in our Gospel reading. His heart sank. All His focus had been on coming to this point and He knew that the people did not know what made for true peace. As He wept over Jerusalem He declared that the city would be overrun, that it would fall, that it would be decimated. His prophecy came true as history records the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. at the hands of the Romans. When true peace is rejected destruction results. We see the same thing today as various leaders and peoples wage war on others. True peace is not getting along with each in this life but is found in Jesus Christ who reconciles us to God. True peace is eternal, it doesn’t come to an end.
Jesus says destruction would befall them because they did not recognize the time of their visitation. This is an interesting word. If your relatives come to visit you don’t call it a visitation but visiting. But this is exactly what God did. He visited His people. He came as a baby. He came as a human being. He came to the people of this world as a man and His people simply did not believe that this was how God was bringing about reconciliation with them.
Luke says that Jesus went right into the temple. When He entered He drove out those selling animals. Jesus was angry. Coming into the House of God He entered a place that was being profaned. It was standard and proper practice for animals to be sold in the outer courts of the temple since the temple was the place where animals were sacrificed, as God had commanded. But we know how these things go. What starts as something helpful for people can quickly turn into a racket. The religious leaders of the temple had become more concerned about the business of making money than about the business of the temple, which is worship.
This is what Jesus had known as He entered the city. He knew the hearts of the people. He knew their religious leaders were leading them astray. He knew they had rejected God’s gracious visitation of reconciliation in Himself. So He drove them out. The rest of the week, which we call Holy Week, He would set up shop in the temple conducting the business of teaching the Word of God. Here was God in the flesh coming into the temple, the House of God, and He would be teaching the way, the truth, and the life. Luke says in the Gospel reading that they were seeking to destroy Jesus. As we know, toward the end of the week they succeeded in arresting Him and bringing Him before Pilate to be crucified.
As He drove them out He spoke with words of Scripture, “It is written, ‘My House shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’” The first part is from Isaiah, the second from Jeremiah. In Isaiah 56 God declares what His House, the temple, is. Of course it was built by God’s people the Israelites and for the purpose of the worship life of the Israelites. But at its very dedication by Solomon it was declared also to be the place to which all nations would stream. It would truly be a house of prayer for all nations.
This is remarkable, because God Himself had set apart the people of Israel as a people for Himself. The Gentiles, all the other nations, which were pagan, were outside of the covenantal grace of God. The people of God were given grace through animals being offered as sacrifices to atone for His people’s sins. How could pagan Gentiles be forgiven when their worship consisted of sacrifices to false gods? But there are many examples in the Old Testament of Gentiles who heard the message of salvation in the God of Israel and actually believed in Him, some who even came to live among the Israelites and became part of the worshiping community.
This is what God means in Isaiah 56 and Jesus means in the Gospel reading that the Father’s House will be a house of prayer. It is the place where God makes His presence known, His visitation you might say. It is where He tells His people, Here you can come and you will not stand before an angry Judge over your sins but a merciful Lord who will forgive your sins. The temple being the house of prayer is the place where people may pray knowing that the Lord of all creation truly hears them and reconciles Himself to them.
Don’t you find it telling that the God who has created everything and who is all-powerful and who is everywhere designated a building where He would make His presence known? It is this kind of particularity that the people of Jerusalem rejected and that we resist as well. We are reluctant to being confined to a particular time and place where God makes Himself known to us. It’s much easier to think of God living in your heart; more in our comfort level in being able to be anywhere, go anywhere, do anything, and God is with us. We’d much rather feel close to God by marveling at His creation in the mountains. Or being with Christian friends in a coffee shop. Or praying in our own home or as we drive in our car. We want to determine how we come to be in God’s gracious presence.
There’s no problem with any of those things. In fact, we’d do much better if we did pray more at home, if we did talk more with Christian friends. Too often we go about our life with little thought of our Father in heaven guiding and guarding us. The problem is not with any of those things. The problem is that none of those things deal with the root problem, our sin and guilt. All of those things are good. They’re from God. But He gives these blessings to us in addition to the gift we first and foremost need, which is forgiveness. That can only be received in the specific way that our Lord has designated.
The House of God is the place where this happens. The worship service has a start time so that everyone knows when to show up. And specific ceremonies and hymns and prayers and Sacraments are carried out. But what’s truly going on here has nothing to do with time or place. It has everything to do with eternity. It is the visitation of God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. It is God actually coming to us here and now in His Son.
Some people might look at their watch to see how long the sermon is. But how can you quantify in the measurement of time the forgiveness of sins that is delivered? You can’t. Because what God is doing is eternal. There is no time. Your Lord’s forgiveness of you doesn’t expire at a certain point in time.
We have a general idea of the amount of time it takes for the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. But what is actually happening is not counted according to time. What is actually happening is that the Lord who was born in time and who suffered on the cross on a particular day and who rose three days later is present here in the flesh in and with bread and wine. There is no quantifying that. You can’t measure the visitation of God, of Jesus giving you Himself into your very self as you eat and drink His body and blood.
The Holy Communion is certainly a communion among ourselves. But it is so much more. As Paul says in 1Corinthians 10, it is a communion with the bread and the cup, and the bread and the cup is a communion with the body and blood of Christ. The Communion we partake of and share in is communion that is not measured in time or in the space we occupy. It is not limited to mere time and space. As we sing in the liturgy, we commune with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. If time is involved then there is a limit and it will come to an end. If it is eternal than there is no limit and our communion with the Lord and the saints in heaven never ends.
This is what God has brought about for you in His Son. The people who witnessed Jesus suffering and dying on the cross for six hours thought that they were witnessing a crucifixion lasting six hours. They weren’t. At least not with their eyes. They were witnessing the eternal reconciling of God to human beings. They were witnessing something that lasts forever.
There is nothing God desires more than to visit you in your affliction, your guilt, your sin, in His Son, whose sacrifice on the cross is eternal and offered up to you in His Holy Sacrament at this very altar. In heaven, where there is no time and space, the Lamb who was slain is the altar and the object of all worship, prayer, and praise. God doesn’t make us wait to join in. By His incomparable grace as we join in this holy and eternal communion it is so even now. Amen.