Illusions of Permanence

November 14, 2010       Illusions of Permanence           Luke 21:5-19
I went to a place called “Macchu Picchu” when I was in Peru a long time ago.
Macchu Picchu is an ancient Inca city located high in the Andes Mountains.
It was officially ‘discovered’ in 1911 by a guy who was looking for the ruins of an ancient city, and hired a shepherd boy to take him where he wanted to go.
The boy led him to Macchu Picchu, which wasn’t where he wanted to go, but nevertheless was one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of history.
It’s a city that was built around the year 1450, during the peak of the Inca Empire.
Nobody really knows what purpose it served; there’s speculation that maybe it was a kind of retreat for the Inca Royalty, or that it was an outpost of power to keep tabs on the people as the empire expanded and the Incas conquered the surrounding peoples.
Nobody knows, because nobody knew it was there before 1911, after it had been empty for hundreds of years!
See, when the Spanish invaded South America, they pretty much left a wake of destruction behind them.  Anything that wasn’t gold was pretty much destroyed, if not by violence, then by the smallpox virus they brought with them from Europe.
That’s why there are so many ruins today.  Attacking invaders turned cities and fortresses into heaps of rubble.
But Macchu Picchu was never destroyed; at least not physically.
The Spanish never found it, so they left it alone.
And because it was never found, it makes people who study this stuff think that the inhabitants must have disappeared pretty quickly.  A city that was being lived in was probably easier to find and attack than a city that was empty.
So one theory is that the people who lived there knew the Spanish conquistadors were coming and so they fled, and another theory is that the smallpox virus reached the city before the Spanish did, and killed off the population in that way before the Spanish had the chance.
But for whatever reason, the city was emptied of life practically overnight, and in the years that passed it became forgotten.
What was once a majestic center of life and power for the Inca people became a distant memory.
The jungle reclaimed it as the years went by, making it difficult for anyone to find.
Months turned into years and years turned into generations, until the only people who knew it was there were shepherd boys who explore forgotten places like boys do.
It’s probably not what the Inca’s had in mind when they built that city, you know?
You don’t build that kind of place thinking it will be forgotten.  You build it to reflect the strength and the greatness of the empire you serve.
But you know, all it took was one generation for Macchu Picchu to be forgotten; consumed by the jungle.
I toured that forgotten place.
I saw the stone where human sacrifices were made.
I touched the walls of the city.  Even after 500 years of neglect, the joints in the stone were still so tight you couldn’t fit a sheet of paper between them.
I toured the priestly places, the huts for the common people, and the terraces where they farmed.
It was a place that was teeming with tourists, but was eerily empty, you know?
That’s the life cycle of greatness.  It does not last.
Jesus says
“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Obviously He wasn’t talking about Macchu Picchu.
He was talking about something that was even more impressive–the temple in Jerusalem.  The very throne of God.
At the time Jesus spoke those words, the temple would have been relatively new.  Herod, who was the king of that area at the time, he was obsessed with leaving a legacy.  He wanted to be remembered.
He was consumed with the desire for greatness.
And so he renovated the temple; the center of Jewish life and faith.
He poured his resources into this building project.
It was kind of the capstone of Herod’s legacy, so he spared no expense.
He trained priests to be expert masons and carpenters, so that they could do the work on the most holy parts of the temple, and he made provisions so that religious duties could continue throughout the renovations.
He thought of everything.
He put all of his power, money, and vision into constructing this temple.
So Jesus and his disciples were there probably right at the peak of it’s glory; right after the main construction was complete.
But Jesus seems not to understand the effect Herod was going for.
He stands there with his disciples, looks at the brand new temple that they were marveling at, and proclaims that this landmark, one of the wonders of the world, would be torn down, stone by stone, until it was nothing but a heap of rubble.
Jesus understood the life cycle of greatness.
He understood that the most powerful people in the world only last so long before someone more powerful takes their place.  He understood that nothing is permanent.  Nothing lasts forever.
And sure enough, barely 40 years after Jesus spoke those words, the great temple that Herod built lay in ruin.  Rome came in and sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in response to an uprising in the year 70 AD.
Only this time, the temple was never rebuilt.
The temple in Jerusalem, the mighty Inca empire, the capital building in our own day and age;
“Not one stone will be left on another; all will be thrown down.”
It’s a little bit of a scary message, isn’t it?
We don’t need a reminder that the world is not as permanent as we think it is.
We don’t need to be reminded that at any time a terrorist attack could rob us of security.
We don’t need to be reminded about wars and rumors of wars; after all that’s pretty much daily news for us.
So it’s easy to hear what Jesus says about stones being thrown down, and it’s easy to believe him, right?
It’s easy to say “Jesus, we believe you.”
Though there may be many who do not believe in you, we all believe you — nuclear winter, ecological disaster, thinning ozone, shrinking resources, exploding populations –not one stone will be left on another; we get it!
We know the world will end, and so like the disciples, we ask for a warning.
“Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”
In other words, “How can we prepare?  How can we be ready for the end of the world?”
In the lead-up to Y2K, people were asking that question a lot.  They were buying canned food, bottled water, generators, all that stuff.  Maybe some here did that, too.  We want to be prepared for the worst.  It’s part of human nature.
But when Jesus replies, he doesn’t get into any of that!  He simply gives the message we can’t hear enough today: Do not be afraid.
Do not be terrified.
When the wars and the insurrections happen and you hear about them, do not be terrified.
He goes on and guarantees that Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
After all, that’s what nations and kingdoms do!
He describes how there will be natural disasters; earthquakes, famines, dreadful things and signs from heaven will sweep the earth but do not be terrified!
Then he gets personal.
Before any of this occurs, he says, they will arrest you and persecute you, they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
In other words, you won’t escape the persecution that’s coming.  You won’t be able to defend yourself against the times that are surely coming upon the earth.
People will arrest you and persecute you and take you to the highest courts because of me.
And that’s when you’ll have them right where you want them!!
“this will give you an opportunity to testify” he says.
Oh yea, and don’t prepare yourself for that, either.
I (meaning Jesus) will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
I used to take this to mean I didn’t have to study in school or make plans for my future–anyone else?
Jesus seems to be saying ‘it’s all going too work out’ so just go with the flow and be true to who you are and it’ll all work out for the best, since God is in ultimate control and He will give you what you need the moment you need it.
It’s just one example of how I think we abuse the Bible to fit our own agenda.
I have a problem with that now.  I’ve seen too many people blatantly fitting the Bible into their own lives rather than making their lives fit into the Bible, if you know what I mean.
The words and the wisdom–the ‘signs from heaven’ that Jesus was talking about; that all has to do with the resurrection, not opening up a parking space for us, or having the house of our dreams fall in our lap.
See, the world has already come to an end!  In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, all that is has already been judged!
We’re already living in God’s Future!!
You can cling to the temple if you want.  It’s going to come down.
You can cling to your family if you want.  They’re going to betray you.
You can cling to your friends, your house, your job–none of it is going to last!
These things in your life you think are so permanent; they’re not permanent at all.
The only thing that will truly last is the Resurrection!
When the world comes apart and you are taken before the judge, your well prepared arguments aren’t going to last anymore than the world you were clinging to.
So do not be terrified.  The end isn’t coming–It has already come!
When you journey with Jesus, you go where he leads you.
We no longer have to fear the future, or the end of all things, because We have already seen “the end!”
The world has come to a decisive crisis in the life and death of Jesus. In his death, the entire history of the universe has reached a turning point. At that moment, when he was nailed to a cross, the conflict between life and death, good and evil, God and Caesar was resolved in favor of God’s lordship over existence. A new Kingdom was established — a Kingdom not dependent on bricks, mortar, or houses of stone; but one based on what God has done and is doing for us and the world.  God no longer needs a temple, because He has the church!
There can be no better work for us now, than to testify to the fact that God rules the world; nations do not. History has already come out right, for the lordship of Christ has been established. There is only one thing that lasts in this world. There is only one truth which is sure. And there is only one name who is our hope.
All Glory, Praise, and Honor to the Risen Christ!

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