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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
We hear news stories pretty regularly about the middle East and in particular the nation of Israel. Not only does their long-standing conflict with the Palestinians continue, but Iran proclaims openly that they’d like to wipe Israel entirely off the map–a pleasant thought as I prepare for my Holy Land tour next April. But it raises the question: is what happens in Israel today something that relates to our Christian faith at all? Israel and the Israelites are obviously central to the Biblical account of salvation. But what should our theological attitude be toward what’s going on with Israel in the Middle East today?
There are some supposedly Christian preachers and authors who want to make a big deal out of current events. They see happenings in the Middle East as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. They view the nation of Israel as a key player in the end times. They believe that before Christ can return, a whole series of geopolitical events must play themselves out, including the rebuilding of the temple. But all who preach and believe such things are mistaken and in error. For they are failing to see that all prophecy centers on Christ and is fulfilled in His life and death and resurrection. All prophecy that is not centered in Christ and fulfilled in Him and His church is false prophecy. This is especially true when it comes to the prophecies pertaining to Israel.
The people of Israel were indeed the chosen people of God. They are the descendants of Abraham, to whom God gave the promise that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him. But that promise came to life in the birth of the Israelite Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. Through Christ the blessing of the forgiveness of sins comes to all the nations. All that God gave to Israel, from the tabernacle to the sacrifices to the Sabbath all pointed forward to a culmination in Jesus. Even the prophecies pertaining to the land of Israel, that geographic territory, were all given so that there might be a particular place where the promises of God might come to pass in Christ. What makes the holy land holy is not that the ground itself is sacred, but rather that God Himself walked that ground in the person of Jesus and there accomplished our salvation by His holy cross.
And so today in this New Testament age, the true Israel is no longer a reference to a nation or a territory. It is rather a reference to the church, to those who are the people of God in Christ. Romans 9 says that not all who are Israelites according to the flesh are the true Israel, but rather “the children of the promise are counted as the seed,” as the children of Israel. In other words, those who are believers in the promised Messiah are the true Jews, the real Israel. Jesus is the whole people of Israel embodied in one man. And so when we believe and are baptized into Him, we ourselves become Israelites, God’s chosen people, children of God in Him who is the Son of God.
Therefore, when we pray the Psalms and refer to Israel, we are not referring to a nation but to the church, to the faithful of the Lord. And when we refer to Jerusalem, as we will be doing in today’s closing hymn, we are referring not to a temporal, passing city, but the holy city above, the heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal dwelling place of God’s redeemed believers.
So to get back to where we started, when it comes to events in Israel and the Middle East today, we have no theological stake in what the political outcome is. It doesn’t affect our Christian faith one way or the other. Our country may have a strategic or political stake in the matter, but that’s an entirely different story. The only thing the turmoil in Israel and the Middle East and throughout the world should remind us of as Christians is that in this world we will find no lasting peace. That is to be found only in Christ. Wars and rumors of wars, the persecution and killing of Christians–all of that is meant to alert us to the fact that Christ will come again soon, and that we should be praying daily for His return to bring our salvation to its completion.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus mourns what will become of Israel and of Jerusalem in particular. The name Jerusalem literally means “city of peace.” But when He, the Prince of Peace had come to her, she refused Him. Like a rejected groom, He weeps for her and her fate. In the year 70 A.D., just forty years after this Gospel, Jesus’ prophetic words will be fulfilled. Jerusalem will be attacked and laid siege by the Romans. Thousands upon thousands will be killed in horrific fashion. Above all, the temple will be utterly destroyed and laid waste. All that is left of the temple still today is one portion of an outer wall, the wailing wall, which still calls to mind Jesus’ weeping.
This was the judgment of God. The Romans were His instrument in executing the sentence. For Israel had spurned the Messiah. They did not know the time of their visitation, when God Himself visited them and walked among them. It was their day, and they missed it. The things that made for their peace with God were hidden from their eyes by their own unbelief.
It’s not as if they weren’t religious. St. Paul says in the Epistle that they were passionate for God, but they tried to get right with Him on the basis of their own keeping of God’s Law. They foolishly trusted in their own obedience rather than humbly and penitently relying on the grace of God revealed to them in Christ and receiving His righteousness as a free and undeserved gift. And so they ended up rejecting the very one their Law prophesied. All their religious passion was for nothing. They wanted something flashier and more glorious than this lowly Jesus. In fact it offended them to think that’s how God would visit them. They stumbled at this stumbling stone of the Gospel, and so the stones of the temple and the city were demolished around them. The weeping of God eventually becomes the judgment of God for those who will not repent.
This is a clear and sobering call to repentance for you still today. For the Jews had it all, everything they needed to recognize and receive the Messiah when He came. Don’t we also? Indeed, we have even more! Let us not, then, take these things for granted and stumble as they did. What happened to Jerusalem in the 1st century is a miniature picture of what will happen to all the unbelieving world on judgment day. Consider, then, how things stand with you. Are you relying on the fact that you’re a good person to get you into heaven rather than Christ alone? Then your religion is like the false religion of the Jews, and you must repent. Do you look for God primarily in mysterious signs or supernatural occurrences instead of in His humble but sure Word? Is divine service something you can do without for weeks at a time? Then you are like the Israelites who did not know the time of their visitation, and you must repent. Are you one who wants to use religion as a way of gaining earthly blessings? Then you are like those who bought and sold in the temple, and you must repent.
Turn away from all that, and turn to Him whose heart still weeps out of love for His people. Trust in Him who continues to cry out, “If you would know, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!” Christ Himself is your Peace, who visits you humbly, just as He did with Israel–in water and words, bread and wine. He is the One who brings reconciliation between you and God, the One who gives the peace that passes all understanding. This is your day, right now, the day of your visitation, as it is written, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” This is the moment in which Christ is coming to you in His Gospel sounding in your ears. Believe in Him; trust in what He has done; seek His righteousness.
For our Lord has cleansed the temple. When Jesus drove out the moneychangers in righteous anger and purified the temple as a house of prayer, that was a sign of what He was about to do at Calvary. For there on the cross Jesus Himself experienced the righteous anger of God against the world’s sin and drove it out in the temple of His body. Jesus made Himself unclean in your place. He took all of the greed and the self-righteousness and the callousness and every other sin and made it His own dirty mess. And by His holy suffering and death He cast it out and away from you forever. He buried it all permanently in the grave.
Jesus had said of His body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Though the temple in Jerusalem remains destroyed, Jesus could not remain in the grave. He is now bodily raised in everlasting glory and honor, the new and eternal dwelling place of God for you. Jesus is your temple. The risen body of Christ is full of holiness and righteousness and cleansing. Baptized into Him, those things are all yours. The Church is the body of Christ. And therefore you are the temple of Christ’s Spirit, who dwells in you through your baptismal faith. You are safe from divine judgment. For you are in Him who took the judgment for you.
“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!” Brothers and sisters in Christ, O Israel of God, this is your day; this is the time of your visitation. Don’t miss out because you’re looking for the wrong thing, or because you’ve got more important things to do. Here are the things that make for your peace, the body and blood of Christ, offered up for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your peace, for your rest, for your restoration to the Father. God grant you to be like that faithful remnant in the Gospel that was very attentive to hear Jesus, that by His grace you may be brought to dwell eternally in the new Jerusalem above.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠