* * *
Sacred Heart Revealed
-- Matthew 23:37
* * *
And Jerusalem . . . Jerusalem was the center of God's work on earth. Mt. Zion was His resting place within the city. The typology is plain. The Church is a spiritual Jerusalem -- will it also reject the Christ who is sent to it?
Another reference to Jerusalem as the enemy of God comes in The Revelation 11: 8 where the two witnesses are killed and are allowed to lie in the streets for three days. The city, it says, is "mystically called Sodom and Egypt, where also [the] Lord was crucified."
The theme of God betrayed by His own people is replete through Scripture. "He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him" is replayed through both Testaments. (John 1:11) Many of the prophets reflect God as the husband of an adulterous wife. "The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever," Samuel told Saul as the king was rejected for disobedience. (1 Samuel 13:1-14)
Here, in Matthew 23: 37, we see the great longing of the Creator of all to simply have a people who will be drawn to Him. Time after time He has extended His hand of grace. The great love of God is further revealed by Jesus adding the descriptive clause "who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!" The contrast is stark. Even through their rebellion He yearns for them to be His.
Jesus came with mercy and He also came with judgment. Both visions of Messiah appear in the ancient prophecies. "And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple . . . But who can endure the day of His coming?" Malachi foretold. The Jews understood this conquering Messiah, though they felt the wrath would be directed at the Gentiles -- not at them. But they were unprepared for the Messiah of mercy and grace. When the offers of grace were finally rejected, Jesus promised judgment.
Today's Church likewise looks only for a Christ of grace, and refuses to believe in the Jesus who brings judgment. But it is the very grace He has offered for the world that necessitates the judgment that follows. The heights of grace granted to this nation shall be the measure of the depths of its judgment.
It makes one weep to think of the heart of God broken and rejected again.
But You Would Not
In the King James Version, Jesus ends his weeping over Jerusalem with the words, ". . . but you would not!" The picture is of the adamant child, arms folded, and its back to a pleading parent.
The offer of the covenant was one of fellowship and prosperity for the entire nation, but the Jews, unlike pagan nations, abandoned their God for others. Time after time they were warned and punished for their defection from God. Repeatedly they repented and returned -- but only when they were in trouble. Now, finally, their long-awaited promise had arrived. But they rejected Him just as they did the pleading of the prophets. It was small wonder that their house was left desolate -- their faith itself was desolate.
In a corner, a man arose from the business of plaiting thongs of leather. Suddenly, he began to lash at the sacrificial animal salesmen. Over went the exchange tables spilling their silver contents pinging to the ground. Men scurried after the rolling coins as the man flayed them with the whip. Soon they were driven out.
"My Father's house is a house of prayer," he cried, "But you have made it a den of thieves!" With that, he barred the gate against the merchants' return.
* * *
But Jesus' cleansing of the Temple was not the last straw. From ancient times, the "service" offered in the sanctuary was called into question by God's prophets. "Who asked you to come in here?" God asked after the priests had abandoned God for dead ritual. (Isaiah 1:12) On other occasions, He blasted them for offering blemished sacrifices, cheating on their wives, and not teaching righteousness.
It was at the end of the woes of Matthew 23 when Jesus finally strips the Temple of all its significance. "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!" He said.
Not since Phinehas' wife named his son Ichabod -- "the glory has departed" -- after the Ark of the Covenant was taken from Israel was there such a profound spiritual vacuum. (1 Samuel 4) It will only be days after this doom is spoken by Jesus that the veil in the Temple will be rent to punctuate His words.
The Church Illegitimate
-- Hebrews 12:8
* * *
The purpose of this judgment is not as much anger as it is a need to purify His Church. Jesus gives the illustration of pruning (and burning) branches off the vine. (John 15:1-8) Those portions of the Church which do not bear fruit or, in another parable, which merely burden the ground will be removed. But before this removal, grace provides a margin in which the tree may be brought to productive use. (Luke 13:6-9) In this other story, the vineyard-keeper pleads for a little more time while He "digs and dungs" the tree. The conclusion of the tale is that if the tree does not respond, it will become firewood.
It is the great love God has for the Church that has made Him so patient with its historical rebellions. But it is also His great love that motivates the judgments that have befallen the Church.
Outside the Camp
It may be particularly significant that this illustration is attached to Laodicea because it is plain that the description of this Church is the one that best illustrates the American Church. "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," is the usually unspoken message.
But the picture of Jesus outside the Church is nothing new. The Old Testament typology of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) was manifest in Jesus' crucifixion "outside the gate." (Hebrews 13:12-13) The truth was delivered and the move of God begun outside Jerusalem! And it has ever been so.
The history of revival in the Church reveals that most moves of God begin outside the Church. Generally, these moves were preceded by rejected attempts to stir change from within. Those who would not conform to the worldliness of the Church at that time were ejected and, as Hebrews 13:13 says, they went with Jesus outside the camp, bearing His reproach. On occasion, the Church would later get drawn into the revival. Other times the old Church would continue to calcify until there was very little room for a real Christian in it.
The first Christians were persecuted by pagan Rome only after extended tribulation from the Jews. In Church history there have been as many persecutions within the Church as without. Often it is the very alienation of a group of believers that makes them prime targets for worldly persecution. Two good modern examples are the homeschool and pro-life movements. Much of the legal difficulty they face can be traced to the unwillingness of the churches to back them early on because they were distrusted.
These and others have been willing to take firm stands for their faith -- even if it meant standing outside the camp.
Where His Heart Is
My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.'"
It is easy to see how much God wanted a place where He could touch His people -- where they could reach Him. And how marvelous it must have been for the omnipresent God to localize Himself. That Presence was such that, even in the midst of rebellion and exile, all the people of Israel had to do was to look toward the Temple and repent before God would respond to them. (1 Kings 8:46-52)
But how desolate would their faith be if God were to vacate the premises? Their worship and ritual would be vanity -- no better than their pagan neighbors.
Here -- precisely -- is what Jesus describes in verse 38 when he tells them that their house is left unto them desolate. The text offers an additional insight as we read the next three verses. Since the verse and chapter divisions are not inerrant parts of Scripture, we must assume that these conveniences might sometimes be better placed elsewhere. The chapter division between Matthew 23 and 24 is just such a place. The first two verses of chapter 24 continue in a flow from the denunciation, but the third verse introduces a completely new location and subject.
I say all of this to break our minds from the mold of stopping at chapter's end. It also helps to point out that Jesus does more than merely pronounce desolation of the Temple. After He tells them it is being left desolate, He leaves -- making it desolate. More, He predicts that the Temple building, aside from its spiritual desolation, will become a physical model of the same. Forty years hence, the Temple was to be leveled by Roman armies.
But American Christians have hidden from this with presumptions of self-righteousness and "security." We have misconstrued the word that "where two or three are gathered in My name" to confer His blessing on our every religious decision. Our prideful exhibitions and greedy plots are regarded as sanctified by this verse. But we would be hard pressed to justify our dragging God in on many of our activities -- except as a form of torture.
Despite the fact that Scripture tells us that Israel forms a pattern for the Church -- especially in those things in which they rebelled -- we persist in the unfounded belief that the Church is exempt from judgment. Our sins have blinded us. Whatsoever the Church sows, it shall also reap. God is not mocked, nor will He treat His Church as an illegitimate child.
The Buck Stops
Whether or not one believes the office of prophet still exists, certainly God does communicate with His people through human agency. This may come though exposition of the Word or the application of Biblical principles to similar modern situations. The above-quoted Nigerian pastor merely applies the principle of the watchman found in Ezekiel 33 to the corruptions of today's Church. Isaiah and Jeremiah also finger the leaders as the primary culprits.
Judgment itself begins in the center of the Church. In Ezekiel's vision of the slaughter at Jerusalem, the angels of judgment are assigned to slay all who did not sigh and groan for the abominations done in the land. "You shall start from My sanctuary," the avenging angels are told. (Ezekiel 9:6)
Such verses should cause us to shudder, but instead we read it as a distant, unreal event -- certainly one in which we would never be involved. But the sins of the leaders listed in that chapter and the one before it have their counterparts in the American Church.
Will not God judge us as well? Or does He owe Ezekiel's Jerusalem an apology?
The Last Refuge
The pride in American prosperity is pinned on the Christian roots of America as if modern Christians bore any spiritual resemblance to the Pilgrims and Quakers. But those earlier groups cultivated holiness as gain -- prosperity was, to them, measured in spiritual growth.
Current evangelical theology now prohibits God from punishing His own children, saying that He merely "corrects" us. No Biblical grounds for any such distinction are offered. Teachers offer that the judgment seat of Christ is nothing more than a "graduation ceremony" for believers. Verses that indicate judgments measured in stripes for unfaithful servants (Luke 12:42-48) are ignored or labeled "difficult" and shelved. When Scripture requires those sick who receive the prayer of the elders to confess our sins as part of the healing rite, it is regarded with perplexity and disbelief. It is the eternal security doctrine gone mad.
Are we so arrogant as to believe that God will not punish our sin in the same manner as Jerusalem's? Shall God Who spent His Son's precious blood to forgive sin now bypass that priceless provision and tolerate our sinfulness? I think not!
God will not wink at our detestable sin though we cry, "Grace, grace." Nor is grace a permission for sin. We are fools if we believe that grace will cover unrepentant sin or that we possess some inherent goodness that God is bound to respect. Neither will a claim of ignorance help as those who do not know the will of God and do not do it still suffer stripes. (Luke 12:42-48)
In times past God has suffered His ark to be in the hands of the Philistines, His people to be captured and enslaved, His holy city and Temple to be destroyed, and His own Son to die the cruelest of deaths all to deal with the sin of His people. How dare we to suppose that God, Who did not spare His own Son for His love for us, will cast a protective hedge around the American Church and its playground of iniquity.