Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
In the south-east corner of Old Jerusalem sits the Temple Mount. It is the third holiest site in the world for Muslims and the holiest site in the world for Jews, and I was privileged to visit about two years ago. Now home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock it was of course in Jesus’ day where the Temple stood. And that’s the setting for our Gospel reading this morning, in and around the Temple.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the Temple in Jewish life. The First Temple was built by King Solomon, the son of King David, in 957BC and was destroyed by the Babylonians around 430 years later. The Second Temple was completed in 516BC and later expanded and renovated by Herod, and it was something to behold. A marvel of the ancient world, truly, and the centre of Israel’s life and worship. It was the home of their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and as such it was the source and summit of all Israel’s hope.
By the time we get to the story that we heard in the Gospel of Luke this morning this particular Temple had been there for almost 550 years and that particular place had been the centre of Israel’s worship for nearly 1,000 years.
But it fell. All of it. Sacked by the Romans, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70AD. I say all of this because in Jesus’ day this would have been simply unimaginable. That the Temple, God’s home, Israel’s hope, would one day not be. And yet.
“Heaven and earth will pass away,” says Jesus, “but my words will not pass away.” This has traditionally been interpreted to mean two things. On the one hand it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and as we know that happened. On the other hand these words refer to the end of time, the end of the world. The destruction not just of Jerusalem but the end of all things. That great and glorious day when Christ shall return to judge the quick and the dead.
This world and everything in it is passing away. That’s what Jesus is saying here. And look, despite the fact that billionaires are trying to colonise Mars and extend the human lifespan indefinitely, we know intuitively that this world is passing away. A day is coming, perhaps sooner or perhaps later, when everything that you currently possess will be lost to you, and when you will be lost to this world. The world will pass away and it is currently passing away. As my mother would say, “you can’t take it with you.”
So this passage is really about the devastation of all worldly hope (Crouse). All earthly hope is going to be destroyed. For most people, whose hope is rooted in the things of this world, this is obviously cause for concern. When the foundation and source of your hope is shaken, what do you do? You worry, you fear, you panic. “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken,” says Jesus.
But, not so for Christians. When the world is shaken and earthly hope begins to perish what are Christians to do? Cower? No. When everyone else is cowering those who know Christ and are waiting on him should, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Why? Because our hope is in Christ, not in this world. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” says Jesus, “but my words will not pass away.” The world is passing but the Word is enduring.
The world is passing but the Word is enduring. For you and I the things of this world must pass away, not just in some vague, hard to imagine future, but right now (Crouse). This world is full of passing things, how foolish it would be to set our hearts on them! But the Word of God endures forever, and it is the source of hope for all believers, as Saint Paul said this morning. This Advent we would do well to rekindle a love of Scripture. As we prayed together in the Collect to, “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,” so that we might be rooted and grounded in and encouraged by a hope that is eternal, and that has been given to us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The world is passing but the Word is enduring. So, where is your hope rooted and grounded today? In the world or in the Word, in Christ? Let’s give the final word to Saint Paul this morning, shall we? “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” +