by Robert Brow
Our Gospel reading is about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. People were pointing out the beautiful stones and decorations, and Jesus said, "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" (Matthew 21:6). The disciples would know that the destruction of Jerusalem was imminent "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near: (21:20).
All this would take place during the lifetime of his hearers. "Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away till all these things have taken place" (21:31). And we know from Jewish history that the end was in AD 70, about 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Jesus also predicted that "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles (non-Jewish nations), until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (21:24). After 1900 years the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 seems to have been a turning point for Jerusalem. In several wars against the surrounding Arab nations the Jewish people were able to gain control of the city.
Last week there was the death of Arafat, the Palestinian leader. He symbolized the struggle to establish the city as the capital of an Arab state. What do these events have to do with us? Let me suggest three ways in which God has a hand in history:
1 EVERY COUNTRY HAS ITS JERUSALEM For England London is the heart of the country, and their history centers again and again on that city. For France there is Paris. Madrid is the focus of the history of Spain. Germany has Berlin, and for over two thousand years Rome has been the battle ground for Italy. We can say the same about Warsaw in Poland, Vienna in Austria, Budapest in Hungary. In our day the war in and around Baghdad is a continuation of continuing struggle of Iraq. And the story of China is centered on Peking (now renamed Beijing).
2 GOD WORKS OUT HIS PURPOSES THROUGH NATIONS When Paul debated with the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill Paul explained that, "From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God, and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-27). The modern history of Canada and the United States only goes back 400 years, but most nations have a long continuing history that goes back many hundreds of years. And God has his hand in each one.
3 NATIONS GOVERN THEMSELVES, BUT THE SON OF GOD IS KING OVER ALL
This was known by the Old Testament prophets and writers of the Psalms. Here for example are some well known verses: "O LORD our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth" (Psalm8:9). "The LORD sits enthroned for ever, he has established his throne for judgment" (Psalm 9:7). "Dominion belong to the LORD, and he rules over the nations" (Psalm 22:28). As we think about Christmas in a few weeks time, it is important to remember that His story did not begin when he was born in Bethlehem. He was already the King over the nations from the beginning of the human race. He took birth among us so we could meet him face to face, and see his love for us.
This is why the Christian year begins with the first Sunday in Advent - this year in two weeks time on November the 28th. The word Advent means coming, and the season of Advent celebrates the comings of the Son of God throughout human history among all nations. He comes again and again to intervene and bless a people. But the Bible also describes his comings to exercise wrath. And the main reason for God’s wrath interventions are when there is oppression of the poor, the widows, orphans, and aliens living among the nation.
The Bible is the story of how God has dealt with Jerusalem over three thousand years. But that story is given to us to help us interpret what is happening in every other nation of the world.
You can see the advent interventions of the Son of God in the recent history of Europe. In 1789 the king of France and his nobles were building Versailles on the backs of the poor. The storming of the Bastille marked the beginning of the Day of the Lord which we call the French Revolution. In 1917 the Russian Czars were living in extravagant luxury while the peasants were terribly oppressed. Within a year the Communist revolution toppled that whole system. In 1945 the massive system of gas chambers run by Hitler’s German Reich came to an end with the fall of Berlin. And only twenty five years ago Communist Russia with its hundreds of Gulag death camps faced its Day of the Lord in 1989.
Some of you are saying. "That is interesting, but how does it apply to us, to me in my situation and my family?" Our difficulty is that we begin with our own needs, and we find it hard to believe that God can do anything for us right now. Old Testament faith begins with the reign of the Son of God and his advents among the nations. When we grasp that, our faith has a foothold to believe that things are not out of his control. The New Testament shows us how the King of kings and Lord of lords also cares for every individual person in their particular situation.
Prayer Lord, as I see what is happening among the nations of the world, help me to remember how you are in control of the messy situations that surround me in my life right now.