I am writing today from Jerusalem, where our group is concluding our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I have led more than thirty of these tours over the years. Each time, the Holy Spirit speaks to me in a new way with a message for my soul and my work.
This time, his word to me was urgency.
We visited the Temple Mount area several times during our stay in Jerusalem. This platform was constructed by King Herod as the foundation for the temple he built atop Mount Moriah. His temple was two-and-a-half times taller than the present Dome of the Rock and twice as large as the Acropolis in Athens. The “mount” he built for it is an artificial plateau twenty football fields in size.
When the Romans destroyed this temple in AD 70, they left the western retaining wall so they could use the mount for their pagan worship. This “Western Wall” or “Wailing Wall” (where the Jews bemoan their lost temple) is the closest the Jews are allowed to go to the temple to pray.
None of this would have been imaginable during Jesus’ ministry. A single stone here is the size of the tour buses we use to travel this land. Herod’s temple was magnificent and stupendous in size and grandeur. No one could foresee its complete destruction.
No one, that is, but Jesus.
In Mark 13, we read, “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (vv. 1–2). His words came to pass when the Romans obliterated the very temple over which Jesus’ disciples marveled that day.
Beware the sin of presumption
As I reflected on this biblical scene in light of the present-day Temple Mount, I sensed the Lord saying to me, “If I would judge my chosen people, I will judge any nation that rejects my word and will. What happened to ancient Israel can happen to any nation, including America.”
This warning makes complete sense. Human nature has not changed, so any sin we have committed in the past, we can commit in the present. God’s nature has not changed, so any sin he judged in the past, he must judge in the present.
It is the sin of presumption to assume that what happened to ancient Egypt during the Exodus, to Assyria and Babylon after their persecution of the Jews, and what happened to the Soviet Union in our era cannot happen to us. The more impregnable our defenses and resources seem, the more we are tempted to trust in them rather than in our Maker and Lord.
This means that our shared calling to declare God’s truth to our culture is urgent in the extreme. The good news is that when we repent of our sins and turn to our Lord, his “grace is greater than all our sins.”
Encouragement from an unlikely source
I am reading The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, a letter written toward the end of the first century by Clement, the Bishop of Rome. He writes to his Corinthian readers, “Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ?” This was because “you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God.”
Further, “You were sincere and uncorrupted, and forgetful of injuries between one another. Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. You mourned over the transgressions of your neighbors: their deficiencies you deemed your own.”
This is a remarkable description of people living in one of the most pagan and immoral cities in the ancient world. Corinth was so known for its sexual immorality that to “Corinthianize” meant to commit sexual sin. And yet, when Paul brought the gospel to this place, those who turned to Christ were transformed in ways that persisted decades after his ministry.
This is the power of Scripture to transform human hearts. Remember God’s promise: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10–11).
A word from Billy Graham
An observation by Billy Graham is relevant to our conversation: “The human mind—like nature itself—abhors a vacuum. If our minds and hearts are not filled with God’s truth, something else will take his place: cynicism, occultism, false religions and philosophies, drugs—the list is endless.
“Already a terrifying spiritual and moral tide of evil has loosed our society from its spiritual moorings. Ideas that could easily destroy our freedoms are rushing into the vacuum that results when societies turn from the moral truths found in Scripture. Moral and spiritual chaos is the inevitable result.
“May we who know God’s truth stay committed to the principles outlined in his word. Above all, may we be salt and light in this world, proclaiming God’s righteousness and love to a confused and dying world.”
So, let’s be encouraged that our preaching and teaching of God’s truth will bear fruit in the present and in the future. Let’s renew our commitment to “speaking the truth in love” wherever and however we can (Ephesians 4:15).
And let’s work with urgency, knowing that the future is not promised to any nation, including ours.
We are one day closer to eternity than ever before.