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Aug 07, 2016

Catastrophe or Communion

Catastrophe or Communion

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Catastrophe or Communion

Keywords: church, communion, dwelling, glory of god, god with us, mourning, obedience, temple, tisha b’av


This message seeks to trace the role of the temple in God's communion with man. From Abraham to the New Jerusalem, God has wanted to commune with His people and abide among us. But with that privilege comes responsibility of unadulterated worship. Being the present temple of God as the church carries certain responsibilities as well.


Catastrophe or Communion?

August 7, 2016


INTRO:  Anyone know what this next Saturday-Sunday is on the Jewish calendar? Since most of us are not Messianic Jews, I wouldn’t expect us to know that.  But this coming Aug. 13-14 (Sat. sunset to Sun. sunset) is the 9th of the Jewish month of Av.  It is the culmination of three weeks of remembering and mourning over this especially tragic period of time in Jewish history. 

            Anybody want to venture a guess as to what tragedies this period remembers?  The 9th of Av is the date of destruction for both the 1st and 2nd temples in Jerusalem.  The three weeks leading up to this date are to be a period of mourning for the Jewish people who have not seen their temple rebuilt in nearly 20 centuries.  That period was chosen because it was 3 weeks before Tisha b’Av that the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. 

            Traditionally, 9 days prior to Tisha b’Av, a new period of more intense mourning begins. Traditional Jews do not eat meat, cut their hair, or wash their clothes unless they are to be worn again during the nine days. All those actions are considered signs of joy or luxury inappropriate for this time of mourning.

            The day of Tisha b’Av is a full fast day.  From sundown next Saturday to sundown next Sunday, nothing is to be eaten.  In addition to abstaining from food or drink during Tisha B’Av, Jewish tradition also mandates refraining from wearing leather, engaging in sexual relations, washing one’s body, and using perfume or other such ointments. Visiting cemeteries on this day is encouraged, as if to heighten the sadness.

Interestinly, on Tisha B’Av, Torah (the Mosaic Law) study, which is normally meant to be joyful, is not permitted. (Imagine coming to church for a day of mourning in which you were not permitted to study God’s word!)  They do allow some parts of the Bible to be read, the “happy” books like Job or 

Jeremiah or Lamentations. J

 If you share in a Tisha b’Av service in a synagogue, the lights are dimmed, congregants remove their leather shoes and they do not greet each other.  (That would just kill some of us who can’t imagine coming to church without talking with others!)

Why all this contemplation, this mourning, fasting and intentional sadness?  Because for Jewish people, they have lost the very ground where God said he would abide and commune with them. The land where the temple once stood is now controlled by Muslims.  It remains the most provocative piece of real estate in the world.  The closest Jews are allowed to get to the old Temple is the Wailing Wall, the sight of numerous conflicts to this day.  Arabs have occasionally been incited to stab or stone Jewish civilians on false rumors about Jewish intentions to occupy the Temple Mount. 

How ironic that the very place that was to be a symbol of hope and healing for the Jewish people, the very place where God promised to commune with His people, has become a place of catastrophe and conflict

Tradition has it that the Temple Mount was, in the days of Abraham, the very Mount Moriah upon which Abraham offered up Isaac.  As far back as Exodus 15, Moses prayed prophetically that God would “bring them [Israelites] in and plant them in the mountain of Your [God’s] inheritance, in the place, O Lord,” says Moses, “which You have made for Your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established” (Ex. 15:17).

It took hundreds of years before that vision became a reality.  King David longed to build that temple.  He even, according to 1st Kings 8, bought the property for it on Mount Moriah from a man named Araunah and offered there a burnt offering and fellowship offering that stopped God’s plague of judgment on his people. God literally sent fire from heaven that consumed his offering. 

And when David’s son, Solomon, finally built and dedicated the temple in his generation, God’s presence was so strong and powerful that the priests couldn’t perform their service, “for the glory of the Lord filled his temple” (I Kings 8:11). The Temple was designed to be, in the days of Israel, the one place in the world where people could GO to commune with God and experience His glory. 

Solomon’s Temple survived for nearly 400 years.  But over time, the people began to put their confidence in the structure rather than in the God of the structure.  They kept up the ritual of Temple sacrifices and worship but their hearts wandered to worshiping other gods. 

Jeremiah addressed the problem in his day though he knew God’s people would not listen.  Listen to his words in Jer. 7.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.”

APP:  Trusting in God-given buildings and structures for worship can so easily become a false focus and sad substitute for real communion with the living God. 

This was the whole point of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4.  She was trusting in the Samaritan worship site on Mt. Gerizim near her town.  But she acknowledges that the Jews said it had to be Jerusalem.  Jesus cut right through that quasi-denominational-sectarian controversy by telling her, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth….” (Jn. 4:23)  Jesus was signaling a change that was about to take place because worship of people after his death and resurrection would not center on a building or specific city but upon the action of worshipping “in spirit and in truth.” 

APP:  As hard as wandering from building to building has been these past 8 years for Mosaic Fellowship, now having a “place of our own” presents us with the same challenge every local church that ever had a building has had:  we will be tempted to trust that this building will somehow make us a better church, a more Christ-focused people.  We’ll be tempted to think that going to this place is really what is important to God when the reality is being a certain kind of people whether we’re in that place or our homes or any other place is what God really cares about.

ILL:  I remember having a conversation one day with a brother who was talking about how, when he was a child, there was this terrible disconnect between what he observed and heard happening while “in church” with his grandmother and the abuse he experienced at home from the same woman.  He’d sit in church, hear the nice songs and sermons, look at his grandmother supposedly peacefully “worshiping” and relating nicely to others but then go home and be verbally and physically beaten and beaten down. 

            He wasn’t saying that he expected his grandmother to be perfect.  But the disconnect was too big.  The hypocrisy was too bold. 

And that is the very danger we still face today in every church.  That’s why confession and repentance should be as visible to our children and friends when we come together to “worship at church” as our visible praying and singing and teaching and fellowship with others.  If they see us struggling with our sinfulness and being genuine about those struggles when we come together in church, maybe so many won’t walk away from church when they leave our homes and go out into the world to make their way.  That’s worshiping “in spirit and in truth.”

            Failure to do that will lead not only to the loss of the next generation; it will lead to a loss of the very buildings and structures we’ve come to hold dear.  That’s precisely what happened to Israel.  Back in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., God warned that judgment for their empty worship and open idolatry was coming. In 586 B.C., in the form of the Babylonian conquerors, it came.  Jerusalem was overrun by its enemies and the temple in all of its beauty was destroyed.  Its destruction became a physical reminder of the spiritual catastrophe of Israel’s idolatry.     

APP:  I honestly think that the emptying of many churches and growing disdain in our culture of Christians is becoming that same physical reminder of the spiritual catastrophe that has come upon the American church.  We’ve trusted in so many other “gods” of our day than in God himself.  We’ve come to think that church, that worship of God, is about attending an uplifting, enjoyable, entertaining event once a week in some nice building with people like us. 

All the while, God longs for worship from the heart of his people that is “in spirit and in truth.”  He longs for worship 7 days a week, not 1.  He longs for heartfelt communion day and night, not 1 hour on Sunday morning. 

            The catastrophe that has come upon the American church is because we have forsaken the communion God longs for with us.

Well, for the Israelites, after 50 years of captivity, in 538 B.C., Zerubbabel and a host of Israelites returned to Jerusalem, freed from captivity by the decree of King Cyrus of Persia.  The book of Ezra describes the building of the second temple.  It took 23 years to complete and was a relatively unimpressive structure compared to the elaborate beauty of the 1st temple. 

Fast forward to Jesus’ day.  During the period of His life on earth, King Herod attempted to restore that 2nd temple to some of its former glory.  Jesus worshipped in this temple and used it as a platform to talk about His own body and the change that was soon to come through the creation of the church and the new people of God in the church. 

In John 2:19-21, the Jews are questioning Jesus and they say, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

            Besides all the other truth presented in this passage, can you see what it meant for Jesus to identify Himself as THE TEMPLE? He was claiming to represent…to bethe very presence of God, the very habitation spot of God in the world.  And hidden in his statement about his own death and resurrection was an ominous prediction concerning the destruction of that 2nd temple which Herod and the Jews had worked so hard for and invested so much into. 

            In Matthew 24:1 & 2, towards the end of his life while teaching his disciples during what we know as “the Mount of Olives Discourse,” we are told this about what Jesus had to say about that “temple.”

“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2) “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

            Titus and his Roman legions fulfilled Jesus’ prediction as they marched into Jerusalem in 70 A.D., destroyed the city and decimated the temple.  Thousands of Jews had already placed their faith in Yeshua.  But when this national tragedy pointed back to the claims of Jesus, thousands more realized He had spoken truth and trusted in Him.  For them, the catastrophe of their prized Temple led to communion with their Messiah. 

            What is interesting is that even during the somber observance of Tisha B’Av today by practicing Jews, there is this belief that it will lead them eventually to the Messiah.  One Jewish web site I encountered this week spoke about this desired result of this annual period of mourning:

“Our sages tell us that those who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit seeing it rebuilt with the coming of Moshiach [the Hebrew word for “Messiah”!]. May that day come soon, and then all the mournful dates on the calendar will be transformed into days of tremendous joy and happiness.” [Found at http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/947558/jewish/In-a-Nutshell.htm on 8/5/2016.]

APP:  Here’s something we should never forget as God’s people, especially during times of mourning in our lives.  Whether we’re mourning the passing of some chapter or period in our life or whether we’re mourning the state of the church or whether we’re mourning the death of someone we love dearly, mourning can always move us to communion with God.  True, spiritual, biblical, God-infused mourning is meant to always lead us to greater communion.

APP:   What are you mourning today?  We’re all mourning something, even in the most joyous moments of our lives. 

ILL:  When I stood next to Daniel at his wedding a week ago and watched every one of his brothers and his only sister walk down that aisle, look him in the eye, give him a hug (and some kisses), I felt an amazing mixture of joy and mourning all in one moment—joy that we have a family that loves each other so deeply…and sorrow that we were all saying “goodbye” to that chapter of singleness and of living under the same roof even as we were saying “welcome” to a new chapter of marriage and a new daughter or sister-in-law.  That experience drew me into communion with Christ and some of the deepest gratitude I’ve ever felt in life…all mixed with a little mourning.

            Let the grief, the sadness, the sorrow and even the catastrophe of life lead you to communion with God. 

Let’s talk about how Jesus completely changed the reality about God’s temple in this world for the last 20 centuries.  We’ve already seen that he talked about His own body as the “temple” or residence of God’s presence in the world when he walked this earth.  He acknowledged that the Jews would destroy it and yet he would “raise it up” or “rebuild” it in 3 days.  As with all God’s redeeming changes for humanity, Jesus was the first or “firstfruits” of the resurrection that will come to every human being because of His power to raise the living and the dead to resurrected bodies… resurrection existence in eternity. 

            But as we can tell from the N.T. scriptures, God’s temple, the place He has chosen to live and display his glory for the past 2,000+ years, has changed from the Temple in Jerusalem to the church throughout history—literally the people of God all over the world, in every culture and place where people have embraced Jesus and His offer of reconciliation to God. 

            Paul wrote of this new “temple” experience in several places in his letters (Ephesians and I & II Corinthians). 

I Corinthians 3:16-17-- Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

            God is clearly speaking against anything that “destroys” the church, God’s temple in the world today.  In chapter 1 and 3, he’s taking the Corinthian city church to task for polarizing and dividing around different teachers, different pastors, different doctrines rather than communing around Christ together. Life in Christ is to be all about “God’s Spirit dwelling in our midst.”  Whatever destroys that experience runs the danger of being destroyed by God.  WHOMEVER destroys the church, be it from the inside or the outside, runs the risk of being destroyed by God. 

APP:   When we start following people, be they pastors or priests or some spiritual mentor rather than Christ, we will eventually experience the emptiness of that and find that it destroys true and genuine communion with God himself.  But when we hold Christ high and supreme and above all our personal differences and preferences and expectations, we will build God’s temple and experience His communion. 

APP:  What is threatening your communion with Christ because it is threatening your unity with fellow believers?

Paul continues this imagery in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18-- 14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
    and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

17 Therefore,

“Come out from them
    and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.”

18 And,

“I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

The point here is of our separateness from sin, a sinful world, sinful alliances so that we can be people that experience the presence of God and are able to help others around us do the same.

            A couple of issues are at work here.  First, while God inhabits his people even when we sin, He nonetheless withdraws something of his intimacy and communion with us when we choose sin instead of holiness. 

  • Entertainment: I find that when I watch a movie that upholds the heart of Christ or even some quality of God’s nature like faithfulness or justice of truthfulness or love, it draws me to want to be more like Jesus, to talk with Him about that quality, to ask Him to develop that more in me. Conversely, when I watch a movie that glorifies evil by appealing to my flesh regarding wealth or sex or violence or prestige, my communion with Christ withers or fades.  I don’t want to talk with God about what I’ve seen.  I have to spend my energies trying not to have my mind rerun scenes or words or thoughts.
  • Friendships
  • Business alliances
  • Living situations
  • Bodily addictions—food, adrenalin highs, excessive drinking, drugs, tobacco. The question should be, “Does engaging in this in the way and at the level I do draw me closer to Christ and show Him off better or have the opposite effect?”

Q: In what practices, habits or activities of my life do I need to separate more from the “gods of our age” in order to experience more closely the Living God?

A second issue at work here has to do with this question:

Q:  Why do people go to temples? 

Temples are places people go to worship, to connect with the Divine, to be reminded about spiritual matters, to get more in tune with what is good, right and godly.

            Paul’s point is that when we align ourselves with ungodly people and unholy activities in ways that draw us away from communion with God, the world around us suffers too.  When our lives, our topics of conversation, our kinds of friendships, the investment of our time and expenditures of money, our sexual behaviors…when those things don’t display that we really belong to God’s family instead of the world…then the world loses a measure of the presence of God calling it to Him. 

APP:   Is God nudging you about something or someone in your life that you need to separate from more so that God’s presence in you isn’t obscured, muffled or destroyed?  What will you DO in order to heed His nudge?  When will you do it?  Whose help do you need to ask to do it?

[Silent prayer?]

That the Living, Holy God of all Creation would choose to make us his dwelling place in this world is a mystery that warrants far more thought, meditation and wonder than we can give it today.  But perhaps remember the future promise He has given us of being Himself the temple we will live in for all eternity might help us embrace our role as His now earthly dwelling “place.” 

            In the Apostle John’s Revelation of life to come, in his vision of the New Jerusalem in Rev. 21, he does his best to describe the unearthly splendor of being the “bride, the wife of the Lamb” of God for all eternity.  Listen as John tries to paint the picture.

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal….

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

            Sometimes a vision of what something can be or will be is as powerful a force to move us in that direction as anything.  So I’d like to close today’s worship inviting you to listen to a song that speaks of our future…in hopes that it will move all of us to live the present as the best, holiest, most Christ-bearing temple of God we can possibly be…both individually and together as the church. 


Michael Card’s The New Jerusalem, with PowerPoint

I saw the Holy City

Descending from the sky

So brilliant with the light of God

The city is His bride


There is no temple in this town

No sun, no moon, no lamp

For God's own glory is its light

Illuminated by the Lamb


And God Himself will wipe the tears

From every weeping eye

No death, no pain, no mourning cry

And every tear made dry



And now our God will dwell with them

The new Jerusalem

And He Himself will walk with them

The new Jerusalem


And so let all of those who thirst

Come now and drink for free

And to the one who overcomes

Come now and you will see


Behold the old has passed away

Now everything is new

The Alpha and Omega's words

Are trustworthy and so true


And God Himself will wipe the tears

From every weeping eye

No death, no pain, no mourning cry

And every tear made dry



And now our God will dwell with them

The new Jerusalem

And He Himself will walk with them

The new Jerusalem


And now our God will dwell with them

The new Jerusalem

And He Himself will walk with them

The new Jerusalem

And He Himself will walk with them

The new Jerusalem