As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
Gospel of Mark 13:1-2
I have always been proud to be a Penn Stater. Returning to State College, PA is like returning home. Along with many alumni I enjoy visiting old haunts and seeing the campus that played such a huge role in my life. The Lion Shrine, The Corner Room, Old Main, The Creamery, Beaver Stadium – these are some of the temples of Penn State.
In the past few days, these temples have come crashing down. Not literally of course, but symbolically. A place many of us love has forever been tarnished. The actions of a few have caused tremors that will not soon subside. At the forefront of this has been legendary coach Joe Paterno. An idol to many, his image has been damaged. When Joe’s story is told, it will now end on a sour note.
Jesus of Nazareth lived among a people who had a long history and grand monuments. The Temple in Jerusalem was at the center of their religious, ethnic and political life. It was one of the signs that they, the Jews, were God’s chosen people, specially blessed. In Jesus’ analysis, many of the Jews had taken this a few steps too far, focusing so much on the Temple and the outward appearance thatthey missed the true heart of God, things like justice, mercy and compassion.
Jesus warned the people that if they continued on their current path, the Temple would be destroyed. If their national pride overwhelmed all else and they went to war with the powerful Roman Empire, the center of their world, the Temple, would become a ruin. This would be God’s wrathful judgment on them for their idolatry, for putting their religious system, Temple and outward motions in the place of true worship of God.
The only way to survive the coming destruction was to follow Jesus. It was the disciples of Jesus who were God’s true people. After destruction came and the Temple was no more a remnant true to God would remain. Even if the disciples were killed, as Jesus was, there was the hope of a new life through resurrection. The community of Jesus’ followers would persevere.
We construct numerous temples, many idols, in our own lives. Over time we begin to find our identity in such things. For many of us, a central part of our identity is “Penn State”. There are other temples though. We may find our identity in our nation or our political party. Perhaps our identity is in the house we have or the car we drive. Maybe it is in our job or our friendships.
What happens when those things are destroyed? What happens when destruction comes and what you based your identity on is in ruins?
Some people reaffirm their support for the Temple. We have seen this in the many students and alumni as they very vocally support Joe Paterno. Other people distance themselves from the Temple, vowing to never go near the ruins again. This is easy to find on new story message boards, with people declaring they will never donate, send their kids to, or set foot on Penn State again.
Personally, I am convicted. I have often made Penn State an idol. When a study came out ranking Penn State highly among all universities, I proudly trumpeted this among friends. When good news came out of Penn State, such as the millions students raised each year to help kids with cancer, I bragged about how my alma mater is just better than yours.
My idol has been exposed. My temple now lies in ruins.
It has driven me back to a simple fact: the only one who never disappoints is Jesus Christ. If our identity is primarily in Jesus Christ rather than our own man-made temples and idols, we will persevere.
Honestly, as a Penn Stater it has been hard to see the eyes of the world turn towards us in judgment. I am not saying this is not deserved, I am just saying it is not easy to take. But it does lead me to the question: Are you ready for your Temple to come crashing down?
How will you persevere when you lose your job?
How will you persevere when the economy crashes again?
How will you persevere when a person close to you betrays you?
How will you persevere when America, like every other nation that has come before, collapses?
How will you persevere when a person you admire is exposed?
If we can avoid the temptation to just see the Book of Revelation as a future timeline, we can find a challenging message. In the sixth chapter there is a vision of destruction, when the whole world comes apart:
12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Who can stand when the whole world as we know it falls apart?
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
Those who have their identity in Jesus Christ are able to stand.
I ask once again, are you ready for the temples, the idols, in your life to come crashing down? On what strength will you be able to stand? In who or what do you find your identity?
It reminds me of a book I have not read, but that has a great title: Jesus +Nothing = Everything.