The Temple in Jerusalem is central in Luke’s gospel. Luke’s account actually begins in the temple with a priest named Zechariah who was preparing to go into the Holy Place inside the temple to offer incense to God. And Luke also ends his gospel in the temple with the disciples returning there after Jesus is taken up to continually bless God in the temple.
There are lots of significant things happen in the temple in Luke. In Chapter 2, Jesus is circumcised there when he’s 8 days old. His parents bring him again to be presented to the priests for his dedication as the firstborn. In the temple Simeon and Anna prophesy about the baby. When he’s twelve years old, Jesus travels with his parents to the temple where he stays behind while they think he’s traveling back to Nazareth with them. It took them three days to find him—in the temple. One of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness involved the temple—will you throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple to see if God will save you?
Jesus’ most pointed teachings come while he’s in the temple. Once he gets to Jerusalem in Chapter 19, he’s in the temple every day teaching there, confronting the religious leaders there, running the moneychangers out of there.
Every day he’s in the temple, which is the heart and the center of life for the Jewish people. The temple is where God lived. It’s where all sacrifices and offerings to God took place.
And the temple at the time of Jesus was absolutely magnificent. The outer walls of the temple area were 500 yards long and 300 yards wide. If you’ve been to St. Peter’s square in Rome (the whole square, not just the Basilica), the temple was about that size. Everything from top to bottom was built from huge stones elaborately carved with care and skill. It was decorated with impressive jewels and layers of gold. It was the best, the most ornate building that anyone, including the Romans, could have possibly built at that time. Nothing was too good for the house of God. The temple was the pride of Jerusalem, the pride of all Jewish people everywhere.
And here, today, when his disciples are understandably looking at it in awe, Jesus talks about its destruction. Well, this certainly gets his disciples’ attention. “When?” “How?” “What warning will we have?”
Jesus answers them in the rest of this text by basically saying, “Don’t get all worked up about that. The temple being destroyed is only one of lots of things are going to be happening. Wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, pretty much every bad thing you can think of. The temple is just one of them.”
Now, if you study Luke’s gospel, you realize that by the time Luke writes this gospel down and shared with his community, it’s about 85-90AD. The temple had already been destroyed by the Romans fifteen or twenty years earlier in the year 70AD. So you have to ask, why is Luke including this prediction, when some in his audience only have memories of the temple?
The answer seems to be that they are experiencing all the other things Jesus was predicting. Luke’s community was likely in the midst of violence and severe persecution. The Roman Emperor during Luke’s time was named Domitian, and history recalls, in the kindest terms, that there was something wrong with him. Paranoid, desperately cruel, and terminally narcissistic, he was the first emperor to demand all people in the empire refer to him with divine titles such as “Savior” and “God the Lord.” Luke’s community may have been in danger because as followers of Jesus, they weren’t inclined to hail the Roman Emperor as “Lord of the Earth” or “the Chosen One.”
I’m giving you this history lesson because this is where it connects. In Luke’s text today, Jesus lists all these life-threatening events that Luke’s hearers are already experiencing. Imagine how Luke’s people would hear this: Jesus says that all this horrible stuff that you’re experiencing “will give you the opportunity to testify.” Don’t worry about it, you don’t have to come up with some elaborate defense as to why you aren’t going along with the Emperor. Just tell your story, Jesus says. Just tell what God has done in your life. Just tell what a difference God has made for you. If you do that, no one can argue with you. Because it’s your story. And that, apparently, is the thing that matters. Continually telling that will gain your souls.
I don’t pretend to fully understand all this, because Jesus says some people “will be put to death,” and then in the next sentence he says, “but not one hair of your head shall perish.” So there are some things that may not be clear here. But one thing that is clear is that we need to have the ability to tell our stories. When things are tough, when life is hard, we need to remind people of the ways God’s love has touched us. We need to remind people of the difference Jesus has made in our lives. We need to remind people of those times when God’s goodness and mercy and compassion were made real for us. We need to be able to tell those stories. Tough times are our opportunities to testify to the reality of God’s grace. Because, whether you believe it or not, we all have those experiences. We all have a testimony to give. We all have a story to tell. And there are times when these experiences need to be shared.
So, in January, I’m going to offer a 3-part God-storytelling workshop because I think it’s that important. We’ll discover our own, authentic God stories and learn how to tell them. Your story, because it is uniquely yours, needs to be told. We each need to be able to share our struggles with God and how God has met us there. We each need to be able to share how God’s love and mercy have shaped us. We each need to tell it, because when the temple falls and life gets hard, the rest of us need to hear it.