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Not One Stone Left Upon Another

In Mark 13, as the disciples are leaving the temple with Jesus, they draw His attention to the magnificence of the house of God. It is as if the disciples are saying, “How can you speak so strongly against such a beautiful and wonderful structure? Sure, we may have seen an instance of sad abuse a moment ago when that poor widow was impoverished, but taken as a whole, isn’t this a glorious place?”

And Jesus’ answer is as shocking to the disciples as it would be to us today if He appeared and told us to burn our Bibles and never read them again. Jesus says: “Do you see those huge buildings? Soon, you will not even be able to find two of those stones stuck together.” Everything you have centered your worship around, the heart of your relationship with God will be destroyed by Him. Unimaginable, right? But the temple is no longer glorious in God’s sight. It is just big, and so Jesus is going to make it small. The glory of Israel will be reduced to a rock pile.

Our usual way of accounting for the relationship between sin and stuff struggles to account for what Jesus is promising here. We like to say that stuff can’t make us sin, and so getting rid of stuff can’t fix our sin problem. And this is true, but it doesn’t go far enough. There is more to say about how our hearts interact with physical stuff. If we miss this, then there are a great many of God’s commands and actions that don’t make sense: if there is no connection between our heart’s desires and the objects of those desires, then why does He destroy the temple?

God has made the world in such a way that the stuff of His creation powerfully affects our hearts through our senses. Because of this reality, God gives us commands regarding stuff, and at times He acts in history to smash the objects of your desires, in order to wake you up to the fact that your love is resting in the wrong things. Sometimes, attacking sin involves removing the physical source of your temptations as a means of dealing with your heart. Sometimes God needs to destroy the temple to for the extent of your idolatry to be revealed.

When we consider God’s history with idols, we see that God smashes idols all the time. God is a jealous God who loves to break our idols in pieces, and this is what Jesus is promising will happen to the temple. But if this is what God usually does to idols, how can you apply this personally to your idols? Maybe you aren’t idolizing this building in the same way the Jews idolized the temple, but this doesn’t mean that there are no idols around.

God has filled your life with great gifts that you are supposed to use for His glory. It doesn’t take long, however, for your heart to turn selfish on these gifts, and you end up using them exclusively for your glory, your comfort, or your enjoyment. We take whatever raw materials God brings into our lives and we manufacture an idol. Since this is the case, though, shouldn’t we expect God to keep doing what He always does? If we are in the idol-making business, and God is in the idol-smashing business, why would it be a surprise when these two professions collide?

And so when the things that you love – whether your reputation, your spouse, your position at work, your house, your car – are ripped away, isn’t it worth examining your heart to see if what has happened is actually the work of God, who loves you too much to let you waste your life chasing idols, and who proves this by smashing them?

But God does more than destroy: Jesus smashes idols in order to save idolaters. God will not leave two stones together in your sinful heart, but when He has torn down the idol factory, He will rebuild His people into a house for His name. Jesus comes with a gospel, the good news that when your life, your church, or your nation ends up in ruin around your ears, God reaches into the mess and pulls you out by His grace. Maybe God has broken you in two by smashing your idols. The good news is that through repentance and faith, God will heal your idolatrous heart and make you whole again.

Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 by CJ Bowen