Monday, April 14, 2014

The Rubble or Our Sins

Today's song is the recent hit from Bastille, "Pompeii".

I'd like to focus today on a theme of rising out of our past mistakes. To do so, I 'm going to look at the story of Jesus "cleansing" the Temple. That is, throwing out the moneychangers and all. After he came into Jerusalem, Jesus came to the Temple where the moneychangers were sitting outside doing their business and Jesus throws them out, saying "It is written My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves." He's quoting the prophet Daniel there. But I'm going to focus less on what reasons Jesus had for throwing them out in general, and more on why this specific time.

This is another story that appears in all four gospels, however in John's gospel it appears very early in the gospel. The gospels are not always strictly chronological, and different stories do sometimes appear in different orders, but this is drastically different. In John, it's one of the first things Jesus does in his ministry. Also the event seems a little more violent in John, where Jesus actually makes himself a whip with which to drive out the men and their animals. I love moments like this because they clash with the perception of a weak, pacifist Jesus. There's such a thing as righteous anger. Indeed, he may have said, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword," but many don't realize it was Jesus who told the disciples to arm themselves with swords that night in the first place. Anyway, I have come to believe that there are actually two Temple cleansings; that Jesus did it once at the start of his ministry, and again at the end.

And that gets to the heart of my post today. Jesus told these people not to do this anymore and scared them away. And yet three years later, they were back to their old games again. So Jesus throws them out again. This would all end a lot more permanently when the Temple was finally destroyed some decades later. But for right now, it's Jesus saying, "What did I tell you before?!" Regarding the destruction of the Temple, Jesus famously said that not one stone would be left on another. The whole place would be rubble.

We do so often have a tendency, even with the best of intentions, to revert to our old ways. But that's not repentance. Repentance means to turn around and not go that way again. When violence comes down on us and scatters all our stuff, it can be easy to want to just rebuild it all again the way it was. And sometimes that's okay. But what if God has scattered it all in judgment and doesn't want you going back that way? In the book of Judges, time and again the people drifted away from God to do things their own ways. Several times it says "and everyone did what was right in their own eyes." Modern America seems to exalt this way of thinking; that everyone has their own personal truth that is right for them. And while to a point I support personal liberty in a political sense, morally I do not. For Israel, doing things their own way resulted in idolatry, captivity, civil war. Perhaps some other day I'll write about the story of the war the started over the woman who was raped to death in Judges. But suffice to say that there comes a point when God sends judgment. But that judgment comes in two parts. First, he judges them with wrath, but he also sends a judge, a leader, to free them and lead them. The history of the Jews in the Old Testament is one of forsaking God, destruction, repentance and rescue.

The song I chose for today is metaphorically about the destruction of Pompeii, which was covered in volcanic ash and ruined by the eruption of Vesuvius. People were frozen in time, preserved in whatever they were doing, good or bad. The song speaks of the walls tumbling down, and seeing the clouds of destruction coming. But first I'd like to focus on the bridge of the song, which is just these simple words:
"Where do we begin: the rubble or our sins?"

What does that mean? I interpret it to mean that after disaster strikes, how do we begin to rebuild? What's the first thing we look at, the rubble or our sins? It's easily to just start putting stone on top of stone again, but maybe we need to examine whether it's the right thing to do. The moneychangers went back to the sin Jesus had chastised them for. They looked at the rubble, and set it all back up again. After the Babylonian captivity, eventually people returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and the Temple that had tumbled down. But that's not how it began. First, they spent 70 years in Babylon in a divinely ordained time-out. They repented of their sins, and were now ready to rebuild. Sometimes we're not supposed to rebuild the structure that was, and sometimes we have to get a new perspective first. When Ezra, Nehemiah and the others went back and rebuild, they not only examined the rubble, but their sins as a people. They put away idolatry. One might even argue that the more legalistic tradition of the Pharisees developed out of a hyper-awareness of sin that began in that day, because the people looked at what happened and said, "Never again!" Now, that led to sin of a different kind, but I'll leave that be or we'll be here all day.

"We were caught up and lost in all of our vices" the song says. Several other songs on the album focus on starting over after destruction. The chorus mentions closing your eyes to the impending doom. I'm reminded of Peter who walked on water when his eyes were on Jesus, but his faith faltered when he looked at the wind and waves. "How am I gonna be an optimist about this?" What I'm suggesting is that even in times of hardship or judgment, keep your eyes on God. If he is chastening you, he will bring you through it to something better. Maybe not everything is divine judgment, but we also can't afford complacency. For in these days on that last week, Jesus also talked about the final judgment to come, and how there would be people who professed to know him who will be sent away. If we want to rise on that last day, we need to flee from those things that beset us. And that can be very hard. But Jesus has saved us from sin, that we should not walk in that way anymore. That's dead; now we are raised with Christ. It's the point of Easter, and a theme of many early Christian writings (1 Corinthians 15 for example). We are sown in corruption, but we shall be raised in incorruption. There are better things to come if we do not lose heart.

I'm rambling a bit again, I think. But I suggest in this Easter season you take stock of your life. Eventually all this world will pass away to rubble. But we can live in newness of life by letting Jesus free us from our sins and no longer returning to them. The future is before us: how will we proceed? Will we focus on the rubble, or our sins?


  1. I also believe there were two cleansings of the Temple by Jesus Christ- one towards the beginning of His earthly ministry and one at the end.