"THE TEMPLE AND THE LIGHT"
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 26, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
I saw no temple in the city, for its Temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its Lamp is the Lamb.
Revelation 21:22, 23 (ESV)
On this Sixth Sunday of Easter (also known as Rogate Sunday on the old liturgical calendar) we are mindful of God's loving presence among us. That loving presence of God in our midst is certainly evident in His gifts of creation--gifts that we are perhaps more mindful of than usual during this particular time of the year: things like the rain that waters the crops that provide our food and fill us with joy. All too often, however, we become so enthralled with creation itself that we confuse the creature with the Creator. While none of us (I trust) would ever actually worship any created thing, I'm afraid that very often we collectively do act as if the gifts of creation were rational entities in themselves. Some radical environmentalists, for example, speak of "mother earth," as if the world that we live in is not only a personal being but a deity as well. I once saw a bumper sticker that read: "The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth." That is a blatant contradiction of the initial blessing pronounced on the first man and woman by the Creator Himself: "Be fruitful and multiply," the Lord said, "and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Genesis 1:28). The problem is not that we have no right to rule over creation; the problem is that very often we don't do a very good job of it.
What is true of creation and our attitude toward it is true also of all of the gifts of God. In the Second Reading for this morning John the evangelist shares with us His vision of "the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:10). You may or may not know that in Scripture and in other Christian literature Jerusalem (or Zion) is often used as a symbol for the Church of Jesus Christ. In this world, of course, the Church is imperfect--filled with all kinds of sin and corruption--and you certainly don’t need to look very far to see the evidence of that. But "the new Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:2) of John's vision stands in sharp contrast to the Church that we see here on earth. So that we might properly use and enjoy all of God's good gifts, we meditate this morning on His presence among us through "the holy city" (Revelation 21:10) (which is the Church), paying particular attention to its Temple and its Light.
To really appreciate what John says about the Church's "Temple," you first have to have at least some understanding of what a temple is and why it is so significant. A temple is more than just a large and ornately decorated building; a temple is a place of sacrifice. Among the ancient people of God the temple was the very center of their worship life because sacrifice was the central act of their worship. Even if some sacrifices were made in other places, they were always viewed as being connected with what was happening at the temple in Jerusalem. Even today that is true to a certain extent. In theory, at least, the only reason why the Jews of today no longer have sacrifices and the priests to offer them is that they no longer have the temple. When John says that "the Lord God the Almighty" is the "Temple" of the holy city, he is saying that fellowship between God and man is now restored--that repentant sinners who desire to approach the holy God no longer need to offer a sacrifice of atonement.
The reason why this is so is that "the Lamb" is also the "Temple" of God's people--"the Lamb" is the Sacrifice. You see, when John the Baptist (or we, for that matter) call Jesus "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29), what we mean is that He is the One who was sacrificed, once and for all, to make full and complete atonement for the sins of all people for all time. As our Temple, Jesus "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29) is our Sacrifice--the only Sacrifice acceptable to God--that gains for us entrance into the presence of God. God accepts us as His people--indeed, as His dear children--solely because of what Jesus has done for us. We need no other temple--no other sacrifice. In fact, to think that there is another way to fellowship with God is to reject the atonement won for us by Christ through the shedding of His blood.
John's vision says something to us about light as well. The evangelist writes: "The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light.' Just as the holy city Jerusalem is a symbol for the Church, light is a common symbol for knowledge and wisdom. "The glory of God" is all the light that is needed for the people of God. He certainly does not need us to glorify Him; He has an infinite glory of His own. He is glorified, first and foremost, in the grace that He has extended to lost sinners in the life and ministry of His Son Jesus Christ. People outside the Church, who don't understand this, often criticize the Church for being sadistic because the Church holds up as its symbol before the whole world the cross of Jesus--an instrument of unspeakable violence and suffering and death. But the cross of Jesus is the glory of God. Whenever people repent of their sins and turn to the Lord, trusting in the perfect merits of Christ, God is glorified. And whenever the forgiven people of God live in His grace and share it with other sinners, God is glorified.
The Church's "Lamp is the Lamb" in that He is the One who enlightens us, through His Holy Spirit, with the knowledge of salvation. When we look at the divine example of Christ we become aware of what pleases God and what does not. But infinitely more important than that, when we look at Christ (particularly at His cross) we see that God loves us in spite of our sin--that He has redeemed us from sin and death with the blood of His Son and cherishes us as His very own. It is this knowledge that makes it possible for us to see and walk in the light of His will as we seek to glorify our God in thanksgiving for the grace that He has bestowed upon us in His Son. Even when we fail in our attempts to do this (as we inevitably do), God nevertheless accepts our efforts, if they are motivated by the Gospel, for the sake of His Son, who perfectly obeyed and fulfilled the will of God in our place.
Our loving God is present among us. We don't have to look very far at all to see Him. He has revealed Himself to us as our loving Father, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, "in many and various ways" (Hebrews 1:1 RSV): in all the wonderful gifts of His creation, in the orderly laws of nature that He has established, in His spoken and written Word. But most of all He has revealed Himself to us in that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is our true Temple--our true Light--giving us eyes to see and hearts to enjoy all of the blessings of creation, redemption, and sanctification bestowed upon us by the grace and mercy of our Triune God.
May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, by the blood of the everlasting covenant equip you thoroughly for the doing of His will. May He work in you everything which is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.