Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Luke 21:5-6 (NIV)
Along my life’s journey I’ve gathered with fellow believers to worship God in all sorts of places. I’ve been in schools, community centers, football stadiums, convention centers, hospital chapels, homes, parks, and lean-to sheds. I’ve also worshipped in beautiful cathedrals of historic value, prayer towers, and multi-million dollar state-of-the-art facilities.
The truth is, I don’t really care that much where I worship. As with other works of art, I appreciate all the beauty and meaning that architecture can express. Yet, as with all works of human expression, there is a subtle human tendency to shift our focus from the Creator to the created work. All my life I’ve witnessed people attach to church buildings a sacredness that actually runs counter to a fundamental teaching of Jesus.
Jesus’ death and resurrection ushered in a major spiritual shift that Jesus hints at it in today’s chapter. Before Jesus, the center of worship and the symbol of God’s presence had been wherever the ark of God was [cue: Raiders of the Lost Ark Theme]. At the time of Jesus’ teaching, that central location had been the temple in Jerusalem for almost a thousand years, ever since King Solomon had built the original on that spot. Jesus, however, taught that after His resurrection the Holy Spirit would be poured out and would dwell in (or in-dwell) every believer. It happened 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection (you can read about it here).
With the pouring out of Holy Spirit, the shift of worship moved from a central location (the temple in Jerusalem) to, as Jesus put it, “wherever two or three are gathered in my name.” The temple was no longer a building made with human hands. The indwelling Holy Spirit transforms our very bodies into the temple of God. Paul wrote to Jesus’ followers in Corinth:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
The implications of this shift are profound. Jesus says to His disciples that the temple in Jerusalem with all its history, importance in God’s story, and splendorous beauty is simply nothing more than bricks and mortar than will end up on the rubble heap of history. [Note: That very temple was indeed destroyed some 40 years (or one generation) later in 70 A.D., fulfilling Jesus’ prophetic words.] Worship is no longer to be centered in a building but in believers gathered together, and that can happen anywhere. God’s Holy Spirit is not located in this or that place where we must make a pilgrimage to visit. When we invite Jesus into our hearts and lives, the Holy Spirit indwells us and transforms our very own bodies into a mobile temple that we take with us wherever we go 24/7/365.
Today I’m grateful for the beautiful facilities where I get to regularly worship, but I am even more grateful that Wendy and I can worship anywhere and anytime with any other believer. God is not confined to a building, but present wherever we gather and acknowledge His presence.