Pushing God too Far
I just returned from leading our Footsteps of St. Paul tour through Greece, Turkey, and Rome as we followed Paul's 2nd through 4th missionary journeys as recorded in the Book of Acts. As part of our tour, I preached sermons at every biblical-related site where we stopped.
One of these great sites was The Arch of Titus in Rome, right next to the Colosseum (see below). This arch was erected just after the death of Roman Emperor Titus (emperor from 79-81 A.D.) to commemorate his capture and sacking of the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This sacking of Jerusalem came as the final resolution of the Jewish War of revolt against Rome from 66-70 A.D.
As part of this sacking of the city of Jerusalem, the Romans burned down the Jewish Temple in the city and completely dismantled it, throwing the large limestone blocks of the Temple (see below picture) over the edge of the Temple Mount and down into the Tyropoean Valley (where, after recent excavations, they may be seen today. Some of you who've been to the Holy Land with me have actually stood on these blocks!).
The thing that makes the Arch of Titus so noteworthy is one of the bas reliefs found on it.
This is a depiction of Roman soldiers marching in the great victory parade that was given to Titus in Rome after he returned from Jerusalem's defeat. In the depiction, we find the only extant pictures of artifacts from the Jerusalem Temple at the time of Jesus, including the great gold menorah (candelabrum), two silver trumpets, and the Table of the Shewbread (with the trumpets), also made of gold.
But here's the point: Jesus had told the Jewish leaders that this event was going to happen to them 35 years before its arrival in time and space. As Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives during His Triumphal Entry, He said to the city, "For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children with you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:43-44). And by "the time of your visitation", Jesus meant the time when their Messiah revealed Himself to the Jewish people and leaders--but most of them were ignoring Him. Thus, Jesus makes it clear in what He said in Luke 19, that the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus was a direct act of God's judgment upon the nation of Israel for their rejecting their Messiah.
I pointed out to our tour group, as I point out to all of you reading this, that the Bible constantly tells us about God's unbelievable patience and mercy towards the Jewish people for their disobedience and stiff-necked behavior towards Him. This was true in the desert with Moses before their 40-year punishment, and with the prophets before the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, and with the rejection of Jesus before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But in every case, they pushed God too far. God's patience with them finally ran out--and swift divine discipline fell upon them.
How sad it is for us to read the pages of the Bible and to see the Jewish people suffer this fate again and again. How tragic it is to see them, standing on the tracks with the train coming--and we can see it--and yet they stubbornly would not be warned.
Now, there is a great spiritual lesson here for us as followers of Jesus today: namely, that testing God's patience is not a wise idea. Indeed, God is overwhelmingly longsuffering and forgiving towards us as His children in Christ. But, in His holiness, God's patience, with all of us, has a limit--just as it did with the Jewish people. And even as His beloved children, when we force the Lord across that limit, the divine discipline that follows is no fun (Hebrews 12:6-11).
The great difficulty with all of this is that none of us know exactly where that "limit" is with God--not until we have pushed the Lord across it. Therefore, wisdom would dictate, that we exercise appropriate fear of the Lord, and carefully stay back from the edge, lest we inadvertently step across it!
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” Psalm 111:10