Jerusalem, My Happy Home
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 27, 2022
“For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”
THE HIGHEST building site in the land of Israel are the dual peaks of Zion and Moriah. A natural fortress, this stone-walled city has been built and rebuilt to house a series of peoples, plus the only temple of the true God of the universe, the place of our Lord’s death, burial and resurrection, and the site we think He will return to earth. It is a holy city to the world’s three great religions. It will be the focus of world dominion and of the overthrow of all worldly power. At its last destruction, a New Jerusalem will descend upon an entirely new earth and God will live there with His people forever. Amen.
This city in which almost a million people live today, this capital of Israel is older than we may reckon. 4,000 years ago, Abraham visited the city after defeating the marauding kings and rescuing Lott. There he tithed to Melchizadek, a king and priest of the true God. Melchizadek means King of Righteousness, and his city Salem meant he was the king of Peace. These titles forecast Jesus who came later to establish an everlasting priesthood to God in Jerusalem.
In Moses’ day, Jebusites made Jerusalem their fortress. After taking the Promised Land, this city remained in Jebusite hands until, 3,000 years ago, King David won it in battle. Thereafter it was the city of the Jewish kings. Prophecies surround this city and it’s become a symbol of both peace and war, triumph and defeat, power and weakness, nobility and pettiness. Overlooking its temple while the lambs were slaughtered for the Passover feast that Friday, Jesus was raised up to die in the place of every human soul.
This very spot held the memory of Abraham obediently bringing his son to be sacrificed on an altar of wood. Isaac carried that wood up this same hill and willingly let his father prepare him for an offering. His son, miraculously conceived, was spared at the last moment by God who proclaimed that through this seed of Abraham all the world would be blessed. That blessing came at the same place, by a seed of Abraham named Jesus whom God allowed to be sacrificed 1,900 years later.
David also made a sacrifice on Moriah to stop a terrible plague. There he hoped to build the first Temple to God, but his son, Solomon, built it after his death. The glory of this golden temple and palace went to his head, and that of his successor, so the nation was divided, never to return to this time of splendor.
Both Temple and city were destroyed by Babylon in 582 BC, killing most, driving some to Egypt, and carting the rest off to what we call Iraq. They were in exile 70 years. Cyrus of Persia liberated them and sent some of them back to rebuild their temple and capital city in 536 BC. Persia held the empire for two centuries, then it fell to Alexander the Greek. Israel came under Syrian and Egyptian oppression until 167 BC, when Judas Maccabeus led a rebellion and held an uneasy peace for 100 years in the Holy City and its Temple. About 60 years before Christ’s birth, Herod the Great and the Roman legions took over.
Jesus first entered Jerusalem 40 days after He was born in Bethlehem, 5 miles south. He was presented in the Temple with a ritual sacrifice of two doves, to redeem His life as a firstborn son in remembrance of the final plague on Egypt. By two prophets was He declared the Lord’s Messiah. Soon, the holy family had to flee to Egypt from Herod who sought His death. Jerusalem had become a dangerous place for God’s Anointed, and remained so throughout His life.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Jesus declared when He came there. “See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Matt 23:37-39
The house was made desolate in the Year of our Lord 70, as the Romans besieged and destroyed it during a Jewish uprising. But its history was not over. In A.D. 326 Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the view of discovering the places mentioned in the life of our Lord. She caused a church to be built on what she thought to be the place of the nativity at Bethlehem. Constantine searched for Christ’s tomb, and built over his chosen site a magnificent church in A.D. 335.
The city gradually returned to life as Jews and Christians settled there, then came under Islamic rule when Mohammed had a vision of going there. Medieval Crusaders from Europe raised the goal to drive off Islamic rule and set it up as Christian capital. Nevertheless, Jerusalem remained under Moslem rule until 1947 and the establishment of a new Jewish state of Israel. It stands today under joint occupation. It is once again the capital of a modern state of Israel.
We sing “Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee?” People read scriptural prophecies and watch developments eagerly. If we understand these unfulfilled words, the Jewish temple must be restored if the Anti-Christ is to sit in it and attempt from there to rule the world. Christ will return on the Mount of Olives and set down evil for a millennium. Finally, the old world will be destroyed, and a new Creation will include a New Jerusalem from out of Heaven. Jerusalem means City of Peace. What does it mean to us?
St. Paul wrote to his church at Galatia a searing letter of criticism for their welcome of the Judaisers. This early heresy said that the Gentiles may only qualify for salvation if they first submit to the Jewish rituals and Law. Circumcision being the main instance, Paul insisted this was only an ordinance for Jews. The New Covenant is not under the Old, he argued. We live now by grace, not by laws. We are saved by God’s love, not man’s obedience to Jewish religious practices. Paul’s prose got quite colorful against these heretics.
He tells of the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was born of Sarah, Ishmael to the slave girl Hagar. He perceives that the Old Covenant given at Mount Sinai was like the slave girl Hagar. Her children were spiritually the Jews, kept in bondage to the Law. He then tells that Jerusalem, Mount Zion, is symbolically Sarah, from which freedom is born in Isaac.
This is all very difficult. These aren’t our symbols. Think America and Great Britain. London is Sinai, the old law, the empire’s oppression by English monarchs, taxation without representation, occupation troops. And think of Washington, our capitol city, as a symbol of human freedom. The very stones of Washington are sacred to an American. They are to me. London and Washington are then like Paul’s reference to Sinai and Jerusalem, and the children slavery and of the free woman.
We were not being outlaws to take our freedom into our hands. We knew at the founding of America that it was ruled from heaven, that our destiny was in God’s keeping, and that the True King of this land and all the earth’s people is Jesus Christ. We will remain a self-governing people only so long as we are each ruled by the Lord of heaven. This would be St. Paul’s position. He was not against kings, any more than against morality, goodness, purity, or truth. Grace is God’s free gift, but it comes to set us free to serve Him, not for us to become pirates, flying the skull and crossbones instead of a cross, or Old Glory.
Jerusalem today rises again in the eyes of the world: a symbol, a target, a joy, an object of prophecy, a shadow of what is to come. The future history of our world is going to depend a great deal on how things to there. We symbolically face every Christian church toward that city and thus we call the altar wall East. We echo the hope of every Hebrew dispersed throughout all the earth, “Next year in Jerusalem!” I personally long to walk those cobbled streets where the bleeding feet of our Savior walked, carrying His cross to Golgotha. The upper room, the judgment seat of Pilate, the olive press, the empty tomb… these beckon to me. It means something, that highest citadel in a dry, stony land. It means something to God.
Zechariah, prophet of the restored Jerusalem under the Persians, was shown a day when God would come to earth with the saints. On that day all light would depart the world, all would be darkness. But suddenly, in the night, a light would shine out. “living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, Half of them toward the eastern sea And half of them toward the western sea; In both summer and winter it shall occur. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.” Zech 14:5-9 St. John saw a New Jerusalem descending from heaven upon a newly made world. For even the ancient city of Jerusalem, here on earth, shall have its day and then dissolve, with the old world, as the Kingdom of God fully comes to be. In a new world, a new universe, a new city will descend to us, and glorious beyond imagining, it will be our eternal home.
Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee? It’s impossible to separate the history and symbol and prophecy and hope all wrapped around those old stone walls. The city means something to people all around the globe. If what it truly means is heaven, then I want to go there. In the meantime, we keep our watch upon an earthly Jerusalem, for the blazing light of our destiny seems to ever be emanating from that city on a hill.