As the mood has shifted this Lenten season, and our tone gets more and more serious, we come to John’s account of Jesus clearing the temple. So many people today want a Jesus that is always happy, always loving, never judging – and certainly not angry. But here John shows us Jesus at his fiercest.
Not only does he get angry, but he even makes a whip to drive out the moneychangers and merchants. There is a bit of violence from our usually peaceful Jesus. But is this the “dark side of Jesus”? Was he just having a bad day, or was he out of control in some way? No. His action is highly symbolic, and loaded with meaning for you and me.
The Old Testament Temple, first built by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians. When the exiles returned, they built a new temple. Later, King Herod the Great – builder that he was – did a major renovation project on that temple.
It was in this “third temple” where Jesus was presented as an infant, stayed behind as a 12 year old boy, and now caused a ruckus by overturning tables and scattering coins.
3 temples. But today we look at the temple in three different ways: The temple of the Jews, the
II. The Temple of the Jews
Sin, corruption, perversion. Jesus sees it and gets angry. But what sin gets Jesus the most angry? Perhaps his rebuke of the hypocritical Pharisees – false teachers that they were. But just as fierce is Jesus’ reaction here to corruption in the place of public worship. It’s not the secret sins, or the personal sins that he reacts to like this. It’s the public corruption of God’s word and worship. This should be a stern warning, especially for Christian clergy.
And it wasn’t just that there were some shady deals going on here, though there probably were. The point was that honest or not, God’s house was not meant to be a marketplace. By turning a special, holy place into a secular swap-meet, the Jews had desecrated the house of God.
An affront to God’s house is an affront to God. And we are just as guilty. I’m not talking about having a bake-sale in the narthex. That’s harmless enough. But when we make God’s house, and our worship, into something other than God means it to be… the sin is just the same. And God’s wrath is rightly directed at such sin.
How do we desecrate God’s house?
- By not worshipping regularly.
- By worshipping regularly and making it a point of pride.
- Or by acting like a Christian only at church on Sunday.
- By getting distracted when we are here, so that it’s like we’re not really here.
- By thinking God owes us something for our worship and praise.
- By expecting other things from worship that God doesn’t promise- like entertainment, an emotional high, or the answer to all of life’s problems.
It may not be cattle and coins, but we clutter up God’s house with all sorts of filth – and the temple needs to be cleansed. We need to be cleansed.
And so the Jewish authorities, rather than deal with the corruption itself, change the subject. They ask, “By what authority do you do this? Show us a sign”. Jesus was stepping, stomping on THEIR toes – and they wanted answers. “Just who do you think you are!?”
And in giving answer, Jesus points to the coming reality that would cleanse all corruption once and for all. “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” “But the temple he had spoken of was his body”
III. The True Temple
You see, Jesus is the
In the previous chapter, John 1, we read that “In the Beginning was the Word…. The Word was with God and the Word was God” and then, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” That is, he made a tabernacle, a tent, among us. The son of God took on the dwelling, the temple, of human flesh. Jesus is that temple.
The sign he offers the Jewish leaders, and us, is the sign of his authority over the temple building and really, over all things, is this: When his temple is destroyed, he rebuilds it in three days.
His temple, his body was destroyed, of course, at the cross. There, Jesus did what needed to be done to cleanse more than just the temple, but the world of all sin.
Though now the money changers saw their tables overturned, soon 30 silver coins would clink on the floor of the temple, the blood money paid for Christ’s betrayal. And rather than swinging a whip made of cords, Christ would submit to the flogging of the Roman soldiers. And at his death, the temple curtain will be torn from top to bottom – as this holy and ancient building becomes obsolete.
And then, on the third day, the
IV. The Temple Today
Finally, then, what of the temple today? Where is it? Well the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock sits where the Jewish temple once was. For 2000 years no sacrifices, no priests, no temple worship have we seen. So it’s not there.
You might say that since the body of Christ is the temple, theChurch is the temple today. Christ dwells within us. The church, never free of corruption either, are we? As a whole and individually – much desecration takes place in the church. Sin is an ever-present interloper – and Jesus is always there to drive it out. Not with a whip and a shout – but with his word and sacraments.
Where is the temple, today, that is, God’s house? It is where he makes his presence known. Where Christians gather around His word and sacraments. So here – and every Christian place of worship becomes the temple of the Lord. We see that most clearly perhaps as Christ is truly present in a real presence – in, with, and under the bread and wine – that truly is his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
And finally, if were to ask where the temple is today, you might point to yourself. For Paul teaches that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. And that Christ lives in us, too. By our baptism, our originally sinful temples are cleansed in a washing of rebirth and renewal. Our temples are destroyed and rebuilt.
And we receive the promise of Christ – that though this temple one day be destroyed in death – that he will raise us up at the last day. When the first-born of the dead returns, then our resurrected, glorified bodies will live with him forever.
And when Revelation paints us a picture of the heavenly city – we see there is no temple there. “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple”. For we will live with God forever.
“Zeal for your house will consume me” The disciples saw it, and we see it, in the Christ – who cleansed the temple, and cleanses the world by his blood shed at the cross. May that same zeal consume us, his little temples, as we gather here in his house – and wherever we go. For in the
At Jesus’ first cleansing of the temple, he is already planning to die and rise again. May his death and resurrection also cleanse us from our sin.