Lent 3, March 11th, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Get out of my house! He yells. He makes quite a scene. Overturns tables. Change goes jingling on the hard ground. Animals go scattering everywhere. Oh, and he's got a whip. Jesus takes charge of his Father's house. He puts the smack down on the money-changers. This is a house of prayer, not a swap meet. This is a place of God's holy presence in and among his people, not a den of thieves and robbers. Get. Out. Now.
The disciples start to piece it together, “Wasn't there a prophecy about this? Zeal for your house will consume me?” Yes, disciples, all Scripture is about Jesus.
“And just who are you?” They ask, “What gives you the authority to do this? Who do you think you are?” Not that they argue the substance of the point. When you know you're in the wrong, shift the focus of attention. Let's not talk about our sin. Let's talk about you – what's your authority? Who are you to judge?
“Destroy this temple and I will build it up again in three days.” Oh yes, I have the authority. And you will see it when I show my ultimate authority over death. You will destroy this temple, this body, this place where God and man dwell together. But I will rebuild it, raise it up, and conquer death. That sign – the sign of Jonah – is the only sign this wicked generation will get, but it's the only sign he needed to give.
He fulfills all the scriptures, does everything perfectly. Only later do the disciples connect the dots. About the temple. About his crucifixion and resurrection. Hindsight is 20/20 they say, and spiritual hindsight perhaps all the more. “You do not understand now what I am doing, Peter, but later on you will understand”.
Jesus is rightly angry about the misuse of his and his Father's house. And while we're not changing money and swapping animal sacrifices in most churches today, I bet Jesus could still come into any church and turn over some tables. For in every church are sinners who want to make the house of God into a place of trade.
God, you give me what I want, and I'll do something nice for you. Or God, look at how good I am, and now in return give me your favor. And I'm not just talking about those other churches out there.
We do it too. We think our service to the church, our offerings, our weekly worship are so impressive to God. But there's only one thing that can be given in exchange for the price on our lives- there's only one currency that can purchase us from destruction – and that is the blood of Christ.
No, God doesn't deal with us in bargain fashion. He's not into the quid pro quo. You give me something, I'll return the favor, no. He's the giver. Out of his pure grace and mercy he gives Christ, who gives all, even his life, for ours. He turns the tables on our sin. Drives out the devil. Whips the enemy, ultimately, by taking the whipping we all deserve.
An English poet once wrote, “Wherever God erects a house of Prayer, The Devil always builds a Chapel there: And 'twill be found upon Examination, The latter has the largest Congregation.”
Whether it is a church that turns its focus from Christ and cross to growth and glory, or a temple that turns from the merciful presence of God for a mercantile enterprise of pseudo-religion. Or the individual believer, sitting in church, who turns his thoughts from Christ crucified for you to some other way of salvation. Any way the Devil is happy to distract us, and turn us away from the one to whom the house belongs.
But this is Jesus' house. His Father's house. The Spirit's house. The Triune God, in whose name we gather, in whose name we are called and baptized. In whose name our sins are forgiven. And we are built by Christ on the confession of his name, gathered by his Spirit around his word, strengthened and fed by his holy meal. This is where it all happens. Here, in his temple, his body, his church. The temple that took 46 years to build is only a shadow pointing to him, Jesus, the true temple, the dwelling of God with man.
And Jesus is angry – justifiably angry. Righteously angry at sin. He has no place for it, just like his Father. One day, he will cast the wicked, the goats, away from his presence forever. “I don't know you people. Depart from me”. This temple-cleansing foreshadows that final judgment. But he saves us from all that, making us sheep, and working through us to serve the least of these, our neighbors in need.
He is a zealot – a word that has a bad connotation today - But he's zealous when the place where he promised to forgive sins is being polluted. Because what he wants more than anything is for you to hear, loud and clear, his good news. He's driving away YOUR enemy with that whip. He's over turning the tables that would stand between you and his holy table. He wants you to have access to him, here, now, in his presence. For your eternal good.
No this is not your peaceful Jesus, the one we usually see depicted with a smile and open arms. This is angry Jesus, angry at sin. A terrifying sight if you're on the receiving end of his whip. But a blessed comfort for us who trust in him.
For we know the rest of the story – that he becomes the object of divine wrath, himself. He gives his own back to be scourged. He gives his own life as the ultimate bloody sacrifice to end all sacrifices. To put away God's anger at your sins. To cleanse what is impure and unholy in the temple of your body, and to make you into a temple of his spirit.