Just not Enough!
Rev. S.D. Spencer – Pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, OR
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and pigeons, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold pigeons he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20 The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
Last week in our text Jesus told the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things and be killed. Jesus showed Himself as the suffering servant, the patient Lamb of God more than willing to be the sacrifice for all mankind.
But in today’s Gospel we see quite a different side of Jesus altogether. We see Jesus is filled with anger, a whip of cords in His hand, flipping over tables, and dumping money boxes on the floor. This Jesus is consumed with righteous zeal for the temple, for His Father’s house.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke set this episode at the beginning of holy week, a few days before Jesus crucifixion. This was sort of the last straw that broke the religious camel’s back, and you can understand why the religious leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus. But John puts it right up front in his Gospel, in the second chapter, right after Jesus’ first miracle in Cana of Galilee, as the time of the Passover drew near.
Passover was the time when people would have been coming from all over the land of Israel to celebrate the Passover meal and make sacrifices. The Law said that if you had to travel a long way, you could buy your sacrificial animal in Jerusalem instead of dragging it along with you. And the money changers were there to exchange out of town currency for temple currency, just to be sure some unclean gentile hadn’t handled it or put their dirty fingers on it.
Jesus saw something else. He saw His Father’s house being turned into a flea market, a shopping mall of religion. Next thing you know, they’ll put in a Starbucks. Some even suggested that the profits of the temple were being used to fund anti-Roman terrorist groups like the Zealots. More than a shopping mall, the temple had become a haven for terrorists. Jesus seemed particularly irked by the pigeon sellers. Pigeons were the sacrifice of the poor. These merchants were preying on the poor for profit.
Nothing irritates Jesus more than faithless religion and faithless sacrifices, the bartering, dealing and transacting all in the Name of God. All of it being some vain attempt to atone for your sins by your own self-chosen sacrifices. And don’t think the sacrifice sellers and the money changers of yesteryear have gone away. They’ve just changed their bill of goods to accommodate more modern tastes in religion. Now they sell motivation and purpose and self-improvement in the Name of God. All this can be yours if you just fork over 40 bucks. A whip might be too kind.
Behind it all is the business of transaction, trying to cut deals with God. It’s at the heart of all man made religion, the idea that we need to do something to atone for our sins, to get God on our side. It’s the notion that God has done His part and now He’s waiting around for us to do our part. It’s the stuff of WWJD wristbands and purpose-driven books, which are unquestionably on the money changers best seller list. It points to a way other than the life, crucifixion and resurrection in Jesus. Let’s face it - crucifixion and resurrection is not a path we would willingly choose for ourselves. But anything else is just not enough.
At the heart of it is a failure to recognize how grim our situation truly is. We like to think we’re pretty good and always improving. And then we get a quick refresher course straight from Sinai and the terrible truth gets mirrored back to our sinful selves:
· You shall have no other gods.
· You shall not misuse God’s Name.
· Remember the Sabbath day Keep it Holy (As Luther said What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Just thought I’d better throw that in.)
· Honor father and mother.
· Don’t murder, commit adultery, steal. (Don’t even think about it.)
· Don’t lie about others.
· Don’t want things you can’t have that others have.
Not just in deed, mind you, but also in word and thought. You think things are bad? You’re only seeing part of the picture, the part that God permits you to see. You and I couldn’t handle the whole truth.
And so we invent religions, ways to bribe God so that He’ll overlook this mess we’ve made of our lives. The Old Testament Israel treated the sacrifices that way - turned them into religious obligations and duties, stuff to do to get on God’s good side. That’s not what the sacrifices were for. They weren’t bribes. You think you can bribe God with a sheep? You think He needs a pigeon? Or even a check in the offering plate? Think again!
The sacrifices of the Old Testament were supposed to teach the Israelites how to live vicariously, literally to live off the death of another. The blood of the animal stood for your life. Bad news for the lamb, but good news for you! It was training in trust, teaching people to live by the promises of God and not their works. Yes, you brought your sheep, or bought one from the local sheep seller. But the gift of forgiveness and life was God’s to give through the blood of the Lamb. It was more sacrament (gift from God) than it was sacrifice (work from you).
But the Israelites flipped things upside down, as man always does, and made God’s work their work, and turned the gift into a transaction where God does His part and you do yours, working together for salvation. Jesus literally turns the tables on that sort of religion.
Those in authority asked for a sign from Jesus. By what authority do you do these things? This was an act of messianic proportions. You don’t just go into the temple courts and start turning things upside down. They want a sign, and Jesus gives them a sign. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.” How’s that for a sign? His own resurrection from the dead.
But they are thinking temple as a building. They say, “What are you talking about? It took forty-six years to build this temple. In reality it would take another 38 years for the work to be completed. And then six years later the Romans would knock it down. (God has a way of making His point, doesn’t He?) “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.”
The “temple” Jesus was referring to was the temple of His own body. The true temple where God meets man is His own human flesh born of Mary. This is where you meet God face to face. Not in a building, but in the crucified, risen, and glorified flesh of Jesus Christ. Here God and man are united as one Person. Here humanity is glorified. Here sins are forgiven. Here the dead are raised. This is where your life is, not in a building, but in the body of Christ.
Jesus is the true and ultimate temple, where God locates His Name to save, where God makes His dwelling with man, where the Father is worshipped in Spirit and in Truth. Where the body of Jesus is, that’s where God forgives and blesses. That’s where heaven kisses the earth, where the infinite meets the finite, where eternity breaks into time. It happens right here, among us, where sinners are baptized into the Name of the Triune God, where sinners hear the full and entire forgiveness of their sins, where sinners eat and drink the body and blood of Christ.
The church is the temple of God. Not a building but a gathering, an assembly, a congregation congregated around the Lord’s Word and His Supper. Peter wrote, “You (the baptized) like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The church is God’s temple built on the crucified and risen body of Jesus.
After Jesus rose from the dead and the disciples saw Him, ate with Him, touched Him, they remembered what Jesus said that day in front of the temple. They remembered how the prophet Zechariah had said that a day was coming when God would come to purify His temple. They remembered the psalm of David, that zeal for the Lord’s house would consume Him. And, reflecting on everything, they trusted the Scripture and the word Jesus spoke. You could do no better this morning, than to leave here trusting the Scripture, which speaks of Christ’s death and resurrection, and believing the word Jesus speaks to you here - “I forgive you all of your sins.” “This is my body given for you.” “This is my blood shed for you.”
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That’s precisely what happened. Jesus was crucified. The temple of His body was destroyed in death in order to save the world. And in three days, He rose from the dead. Death and resurrection is the way of God’s temple, the body of Christ, and you. Though you will die, Jesus will raise you up. That’s what He always does with His temple.
All our man made efforts to please God are just not enough. By Jesus, life, death and resurrection satisfaction has been made. By the blood of Jesus you have been purchased from sin, death and the devil. For Jesus sake all your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN