John 2:13-22: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

Today, we hear about a Jesus who doesn’t match what we usually think of Him.  We see Jesus as our friend, even our buddy.  We see him as a pleasant, smiling person who never confronts anyone but is always there to confirm whatever you may be doing.  That’s the Jesus we want.  That’s also the Jesus of our popular culture.

Today, we see–not the ever-smiling, non-offensive Jesus–but the muscular, testosterone-fueled Jesus burning with anger.  His neck veins are bulging, and His face is a burning red.  He has a whip of cords in His hand, throwing over tables, and dumping money boxes on the floor.  For a righteous zeal burns within Jesus, a zeal for the temple, His Father’s house.

This took place during Passover, a few days before Jesus’ death.  During Passover week, people would come to celebrate the Passover meal and make sacrifices.  Yet, the Law of God made allowances.  It said that if you had to travel a long way, you could buy your sacrificial animal inJerusaleminstead of bringing it with you.

That’s what the animal sellers were doing in theTemple.  They were providing a service for out-of-town pilgrims.  The money changers were there to exchange secular currency forTemplecurrency.  They were both providing a service the people wanted.

But Jesus saw more than that.  He saw God’s Old-Covenant believers turning His Father’s house into a marketplace.  They were turning theTemple, a place of worship, into a shopping mall.  Who knows; next they might even put in a coffee shop.  Even the pigeon sellers displeased Jesus.  For a pigeon was the sacrificial animal for the poor, those who could not afford a lamb.  Those merchants were preying on the poor for profit.

Nothing irritates Jesus more than a faithless religion, a religion of bargaining, dealing, and making transactions in the name of God.  But don’t think the sacrifice sellers and the money changers only lived long ago.  They’ve just changed their bill of goods to adapt to our modern, religious tastes.  Now, in the name of God, they sell motivation, purpose, self-improvement, and self-esteem.

Behind it all, is the business of transaction, cutting deals with God.  It’s at the heart of all our human-created religions, the idea that we need to do something to get God to smile on us.  It’s the idea that God has done His part, but now He’s waiting for you to do yours.

And so we invent our own self-made religions instead of following the religion of Jesus.  We invent little ways to bribe and butter-up to God, so He’ll overlook this mess we’ve made of our lives.  Old TestamentIsraeleven did that with the sacrifices that God had given them.  They had disfigured God’s Old-Covenant religion with their own twist on it.  They turned those sacrifices into religious duties that they had to do to earn God’s favor.

Did God start those sacrifices for that reason?  No, those sacrifices weren’t bribes.  Do you think you can bribe God with a sheep?  Do you think He needs a pigeon?  Do you think He needs a check in the offering plate?  Think again.

God had put those Old-Covenant sacrifices to teach the Israelites how to live from the death of another.  That’s what they were supposed to learn: The blood of the animal stood in place for your life.  It was grim news for the lamb, but life-saving news for you.  It was God’s training ground in trust.  He was teaching His people to live from the forgiveness that He gave through those sacrifices.  God was teaching His people to look forward in faith to the Lamb of God–the Sacrifice–through whom He would grant eternal life.

Instead, the Old Testament Israelites had turned the sacrifices into something they were doing for God.  (Is that not eerily like what some have done, turning baptism and the Lord’s Supper into what they are doing for God, even calling them “ordinances”?)

Of course, in the Old Covenant, you brought your sheep or bought one from the local sheep seller.  But the gift of forgiveness and life was what God granted through the blood of the Lamb.  It was a gift from God, not a work that you did.  Yes, it was a sacrifice–but even more of a Sacrament; for through that sacrifice, God granted His forgiveness to His people.  Wow, it almost sounds New Testament!

But the Israelites turned it all around.  They turned what God had intended to be His work for His people into their own work.  They turned a gift into a transaction where God did His part, and you had to do yours.  Isn’t that similar to what takes place in the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer”?  God won’t save you until you do you part of praying to Him?  Jesus overturns the tables on such self-made religion.  That wasn’t what God had set up.  No wonder Jesus burned in righteous anger.

Think about what Jesus did.  He ran roughshod over the religion that His own people had twisted with their own traditions.  For Jesus was all about God’s religion and His traditions, not what people necessarily wanted.  He slaughtered the sacred cows of His day.  He broke the Sabbath rules.  After all, those rules had taken the focus off the Sabbath from being a day of rest–where God came to feed and strengthen His people–and turned it into a work.  Imagine turning rest into a work!

Yes, Jesus took the distorted religion of His day, with its sacrifices, purity laws, and money changing, and He overturned the tables on it.  Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and, in three days, I will raise it up again.”  When He said that, He was talking about His death and resurrection.  But the people misunderstood Him and became outraged.  What’s this lunatic saying?  We’ve been working on this temple for 46 years, and He’s going to rebuild it in three days?  He’s insane!

Jesus was saying, “Enough of this nonsense.  Look to me.  Don’t look at this building, but to my flesh and blood.  I am the trueTemple, where God is with you.  I am where true worship takes place, in my body.  I am where you meet God–in my crucified and risen flesh.”

For Jesus is the trueTemple, the place of true worship, the supreme Sacrament.  His body–born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified onCalvary, raised from the dead, and glorified at the right hand of the Father–that Jesus is the only place where God and humanity are at peace.  For only in Jesus, the trueTemple, does God forgive and give us a foretaste of heaven on earth.

Yes, Jesus is the true and perfectTemple.  He is where God locates His Name to save, where God comes to us, in whom we worship the Father in Spirit and 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, and where eternity breaks into time.

This God-with-us event takes place in the Divine Service.  For here, sinners are baptized into the Triune Name of God.  Here, sinners hear and receive the full forgiveness of their sins.  Here, sinners have Jesus preached into their ears and hearts.  Here, sinners eat and drink the body and blood of Christ.

In the New Covenant, we gather as God’s people to be saved.  This happens every time we gather in His name and receive His gifts of life and salvation.  Yet, we aren’t saved simply by our gathering, as if our gathering is a work that somehow saves us.  If that were true, then we would be no different from the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

We must never turn our Sabbath, our time of rest, into a work.  Worship is about God doing His work for us and in us.  If it’s not, if worship becomes about what we do for God, then we are no better than the Israelites of old.  For worship to be a Sabbath rest, God is the one who is doing the doing.  You are here to receive what God has to give you.  You do the doing the rest of the week, by serving God through serving others God has placed into your life.

In Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, God has done everything needed for your salvation.  That’s why we can’t take credit, for there is no sacrifice for sin except a dead Jesus on the cross.  The only way to God is through His Son, Jesus.  And there is no temple, except theTempleofJesus’ body, theTempleinto whom God the Holy Spirit has placed us.

It’s as the Apostle 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’sTemplebuilt on the crucified-and-risen body of Jesus.  That’s who we are.

Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and, in three days, I will raise it up.”  And that’s exactly what happened.  Jesus was crucified.  The Temple of His body was destroyed in death.  And in three days, He rose from the dead.

Death and resurrection is the way of God’sTemple, the body of Christ.  But it’s also your way.  For you and I will go down into death.  That’s what happens when we die.  But from there, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit He has sent, will raise us to eternal life.

That’s why you have all theTempleyou need.  You have the body of Jesus!  So, come forward now to receive that Body, for your forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  Amen.