Friday, March 17, 2006

B, Lent 3 - John 2:13-22 & Exodus 20:1-17 "Turmoil in the Temple"

Key Text: John 2:14-17

14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, 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 doves 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.”


The conflict that Jesus raises as he enters the temple, turning up the money tables and driving the sellers and their stock out of the temple grounds, has been the cause of much concern between those who see Jesus as a loving God and those who seek to reject him.

One might ask, “If God is a loving God, then why does he do what he does in the temple?”

Those who seek to knock the church or try to damage the reputation of Jesus, often do so with this text so they can avoid a conflict within themselves. To avoid confronting their own sin they justify themselves saying, “How can Jesus get angry? To get angry is to sin. Therefore, Jesus is a sinner! He’s not that perfect after all!” Even we Christians struggle with this kind of logic against those who discredit Jesus as being less than perfect. They think they have exposed Jesus as a fraud, and so then they can begin to turn their backs on the one who calls them to account for their sins.

Jesus does get angry. There is no avoiding this fact. Therefore, to be angry is not a sin; rather the motivation for one’s actions which come out of anger can be sinful. We hear Jesus makes a crude whip out of chords and drives the marketers from the temple. There is a very good reason for the Son of God to do this, but why? What is going on in the temple at Jerusalem which causes such a violent action from God?

To answer these questions, let’s look at ourselves as God’s Word comes into us.

The Old Testament reading today is a very well know set of scriptures for all who have been instructed in Sunday school or Confirmation class. It is the Law of God, the Ten Commandments. As these laws are taught something very remarkable happens. A conflict begins in the hearts of the hearers. This conflict is one with which a Christian struggles every day of their lives. These commandments draw a line in the sand; they tell us if we step over them, we are in big trouble; and in fact we are if we do!

They don’t really do much as we hear them for the first time: You shall have no other Gods; don’t take God’s name in vain; remember the Sabbath day; honour your mother and father; do not kill, commit adultery, or steal; do not bear false witness; and do not covet.

However, once we are taught, “What does this mean for us?”, we quickly learn that: God must and should come first in absolutely everything, that we as Christians bear God’s name before everyone and our sinful conduct drags his image down with us. When we close our ears to God’s Word by refusing to listen to it preached, or by not reading our bibles, or by continually rejecting the Holy Spirit and staying away from church, we desecrate God’s holiness in us and before others. When we show disrespect for parents or authority, or by not respectfully caring for our children, this goes against the very authority of God. Even if you think about hurting someone you’re as bad as a murderer in God’s eyes, or looking someone other than your spouse up and down in a sexual way is as evil as sleeping with them. When we acquire someone else’s property in a dishonest way we are considered thieves by God, and desiring their property or people is also unacceptable. And if we gossip about anyone and fail to explain their actions in the kindest way, we make ourself god and verbally destroy the one who is created in God’s very image.

When we are honest with ourselves, the Law really starts to make our skin crawl; guilt is not far away if the Law is allowed to do its work. But as we have just sung in the hymn leading up to the address today: The law of God is good and wise, and sets his will before our eyes. The Law is good; but since the fall its holiness condemns us all; it dooms us for our sin to die, and has no power to justify. (Aust. Lutheran Hymnal: 270) God’s Law is good and holy, but it reveals to us that, we are not that good, and, we are everything but holy.

Therefore, we are tempted to get rid of the Law to justify one’s self. But if God’s law is holy, it is you and me who need to be readjusted. So as Christians we are called to see the Law as being from God, and therefore, good and holy!

In the Small Catechism Martin Luther teaches us the negative implications of the Law but he also shows us the good and gracious will of God in each commandment too. We are encouraged: to call on his name in prayer praise and thanksgiving; to regard him and his Word as holy and gladly hear and learn it; to respect obey love and serve our children and parents; to help our neighbour in all his or her physical needs, to improve protect and keep their property and means of making a living, to encourage workers to be loyal; and to defend our fellow citizens by speaking well of them and explaining their actions in the kindest way. So from the Law we know exactly what is holy and good. This is both a source of great joy for all Christians, who seek God’s will and delight in the order and peace a loving God intends for his creation, but also it is a curse as these laws attack us at the heart of our being, and churn up our sin laden consciences.

When Jesus walked into the temple, he not only turned up money tables and drove out money changers; he churned up consciences too. The Laws given to Moses had been corrupted by all people. There were not just Ten Commandments but in fact the Law had blown out to hundreds and hundreds of rules and regulations. The problem with any law is there is always a way around the end of it, so more and more laws need to be created. The Law of God, intended to atone for people’s sin and allow them into the presence of a loving God, was turned into a exercise of self justification, and so the Law was exposing, deeper and deeper, the unfathomable depths of human sin. In fact the authority in the temple had become those who sat trading the items of justification – money, cattle, sheep, doves, and other things needed to make sacrifices. The Law was corrupted and God’s earthly throne, the temple in Jerusalem, was becoming more and more a cesspool of sin. Laws were being added to the Law, and sin was growing upon sin.

Enough was enough! Jesus entered and tossed out the traders and their stock saying, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16) The old way under the Law was getting worse and worse. However, the Law still had to be fulfilled, so Jesus, the Son of God, is given the authority alone to correct what had been corrupted. He came to fulfil the Law and keep it, rather than side step it and justify himself as everyone else had done. He delighted in the Law and kept it, and made no excuse against God’s will for him, living perfectly, fulfilling all the commandments, but then dying for the sin of all people as if he was truly a sinner.

At the start of John’s gospel we are told, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, in fact Jesus temples in us. The Son of God was born Jesus of Nazareth; he templed amongst the people of his day, and he temples in you and me right now! He brings the Law, perfected and kept in all its holiness, in himself, and he walks into the temple - into our hearts. And in just the same way as he created great turmoil in the Jerusalem temple when he threw out the animals and their traders, he causes a commotion in us as he casts out our corruption with the presence of his perfection and risen glory. Sin and death meet head-on with grace and truth.

Our God gets angry over sin, so angry that zeal for his Father’s house consumes him. He died on the cross, consumed with putting right what Israel, what we, and what all humanity, are so zealous on corrupting. It would not be right if God left unpunished the very things that desecrate his holiness, so he sent his Holy One to put his temple in order. And he continues to put God’s children in order who have been torn down and rebuilt in baptism. God’s condemnation of our lawlessness and our efforts to sidestep his right for justice still continues. But now he daily walks into us bringing the Gospel, which is the good news of his death and resurrection for us, or his perfection of the Law given to us as a gift. And we who are templed in Christ can delight in the peace and order God intends for us in the Ten Commandments, but has been put right through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. Amen.