March 3 & 4, 2018 Lent 3
John 2: 13-22
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
It’s a rather uncharacteristic side of Jesus. We are not accustomed to seeing anger in our Lord’s eyes. The vast majority of the disciples’ stories about Jesus stand in stark contrast to this occasion. What must the disciples have been thinking as they stood by and watched tables being overturned in absolute wrath by their otherwise cool, calm and collected master? The Jesus that is popularized in this world is a kind, moral teacher gathering children into his arms not this zeal consumed mad man driving beast and man alike from the temple.
Jesus was angry. Jesus at times had some pretty harsh words for people in his ministry, but this was something altogether different. This was a consuming anger, this was zealous wrath. But can you blame him? Feel Jesus’ zeal from that day because we are talking about sinful corruption openly taking place in the temple of God. We are talking about greedy commercialism taking place in God’s house. This isn’t the red light district of Jerusalem, this isn’t a tax collectors booth on some random street that Jesus is overturning. This is open greed on display in God’s own house.
How could they? What kind of brash sinners where these people? These merchants had the nerve to stand in the very same complex in which holy sacrifices to God were being made and profit from these holy acts. In a place that should have remained sacred and separate from the daily activities of first century Jews, these men boldly brought the marketplace to church. The house of God sounded a whole lot more like a Walmart than a quiet place of holy reverence. Instead of quiet prayers or chanted psalms a visitor to God’s house would have heard clinking coins and shouting salesmen. How could they? Didn’t they have any respect for God’s house?
And don’t even get me started on the Jewish leaders. These so called “Priests” and “Teachers of the Law” should have known better. Merchants and sales people have at least some excuse for trying to turn a profit, but these religious leaders were allowing this to go on in God’s house. These men spent their whole lives studying the Old Testament which recounted the amazing history of God working with his people. These men knew of all the amazing times God had intervened on behalf of his people. These men knew all of the sacred rules that God himself had given to them concerning worship and his temple, but they did not know enough to realize that turning God’s house into a market was wrong? They knew, but didn’t care.
These guys knew about all the times God had fiercely defended his house in the past, how men had been killed by God for far less than what was going on in the Temple on the day Jesus came through. They knew the inevitable result of open abandonment of God’s laws. Israel’s history was full of times when God punished his people for far less than this. But even more than that, they knew how often and how completely God had forgiven them for their sins. These men carried out sacrifices every day. These men offered forgiveness of sins to God’s people in this Temple and they were okay with it being turned into a den of thieves? How could they?
Just when we are beginning to feel comfortable on our high horse of judgment for the actions of those sinful people in the temple, Jesus turns to us, looks us straight in the eyes and says, “How could you?” “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God?” the apostle Paul tells us. God no longer resides in that inner room in the temple in Jerusalem. God’s throne is no longer located above the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. God’s throne is in your heart and mine. God’s house is this body and yours. The same God who was zealous for his house’s purity then is zealous for his house’s purity now.
How could we? What kind of brash sinners are we? Our bodies are God’s house and we have the nerve to turn them into a marketplace where greed, lust, envy, hatred, and slander are traded like any common commodity. This temple is not big enough for two leaders. Either God is ruling or our selfish ambition is ruling. That urge to fulfill your sinful desires of the flesh for sex has no place in God’s house. That desire to be recognized by others for your good works has no place in God’s holy dwelling place. That lack of zeal for God’s Word and worship, that sinful selfishness that would rather sleep in or relax rather than spend time with God’s people has no place in God’s temple. That craving to have newer, bigger, and better personal things compared to the lack of thankful offerings given back to the Lord has no place in God’s Holy of Holies.
How could we? God sees what we have done to his temple and he is none too pleased. God sees what we have done and in his zealous anger he is ready to roll out his thunderous wrath because of this sinful world, because of our sinfulness. God sees what we have done to his temple and he decided to do something about it.
God lashed out in his anger, but when the blows landed we didn’t feel a thing. We didn’t feel a thing because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. On Jesus’ shoulders we see the punishment that should have been ours. Beaten by men, rejected by God we see all too clearly what the price for our sins was. But we also see the amazing love God has for us.
And so we come back to that day shortly before Pentecost some 2000 years ago. Jesus was on this earth to show the most extreme form of love this world has ever seen. Jesus, who had lovingly created this world and lovingly sustained this world, was now about to lovingly die to save this world. So can you blame him when the ongoing filth of this world sent him on a tirade that fateful day?
Feel Jesus’ zeal from that day because of who he is, true God come to earth to save sinners. Jesus walked into that temple as a man, but he was also the very same God who created those salesmen hawking their wares. Jesus walked into that temple as the same God who had told them exactly how to live in the Ten Commandments. The Jesus who walked into that temple was the very same God who had brought the Israelites to this land and blessed them and their forefathers for a thousand years. Jesus walked into that temple knowing that the reason he was there was to pay the price for the sins going on before his very eyes.
And Jesus was angry. Why? He was reaching out to them, desperately trying to draw them into a loving embrace and they spit in his face. He had given them the whole Old Testament so that they could see the extreme lengths to which their God would go to show his love for them and they repaid his love with open sin. In the very same temple where sacrifices were made, sacrifices which freed them from the debt of their sin, sacrifices that were a picture of Jesus’ own innocent suffering and death, they were willingly enslaving themselves to sin again.
As true God, Jesus had every right to be angry over what he saw that day. As true God, Jesus has every right to be angry over what he sees in us every day. Jesus has given you everything you have. And I’m not just talking about your house, food and family. You could not draw another breath if Jesus were not lovingly sustaining you. Jesus has given you the Word of God. He has given you a church to attend in which his Word is taught. He has given you shepherds to guide you in the study of his Word. He has given you family, friends and fellow Christians to offer support and direction in this sinful world. In all of this it becomes painfully clear that we have no excuse good enough to explain why we continue to make his temple, our hearts, the home of a sinful marketplace.
Jesus has every right to drive us by whip straight to hell, straight to eternal separation from God’s loving care for his creation. But that is not why Jesus came. Jesus came to this world to do more than display his displeasure over sin. Jesus had come to die for sin.
The hands and feet bound together about to suffer abandonment by everything good and holy were not my hands and feet, they were Jesus’. When the whip landed its brutal blows, drawing blood, tearing flesh, it landed not on our deserving shoulders, but on Jesus’. When the mocking jeers rained down from the crowd of haters they did not assault our ears, but Jesus’. When the shameful crown of thorns was pressed into the tender skull by the scornful blows of sin it was not our head, but Jesus’. When the nails pierced flesh and ripped tendons it was not our hands and feet that were punctured, but Jesus’. So much anger, so much wrath, so much brutality, and it all should have been yours, it all should have been mine. But it all fell on Jesus so that the ransom for our souls could be paid. It all fell on Jesus so that we could be set free from the sin and guilt that was rightly ours for tarnishing God’s house.
Now that is some zeal. That is zealous love. That is our zealous Jesus who would not stand to see us pay what we deserve for our sin. Instead of driving us from the house of God, Jesus has secured our place in God’s eternal mansions by his blood. Feel Jesus’ zeal. With our temples cleansed, being forgiven, we want to be zealous for our Lord and his work. We want to see our congregational life together as a time to be strengthened as we share God’s Word with each other but also as a time that we can be active in sharing God’s word with others. We want to be about witnessing for Jesus in the way that we live our individual lives, parent our children, take care of our homes, and go about our professional lives. God’s Word reveals to us a zealous God, zealous for holiness, zealous for redemption, zealous for you. In return for all the love the Lord has shown you be zealous as you worship him and as you work for him. Amen.