3 Lent Proper B3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 2:13-22 Sermon
March 11, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
469 "Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken"
403 "Saviour Thy Dying Love"
314 "Lord Jesus Christ We Humbly Pray"
462 "I Love Thy Kingdom Lord"
THE PURPOSE OF GOD'S HOUSE
TEXT (vs. 13-16): “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 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. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!’"
Back in 1974, a movie appeared on the scene, entitled "Death Wish." This movie starred Charles Bronson and Hope Lange. The movie has been very popular over the years, and it begat several sequels. You can often find these movies shown on television.
The story line is simple. Charles Bronson portrays Korean war veteran Paul Kersey, a mild-mannered architect living in New York City. After returning from a vacation with his family, Kersey's wife and daughter are in their apartment while Paul was at work. A group of thugs break into the apartment, and brutalize his wife and daughter. His wife winds up dying, and his daughter is traumatized from being severely raped.
When Paul Kersey realizes that the police are virtually powerless to capture the thugs, he takes matters into his own hands. This whole ordeal has pushed him right over the edge. He is seething in anger. Justice was going to be served, one way or another.
So Paul takes a Colt .45 that had been given to him by a friend, and loads it up. He then takes it with him out into the streets of New York City. Once out there, he begins to administer justice, vigilante style. Now Paul never openly attacked anybody. But when somebody initiated an attack against him, then he took out his "old west" type revolver, and literally blew them away without any compunction whatsoever. Everything he did was done out of self-defense, so he wasn't just shooting people just to be shooting them. There was a legitimate reason.
Paul was becoming a type of local hero as he was cleaning up the local hoodlums from streets, and he was gaining popularity. Even so, the police were looking for this vigilante who was doing their job for them. They never did catch up with him, even though they suspected him.
Finally Paul, without really knowing it, is able to dispatch the thugs who murdered his wife and raped his daughter. And that's the gist of the movie.
The point I'm making with all this, is that it took something horribly drastic to take this mild-mannered, public-minded, humanitarian citizen and cause him to act what would be out-of-character for him. For Paul Kersey, the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter was what it took for him to reach his breaking point.
As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, we find Jesus reaching his breaking point too. Here we see Jesus in a situation that, quite frankly, we don't really like. This is not the image of Jesus that people either want or like to have.
Charles Wesley once wrote a poem, which became a hymn. Here are a few stanzas of that poem: "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee. Lamb of God, I look to thee, thou shalt my example be; thou art gentle, meek, and mild, thou wast once a little child. Loving Jesus, gentle lamb, in thy gracious hands I am; make me, Saviour, what thou art, live thyself within my heart."
We like this "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild" picture of our Saviour. This is the image of Jesus we have. This is the description Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us in the Bible as he calls the little children to himself, and rebukes his disciples saying: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God." But what we see in our Gospel lesson for today is a far different persona of Jesus, which is anything but gentle, meek, and mild. Jesus is angry. What he was seeing was enough to drive him over the edge. As true God, he is exhibiting what we would call a type of "righteous wrath."
The situation Jesus was witnessing was a good example of something that had gotten way out-of-hand. Perhaps at first it had been sort of a good thing; but what Jesus was witnessing here was anything but good. So how did all of this happen?
We have to understand what things were like for the Old Testament Jews. Every year, the Jews who could make it would come to Jerusalem for Passover. They often came from quite a distance to be there during this time.
When they came, several things had to happen. First of all, the Jews were required to pay a "Temple Tax." This funded the temple treasury, which was used to maintain the facility as well as pay the salary for the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and other teachers of the law.
The only money that was good at the Temple was Jewish money. A person could not pay the Temple tax with Roman money, Greek money, Babylonian money, or any of the various other types of money that was being used in trade and commerce. So since this was the case, the people coming from other areas had to change their regular money into Jewish money. To do this, they had to make use of a "money changer." In effect, this was to be pretty much the same as those currency exchange counters we see at international airports. There was really nothing wrong with this, at least in concept.
So instead of making the people go out into a strange city and find a money changer, it made all the sense in the world to bring the money changers to the people. The best place for this would be in the temple court, which was sort of a gathering place outside of the main temple structure.
In those days, animal sacrifices were also a necessary part of Jewish worship. People couldn't be expected to carry animals with them, especially since some of the people had to come a long way. It just wouldn't be practical. So the people would purchase their sacrificial animals once they arrived at their destination.
So what was the best way to handle this? It made sense to do it in similar fashion to the money changers. Don't make people go out searching for them. Just bring the animals to where the people were. And that's exactly what they did. So along with the money changers, we now have people selling various types of livestock. This was another good idea, at least in our estimation.
So if people were permitted to be money changers and animal merchants in the temple courts, why not bring in the food vendors too? Then what about people selling blankets or other items needed to stay in Jerusalem? They felt they had better allow these people to practice their trade, just to keep things fair.
Merchandising was one thing; however this was not the root problem with all of this. These merchants and money changers were also very crooked and dishonest. They could charge whatever the traffic would bear. The money changers could give a very low exchange rate. People literally had carte blanche when it came to business practices. And if this wasn't bad enough, you could find prostitutes in the court as well, giving companionship to the weary travelers. This is what the people encountered in the Temple court. Even the children amongst them were able to witness all of this!
This had become quite a "cash cow" for the temple, because they were able to charge rent for the various stalls that were set up in the temple court. But then we have the integrity of the Pharisees to consider as well. The Pharisees were able to demand a good percentage of all the sales that took place. So not only did the temple get a lot of money for this, but the Pharisees were able to line their pockets quite liberally as well!
Jesus knew full well what was going on, even before he got there. Ever since he was a baby, his family would go to Jerusalem, just like all the good Jews of that day did. So Jesus grew up witnessing all of the goings-on in the Temple court. I'm sure that this was one of those things that really stuck in his craw; and as the years passed, it would continue to build and build. And now that Jesus had his cross in full view, and he knew that he would be suffering and dying, he just reached his breaking point. This is what pushed him over the edge. Jesus most certainly got angry.
This scene is one of the key parts of Jesus’ passion story, one reason being that all four Gospel writers record it, and in pretty much the same way. However Matthew, Mark, and Luke quote Jesus as saying, “’It is written,’ he said to them, 'My house will be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers.’” (Luke 19:46) John is a bit more polite and gentle in our text when he says in verse 16, “How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!” Certainly having a market amidst all of the temple worshippers wasn’t the best thing to be doing; but the worst part of it all was the fact that the merchants were enormously dishonest, the Jewish officials were also dishonest, and collectively they were taking unfair advantage of all the people coming to the temple.
One of the biggest problems was that these thieving merchants were hiding the purpose of the temple from the people. To better understand this, let's look at what the Prophet Isaiah records in chapter 56 verses 6-7:"The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."
People were coming to the temple to meet God where he was dwelling. God's intent was to make them joyful when they came into his presence. But where was the joy when people had to keep side-stepping animal manure and dishonest hawkers to just get in the door?
If we look at our own lives, what do we find in our own temple courts? Do we find every form of sin and vice in there? Is the way to God blocked with things Satan has set up? Are our lives cluttered up like so many animals wallowing in the stench of a feedlot?
Jesus needs to come into our lives and clean house. Through faith in him, that’s exactly what he does. Jesus cleared out the Temple in Jerusalem with a whip made of cords. In cleaning the temple of ourselves, he uses something much more precious to cleanse our hearts from sin. He allowed the authorities to abuse the temple of his holy and righteous body. They arrested him, beat him, and then nailed him to a cross. They did everything they could to destroy the temple of his body. In this way he produced the cleansing agent for our hearts—namely his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.
Through faith in Jesus, our lives have been cleansed and we are pure. Through faith in our Saviour, we can be presented to God holy and blameless, as Christ’s holiness and righteousness become ours. Jesus has cleansed us from every sin, and cleared the temple of our bodies of everything Satan has set up.
As a church, we have to always be careful that our main purpose is never obstructed. People need to look at us and see that this is the place where they can come to meet God, and to hear what he has to say. They need to know that they can find love, peace, and understanding when they walk through our doors.
Whatever our activities are, we can never obscure the clear message of the Gospel. When we sponsor our annual fundraiser for Blue Valley Food Pantry, we do so as a demonstration of our love for Jesus. Because we love our Lord, we are compelled to help others in need.
At the beginning, I used the out-of-character display of anger of architect Paul Kersey to show what can happen when people reach their breaking point. The death of his wife and the rape of his daughter, along with other mitigating circumstances prompted his actions. Perhaps they weren't justified, but it is understandable.
Jesus also gets angry, and we don't like to see him this way. He didn't get angry with the people who flogged him, or spit on him, or who nailed him to the cross. His ire wasn't kindled because people were mean to him. He got angry when God's purpose was obscured. A temple court full of thieving merchants hindered people from coming into God's house, and meeting him on his terms. Instead of recognizing the temple as God's house of prayer, it was being regarded as a den of thieves. Jesus' anger was not only understandable, but also justified.
Today we can rejoice because the doors to God's house are always open for anybody to enter. It's here where a person will find forgiveness for their sins through faith in Christ Jesus. It's here where we build a relationship with our Saviour, and not just practice some sort of dead religion. It's here where God comes to us through Word and Sacrament. It's here where we can come to God in prayer, and engage in corporate worship with other Christians. And it's here where we will indeed experience the peace of God, which indeed passes all human understanding.