3 Lent Proper B3
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 2:13-22 Sermon
March 15, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
121 "Come Holy Ghost In Love"
158 "I Love Thy Kingdom Lord"
515 "O Jesus I Have Promised"
587 "Jerusalem My Happy Home"
JESUS KEEP OUR TEMPLES CLEAN
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!'"
There is a word that we can use to describe almost everybody in the civilized word today. That word is "consumer." We are all a bunch of consumers. And we have to be in order to exist.
We have money that we have obtained through work or savings or pension or inheritance. We take that money and use it to purchase goods and services. That's a quick lesson in the most basic form of economics, and it is something that we do every day, almost to the point of not thinking about it.
Speaking for myself, I like to think of myself as a careful consumer. I know what I need, and so I tend to read all of the sale flyers in the Wednesday or Sunday newspaper trying to find a bargain someplace. Or if I'm in the market for something in particular, I'll put it in the back of my mind; and as I go about my various routines, I'll be on the lookout for it. I'm not one to just rush out and buy something, at least something major, until I've done some research and shopping. After years of experience, I think I've learned to spot a good deal when one comes along.
Flea markets and farmers' markets and other places where people have booths set up can be fun too. When you buy produce from a farmer, it's usually far superior to what you can buy at the supermarket. Meat that comes from a small town locker plant that was raised by the local farmers is definitely of better quality than commercially raised stuff.
Indeed we are all consumers, and there are various places we go where we expect to deal with merchants, whether it's at a department store, a mall, or at a flea market or farmers' market. And when we deal with such people, we have a reasonable expectation that they will be fair and honest with us. We want to deal with reputable people; and if someone is not reputable, then we avoid them. When a business person is less than honorable, word does get around, and that person won't be in business for very long. People just don't like to deal with shady business operators. It's bad for both the consumer and the vendor.
This morning when you came to church, you were able to park your car and walk into the building pretty much unencumbered. You might have encountered one of our members on the way in and exchanged a few pleasantries, but that's about the extent of it.
When you came here, you didn't have to wend your way through a bunch of flea market booths and people hawking things in front of the building. Our church is not in the business of selling merchandise, nor do we count on retail sales and marketing to meet our church budget. That's just not the way things are done here, and I daresay that none of the other churches in Seward have this practice either. It would seem in rather poor taste and very much out of place if this were to happen.
As we get into our text for this morning, which is the opening section of our Gospel lesson for today, the scenario I just indicated as being in poor taste and out of place is exactly what is being described by the Apostle John. This is the scene Jesus encountered, and it made him very unhappy indeed.
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 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, and they were taking unfair advantage of all the people coming to the temple.
It would do us well to look at the situation in more detail so we know what was happening, and what led up to Jesus unleashing his righteous wrath against the merchants.
The time was Passover, which was a festival time for the Jews. This was the time when all of the Jews, or the ones who could make it, would come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. When they were there, two things had to happen. A temple tax had to be paid, which provided for the day-to-day operations of the temple; and individuals had to provide animal sacrifices for their sins.
You have to remember too that the majority of the people coming to the temple were not citizens of the city of Jerusalem. Many had travelled for days over some rather inhospitable territory. Some used animals for transportation while others had to just walk. So it was highly impractical for these people to bring their own animals with them for the animal sacrifices.
The second difficulty came with the type of currency people were using. A lot of people would come with Roman money in their pockets. Other areas had their own unique currency. However, the Temple tax had to be paid using Jewish money, so the currency exchange business was enormous. Even today when a person flies into a foreign country, there's always a currency exchange operation right at the airport for the convenience of travelers.
Considering these two problems, the easiest solution was to allow the money changers and those selling animals for the sacrifices to operate within the Temple courtyard. People from out-of-town would have difficulty finding their way around Jerusalem and finding all of these merchants themselves, so why not bring these merchants right to the people so they wouldn't have to go searching? It all seemed to make perfect sense.
It certainly made sense; in fact it made too much sense in a way. Suddenly doing something for the convenience of the people became very big business with an enormous profit volume. So the money changers and animal merchants were allowed in to the courtyard; but why stop there? Why shouldn't the other merchants be allowed to do business there as well?
Let's look at this place called the Temple court, also known as the "Court of the Gentiles." The court of the Gentiles was a place where Gentiles could come and learn about the true God. It was a place where God-fearing Gentiles from all over the world could come and worship God in peace. Anyone, at any time, could enter the court of the Gentiles and find forgiveness and peace in the presence of God. That was all well and good.
Let's look at a couple of references in the Bible that talk about the Temple and the court. If we look first at 2 Chronicles chapter 6 verses 32-33, we read the words of King Solomon at the dedication of the first Temple: "When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear from heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name."
Then we look at the words of the prophet Isaiah 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."
So in walks Jesus, and what he sees resembles a shopping mall on the day after Thanksgiving. Things had gotten way out of hand. There were merchants of every description there; and if that wasn't bad enough, there were prostitutes also doing business in the Temple court.
But the real clincher was the honesty and integrity of these people. These merchants took very unfair advantage of the people by engaging in dishonest and questionable business practices. The currency exchange business had such a high price that it constituted usury. The whole situation was vile and corrupt, and the temple needed purging in the worst way.
Any Gentile who might approach the Temple court to learn about the one true God or to attempt to worship him would not have been able to do so. This was definitely not a God-pleasing situation.
So Jesus cleans house. "How dare you turn my Father's house of prayer into a den of thieves?" he asks. This certainly was not a place that could be called a House of Prayer by the people. It was more like the den of iniquity.
So with all the righteous wrath of the one true God, Jesus fashions a home-made whip, turns over the tables of the money changers, and sends everybody packing. This is indeed quite an impressive thing, one man against so many.
Even though this upsets a lot of people, there's nobody any more upset than the self-righteous Pharisees of the church. They were furious! Luke chapter 16 verse 14 talks about how much the Pharisees were lovers of money. In this case, the Pharisees got quite a substantial cut from the merchants doing business in the Temple court. The more prime locations were awarded in sort of a bidding contest between the merchants. And boy, were the Pharisees ever raking it in! And this didn't go into the temple treasury either; this went straight into their own pockets. The Pharisees were as shrewd in business as those Temple merchants were, and they themselves took advantage of the people any way they could.
So when Jesus came and cleaned house, he especially incurred the wrath of the Pharisees, even more than he had previously. Because now he touched them in the place it hurt them most-he touched them right in the wallet. And so they sought his death even more fervently, now that he had made a serious dent in their income.
God is protective of the place that is called by his name. Bringing shame to his holy place is the same as desecrating his holy name. It is a way that the preaching and teaching of his Word is despised. It is like making a rude hand gesture right in the face of the Almighty God.
Let's make the correlation now with ourselves and our own lives. We are also called by God's name. The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 3 verses 16-17: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." And then he continues on a bit later in chapter 6 verses 19-20: "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."
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.
We live in this world as consumers. We obtain goods and services either through purchasing or bartering, and sometimes we even receive gifts. That's the way the world works. We can be selective about what we buy, and from whom we buy it. We look for the best deals and take advantage of every break we can. It only makes sense for us to be careful consumers.
We need to be every bit as cautious when it comes to our souls. Satan will attempt to rob us and cheat us and take unfair advantage of us. He will try to set up shop in us in such a way so as to make God's way difficult, if not impossible to follow. Satan wants to use us to not only isolate ourselves, but others from God's grace.
Therefore we need to always reflect the love of the Saviour that lives in our hearts through faith. Our lives need to be not only an open door, but an unobstructed path that will lead others to Jesus, who is both our Saviour and the Lord of our lives.
Therefore we pray that Jesus will come in and clean house for us, so we will always glorify him and his name.