Bob's Sermon for Sunday, April 1, 2018

 

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"What is proper in God's house?"

 

John 2:13-22 NIV

 

     (John 2:13 NIV) “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (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.

 

     (18) Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?"

(19) Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.

      (20) The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’

      (21) But the temple he had spoken of was his body. (22) After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

 

     Jesus taught us to love our enemies. He blessed little children. He forgave people serious sins.

 

     For someone who taught mercy and compassion, does Jesus’ Temple cleaning seem out of character? What caused Jesus to carry on a Carrie Nation-like hatchet-job in a Kansas saloon? What does this text teach us? It is vital that we remember where we are and how to react to situations.

 

     “A wealthy executive, whose work required frequent travel, decided to buy his own plane. He took flying lessons and was soon quite comfortable with his more convenient transportation. After a few years he decided to purchase a pontoon plane so he could fly back and forth from his beautiful summer home on the lake.

     “On his first flight in his new plane, he forgetfully started to head for the airport landing strip, just as he had always done. Luckily, his wife was with him and when she saw what he was doing, she chirped, ‘Pull up, George, pull up! You can't land on a runway. You have pontoons! You don't have wheels!’

     “Looking flushed and humbled, the businessman quickly hit the throttle and veered           off toward the lake. Landing safely in the still, blue water, he shook his head ruefully and said, ‘I don't know where my mind was. I just wasn't thinking. That's one of the dumbest things I've ever done.’ Then he opened the door and stepped out into the lake.”[1]

 

     We don’t want to just “step” into anything. Every person wants a good life. John said he wrote his Gospel for that reason: “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[2] Does your belief in God’s Son Jesus give meaning to your life? Or is your hope based in a church, on money, on luck, a political view, your IQ, or some other power? Unless we build our lives on Jesus, we are building our hopes on sand.

 

     Let’s clarify a few questions about this text: First, did this Temple-cleaning occur at the first or the last of Jesus ministry? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the Temple cleansing at the close of Jesus ministry.[3] John’s account places it toward the beginning. Why the discrepancy? I think Jesus cleaned the Temple twice; John gave us the initial cleaning and the others, the second.

 

     Living with Norma for over sixty years helps leads me to this conclusion. How? Whenever we invite guests to our place, Norma wants to clean the house. She wants it spotless when company comes. You can probably guess what she does when company leaves. She wants to clean the house again, of course.

 

     The religious practices of Jesus’ time were very corrupt. Jesus started his ministry cleaning the Temple. It is unrealistic to conclude that crooks would not set up shop a second time. It makes sense that Jesus would begin and end his ministry with a thorough “housecleaning.” It definitely needed it, did it, didn’t it? Norma’s house rarely does, but the Temple did. The question is, “Why did the religious leaders let it get dirty in the first place?”

 

     This event took place at Jewish Passover time. Passover commemorated Israel’s freedom from their Egyptian slave masters.

·         God spared Israel when His angel passed over their homes, but ravaged Egyptian households.

·         Every Egyptian firstborn son died but God saved all Israelite firstborn sons.

·         In their month that matches our March-April, Jews recalled Passover; they removed all yeast from the homes, sacrificed animals, and retold the story.

 

     After 1000 BC, when King David made Jerusalem the worship center, Jews celebrated Passover only in Jerusalem.

·         In Jesus’ time, a thousand years later, Jews were scattered all over the world.   

·         It was costly and impractical to transport sacrificial animals.

Buying healthy animals in Jerusalem was far easier than bringing them from Italy, Egypt, Persia, Crete, the British Isles, etc. Having the foreign-born Jews in town for Passover, created a sellers’ market. As with Christmas now, Passover meant profits for many merchants and growers. As you might imagine, local farmers and merchants gladly sold sheep, cattle, and doves to out-of-towners.

 

     One other important detail: All Jews sacrificed animal offerings, but they also had to pay an annual two-drachma tax to pay the priests and to maintain the Temple. The Temple accepted only its own coins. Money (also silver and gold) from Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and other areas had to be exchanged for Temple coinage. Merchants gladly did that, too—for a price. Not wanting to be left out of the easy money, the priests took a cut from the merchants and farmers. As happens now at fairs and conventions, merchants paid for table space according to the location of their tables. High-traffic table areas were likely pricey. The priest aided the merchants another way. For convenience, they permitted buying, selling, and exchanging on the Temple grounds.[4]

 

     Suppose that to get to services this A.M. you had to make your way through bellowing cattle, bleating sheep, fluttering, cooing birds, and hollering merchants. Buyers and sellers haggled over exorbitant prices. The Temple probably smelled worse than a hog confinement combined with a cattle yard. “Be careful where you step.”

 

·         Trading was necessary, but not in the Temple courtyard.

·         Exchanging money was also needed, but not the competitive, belligerent noise, and overriding greed.

 

     Seeing this mayhem and disorder, Jesus: “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.” Can’t you just see robed farmers lassoing livestock all over the temple courtyard? Imagine greedy old guys down on artificial knees trying to dig coins out of cracks in the pavement. “To those who sold doves, he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!’”

 

     We must be careful where we step here. Some time ago, a woman in a local restaurant began talking with me as if she knew me. She knew something because she kept referring to me as “pastor.” Her face looked familiar, but I could not attach a name to it. She told me her displeasure with a certain area business. She felt wronged by them, and she told me that she might deal with them as Jesus dealt with the money changers in the Temple. You’ve possibly seen the pins and placards with WWJD on them—the acronym for “What Would Jesus Do?” We model Jesus’ behavior by forgiving and loving others.

 

     We cannot imitate Jesus in all situations, however. Jesus never authorized us to do things like clearing and cleaning the Temple. That involved judging and reprimanding. Jesus never gave us that assignment. “Judge not and you will not be judged,” Jesus said.[5] Jesus judged and will further judge us. But we are not qualified to judge and punish.[6]

 

     On this day, many are observing Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance to Jerusalem. The humility and devotion to God’s plan that Jesus modeled are wonderful lessons. But our text from John forces us look at our motives for practicing religion. Matthew quoted Jesus to say: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

 

     Jesus demands that we look inside to see what influences us to do things. Our primary purpose is honoring God. I cannot look into anyone else’s mind. Only you know what is taking place in yours. Every waking moment, I struggle to keep my focus. Our text shows: as happens with all other people, religious leaders can entirely lose sight of what is proper. Those leaders did not honor God; their gods were money and power. The merchants and farmers lost sight of the fact that they should put God first.

 

     Does God have first place in your life or does money or some other god? Jesus succinctly said, we “cannot serve God and money.” Our text also reveals the next logical step in this sequence: If someone reveals a truth about our actions or motivations, how do we react?

 

     When Jesus exposed the leaders’ greed and corruption, they hated him and probably envied his innocence. Do you hate anyone? If so, have you thought about why you hold on to that resentment and disdain? The religious leaders’ hate for Jesus arose out of jealousy and greed. In their case, the one they hated was God’s only Son whom He dearly loved. Wouldn’t it be terrible to learn that the one you hate was put in your life by God? Do you recall what the leaders asked Jesus about his table-turning and cattle-driving? 

 

     “Who authorized you to do this?” "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?"

                        

     Let’s do a little detective work on Jesus reply: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”[7] You have likely heard the oft-quoted movie quip: “Show me the money.” The line begins with the verb “show.” The noun or subject “you” in this quote is understood.

 

     Greek verbs generally give us more information than English verbs and this one literally reads: “You (this is plural) destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.’ Jesus’ enemies did not listen to Jesus. Their hate was so strong they hired false witnesses to testify in a kangaroo court:“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’”[8]

  

     As you can see, Jesus never said, “I will destroy this temple.” As is evident, Jesus did not destroy his body; the leaders did by falsely accusing him. Jesus also did not destroy the Temple that they had taken 46 years to build. Through their hate, Jesus’ contemporaries brought that about, too. Jewish rebellion and sedition, incited mostly by leaders, caused the Romans to level their Temple and many of their major cities, including Jerusalem. 

 

     We feel entitled to hate people. “After what he did to me!” “Do you have any idea how she hurt me? When we hate, we are not following Jesus.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (11) “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

 

     Here are some Jesus’ life principles. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (12) Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

 

     Hate poisons our bodies and our minds. It always harms us more than it hurts the people we resent. Religious leaders hated Jesus. In their lust for power and greed for money, they killed Jesus. Their hate roused the people to detest the Romans. The Romans responded by ruining the Jewish nation and the great Temple.

 

     Jesus died forgiving those who hated him. Just as he said, three days after they killed him (destroyed his body, the temple), Jesus was alive. The Jews have never gotten their Temple building back.

 

     God wants us to praise Him, hope in Jesus’ resurrection, and love others as Jesus did. When we honor and thank God, we are at our best and are following where Jesus leads. He will raise us on the last day to join Christ.

 

     “He is the way the truth and the life.”

 

     Have you left everything to follow him and praise him?

 


[1] I cannot recall where I heard or read this story.

[2] John 20:31 NIV

[3] Matthew 21:12, 13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-48.

[4] This took place in the Court of The Gentiles.

[5] Matthew 7:1

[6] One exception is the necessity to maintain pure and moral behavior among church members. See 1 Corinthians 5 & 6. 

[7] This is an aorist active imperative plural verb “You destroy,” λύσατε.

[8] Mark 14:58

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 

 

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