The Third Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2018
Jesus Confronts the Destruction
of God’s Temple
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!” His disciples remembered that it is written: Zeal for your house will consume me. Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 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. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A few years ago I stopped at one of those quick oil change places to have the oil changed in my car. As one of the technicians was changing the oil I stood in the garage and watched as a backhoe was tearing down a house right next door. As I was watching this house being destroyed another one of the service techs came and stood next to me. He started to tell me what a waste it was to tear down a perfectly good house— all so that they could put in a parking lot. Apparently he had walked through the house and said it was a really nice house that was in really nice condition. I responded by saying how sad it was. He asked what I meant and I told him to think of all the memories that house once contained— birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. Not only was a house being destroyed, but so also was a home. No matter how you looked at it, it was sad to watch.
Undoubtedly, someone had purchased that house and got a permit to destroy it. But what if they hadn’t? What if you came home one day and found someone destroying the house that you call your home? Do you think you would calmly walk up to them and say, “Excuse me, but what are you doing?” Probably not!
If you can imagine what it would be like to come home and find someone destroying your house then it will be relatively easy for you to understand Jesus’ reaction as He walked into the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. With that scenario in mind let’s study this portion of Scripture under the theme: Jesus Confronts the Destruction of God’s Temple. We’re going to study this text from two different perspectives. First, let’s see how Jesus confronted the destruction of God’s Temple— as in the Temple in Jerusalem. Then let’s see how Jesus confronted the destruction of God’s Temple— as in the Temple of Jesus’ body.
Scripture records two occasions on which Jesus cleared the Temple of God in Jerusalem. The event recorded here in our text takes place near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The other event, recorded for us in Matthew 21, takes place near the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Both of these events reveal to us that Jesus is deeply concerned about both the purity of His Father’s house as well as the purity of the worship which takes place in His Father’s House.
Now let’s turn to our text. In accordance with the Law given to God’s people through Moses, Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover. (See Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16-17) When the Lord arrived in Jerusalem, however, the desecration He found taking place in the Temple of the Lord completely filled Him with righteous indignation. John tells us, “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!’ His disciples remembered that it is written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”
To help us understand why Jesus was so indignant, let’s review the layout of God’s Temple in Jerusalem. The focal point of the Temple was the sanctuary building which contained the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place. Immediately surrounding the sanctuary was the Court of the Priests which contained the altar that was used for burnt offerings. Surrounding the Courtyard of the Priests was the Courtyard of the Men, then the Courtyard of the Women and finally the Courtyard of the Gentiles. Each of these courtyards was designated as a place for these various groups of people to worship and praise the Lord their God.
It was here in this outermost courtyard, the Courtyard of the Gentiles, where God’s people had set up a market place. Since people came from all over to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem and since God had told His people not to appear before Him empty-handed but to offer the prescribed animals for sacrifice and since all the men were required to pay the annual tax for the support of God’s Temple, this market place was set up in the Courtyard of the Gentiles to make it easier, to make it more convenient, today we might say to make it more “user friendly” for the people to buy their sacrificial animals after they got to Jerusalem and to exchange their foreign currency so that they could pay their Temple tax.
Was there something inherently wrong with this? Not necessarily! Then why was Jesus so upset? John emphasizes here in our text that Jesus was upset because they had set up this market place in His Father’s house! We hear our Savior say, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
We can only imagine the commotion that Jesus encountered as He walked into His Father’s house and heard people bartering over the price of the animals and haggling over the exchange rate for their foreign currency. We can only imagine the stench that assaulted Jesus as He walked into His Father’s house and found all those animals in the Courtyard of the Gentiles. What we don’t need to imagine is how Jesus felt about finding all that commotion and all that stench— in the house of God!
God’s Temple in Jerusalem was to be a holy place— a place where sacrifices were offered up to the Lord so that the sins of God’s people could be forgiven. God’s Temple in Jerusalem was to be a sacred place— a place where all of God’s people— including the Gentile believers— could joyfully praise their Lord and reverently offer up their prayers to the God of their salvation. When Jesus walked into His Father’s house and saw God’s own people “destroying” God’s Temple, His “zeal” for His Father’s house so “consumed” Him that He drove out all the animals and all the people who were destroying God’s Temple for the sake of “convenience,” and as Matthew tells us, for the sake of making money.
How might Jesus react if He walked into God’s temples, God’s churches, today? Is there anything taking place in God’s churches today which might fill Him with the same type of zeal and indignation that we see here in our text? Might He have reason to say, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”? Sadly, we would have to answer those questions with a yes. Let me point you to just three examples.
First, many of us have probably seen or at least heard about television ministries which who proclaim what some have called a “health and wealth theology.” “Send $10 to this ministry and watch as God creates a financial windfall for you!” “Send us money and we’ll pray for you.” “Buy this book, follow these steps and watch as God helps you get that promotion or succeed in that relationship.” While the good Lord does expect that we will place the very best of our offerings on His altar out of love and thankfulness to Him for all that He has done for us, I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would do or say to the preachers who are constantly peddling things for money and the churches which allow them to do so.
Second, it’s not a secret that some churches are so involved in politics, some churches are so focused on community service, some churches are so wrapped up in the social issues of the day, some churches are so careful to make sure that people “feel good about themselves” no matter what they believe and no matter how they are living their lives, that God’s holy Word and God’s holy Sacraments, God’s powerful message of Law and God’s glorious message of Gospel have been relegated to the sidelines— if not completely discarded. I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would do or say if He walked into a church that claims to be His, a church that claims to be Christian, and yet it is difficult if not impossible to find God’s Word being faithfully proclaimed and God’s Sacraments being faithfully administered.
Finally, let’s make sure that we do not let ourselves off the hook too easily. We are so accustomed to the visual splendor of television and movies, we are so enthralled by the grandeur of concerts and plays that it could be very easy for us to feel that our worship service here in church is, well, dull by comparison. If we ever get to that point then we need to remember why we gather together here in God’s Temple. Our heavenly Father’s house is where we gather together to keep ourselves focused on the ultimate sacrifice that God Himself has made— the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross for our sins. Our heavenly Father’s house is where we gather together around God’s holy Word and God’s holy Sacraments to receive the forgiveness and the encouragement that only God’s precious Means of Grace can give to us. Our heavenly Father’s house is where we gather together with our brothers and sisters in the faith to joyfully sing our praises to God and humbly talk to Him in prayer. Our heavenly Father’s house is where we seek refuge from the weariness of living in a chaotic sinful world and strength to face another day. That’s why we gather together here in God’s house as often as we can and if anything tries to distract us from the cross, if anything tries to get in the way of God’s holy Word and Sacraments then like Jesus we need to “drive it out” as quickly as we can!
With that let’s turn to the second main point we want to emphasize from this text. The reason we can say all of this concerning our heavenly Father’s house is because of a simple yet profound statement found here in our text. John writes, “Then the Jews demanded of him, ‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’” We, of course, know exactly what Jesus is talking about here. In approximately three short years Jesus would gather with His disciples in a large upper room in Jerusalem to celebrate the very last Passover Feast that would ever need to be celebrated. The very next day Jesus would allow His enemies to “destroy” the temple of His body by nailing it to a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. (Pointing to the cross)
Why? Why was Jesus willing to confront the destruction of God’s temple, that is— His physical body? Because just as Jesus was filled with “zeal” for His Father’s house in Jerusalem, so also Jesus is filled with “zeal” to save you and me! Jesus knew that the only way for the debt of our sins to be forgiven was for Him to suffer and die on the cross in our place. Jesus knew that the only way for us to inherit a glorious eternity in heaven was for Him to physically rise from the dead on the third day as the Victor over sin, death and the devil. Yes, my friends, Jesus confronted the destruction of God’s “temple,” Jesus confronted and conquered death itself, so that He would have the authority to say to us glorious things, wonderful things such as: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” “It is finished!” “Your sins are forgiven!” “Welcome home, My child, welcome home!” Jesus was willing to confront the destruction of the “temple” of His body so that He would have the authority to give us confidence— the confidence of knowing that just as we gather together here in God’s earthly house to receive God’s forgiveness and to enjoy God’s grace, so also we will one day gather together in God’s heavenly Home to live in His presence and to share in His perfection— forever!
It truly was sad to watch as someone’s home was being destroyed simply so that a parking lot could be built. What would be even more sad is if we got home from church today to find someone destroying the house that we call our home. But the saddest thing of all is that just as God’s people were destroying God’s Temple in Jerusalem for the sake of “convenience” and for the sake of making money, so also there are churches which are doing the very same thing today.
May God grant that we will be filled with so much “zeal” for our heavenly Father’s house that this house will always be a place where God Himself feels “at home.”
To God be the glory!