John 2:13-22 13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people 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 courts, 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! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[a] 18 The Jews then responded to him, “What 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 They 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.
With fire in his eyes and a whip in his hands, Jesus walks into St Petri this morning and takes a jack-hammer to the altar, throws down the paraments and art work, the large cross, the wooden cross. He drags the font outside, the pews outside…..We all stand watching on shocked, upset and offended.
Is this just angry destruction for its own sake? Has Jesus’ zeal for his Father’s house led him to violence? Or is something harming his sheep in this temple? Is there need to make something very, very clear – thus the dramatic movement?
To us, this place is the very location of God’s presence in our lives. We come here a lot. We pray to God here and so, we are offended by Jesus.
So we ask him why is he so forceful and determined and angry to remove what we come to surround ourselves with – and all in the worship of God too!
Like a policewoman wanting to see your driver’s license for proof of identity and authority to drive, we demand to hear Jesus’ credentials to upset our rhythm, unbalance our equilibrium and challenge our assumptions about what pleases God.
For some the proof has to be a divine sign. Do a miracle like Moses did. Give us a supernatural moment like that mountain of transfiguration or heal someone on the spot, we say.
For others it is wisdom. Make an irrefutable argument as to why you are dismantling my spiritual life before my eyes.
Jesus gives us neither a miraculous moment nor a launches some intellectual or even wise saying to satisfy human intelligence or spiritual need. He gives something totally out of those boxes – something truly transforming of both.
He clears the temple to make space for himself. It was not about destruction primarily. It was about making a place for us to be still where rest and trust meet at his feet.
He stopped the whole show so we could just see and hear him, in person. Like a protester disrupting the meeting of parliament from the gallery, Jesus gets our attention by unravelling our set rhythm, dismantling our set ways and upsetting our sensibilities.
When he has the attention of us all in this building he speaks. We can hear him now because all the trappings are gone. It is just the protester and the protestants, face to face.
“I am God’s sign, God’s presence, God’s power – all given in the opposite way the world expects and craves.
Humans drool over shows of miraculous power to trust in. Humans want irrefutable argument and secret wisdom to cling to. My life-message is foolishness to you but it also for you whole hope and life. He says, I am the place of worship. I am the presence of God for you. I am a message; I speak. My word is what creates you and gives you life – not mere bricks and mortar or religious observance, tribal name or story, family achievement, genetic strength or mere human intellect and argument.
I give you a torture and death on a terrible instrument of both – a cross: I give you life here. This cross is the power of God himself to restore the world to peace, to new life, to hope – beyond endless misplaces trust in only outward religious observance or self made ways to understand God.
Will we let Jesus clear our tables, destroy our expectations of what being a Christian is, the things upon which we rely to trust that we are OK with God for a moment in time so that we can truly hear him and see only him when the tables, pews, bricks, altars, candles and all other trapping are gone?
Jesus is the presence of God. He goes on to conquer death and become the new place, the new person of worship. And this is how we all get through life.
He is saying to us this morning as he clears our church building of everything but his Word/himself speaking that our job, our relationships, our study, our search for hope and meaning, our well-being is only fully lived in joy and peace by receiving Jesus’ cross. Jesus’ cross is the place of God. It is the miracle. It is the sign. It is the wisdom of God to bring us all back home to community, belonging, forgiveness and life.
Ah. Now, with his blessing!
We can reassemble the altar, plug in the organ, the guitars, bang those drums, kneel at that altar and enjoy art made with human hands! Now, because in our upsetting, we can hear him, we know for sure that none of these things are there to get us to God, but there to help us receive God in the cross of Jesus.
Because our temple has been stripped bare of all our human trappings to the point where we could only hear and see Jesus, all of our well-chosen words of scripture in liturgy, song, prayer and sermon, font and altar of our beautifully made things of stone and wood and brick can be enjoyed with new joy because we know again that they are only temporary things top help us keep hearing him and seeing him as he speaks this foolish message of the cross which for us is life itself.
We are praying that he would open the eyes of our hearts so that we may know him better.
Will we dare to pray that prayer in earnest as he removes all things but himself from the core of our being – including things we have come to hold dear – like trade, temples, city buildings and a way of life?
Will we let his message run free in our soul so that his message consumes us and we are zealous in love and compassion and bearing witness to the foolishness of it all? “He conquered death, and that is how we get through life”. We are not widows of Jesus. We are connected to him and loved by him. We belong, we are together and we are his.
Friends, he is pulling down the temple of our inner god and replacing those empty promises with himself – “I AM” – and it is good. We are being built into a holy temple made of us and the stranger being drawn is that will outlive this holy house.
Lord, open the eyes of our hearts that we may know you better.
Read the text through carefully, noting your questions and your imagination as you hear it. Notice particularly the words of Jesus as he speaks right in the Temple Court. This place is the very heart of the Old Testament faith. Whatever Jesus does and says here is really important!
Jesus’ clearing of the Temple seems a very angry things to do. We suggested that this was not about destroying people’s lives but making space for them to hear his message – this message of Jesus being the new place of worship – the new temple, the new way through which we can approach a holy God and be assured that he accepts us and hear us.The Jewish people believed that by keeping the ritual laws they could stay in God’s favour. Jesus says no. Only be faith in him and the new temple he would bring into being that would replace this one of stone can anyone be in God’s forgiveness and favour.
As Christians, we probably know this. We live after the resurrection. But what about our belief in what pleases God and how he wants to be worshiped? I suggested that Jesus upsets us by clearing out our church and leaving just he and us face-to-face, not because he does not like our building, altar, art, music, pews and etc – but to create space for us to hear him again. How do you respond to this way of hearing this account of Jesus clearing the temple? Do you think this is indeed what he is doing in this text. If so, why and if not, why not? Share you thoughts with the group.
If a friend asked you to sum up what Jesus was doing this day in the temple, what would you tell that friend?
What do you hear Jesus telling you about his relationship with you in this text?
If you have time, you could practice Martin Luther’s “Simple Way to Pray” where he suggests unraveling this (and any) text like a four stranded rope.
Instruction: What does this text teach me about God and myself?
Confession: What do i need to confess in response to this text?
Thanks: For what can i thank God as i hear this text?
Supplication: For what can I ask God as i hear this text?
Lord, open the eyes of our hearts that we may hear you and know you better (Ephesians 1:17-18)