ACTIONS OF JESUS THAT TROUBLE US
John 2: 13-22
There is one time—one time!—that Jesus got angry in the Bible, and people often quote it to me as justification for anger! They say: “Well, you know, Jesus got mad! It’s in the Bible.” Do not let this one instance justify your constant anger! Even Mother Teresa got angry, just not on a regular basis. Let’s try to get into Jesus’ head. He grew up knowing the importance of the Temple; it’s holiness; the place revered as God’s house. John had an interesting perspective on Jesus. He knew Jesus in Jerusalem; Matthew, Mark, and Luke knew most of what Jesus did in Galilee. So John says Jesus came to the Temple as many as three times. Why? “Scottish Scholar William Barclay gives us the story, saying:
The Passover was the greatest of all Jewish feasts [like Easter is to Christians.] ….The law laid down that every adult male Jew who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem was bound to attend. [But Jews actually came from everywhere.] Astonishing as it may sound, it is likely that as many a two and a quarter million Jews assembled in the Holy City to keep the Passover. [The Gospel of John, Volume 1, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975, p.p. 108-109.]
Two and a quarter million people! Think of Easter Sunday and Bike Week crowds, double the numbers, and then you get an idea of how many people poured in—out of obligation or out of love for God—but also how many merchants and vendors were there to make a buck, like we see at our huge events in Daytona Beach. Jesus had just finished his first miracle—turning water into wine as he attended the wedding at Cana clear across the country. He was there with his disciples, his mother, and his friends. But the next thing on his agenda was this religious obligation in Jerusalem. Jesus already knew that decades later people would find God in the Temple of their hearts because the physical Temple would be destroyed. He was right. In 70 A.D., 50 years after his Passover visit, the Temple was destroyed. After all these centuries, it has never been rebuilt. But the Western Wall of the Temple is still there, in Jerusalem today. It is a most Holy site for Jews; they believe it is the closest they can get to God. So they come, and bow, and pray, and wail at the wall, as if it were the Temple. That’s how important the Temple was to Jews. On top of Jesus being a Jew, he was also standing up for his Father’s house. In fact, in Mark’s gospel he says, “Is it not written that my Father’s house shall be a house of prayer for all nations?” I’m focusing on these details so you can compare their way of getting close to God, and our ways. The Temple had a number of courts—areas where people could gather. The Holy of Holies was a place only a High Priest could enter by lot once a year. Next to it was the Court of the Priests, and priests could get that close to God. Outside of it was the Court of the Israelites, and all Jewish men could get that close to God but no closer. Outside of that was the Court of the Women, and all Jewish women could get that close to God but no closer. And then there was the outer court: the Court of the Gentiles was created for non-Jews. It was reserved for any seekers after God who were curious and wanted to try to get close to God—an admirable cause! Jesus thought so too, perhaps knowing what a task he would have spreading the gospel into all the world. So he came to the Temple and guess what? All the vendors were hawking their wares, changing money, and selling animals in the Court of the Gentiles, not outside the Temple where selling properly took place. It was a loud and raucous time: men bargained with one another, animals bleating or squawking, and cue lines stretching around the Temple. How could anyone hear the still small voice of God with noise like that in God’s house? So that’s why Jesus had to make a statement, and a strong one. People always have the need—and the right—to be in prayer with God! But Jesus was just one man among many merchants; he had to be quick and decisive. If he had just asked them to move their tables, how might the merchants have ganged up on him? So he was startling and decisive in an act called the “Cleansing of the Temple.” He reclaimed the Temple, including the Court of the Gentiles, for God and not for merchants.
Today how fortunate we are as Christians! Jesus said “Tear down this Temple and in three days I will raise it up!” I tell all my Bible students to take the Bible seriously but not always literally and this is a perfect example. Jesus was not talking about rebuilding the temple made of stone. He was talking about what would happen three days after his death; he would rise, and his body would be the Temple.
Now two thousand years later, people have heard Jesus knocking on the door of their hearts, and they have let him in. As our Apostle’s Creed study points out, if we let Jesus in, we have let God in. Into where? Into “the temple of our heart,” as the hymn puts it that we will soon sing. What a privilege we have! God is not up there past Alpha Centauri! God is not two thousand years in the past! God is here; available. And if you have already invited God (or Jesus—same power) into your heart, then God’s mighty power and mighty Spirit are there for you. But: are they under-used, just sitting on the bench of your heart? Are they like a racecar with the clutch pushed in? Let out the clutch, so God can work with you and through you! Otherwise, life is like trying to push a long screw into a piece of wood with a battery operated drill …without the battery! Put in the battery to live a God-honoring life!
Jeffrey A. Sumner March 4, 2018