First Mennonite Church
February 4, 2018
Jesus Cleaning the Temple
Text: John 2:13-25
What would we do first if one Sunday morning we came and found this place vandalized? The piano is shattered, the hymn books are missing, the bulletins are shredded, and the pulpit defaced. The flags are charred. Would we call the police immediately? Would we look among ourselves for the person who did not lock the doors properly? Would we cancel the service and allow the sheriff’s department to start its investigation? Or would we give thanks to God for giving us the privilege to suffer for his name’s sake and keep with our worship service without the aid of accompaniment, hymnals, and bulletins and praise God right out from our heart? Think of this imaginary case scenario as we reflect on today’s passage.
Last Sunday I said Mark’s gospel is in various ways different from the other three gospels, but in reality, each gospel is unique in its own way. Each gospel is a confession of faith in Jesus from the perspective of the author. Each gospel was written to achieve a predetermined goal in its first intended readers. The accounts told in each gospel do not always reflect a chronological order of events.
John’s gospel is unique in how it introduces Jesus, especially because it has no genealogical background for Jesus, as Matthew and Luke have. John presents Jesus as the Incarnate God from the very first verse: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [and] The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14).
John introduces Jesus as no one other than God. John’s affirmation that Jesus is the creative word and the Creator Word at the beginning is meant to communicate that being in the presence of Jesus is being in the presence of God, that hearing the words of Jesus is hearing the words of God, and that believing in Jesus is receiving God himself. Therefore John emphasizes the importance of believing in Jesus. John was very clear about the purpose of his gospel when he writes: Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).
The placement of this account where Jesus cleans the temple is one example of how John’s gospel differs from the other three. Jesus cleaning the Temple in Jerusalem is placed almost at the end in Matthew, Mark and Luke. John has it as the opening act of Jesus’ public ministry. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, this unprecedented act of Jesus makes Jews determine to kill Jesus. In the gospel of John it is the resurrection of Lazarus that moves the Jewish religious authorities to arrest and crucify Jesus. John’s purpose of having Lazarus’ resurrection as the reason Jesus is put to death highlights the irony of what he says in chapter one, verse four: In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. Jesus’ bringing Lazarus back to life leads to Jesus’ own death.
John consistently portrays Jesus as God Incarnate. And John’s Jesus always reveals the true nature of his person. It is in the gospel of John where Jesus speaks about himself as the “I AM.” But that is not all; Jesus also claims that everything has been given to him by the Father, including the power to carry out judgment (5:27; 10:25). That is quite a difference compared to Matthew’s Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus claimed to have been given “all power and authority in heaven and earth,” only after his resurrection. In John Jesus also claims that the work the Father started was given to him to finish (5:36). And therefore as Jesus died he exclaimed, “It is finished” (19:30).
Oftentimes, the human nature in Jesus has been emphasized when this passage is read or studied. Oftentimes Jesus’ apparent anger and sort of violent action are stressed as signs of his human emotions. Doing so fails to understand the portrait of Jesus according to the gospel of John. Using this passage to prove that Jesus is human is to ask Jesus for signs even when John loudly said that Jesus came in flesh and blood. Through this account, John not only wanted to emphasize that Jesus, the incarnate God, was rightfully reclaiming his dwelling place, but that in his person dwelt the fullness of God and that in his person God wanted to meet with his people. But the Jews in John’s gospel failed to acknowledge Jesus for who he was. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who believed in him and received him, he gave them the power to become the children of God (1:11, 12). When the Jews saw Jesus disrupting the system necessary for worship, they were puzzled and asked him for a sign. And Jesus used his body as the sign to be given. He would raise it in three days.
We should be reminded that those who were selling animals and birds and exchanging money were providing a necessary service to the many pilgrims who came to worship from far away. It was easier for them to purchase a bull, a lamb or a pigeon than to bring the animal from faraway places. Any Greek or Roman currency bearing a human image was not acceptable as payment for temple tax or tithes. They needed to exchange their money with the accepted temple currency.
What this tells us about the animal vendors and money changers is that they were facilitating the worship service. These people were providing an important service to those who came to worship. But Jesus was not only calling out the abuses that could have existed in the process of selling animals or exchanging money. Jesus was calling out the whole system that had taken over the worship itself of God. The system of selling animals and exchanging currency had become more sacred than the act of worship. They had become absolute necessities in order for worship to take place. Thus the temple had become like a marketplace. The system violated the purpose of the temple. It is the house of God. It was where God was supposed to meet with his people. The Jews forgot that the temple stood for the presence of God, not only for his people but for all peoples.
We, as the Jews in Jesus’ time did, risk the danger of losing the focus of what we do in the name of the Lord or for his name’s sake. Christians perform rituals, sacraments, or holy ordinances. Some of these are baptism, Holy Communion, consecration of people for ministry, or dedication of babies. Gathering in the name of the Lord for worship is the most common activity Christians do. We as Christians get together to worship every Sunday. We gather to pray and to study the Bible together. Some other
activities might seem more mundane, like eating together, having a coffee break, or special events. As you know, we have potluck and fellowship every first Sunday of the month. And the basic reason we do all of these is to encourage one another. We have these for the sake of assisting, promoting fellowship and spiritual nourishment. But whenever any of these becomes a burden or an end in itself, God’s blessing is lost. When something we do loses its life and joy, it becomes a burden, a dead ritual or activity. It is like the lava or molten rock that flows from a volcano. At first it is fiery hot; it flows and has life, but later becomes a cold, heavy rock.
This passage should also make us reflect about the activities I just mentioned. Has any activity gotten in the way so that we have lost sight of God? Is any of those activities I mentioned a burden more than a joy to you? Is any of those activities contrary to the will of God for us? I want to be open to what God might be telling us. Furthermore, is anything here in the sanctuary more sacred than the presence of God: the piano, the hymnals, bulletins, the flag, the pulpit? For the Jewish religious leaders it was impossible to worship God without the bulls or lambs, or doves and the money changers, even when having these things meant taking away space that could be used by the people. But worse, to them worship of God could not happen if these things were not available.
On the other hand, I want to encourage you to participate in the church activities. Come to the worship service. Participate in the prayer meetings. Come to Sunday school. Participate in the coffee break and the potluck Sundays. Each of these activities is intended to facilitate fellowship, spiritual nourishment and growth. But above all, worship the Lord in truthfulness, for as Jesus said, “Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21, 23-24).
Once again, let us remember that John’s testimony in his gospel is that Jesus is the God Incarnate. And every time we read Jesus’ words or hear them, we are hearing the voice of God speaking to us. Every time we come before Jesus, we come to the very presence of God. And God is here with us this morning. The presence of God is with us. He was here while we sang the hymns and choruses. He was listening and knew if we were singing to him or to ourselves. Jesus was present when we shared our prayer concerns. He knew if our heart was present when we remembered those we prayed for or if we got distracted by other thoughts. Jesus is the Word of God and He is God of the Word. Did we hear his voice calling us by our name? Jesus is the rightful owner of not only this place but of our heart. Jesus is the place where we find God. And I pray you and I can say without a doubt that Jesus is in your heart and that you are in his heart. He owns you and you are his dwelling place. Amen!