Monday, March 16, 2009

Jesus, the Temple of God,

Third Sunday in Lent
John 2:13-22
Bror Erickson

[13] The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the moneychangers sitting there. [15] And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. [16] And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." [17] His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
[18] So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" [19] Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." [20] The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. [22] When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. John 2:13-22 (ESV)

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” I’m sure that perplexed the Jews. It had to have sounded down right blasphemous, not to say preposterous. Destroy the temple?
Of course, the blasphemy was on the other foot. Here the Jews come after Jesus asking him to justify himself in front of them. “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” As if he needed a sign for doing what was right. This is one of those “who are you to judge?” moments. Jesus comes to the temple and he sees the abuse. The Passover is coming. It is at hand. Jerusalem you have to understand is packed at this point. Jews from all over the world have come to Jerusalem for the Passover. People are preparing themselves for the Passover. Of course, a nice lamb is going to be needed for the Passover itself. The oxen and the pigeons those are needed for other sacrifices. The people need them to make themselves right with God before they celebrated the Passover. There are all sorts of sacrifices demanded in the Old Testament. And the Temple in Jerusalem is the only place where sacrifices are accepted. You find the one God, before whom you are to have no other gods, in Jerusalem, and there alone. It is in Jerusalem that he has caused his name to be made known. You are not allowed to sacrifice anywhere else; to do so is to be guilty of idol worship. As Moses warns the people in the 12th chapter of Deuteronomy:
“[10] But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, [11] then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. [12] And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. [13] Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, [14] but at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you.” (Deut. 12:10-14 (ESV)
People were no longer free as were Abraham and Job, to go about offering offerings where ever the pleased. (This makes the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon highly suspect. By the way.) They had to come to Jerusalem. The thing is most people, for purposes of logistics would not bring their animals to sacrifice. Many didn’t even own an animal to sacrifice. By this time Jews lived all over the known world in different cities, Corinth, Alexandria, Rome, Athens, Ephesus. They would have had no place to even raise a sheep, and they wouldn’t pay the extra price to have their animals along with them on the boats. They would wait and purchase one when they got to Jerusalem. And so there was a need for people to be selling these animals in Jerusalem. Tact would have it that you found a suitable place maybe just outside the city gates, and not turn the courtyard of the temple where the people came to pray, into a stockyard. But evidently convenience claimed the day, and tact went by the wayside. The temple became a market place. I’m fairly sure the prices were about as fair as a six-dollar hot dog at a Jazz game. Anyone could see the impropriety of all this. I’m sure Jesus wasn’t the first one to be bothered by it.
We see the same thing today. Perhaps it isn’t as gross as I witnessed in Botswana as a child where the natives would line up and beg for 25 teba because without it they couldn’t commune, or 5 pula so they could baptize their infant. My dad confronted the church leaders, racists that they were, and for that and a couple other things was given a ticket back to Minnesota. I’ve seen it here too, in the U.S. Last year I was invited over to my neighbor’s house, and learned they were celebrating their five year old daughter’s baptism. When I asked why they waited so long, I learned that baptism was muy costoso, very expensive. Of course, I would have done it for free, but the pope isn’t likely to recognize a baptism I preside over.
Us protestants aren't quite off the hook though. We have that myth of ten percent tithing. That people are told that their salvation depends on them giving ten percent is an abominable crime. You think Jesus driving the moneychangers out of His Father’s house with whips was a bit zealous? I dare say it is nothing compared to how those who withhold salvation on the condition of ten percent of your income, selling salvation, and torturing pour consciences, who can barely pay rent will be treated at the gates of heaven.
Then again there is the other extreme, congregations who refuse to pay their pastors a livable wage. And it does cost money to have a pastor, and a congregation. We all have to pull our own wait, and do what we can to see that the doors stay open, and improvements are made to the facilities and so on. You have to ask yourself what is the church worth to you? What is it worth that your children and grandchildren, your friends and neighbors have the same opportunity you have had to hear the Gospel and grow in the faith? Give what you can with a cheerful heart, for God loves a cheerful giver. But don’t let anybody strong arm you into giving more than you can afford.
Jesus was offended by these practices. He lashed out he drove the men from the temple. Now the Jews sheepishly ask, what sign do you show us for doing thee things? What authority. Jesus looks at them squarely, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews think he is talking about the temple from which he just drove the sheep, oxen and pigeons. The one they had been remodeling for the past 46 years under the direction of Herod. But he wasn’t. He was talking of body, where God had once and for all made his gracious presence known in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus the word become flesh who dwelt among us, or as the Greek says tented, tabernacled. In other words when the word became flesh, Jesus became the tent of meeting where God caused his name to be known. And of course this is exactly what they did. They destroyed that temple. They put Jesus, the author of life, to death. Not right then, they waited a few years. But they did. They did so at the time of the Passover, they slaughtered the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and Jesus Christ, “our Passover Lamb, (1 Corinthians 5:7) Sacrificed himself for our sakes. And on the third day that temple they destroyed, delivered for our trespasses, was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:24). And it is in that temple which he makes present here on our altar, His Body given for you, that he also gives us THE Passover lamb to be eaten, sustenance for our bodies and souls as they journey through the wilderness of this world, and the blood as an atonement, the life of Christ, to be smeared on our hearts the altar in the midst of the temple which God has made of our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:9). And there it covers our iniquity, atones for our sins. For it was given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, the New Testament, in His blood.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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