Sunday, March 11, 2012
Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (March 11, 2012)
“Consuming Zeal” (John 2:13-22)
When you love something so much, it can become an all-consuming passion. There’s a little boy who lives in my house who happens to be consumed with Spiderman right now. It’s all we hear about. If he could, he would wear his Spiderman costume all day, all night, and even to school.
If you love a sport, you practice it as much as you can. You have jerseys of your favorite team. You paint your face and go wild in the stands. You watch every game on TV. You even DVR the games you miss while you’re at work and watch them all hours of the night.
If you love a particular hobby, you might have a whole room in your home dedicated to it. You work at it for hours at a time. You display your craft at county fairs or art galleries.
Or maybe you have a teenage crush. You can’t stop thinking about that cute guy or girl. You would love to go on a date with them. You get extremely jealous when you see them holding hands with someone else in the hallway at school.
Sports, hobbies, and crushes can be all-consuming.
Anxiety and anger can also consume you. Anxiety and worry can “eat you up” inside. Or you may have heard an angry person say, “That really burns me up.”
Jesus had an all-consuming passion. It was the holiness of his Father’s house. “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Even as a twelve year old boy, Jesus was passionate about being in the temple. “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” he asked Mary and Joseph when they lost track of him and found him in the temple.
So here in our text, another Passover feast approaches and Jesus is in attendance. Jews from all over would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem if they were able to celebrate the festival commemorating Yahweh’s rescue of his people out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. They would recall how the Lord told the people of Israel to kill an unblemished lamb, take its blood, and paint it on the doorposts of their homes. In this way, the Lord would see the blood and “pass over” their dwellings. Death would not strike their homes, taking the lives of the firstborn. The Passover meal was celebrated in homes. Then, the gathered worshipers would offer other sacrifices as God had instructed in the temple.
Traveling from many miles away, most of the feast-goers would need to buy animals for sacrifice. It would not be feasible to travel far with sheep or oxen in tow. So provision was made for the pilgrims to purchase animals. It was a matter of convenience for worshipers who wanted to offer sacrifices for their sins and gifts to tell the Lord “thank you” for his blessings. Tables were set up where Roman currency would be changed into temple currency. Stalls were built with bleating sheep, lowing cattle, and caged cooing pigeons.
Enter Jesus into the temple court. All of a sudden, he goes all Indiana Jones on the gathered merchants. He makes a whip and drives out the animals, pours out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturns their tables. This is not the Jesus we are used to seeing. This is not “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” This is agitated Jesus, ticked and riled.
What made him so mad? It wasn’t the buying and selling necessarily. It was the location. The transactions were taking place inside the temple courts. Originally this all took place outside the temple walls. Now it was being done in the very place where people came to pray and worship. It was a noisy, impious distraction. And so, Jesus says, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Moreover, it appears as though the moneychangers and animal sellers dishonestly overcharged people. Some might be tempted to call it a racket. That’s why, in the Gospel accounts of the cleansing of the temple in Holy Week, Jesus said that they had turned the temple into a “den of robbers” (Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). All this impropriety reflected the impurity in the hearts of the people gathered there. Part of the Passover ritual was getting rid of all the leaven in your house, symbolizing sin which permeates hearts and lives. Here, in God’s House, the worst leaven of unbelief remained. Jesus was determined to drive it all out. Zeal for God’s House consumed him. It ate him up inside. It really burned him up.
What do you suppose Jesus ought to drive out of our temples today? What would he want to run out of our church as we assemble together? What things would he think needs a whippin’? Is there anything we do that interferes with the worship of those who gather here? Have we turned the Lord’s House into something other than a house of prayer? We have fundraisers here … is it all about making money? Is it driven by greed? Or does every single penny either go back into the community, support the mission of the church, or further the preaching and teaching of the Gospel? If not, if we have any doubts, any questions, then we need to reevaluate what we do and decide whether anything needs to be driven out.
What about the temple of your body? As one who has been baptized into Christ, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). What kind of things must Jesus drive out of your heart which still bears the stain of original sin? The Ten Commandments make perfectly clear what must be driven out … idolatry, blasphemy, neglecting God’s Word and worship, not zealous about being in his House, dishonoring parents and other authorities, unchaste thoughts, discontent with what God has provided for you, always assuming the worst in people, coveting, and so forth.
But Jesus doesn’t use a whip to drive those things out of you today. The whip of the Law will point out your sin, but it doesn’t fully drive it out. After Jesus cleaned house in our text, the moneychangers and animal sellers probably went right back in and set up shop again a little while later. Likewise, no matter how much you try to avoid temptation and drive sin out of your heart, it sets up shop once again and it is soon business as usual.
Only the shed blood of Jesus is sufficient to cover your sins and to forgive you for the ways you have broken God’s Law. Zeal for his Father’s house consumed him … but not like a burning passion such as a sport or a hobby. Rather, it literally did consume him. It killed him. A whip was laid on Jesus' back as Pilate’s soldiers scourged him. The long-awaited Messiah was thrust out of his Father’s house which had become a den of robbers, and crucified outside the walls of the Holy City between two robbers. With your sins and mine laid upon him, Jesus was driven out of his Father’s presence, suffering what you and I deserve because of our sins. Jesus was the sacrifice that took the place of all those doves, lambs, and bulls in the temple. He was all-consumed with love for you and your salvation.
Jesus cleared the temple to make room for the true temple … himself. He is God in the flesh. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). The glory of God that dwelled in the Holy of Holies in the temple was now present in Jesus of Nazareth. The Jewish leaders asked Jesus for a sign to prove he had the authority to clear the temple court. Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That was the sign. But they missed it. It was foolishness and a stumbling block to them (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). They thought he was talking about the temple building. But Jesus was talking about the temple of his body, which they finally killed and entombed.
Jesus’ prophecy came true on Easter morning. The destruction of the temple of his body culminated in the resurrection of his body. Now those who are baptized are baptized into his death and resurrection. All that Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection are yours. You are justified by grace through faith. The work of the devil is destroyed. No longer can he accuse you and pummel you with guilt and shame. In Christ, you can have a clean conscience, confident that God loves you and your sins are forgiven.
The glory of the Risen Christ is present among us today. Every altar where his body and blood is present is the Holy of Holies. We are in his presence today, especially as he visits us in the bread and wine on the altar, giving us the body and blood which was offered for us and covers over all our sins. Jesus had an all-consuming zeal for you and for your salvation. Now you can have an all-consuming zeal for God’s House and for the Holy Supper as you consume the one who was – and still is – consumed with love for you.