Lent 3 – Series B (March 8, 2015)
It wasn’t necessarily wrong to be buying and selling animals at the temple. Many pilgrims at Jerusalem for the Passover celebration came from many miles away. It was not feasible for them to travel with animals to offer in sacrifice at the temple, so provision was made for travelers to buy animals once they arrived. Stalls at the base of the temple mount had been constructed where oxen and sheep were kept. Those who sold pigeons positioned themselves there with birdcages. The moneychangers would have set up shop at nearby tables, too. It was not acceptable to buy animals for sacrifice with coins bearing the idolatrous image of the Roman emperor. You had to exchange them for other coins that wouldn’t have been offensive in that way.
This whole business wasn’t all wrong. The issue was that the business of buying and selling worked its way from outside the temple precinct, upstairs into the temple courts themselves. The place where pilgrims were to be engaged in prayer and worship had turned into a loud, busy, smelly marketplace. The lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, the clinking of coins, and the haggling of the venders competed with the prayers of the faithful and the chanting of the priestly choir. It’s apparent that the moneychangers also added exorbitant fees for their services (Mt. 21:13; Mk. 11:17). It was quite a profitable business, both for the venders and for the chief priests who oversaw the temple rituals.
This is what got Jesus fired up. Take a look at the artwork on your service folder. The artist has covered Jesus’ face. We don’t get to see whether Jesus was enraged or if he simply got down to business. I suspect it was the latter. It would have been out of character for him to be out of control. Also, it appears as if he’s ready to strike the man on the ground, but the whip was merely to drive the animals out and get the attention of the wrongdoers. Jesus would not have used the whip to injure anyone. Jesus was upset about the way in which the temple was being desecrated. He wanted to uphold the holiness of God’s house, the place of worship, and to place no barriers in the way for all people to hear the Word of God.
John observes that at that time “many believed in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.” They saw the healings and exorcisms he had performed. And then John adds this interesting bit of information: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” Jesus did not fully reveal his identity to those merely looking for signs but who quickly turned away from him when he turned out to be a different sort of Messiah than they expected.
The Jewish leaders asked for a sign, but for a different reason. They wanted him to verify his authority to purge the temple as he did. They did not believe in him in spite of the signs he was doing (except for some who did believe later, including possibly Nicodemus, whom we are introduced to in the chapter following our text today). This is the sign that Jesus would give them: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” … not the temple in which they stood, but the temple of his body which stood before them.
Jesus did not entrust himself to those who were merely looking for signs because he knows what’s in the heart of man. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind.” At creation, God wrote the Law on the heart of man, but since the Fall into sin it becomes contorted and twisted in calloused, hardened hearts. At Sinai, God gave the written Law to Moses – summarized in the Ten Commandments – the revelation of God’s perfect will for the lives of all people, and yet people still rebel against it. Jesus said, “out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). In today’s Epistle reading, Paul says that the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. Yet that is what we so often rely on. Too often, we have let the world’s values shape our own to the exclusion of what Holy Scripture says. And that only leads to eternal death (1 Cor. 1:18). Yes, Jesus knows what’s in the heart of man. He knows what’s in your heart and my heart. He sees the sin in our hearts and lives that get in the way of our worship. He is well aware of our words and deeds that get in the way of others who would join us in worship. Zeal for God’s house and God’s honor does not consume us. We are more zealous about making money, taking vacations, playing sports, or any number of things to which God takes second fiddle. We are not as zealous for him as his Son was, that’s for sure.
Zeal for God’s house consumed Jesus. It fired him up so that he drove out the animals and the moneychangers. It fired up his opponents so that they ultimately killed him. But that was the way in which God intended to save us from the penalty for our rebellion against his commandments. Our sins were laid upon Jesus and consumed him until he breathed his last breath so that God’s wrath over lack of zeal for him will not consume us.
“We preach Christ crucified.” The sign of the cross is the sign we look to for forgiveness and salvation. It’s a stumbling block to those looking for miraculous signs. It’s foolishness to those trying to figure things out by their own reason. But it is through the sign of the cross that Jesus entrusts himself to us and gives us faith to believe in him. “To us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Through the sign of the cross, Jesus has entrusted himself to us. We sinners entrust ourselves to Jesus and his care. He is the Lamb who came to take the place of all those other sacrifices which were only previews and shadows (Col. 2:17). Look at the artwork again on the service folder. Did you notice the lamb being carried behind Jesus? In an even greater way, all the sacrifices of the temple are now behind him. He is the once for all sacrifice. He was whipped for us, driven out of the city for us, and bore the cross for us. All the money changing in the world cannot compare with the great price he gave to earn forgiveness for us and everlasting life and a place in his kingdom.
No temple now, no gift of price,
No priestly round of sacrifice,
Retain their ancient pow’rs.
As shadows fade before the sun
The day of sacrifice is done,
The day of grace is ours.
In faith and confidence draw near,
Within the holiest appear,
With all who praise and pray;
Who share one family, one feast,
One great imperishable Priest,
One new and living way. (LSB 530.1, 3)
Jesus is the true temple. He is the true center of worship. John 1:14 says that “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” All the fullness of God dwells in him (Col. 1:19). The earthly temple was soon to be obsolete when he said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
In Holy Baptism, Jesus has raised you up. You were buried and raised with Christ (Rom. 6:1-4). Joined to him, he has also raised up his Body, the Church, into a house of living stones and placed you as one of those stones. You, dear Church, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. You are a house of prayer for all nations. And this house is not confined to a building, a city, or a nation. Everywhere and anywhere that God’s Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus are offered and received in faith … there is God’s temple, there is Christ’s body, there is the Church.
Entrust yourself here to Jesus. Believe in his name. May zeal for his house – and all the gifts of life and forgiveness that he generously provides for you here – graciously consume you.
For Christ is ours! With purpose true
The pilgrim path of faith pursue,
The road that Jesus trod;
Until by His prevailing grace
We stand at last before His face,
Our Savior and our God. (LSB 530.4)