Sunday, March 29, 2009
A Broken Temple John 2:12-22
Below is the sermon draft for tomorrow morning. It is from John 2 and is a great Lenten text that invites us to prepare ourselves for the Easter story. It lets us see a glimpse of Jesus righteous indignation and see the picture of the temple raised and resurrected.
It would have been an amazing site to behold. The Second Temple, or Herod’s Temple, would have been the most impressive piece of architecture in Jerusalem. Archeologist and Biblical scholars paint the picture of a structure with walls that could have stood the equivalent of 20 stories tall. A scholar from the Jewish-Christian Dialogue writes: “undoubtedly the centrepiece of this majestic complex was the Temple itself. A building of shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors, it was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you. The attention to detail in its construction is exemplified by the placing of gold spikes on the roof line of the building to prevent birds sitting on the Temple and soiling it.
On their arrival pilgrims could hear the sounds of the Levites who sang and played musical instruments at the entrance. The pilgrims would circle around the Temple seven times and then watch the various rituals, sit under the columned porticos that surrounded the plaza and listen or talk to the rabbis. The Temple area was divided into various areas for study, sacrifices, libation etc. and further divided according to a social hierarchy for gentiles, women, Israelites, Levites and Priests. Finally, in the centre of the Temple was the holy of holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple where the ark of the Law was kept.”[i]
I want you to hear the wonder and majesty of this structure so when we hear the account in John 2: 12-22 its impact will leap from the pages for us. Hear the story.12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"
17His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."18Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."
20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
In the beauty of the temple’s construction it had become a virtual monument to the religious enterprise, to corporate religion. In the beauty of the temple’s construction they had lost focus on the true purpose of the temple. The temple courts had become the Wal-Mart of ritual products: a unique temple currency that had to be purchased at a highly inflated rate; hawkers selling cattle for the wealthiest; sheep and dove could also be had for the right price. You could buy anything you might need to feed the religious machinery.
Jesus cannot stand it. Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" We like to think of the peaceful Jesus, the healing Jesus, the teaching Jesus, the preaching Jesus, the feeding Jesus, the loving Jesus. But here we see Jesus’ righteous indignation. He was MAD. The temple of God had become the seat of commerce. Something had to change. He takes matters into his own hands. For one moment – in an act of zeal – with a stampede of sheep and cattle and a cascade of coins – the manipulation and economic exploitation – for one moment – stopped.
The crowd stills and turns on Jesus. “By what right do you do this” they asked? “Show us something – give us a magic trick – perform us a miracle – and show us.” With their words still hanging in the air Jesus answered. His words shocked them. He told them what he would do; "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." “What???? Destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days….did you look around – this place is huge and pretty amazing. It took over 46 years to complete this. What are you talking about?”
Jesus was trying them to prepare the disciples for the Easter story. He wanted them to understand that the cross would not be the end of the His story, but the beginning of the resurrection story. He wanted them to understand that what would draw them into God’s presence would not be found in a temple made of marble and the economics of the religious system but in the gift of life and life eternal that could only be found in an empty tomb. Sue points us toward this gift in the voice of the trash collector. Terry Ascotts tells the story of this gift to millions through the ministry of SAT-7. It is the reason we worship. It is what makes us children of God.
John tells us that the disciples didn’t get it then. It took some time and a dramatic moment for them to understand. 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now it’s our turn. Are we ready to make sure we do not get so wrapped up in the trappings of church that we might miss the power of the presence of God? Are we ready to claim the Jesus that wants nothing to stand in the way of our relationship with God? Are we ready to claim the move toward Easter, gazing at the cross and rushing to the empty tomb? Are we ready to celebrate a broken temple and the promise of resurrection?
[i] Cohney, Shelly, “The Second Temple at the Time of Jesus” available online at http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?id=807 on March 25, 2009 and also at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/secondtempletimeofjesus.html on the same date.