March 24, 2017

March 19, 2017 - John 2:13-25

Theme: Jesus Gets to the Footing of the Foundation
1) Of the Sinful Condition: Materialism and Mysticism
2) Of the True Temple: His Death and Resurrection

L. Ron Hubbard, a famous science fiction author once said that if anyone wanted to get rich they should start a religion. That idea proved prophetic for Hubbard, who eventually founded the religion of Scientology. Herein we see a sore spot on the area of religion. So often it is used for material gain. We’ve seen the story play out again and again. Leaders and teachers talk a big game. Some pastors ask their members to give and give and give, yet they have private jets and lavish mansions. They claim to care about the common person but end up being nothing more than cheap charlatans. Sadly, fringe religious movements have even led to things like: sexual abuse, financial ruin, and even mass murder, all in the name of a spiritual cause.

One time when I was down by the water front in Seattle, an individual who appeared to be monk of some Eastern religion approached me and wanted my attention. I figured it would at least be informative to see what he wanted or hear what he had to say. But, to my surprise, he skipped an introduction or explanation, grabbed my hand, put a notepad in my palm, and pointed to it. He may have been this direct because he didn’t seem to speak much English. But as I looked at the pad I saw that it was a pledge list. I was supposed to write down a certain amount of money to give in order to receive a blessing or prayer of some sort. I politely said “no thanks” and continued on my way but I certainly wasn’t short of any shock in how direct this guy was to peddle his religion for some money. I was amazed at the artificial feel of it all, but I probably shouldn’t have been. Religion has always been used by some for financial gain, and it always will be. 

Jesus had his own encounter with this sad reality, and in the Jewish temple of all places. Imagine that, the house of Jehovah, the place where Jesus was taken as a Child to be dedicated and where He received Simeon and Anna’s blessings, now become more of a circus attraction than anything else. Imagine the sacred Passover festival, more of a barnyard bonanza than a solemn occasion of repentance and forgiveness. It would be equivalent to having a wine bar in our narthex to help us prepare for the Lord’s Supper today.

John 2:13-25 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. 15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. 16 And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up." 18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" 19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 Then the Jews 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 of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. 23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. 24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, 25 and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.

Perhaps what was even more surprising was that Jesus cleansed the Temple in this way twice. Many think of the time right before His death, when it was once again the Passover. But the events of our text come from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Long before He as on the direct path to the cross, Jesus set the same theme much earlier. In fact, as we think about the Temple itself, Jesus was laying a foundation here in our text. He was telling people the very purpose of His coming. This was one of the first times Jesus spoke the Gospel message as He prophesied of His resurrection.

We talk about getting “off on the right foot” in a conversation or relationship. In a similar way, we also speak about the footing of a foundation, that is, the very beginning or the start. Jesus does both here. He begins a preaching relationship with the Jews and He firmly declares His intentions as the Messiah by getting at the footing of the foundation.

Part 1: Of the Sinful Condition: Materialism and Mysticism

Jesus began by describing the problem at hand. Well, He actually didn’t have to describe it so much because the Jews naturally revealed it. Jesus Himself chastised the Jews for turning His Father’s house into a place of merchandise. You see, there was more to the Temple complex than just the sanctuary proper. The Temple also had an outer courtyard where most activities took place. It was in this area that all this buying and selling took place. People would purchase an animal for sacrifice and then enter the Temple with it in order for the priest to offer it for their sins – or as was customary around the Passover time, as a remembrance of the Exodus.

I’m sure the merchants felt justified in their practices. After all, someone needed to make the animals available for sacrifice. It wasn’t the act of selling that incited Jesus’ wrath. Instead, it was the location. This buying and selling didn’t need to take place on Temple grounds, yet it did merely for the sake of convenience. This petty reason outweighed, in the peoples’ minds, the importance of keeping God’s house sacred.

Materialism in a place where it did not belong was offensive enough, but this was not the main problem the Jews had. The root of their sin comes out as the text moves along, and actually through their own words. After Jesus drives the merchants out the Jews ask Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" This very question shows how far the foundation of their faith had drifted away from the truth. Instead of asking for a basis of truth for Jesus’ actions, truth rooted in the Scriptures perhaps, the Jews demand a sign. Here we see again that struggle for physical power that the Jews so desperately desired, just as Paul elaborated on last weekend in our sermon text. 

They wanted Jesus to show them something miraculous as proof that He had the right to speak for God. But, because they had long discarded the Scriptures in place of their own traditions, they completely missed that Jesus wasn’t just speaking for God, He was God! This was His house that they had made a mockery. They had sinned directly against Jesus and now they were going to question Him about it.

By driving out the money-changers from the Temple Jesus exposed much more than just materialism. He exposed the improper foundation upon which the Jews had established their faith. Their materialism and greed were merely symptoms of the greater spiritual blight, namely that their faith was based in signs, and not Scripture.

John goes on to tell us that many ended up believing in Jesus because of signs He did, but this didn’t mean much to Jesus. John talks about this at the end of our text. It’s an interesting section because it’s the only time in the Bible that I know of which talks about God believing. Verse 24 literally says that Jesus did not believe, or trust, because He knew what men were like. Essentially, the strong number who believed in Jesus because of signs didn’t mean much. He knew how fickle experience-based faith can be. Faith founded on the footing of signs and miracles is like the seed of the sower that springs up quickly yet withers just as fast because has no root. It is not founded in the rich soil of the Gospel promise, but rather only grows to the extent that a person can see, observe, and experience the signs which they so strongly desire.

Part 2: Of the True Temple: His Death and Resurrection

The Jews were looking for the wrong thing in order to believe. Yet, Jesus accommodated their desire in order to do all He can to lead them to faith. If a sign was what they wanted, a sign was what they would get. He would give them the sign of the Resurrection. Jesus concealed this sign in symbolic language, likening His body to the Temple, because they were not ready to hear it directly yet. Jesus also employed a tactic that He used often in His ministry. He used an illustration and declared the truth indirectly so that the people would seek out more answers. It was meant to leave a persistent feeling of wonderment to drive them to the Word of God for answers. 

At first hearing the same thing we would probably conclude the same as the Jews. How would Jesus destroy the actual Temple and bring it back in three days? It helps to have John’s anecdotal explanation. But dig a bit deeper, investigate a little more, and what Jesus says not only makes sense, it builds and strengthens one’s faith and knowledge. Think about the single purpose of God’s Temple. In the simplest explanation, it was the place where God dwelt and interacted with people. This was the place. Not the king’s palace, not the marketplace, not the shepherd’s field, or any other location. The Temple was God’s dedicated dwelling place. It doesn’t mean God couldn’t reveal Himself in other places, He certainly did. But, the Temple was set apart for that specific purpose.

Jesus took on that very role, in a literal way, when He was born. He was Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus became the Temple of God in a way that could never be duplicated. He was the direct presence of God on earth, with men. Because of this, it was entirely appropriate for Jesus to compare Himself with the Temple in Jerusalem. What a massive blunder by the Jews to miss this! For generations and centuries, Temple worship was all about preparing God’s people to receive His Promised Messiah. Well, here He was, right in front of them, and all they could think about was the building. They were worried at Jesus’ words too. The Temple building was precious to them; who would dare think to destroy it? The Pharisees actually tried to use Jesus’ statement against Him later, by trying to make Jesus out as an insurrectionist who only wanted anarchy against Rome. But, no one would actually believe this lie.

Eyes and ears focused on Jesus’ words made the difference. John tells us that the disciples thought of this event after Jesus’ resurrection when they had seen His full work completed and explained. And what was the thing that kept the disciples attached to Jesus? The Scriptures. In contrast to asking for signs, John tells us that the disciples believed the words which Jesus spoke to them. Amazing, what happens when sinners actually listen to the Words of Christ. And don’t think the disciples were something special. Their examples in the Gospels are riddled with the same sign-based attitude that these Jews had. Why shouldn’t we naturally see that too? The disciples were raised in that same culture.

The difference was made by the Word of God. True enough that the twelve disciples actually saw the resurrected Jesus, but their faith was only strengthened when the Scriptures confirmed the signs. Remember Peter and John initially doubted the women’s Easter message. Thomas needed to see the nail prints and spear wound before he confessed, “My Lord and my God!”      

And so we ask the Holy Spirit to establish our faith in Jesus on the same, sure footing of His Word. We may not wrestle with merchants in our sanctuary, but we still have plenty of distractions and foes that could lead us away from the cross. A good place to start in examining your heart is the same place where Jesus started. Why are you in His temple? Certainly, not to make money as the Jews were. But, perhaps your reasons are less blatant but equally dangerous. Do you sometimes come to church not so much to hear the preached Word but because you’re worried about what others may think? If you’re absent for too long, then maybe you’ll be judged or looked down upon. I hope not, but it does happen.

Or maybe you come because this is your chance to visit and catch up with friends, acquaintances, or relatives? God’s sacred house becomes more about socializing than hearing and receiving grace. No one doubts the benefits of friendly visiting and building relationships with fellow Christians, but should it overshadow what is most important? Perhaps a person’s view of church is that it’s not really all that important. After all, it’s often boring and usually pretty much the same week to week. It’d be a lot easier if it was more exciting and entertaining. And yet, that feeds directly into the sinful flesh’s desire to make experience and entertainment most important.  

There are many ways for us to stumble into a sign-based footing as well. When God’s word rebukes you, do you typically have the same response the Jews did, “What will you show me God, so that I should listen to You?” That can happen more easily than we think and it can be a lot more dangerous than we think.

Jesus gives us the same sign He gave the Jews - His resurrection. He even did it twice, remember the sign of Jonah? Three days and three nights in the belly of the fish – just as the Son of Man was three days in the heart of the earth. But, even a sign of the resurrection is not enough. At the end of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, remember what Jesus said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced even if one rise from the dead (Luke 16:31).”

It was what the resurrection meant that made the difference. What beautiful depth there is to its meaning. Your sins are taken away. Death itself is sealed up in hell and conquered, Jesus Himself went there to declare it so. The meaning of the resurrection continues to strengthen and uphold you through trials and difficulties today, by telling you that each day you are one step closer to your true home in heaven. Let Satan rage all He will, you have eternal life through Jesus! The resurrection is not some mystical sign, it has depth and meaning; reality, but only through the Scriptures.

Only the Word of God is sufficient as a foundation for strong faith in Jesus. The Word is true and lasting, unchanging and unshifting. It means you don’t have to believe because you’ve seen it with your eyes, or because God has proven it enough for your liking. That kind of belief is one that demands. The Word is the only foundation for belief that trusts. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

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