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The Temple & Jesus in John 2

Sermon 340 St. Martin’s 96 (Riverway) 3/3/24

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After 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

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

New York Tourists In the spring of 1927 two sisters, Feo and Nadejda Stancioff boarded a boat that would take them on a three-month journey around North and South America. They were the daughters of a Bulgarian diplomat, and this was their first journey to what they still considered the “New World.” They were accustomed to European luxury, and so, when they finally reached New York City they had mixed reactions.

They weren’t very impressed with one of New York’s best, the Plaza Hotel, which they characterized as “a good country hotel of France” (276-277). They thought the Broadway play they attended was “dirty and barbaric” (277), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their opinion was good but rundown.

Yet, the one thing that really got their attention was the skyscrapers. They called it a “city of iron and steel, triumph of modern science, a dream realized by modern technology” (276). They had never seen anything quite like the buildings in New York City.

It can be awe-inspiring—even humbling—to be in any city and behold the sheer size of the skyscrapers that surround you. And that’s kind of the point, it’s supposed to humble us, and make us feel small. The architect hoped we would stand in awe of the monumental nature of their work.

Next time you're in downtown Houston with your cane and monocle you can say in your best Bulgarian accent, “A triumph of modern science, a dream realized by modern technology.”

But all that to say, architecture matters, especially in religious settings because it has the ability to stir up some powerful emotions. Cathedrals (or cathedral-like churches) have the same kind of effect as skyscrapers. While we are in them, we are to feel small in comparison with the One we worship.

Temple        I think for many of us when we hear stories in the Bible about the Temple in Jerusalem, we think of it as more or less like a cathedral. It’s big, it’s where you went to worship God (minus the organ and the church choir), but there are actually a lot of differences. I’ll spare you those details today.

But one of the similarities it did have with cathedrals and skyscrapers was that it was supposed to be monumental, the sheer size and grandeur were to be overwhelming.

In Jesus’ time, the Temple had been under serious renovation for fifty-plus years. The first Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians centuries ago, and Herod’s family was refurbishing and enlarging the second version of the Temple.

It was massive and known as one of the most beautiful buildings in the whole world. It was the largest building for hundreds of miles in any direction. People from around the Mediterranean visited Jerusalem just to get a glimpse of it.

Herod’s intentions were convoluted, he wanted to garner the good graces of his Jewish subjects—since he was only partially Jewish. He also wanted to leave a legacy that people would remember him by for generations to come.

But at its purest level, the Temple in Jerusalem was meant to communicate God’s covenant faithfulness with his people. It would stand forever as a sign of God’s presence, even if the nation was presently under foreign occupation. The sight of it alone would bring a great amount of pride.

You see, it wasn’t just a Temple but a grand complex that covered many acres. In our scene today Jesus was challenging not only the temple, saying the stones would not last, but also the system. A system that was set up by necessity but had become exploitative.

If I were traveling a long distance to the Holy City, I wouldn’t bring my own goat because if it incurred an injury on the journey then it would not be “without blemish” and thus I couldn’t offer it at the Temple. I was relying on the fact that someone would be near the Temple ready to sell me an animal that the priests would accept. It gave me peace of mind, even if I had to pay through the nose.

Just like the moment you walk into Minute Maid Park, the price of dinner just doubled—the third most expensive ballpark, just saying. The economic term is called “place utility.” Whether at the ballpark, the airport, the umbrella rental at the beach, or the guy selling doves in the Temple courts, they provided a service and had a corner on the market.

Jerusalem was also an international city, welcoming both Jews and Gentiles into its fortified walls. You simply had to have money changers.

So, is Jesus just not a fan of monopolies? Or is something else going on?

John’s placement of this scene may be a clue. We are only in John chapter 2, which means we are sandwiched between, “In the beginning was the Word,” (John 1:1) and, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16).

We are only in chapter 2 and Jesus is already clashing with the established system in Jerusalem. The other gospel writers place this scene at the end of Jesus’ life, one of the last things he does before being crucified.

With such a grand entrance into the Temple courts and pushing out the merchants, it’s no wonder that people began to wonder, “He speaks with such authority, like no one else we’ve ever heard.” And the Pharisees want to know exactly who has given him the authority to do such bold actions.

Whether Jesus cleared the temple early in his ministry or late (or both times), we can understand John’s reason for doing this—he is raising the stakes and showing that even early in his gospel the world is not big enough for the Temple and Jesus.

N. T. Wright has made this point many times in his books. With God Incarnate walking around, there was no need for the Temple in Jerusalem; its presence was redundant. People no longer needed to draw close to the Holy of Holies because the Holy of Holies was now walking around, in fact, there he goes chasing the money changers!

You didn’t need to journey days or weeks to the Temple to sacrifice a lamb so that your sins were forgiven—Jesus was doing that throughout the Galilean countryside.

For all of the work that Herod had done to make it one of the wonders of the ancient world, this beautiful Temple would not last. And Jesus was telling them, “That’s okay, One greater than the Temple has arrived.”

Jesus would later prophesy about the fate of the Temple; he knew its days were numbered.

In 70 AD, some 40 years after Jesus had ascended to heaven, the Romans would, in fact, destroy the Temple, leaving it in ruins.

And for Jews, with their Temple destroyed, it may have felt like part of their world had come to an end because that was where God’s glory resided on earth. Seeing those stones tumble was a big deal.

At another point in the gospel, Jesus as a prophet, looks over the whole city and foretells of this coming destruction, and he will even weep, knowing what is to come of it.   

Have you ever assumed you knew what someone was saying, only to realize later on you had it all wrong? Is that what marriage is? But when that happens it’s as if scales fall from your eyes. You might even exclaim, “Oh that’s what you meant!”

When people heard Jesus say, “Destroy the Temple and I’ll rebuild it in three days.” They honestly thought to themselves, “Who does this guy think he is? Fifty years we’ve been working on this building. And who would dare destroy this dream realized by modern technology.”

But the eyes of faith change everything. John adds that last bit of our passage that says the disciples remembered this distant memory and it clicked for them—Jesus had been talking about himself all along. It may have taken three years, but they finally understood.

Jesus is unsettling in this passage, there’s no way around it. He unsettles the status quo for the disciples who must’ve thought their rabbi had gone mad.

He unsettles the market, the money stops flowing for a while and the sacrifices are on hold until they can clean things up. But most of all, he unsettles the most sacred assumptions of why you’d go to Jerusalem. You made the long uphill journey to Mount Zion to meet with God.

In Jesus’ words and deeds, he’s putting the focus solely on himself. It could be perceived as a very arrogant move by this Nazarene…unless he’s right. And you and I know he’s right.

During this season of Lent where may you need to be unsettled by this bold, untamed messiah? What tables is Jesus trying to turn over in your life? He’s not doing it to ruin our lives, but rather to reorient our lives back to him.

Isn’t that what Lent is all about?

The Collect (or prayer) for this Sunday sums it up perfectly. It reminds us that we have no power—absolutely no power—to help ourselves, and so we need Jesus to guard us inside and out, so that we may be defended from all adversities that’ll happen to our bodies and evil thoughts that’ll assault our soul.

What those in Jerusalem didn’t realize that fateful day, but hopefully we do today is that even when Jesus is the great disrupter of our lives, he is simultaneously our even greater guardian and defender.

Whatever he disrupts, disorders, and turns over he then puts back together the way it was meant to be from the very beginning, to reflect the glory of God.

It’s much better for us to voluntarily turn things over to Jesus— to honestly look at our lives in this season— than for him to come in with his Temple-wrecking-ball later on.

But even when it does seem that things are being turned over in our lives, we can be confident that Jesus will not leave us in that mess. He’s got a plan.

To end, I’m going to pray the prayer we’ll say again on Good Friday. It not only points us in the direction that we are going on our Lenten journey, but it’s also a good reminder of how Jesus took on the disorder and chaos not only of our lives but of the world itself when he went to the cross.

He will not leave us in our mess because the cross proves that he has dealt with it once and for all.

Let us pray.

"O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." (BCP pg. 280, Good Friday).

3rd Sunday of Lent. Year B. John 2:13-22. Dale Bruner Matthew vol. 1. Fleming Rutledge The Crucifixion.
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