Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Sermon: John 2: 13-22 Destroy this temple
In the Church of Ireland, we have a particular attachment to buildings. So much of life happens within the walls of the parish church - baptisms, confirmations, marriages, funerals, as well as the weekly worship. Even when people have moved away from where they grew up, there can be a special fondness for their home parish church. And even a building like this, the Brooke Memorial Hall, approaching its 125th anniversary, has special memories for many.
Those feelings we have are just a small part of what the Jews felt towards their temple. This was the one and only, the special place in Jerusalem where God’s presence was promised. To meet with God, you went up to the temple, and that’s what the Jews did, three times a year for the festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. These were special times, when they went to meet with God, to go to God’s dwelling place.
In our reading tonight, we’re told that the feast of Passover was at hand, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. When he gets to the temple, what does he find? A devout and praying people, meeting with their Maker? A crowd of awe-struck worshippers? Verse 14 tells us what he found. And as I read it, I was reminded of the sound of my childhood. You see, from the top of our street came a sound I might just be able to recreate... “twohundred,twoten,twotwenty,twothirty,alldoneattwothirty...’ The livestock mart was up from our house, so we heard the cattle sales going on when we played outside. We also smelt the cattle sales, as the lorries drove past.
And that’s what Jesus finds in the temple. ‘those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.’ In the place of prayer, he finds a market. Now, you know what comes next, but imagine that you’re there. You just happen to have arrived in Jerusalem, and you see what takes place.
Jesus makes a whip of cords, and drives the sellers out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. Hear the jingle jangle of the coins being poured out and rattling on the ground, as the tables are overturned. The pigeon sellers are told to get out, to take them away. It’s not quite the picture we have of Jesus, is it?
Why does Jesus do this? He says himself, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ Jesus cleanses the temple because it had been corrupted. What was God’s house had become a marketplace, a house of trade. The place of prayer had become the place of money-making. The place where you sought God, had become the place where people were seeking their own profit.
Jesus takes action to restore the purity and holiness of the temple. And as he does so, the disciples remember a portion of tonight’s Psalm 69 - ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ They see the actions of Jesus promised centuries beforehand in David’s Psalm.
Now so far in John’s gospel, we’ve seen how everyone has responded well to Jesus. The first disciples are introduced to him by John the Baptist, and they follow him. They see Jesus’ glory at the wedding at Cana where he turned the water into wine. But now, Jesus has opponents. Look at verse 18.
‘So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ What right have you to come and drive out the sellers? Who are you to come and upset the traders? Who do you think you are?
Jesus answers them in a way that makes them laugh. ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ So Jesus is standing in the temple, and they think he has gone mad. In fact, the scaffolding was probably still up in bits of the building. Look at what they say: ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’
Forty-six years of building works, and Jesus thinks he can knock it down and build it again in three days? It would be impressive, but is that what Jesus means?
Look at what John tells us: ‘But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore 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.’
Jesus says ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ He’s not talking about the building he’s standing in. He’s talking about his body. Now, sometimes you hear fitness fanatics talking about how your body is a temple, so you have to look after it, eat the right things etc. Or, as I heard someone say one time - my body is a temple, and here’s the dome (the belly)... But what does Jesus mean?
Jesus is saying that he is the temple. Just as the Jerusalem temple was the place where God dwells, the place where you meet with God, so now Jesus is where God dwells, Jesus is the place where you meet with God. He’s saying what John summarised in chapter one: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.’
To meet with God, you don’t have to be in a special building. You don’t have to be in any building. Our temple is the Lord Jesus. To be ‘in him’ is to meet with God. Just think of the new Jerusalem, that John tells us about in Revelation. He gives us the grand tour of the city, telling us what he sees in it in chapter 21 and 22, but then he tells us what he does not see. ‘And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.’ (Rev 21:22)
The temple Jesus visited that day was the second version that had stood on the site. The first, built by Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians. After the exile, another, smaller temple was built, which was being repaired and enlarged in Jesus’ day. The old temple had fallen because of corruption, and Jesus highlights the corruption of the second temple. Just forty years later, that temple too would be destroyed, so that just the Wailing Wall remains. The Jews continue to flock to that one last portion of the temple.
Our temple stands forever - destroyed, yes on the cross, but raised on the third day, to stand forever. We can draw near at any time to meet with God, because God came near. He templed with us in Jesus. Through his death and resurrection, we can dwell with God forever. What a privilege we have as we come to this temple to meet with the living God.
This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 20th September 2015.