Monday, March 30, 2015
Meditation on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, based on Mark 14-15
See Jesus. Traveling dusty roads to Jerusalem, fully aware of what lies ahead. See Him mount the donkey, receive the praise and joy fit for a king. A new hero! One who can save us! But did they really know what they were asking for? See a beautiful act of worship, done to Jesus—a woman pours rich perfume, anointing His feet. Scolded and ridiculed. But acknowledged and appreciated by Jesus. See His Last Supper with His disciples. A new covenant established in His blood. The cross was very near. See the trouble brewing—disciples scattering, fear overtaking each one, betrayal on the lips of one, denial on the lips of another. Arrest. Mockery, lies, a sham trial. See Jesus. He makes no protest. A lamb goes uncomplaining forth, the Lamb of God, in the hands of sinners, carrying the sins of the world away. Thankless sinners, blind to their rescue, blind to their Savior.
With none to stand in the way, none to speak for justice, the hatred gives way to aggression. Abuse, names, laughter. Mocked as king, traded for a murderer, sentenced to the cross. See Jesus. Why is He standing there? So forsaken, so alone? So misunderstood, so wounded. He stands there for you. For me. See Him stumble under the weight of the cross, and see Him affixed there. For you, for me. Do you see yourself? Do you see the price our sins have earned? Do we pass that cross, not noticing, not caring what happened there, not sorry for our sins?
The love of no ordinary man or woman works this way. To forgive His enemies, to look back at those who hated Him—looking back with eyes of deep compassion—piercing us with the knowledge that He loves us! He bears all this suffering gladly—since it means that He can heal your sin. Since it means you will be forgiven. Since it means He can change your heart, and make an enemy of God become His friend—to make from a coward and a sinner, a disciple, a faithful follower. See this Jesus. He is here for you. For me. The Son of Man, the promised Savior. Showing the greatest love and self-sacrifice, and showing that the worst hatred and sin cannot extinguish the goodness of God. Sin and death were at war with righteousness and life. And we know the winner. He’s in the fight for us. “See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down!...Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all. Believe the good news that Jesus dies and lives again for you! Amen.
Monday, March 23, 2015
In the Name of the Father—Life Creator, the Son—Life Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit—Life Sanctifier, Amen. Psalm 10, which we just recited, is a passionate outcry of the righteous against the wicked. The Psalmist asks God, where are you to help? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble? He sees the wicked pursuing the poor and the helpless, being greedy for gain, cursing and renouncing the Lord. He hears them denying God’s existence and believing that for generation after generation, they will be able to get away with this oppression. Murdering the innocent in secret places, preying on the poor, the helpless, and the afflicted. The Psalmist cries out to God—how can this be? He cries for God to remember the afflicted, hold the wicked accountable, and to take this violence and injustice into His hands, and break the power of evildoing. The Psalm ends on the confident note that God will hear the cry of the afflicted, will encourage and strengthen them, will do justice for the fatherless and the oppressed, and call the wicked to account.
Today we observe Life Sunday, and I ask that we pray Psalm 10 as an outcry against the great evil that continues daily in our land. An evil that is hard even to comprehend. Did you know that on one day, there were 2,977 victims killed? It rocked our country and shook us to our core. The unanswered questions still haunt us, and the disastrous effects are still with us today. Most of all those who were directly impacted. But the effects rippled far beyond. That day was September 11, 2001, when terrorists struck our country. Those who were alive and remember it, each know the emotional impact and shock that hit us, and will never forget. But approximately 700 more lives—an average- of over 3,700 lives have been lost—every single day—in the United States of America, since 1973, when abortion was legalized, in Roe v. Wade. That’s the daily average of what has amounted to over 57 million abortions, just in America, since 1973.
Even the loss of one innocent life, by acts of terror, or abortion, or even natural causes is a tragedy. But shouldn’t tragedies of this proportion, that are intentional, rock us or shake us to our core? Do you have any doubt that—realize it or not—there has been a tremendous nationwide impact from those 57 million innocent deaths? Does that innocent blood cry out to the skies, unanswered, with no hope for justice? With the grim promise of millions to follow each year? Do millions of surrounding lives—the mothers of those children, the fathers, the siblings, the families, the abortion workers themselves—suffer the ripple effects of the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual consequences of this ongoing evil? There are countless women and men who were involved in abortions, and even a few children survivors of abortion, who have broken the silence and spoken of the damaging effects on their lives. Equally important, they have spoken out about the forgiveness and healing they’ve found in the Good News of Jesus Christ. Later this year, we expect to have a young woman speaker here on Maui, to speak for our pregnancy center, who actually survived an attempted abortion, and is alive today because a nurse rescued her.
I urge that we pray vigorously for the power of evildoing to be broken, and that this great evil and shame would come to an end in our land. I urge that you pray Psalm 10 for the victims of such evil. Our situation is very much the prayer of Psalm 10. The abortion industry has pursued evil and harm for generations, for incredible profit, and most often at the expense of the oppressed, the poor, minorities, the unmarried, and the fatherless. And we must commit this injustice to God’s hands, and fervently pray that He break the power of injustice. And as we pray, we should also be ready for God to call us into action to use us to make a difference. God is answering our prayers, and He is calling Christians to action.
A few weeks ago we talked about the Godly zeal and passion that drove Jesus to cleanse the Temple, and that Christians should likewise be motivated with a zeal directed by knowledge, truth, and compassion. This is one issue in particular where God can use our Godly zeal to love our neighbor as ourselves and to care for the “least of these.” There is a tremendous upswing of pro-life support across the country, and it is overwhelmingly among young people. And people of all ages are getting involved in a variety of ways, that are open to each of us as well. A difference is being made. 73% of the nation’s abortion clinics have closed in the last 10 years, leaving less than 600, and compassion pregnancy centers are taking their place, and now outnumber them by 5 to 1. Local communities are leading the change. The former Planned Parenthood clinic near where Pastor used to work closed down and was replaced by a Pro-life compassion pregnancy center. The director of that abortion clinic made a 180 degree turn from being pro-choice, and has become an outspoken advocate and speaker for life. Prayers are being answered. Lives are being changed for the better. The annual numbers of abortions are in decline and may finally have fallen below 1 million/year. But that’s still 1 million too many.
Whose issue is this? Is it just an issue between a women and her doctor, as we are repeatedly told? Is abortion in any way a man’s issue? Statistics show that 85.5% of abortions are performed for unmarried women. Does that tell you anything about the silent involvement or un-involvement of men? I think it really tells us how marriage is an overwhelmingly significant factor in creating the context in which a mother can embrace that incredibly fearful and wonderful responsibility of motherhood. Perhaps we can safely assume that it has something to do with the commitment, security (both financial and emotional), and love that marriage should provide. Half of women report that they have abortions because the father is absent from the picture, or that there are problems with the husband or boyfriend.
So is abortion a man’s issue too? Do men have responsibility and accountability in this area, or is it only a women’s issue? At a minimum, in half the cases, if a man loves, supports, protects and provides for mother and child, the reason for a woman even contemplating that abortion wouldn’t even exist. And on the flip side, I’m convinced that the negative influence of an unsupportive father, or being missing altogether, are huge factors in pushing many women to abortion as well. Fatherhood and the responsibility that goes with it can be just as exhilarating and frightening as I assume motherhood can be as well. But anything truly worth doing is hard, and demands our presence, sacrifice, and effort. And we can each walk with each other in our Christian community, and among our extended families and friends, and show that parenting is truly worth doing, and well worth the love and effort. Even if you are not parents yourselves, you can encourage those who are and point them to God’s own faithful example.
One of the faults of the wicked, as described in Psalm 10, is that they assume both that God does not exist, and also that God will not call them to account. Fatherhood and motherhood both require a high level of accountability, first to God, but also to children and society. Sadly, we have gone so far that absentee fathers have almost come to be expected in our day and age. But before we blame anyone else for the problem of abortion, we should consider that 70% of women who have abortions profess to be Christian. We are first of all accountable. Fixing the problem starts with us, the Christian church. We Christian men need to step up and be good fathers, be faithful and committed to our wives, and to love our children, teach them the faith, and discipline them, as Scripture commands us to do.
And if you feel I’m preaching to the choir, or you’re not a father, or your children are grown—then consider the young men and women who may fall into your sphere of influence. Raising up a new generation of responsible young fathers and mothers who are committed in marital love to each other and toward their children, should be seen as a responsibility of our whole Christian community, not just a few. And it’s a responsibility and task that pays dividends far beyond the immediate family. If you want to talk about the positive ripple effects—mental, emotional, financial, physical, societal, effects of strong, intact families, there is ample evidence of the positive effects on society. Those ripples will go well beyond us and the church.
And then there is the aftermath of abortion. There are those negative ripple effects that touch our many lives. Women suffering from post-abortion syndrome, or health consequences, or unresolved guilt. Men suffering from a sense of lost fatherhood or the failure to be able to protect their child. Families that dealt with unplanned pregnancies in destructive ways, that broke relationships, care, and trust. And more than a generation of missing children, and their unknown missing contributions of love, laughter, and creativity to our families and communities. It is easy for abortion to become a reason for despair, hopelessness, powerlessness, and discouragement. Just like the Psalmist thought, sometimes it seems like the wicked not only get away with oppression, but they even prosper and continue to sin with impunity.
But then hope and faith are stirred in the Psalmist, and Psalm 10 confesses that God does in fact see and hear the evil and injustice that takes place. God does indeed take “mischief and vexation” into His hands. We pray that God would take the fatherless into His hands today, that He would be their Father and protector. That He would “break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till [He] find[s] none.” God is the helper of the helpless and the Father to the fatherless. No one needs to go through life without knowing their True Heavenly Father, the One who truly protects and loves us in all the ways that we as earthly fathers so often fall short. No one who still bears their guilt need carry it any longer. God calls us to confess our sins, lay them down before Him, and receive forgiveness, full and free.
Well, how about it? Do you have the zeal to do good? As we spoke about a few weeks ago, our zeal for good must never lead us into evil actions, with the thought that the end justifies the means—hoping that good may result. Our zeal must seek righteous ends by righteous means. We must never be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
And thank God, there are many good, lawful, and righteous means for us to do good, and to wage spiritual war against this evil. First of all is prayer, and committing it to God’s hands. But we also must answer the Bible’s constant call to rise up to defend the widow, the fatherless, and the oppressed. That theme runs right through the whole Bible. Right here in our community we have Malama Pregnancy Center, which we can and must support with our prayers, time, and offerings, so that we can address the underlying causes and issues that lead women here to choose abortion, and provide them practical and spiritual support to choose life. You may be able to volunteer at the center—as a counselor, a client advocate, or in some other capacity. We can speak out to help create a culture of life, instead of a culture of death—a culture where the weakest members of society, the unborn, the newborns, the disabled and the aged—are treated with love, dignity, and respect. And that’s not merely a Christian issue—but truly a human issue that reflects on all people.
And there are too many other positive ways to be involved, than I can mention here. But I want to wrap up by returning again to our Psalm and the outcry that God would not remain hidden, but answer our cry for help in a time of trouble. As we’ve already heard, the helpless and the fatherless do actually have a Helper and a Father in our God. And He is not distant from our trouble, but hears our cries and prayers. And the innocent blood that has been shed, does not cry out in vain. Because the innocent blood of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, was poured out into death for our sin. All the grossly immeasurable sin of the world—yours, mine, the whole world’s sins of every sort, shape, and variety. Jesus blood was poured out not only for our sins, but the sins of the whole world. But Jesus’ innocent blood does not cry out in vain for justice, and neither does it cry out for revenge. Rather, His innocent blood bears God’s justice for us, so that we are forgiven. Our immeasurable debt of sin is erased. And His innocent blood speaks for our inclusion into God’s family. It is a family reconciliation and restoration that only God can accomplish, and that crosses even the barriers of death. But it is God’s answer in Christ Jesus to the problem of injustice in this world, and it is the proof that He will reign as King, forever and ever! Amen
Sermon Talking Points
- Read Psalm 10. How does this Psalm apply as an outcry against evil and oppression, specifically to the abortion issue? Why should our first step of action against any evil be prayer? Cf. Ephesians 6:10ff
- Who are the victims of the schemes of the wicked, in Psalm 10? Vs. 2, 8-10, 12-14. How does God answer the prayer of the righteous? Vs. 12-18
- Some notable abortion statistics: 85.5 % of abortions are performed on unmarried women. 70 % of women having abortions profess to be Christian. 51% of women having abortions are younger than 25. 40% of minors report that neither parent knew about their abortion. By the numbers, abortion occurs among minorities at a much higher rate. Black women were 3.7 times more likely to have an abortion in 2011, than non-Hispanic white women. The abortion rate is three times as high among women relying on Medicaid coverage. At current rates, almost 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion. http://www.abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/
- National and State statistics: Since 1973, the legalization of abortion nationwide in the US, there have been an estimated 57 million abortions, or about 3,700 a day for over 42 years. By comparison, 2,977 victims died in the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The abortion rate has been in a decline for more than a decade, and it is believed that 2013 was the first year in decades that the rate has dipped below 1 million a year. As of 2011, about 5,580 abortions were performed in a year, a little over 15 per day. The rate of abortion in Hawaii is about 19% of all pregnancies.
- Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the US, and in 2013 abortions made up 94% of their pregnancy services. During that year, they received more than $528 million in taxpayer funding, in government grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements. They reported $127 million in excess revenue, and $1.4 billion in net assets. http://www.sba-list.org Planned Parenthood Annual Report: Fresh Evidence of Abortion-Centered, Profit Driven Business Model
Monday, March 16, 2015
Sermon on Ephesians 2:1-10, for the 4th Sunday in Lent, "The Path left behind, and the Path chosen for us"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Walking isn’t normally a dangerous activity. Walking through your neighborhood or local park or along the beach is healthy exercise. Of course you can add all sorts of dangers into the mix, to make walking a more dangerous activity—walk in the dark; in a dangerous neighborhood; on a treacherous, slippery, or poorly marked trail; or having bad men lying in wait. However, even with potential dangers, many still will take such a walk, and some may even do so unharmed. So even with all dangers taken into account, walking is not normally considered a deadly activity.
However, our Bible reading from Ephesians 2 begins by talking about a walk that we’ve all been on—a walk that many people are still walking—that is not only deadly, but everyone who walks it is already dead. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The path we all once walked on is the path that leads to death—the path of sin. And those who walk it are already the walking dead. Not a pretty picture. Not a flattering self-portrait. And it’s not selective. It’s not just some of us who once walked this path—we all did. The sons of disobedience still do. That deadly path is disobedience to God, living according to the desires and direction of our body and mind.
This unflattering picture of our sinfulness is at the same time a description of all our bad choices and wrong decisions—the things we’ve actively done wrong and the evil that we had a hand in doing—and it is also a description of what we were by nature. We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. In other words, sin wasn’t just a bad habit or learned behavior that we picked up after some initial years of innocence—but sin was right there with us from childhood. As the Psalmist confesses in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Even before I had a say in the matter, right from my conception in my mother’s womb, I was marked with a sinful nature. Christians call this reality “original sin.” St. Paul tells us that this sin entered the world through the one man Adam. So the total picture of our sin includes both that we were by nature children of wrath—subject to God’s eternal punishment—and we were also active participants in sin—adding our own disobedience and wrongdoing into the mix.
So far our feet were traveling on the path of death. And we were “dead in our trespasses and sins.” Spiritually dead, not wounded or injured, but dead—which means we were totally helpless to remedy the situation. There were no “evasive measures” to take where we could avoid being dead. There was no “careful stepping” to keep us alive—we were already dead. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Can you just grasp for a moment what an unexpected turn this is? God, watching those who made themselves enemies to Him by disobedience; watching us ignore all the good counsels and instructions He gave to lead us to life; watching us squander His good gifts—God, seeing this, loved us with a great love and an extravagant mercy. And He determined to make us alive again with Christ Jesus. A pure and free gift. This extravagant love is the kind of love that throws a huge banquet for the lost son returned home, celebrating the return of a runaway who “was dead and is alive again, was lost, and he is found!” It’s the kind of love that made Jesus pour out His own life in death, for those who hated, scorned, and laughed at Him. In the first 3 chapters of Ephesians, Paul uses many descriptions to tell us of this extravagant love of God for us, dead and lost sinners. God forgives our sins “according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us” (1:7-8); the “riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe” (1:18-19); the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:8); the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (3:19), and so on.
Paul uses all these superlatives in an attempt to point us to the unbelievable lengths which God went to save us. Words don’t do it justice. But it helps show the contrast from our walk in death and utter helplessness, to the new life to which God has raised us. See where Paul is going here—the walk that started in death, in verses 1 & 2, has changed, and by verse 10 it is a living walk—walking in the good works that God has prepared beforehand for us to do. But how has God raised us to this new walk? Every step has been by grace.
Grace is one of those words that is so common in the Bible that we run the risk of losing sight of its rich meaning, and it becoming commonplace. But grace is anything but that. It is the undeserved, free gift of God. Grace excludes all works, so that no one can boast. The story of grace is a long way from a self-help story about how we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It’s a long way from a story about someone who was just down on their luck, and someone happened to believe in them and inspire them to reach their full potential. Those types of stories are all familiar to us—they are the stuff of movies, biographies, and are great material for inspirational speakers. But that is not what the Gospel story of grace is. The good news of Jesus Christ is not that kind of story at all. Rather it is a story of death and resurrection, of total rescue and deliverance for those who were completely powerless and helpless. It’s a story where we don’t feature in the list of credits or acknowledgments. Rather, it’s a story where God receives all the credit, and He must be acknowledged as the real performer, the One who got the whole job done on His own back. That’s the story of grace.
And why does God take such undeserving sinners, and raise them to life, and seat them together with Christ—an honor which we could hardly deserve or expect? He does it “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” God wants mankind to see and learn of His immeasurable riches of grace and kindness in Christ Jesus. I’ve said it many times before—that Jesus Christ reveals to us the kind and compassionate heart of our loving God. A love and grace that goes beyond all bounds and measurement. And this incredible grace of God should stir in us a sense of profound gratitude that gives rise to praise God, who is worthy above all of our praise.
The closing verses of our reading are perhaps the most familiar—and very dear to most Lutherans: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” By grace we have been saved, through faith. One helpful analogy for faith is that it is like an antenna. It is necessary to receive a signal, and yet it doesn’t produce the signal. In the same way, our faith is necessary to receive God’s grace. We must believe in His promises to receive them in our life. But even faith is not something that we do—it is a gift of God, so that no one can boast. The “installation of the antenna” is the work of God—His Holy Spirit creates faith in us. If we believe, it is because God in His grace has made us “good receivers.” Our life comes entirely from Him, so we have no room for pride.
So notice that in verse 9, our good works are firmly removed from the score, from the credits, so that in no way can we lay claim to having deserved or earned God’s favor. But also notice that in verse 10, those good works are relocated to their proper place. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”. At last our walk has been transported to a safe, healthy, and living path. A path illuminated for us by God’s Word, a Lamp to our feet and a Light to our Path. Made alive in Christ Jesus, God has created us for a special purpose—and He has good works lined up for each and every one of you to do. Your walk has departed from the old paths of sin and death, of the evil works that choked your path with danger and pitfalls, and your feet have been set on the path of righteousness to travel in the way of peace. This path is lined with opportunities for love and service. It surrounds you with God’s plan. And it’s Jesus’ love working in you.
You can discover those good works that God has planned for you in all the areas of life where God has called you to live. In your daily responsibilities, in your relationships with those around you, in the opportunities to serve, to volunteer, to listen, to have compassion, to pray, and to love. The good works that God has prepared beforehand for you to do are not all going to be the same as those for another Christian. God has a unique service and plan for your life. There are many things that are in common, to be sure. There are many ways in which we work together for the greater good. But you are God’s special creation—His workmanship in Christ Jesus. You are not an accident, but the loving design of the God who saw you in your helplessness and need—who saw you circling down the paths of sin, dead in your trespasses, and with an unfathomable love Jesus raised you up, chose you as His own, gave you life and set your feet on His path. By grace you have been saved. You are alive with Christ Jesus. Give all the glory and credit to Him alone! Give thanks to our God and King, for His love endures forever! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com
- “Original sin” is the term Christians frequently use to describe the reality that we were “dead in our trespasses” or “by nature children of wrath.” Where does this “original sin” come from? Romans 5:12-14. How long has it been with us? Psalm 51:5. What directed our actions while we were dead in sin? Ephesian 2:3.
- Who is the “prince of the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2? John 12:31; 14:30; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:11-12. How is this “ruler” or “prince” cast out? Who defeats Him? Revelation 12:10-11.
- If we were once dead in trespasses and sins, what were we helpless to do? Why did God rescue us? Ephesians 2:4-5. In 2:5-6 there are three actions that God does for us together “with Christ” or “with Him.” What are they?
- In verse 7, why does God do all this for us? What does it show or prove about who He is?
- “Grace” refers to something that is completely gift, or freely done to us. It’s not a word to describe something we’ve earned or are owed, but something undeserved. Because we have been saved by God’s grace, what are we not able to do? Ephesian 2:9; Romans 3:27.
- What then are Christians allowed to boast in? 1 Corinthians 1:31; Galatians 6:14
- Notice the movement from Ephesians 2:1-2 to 2:10. What kind of “walk” were we doing in verse 2? By verse 10, what kind of walk are Christians doing? What or who is responsible for that dramatic change? Who gave us this new identity and purpose?
Monday, March 09, 2015
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Do you know what it would take to “light a fire in you?” What would get you so stirred up and passionate about something, that you would take action and do something? Maybe seeing something outrageous, or knowing a terrible injustice was being done, and something had to be done about it? Sometimes I feel like our generation is desensitized, or dulled to what’s going on around us in the world. Do you feel so heavily bombarded with stories of violence, corruption, war, poverty, and injustice in the media, that it hardly triggers an emotion in you anymore? We might feel apathetic, like we can’t possibly care—because it’s too much, too great a burden to bear or comprehend. We might feel helpless or even lazy, as though there is nothing we could do that would make a difference anyway. Or we might simply feel safe and complacent, since we may seem to be insulated from much of the “bad news.” If you can identify with any of those responses, and I honestly know I can—are you satisfied with that? Is that ok?
What would it take to light a fire in you? If you became passionate enough to do something, what or how would you do it? Our Gospel reading surprises us with how Jesus took action at something outrageous to Him. The Bible has a word for this passion or fire that takes action—it’s called “zeal.” The Bible sees a difference between a good kind of zeal and a bad kind. The bad kind, the Apostle Paul calls “zeal without knowledge.” Being passionate but taking rash or foolish action. Doing something harmful, not helpful. Knowledge and truth must guide or control “zeal” for it to be helpful and useful.
But does it surprise you how Jesus reacts to the scene in the Temple? The Temple in Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, was the Holiest Place for the Jews, and it was the one Divinely authorized place for their sacrifices. Worshipping Jews traveled from the surrounding countryside to the capital of Jerusalem. Since it was impractical to bring their own animals, and there were strict requirements on the health and wholeness of the animal, people would need to buy animals for sacrifice when they got to Jerusalem. They also paid a yearly Temple tax, for the maintenance of the Temple. This made for a large and busy trade. It was not this in itself that Jesus objected to.
What lit a fire in Him, what stirred up His zeal so that He couldn’t sit by and do nothing, was that all this marketplace, with its noise, commotion, and the opportunity for greed and dishonesty, had taken up residence in the courts of the Temple. “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade!” Jesus cried out. At the end of Jesus’ ministry, when He cleansed the Temple again, He would say, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). What upset Jesus was that it was His Father’s house that was being turned into a marketplace and a place of thievery, instead of a place of holy worship and prayer for the nations. It wasn’t a personal insult or injuries Jesus was reacting to—He bore more than His share of those without hatred—rather it was the dishonoring of God that compelled His action. This marketplace and thievery was disrupting true worship of God. This filled Jesus with holy, Godly zeal. A zeal with knowledge.
Does His action surprise? Making a whip of cords—how else do you drive out herds of animals? Turning over the money changer’s tables, and pouring out their coins? It must have been a chaotic, noisy scene, with animals running everywhere, sellers scrambling to pick up their coins and get out of the way, and expressions of shock, anger, and dismay on the faces of the onlookers. This was what Jesus’ holy, righteous, anger looked like. He didn’t stand by and wring His hands in despair, or passively do nothing. He took immediate and decisive action. He knew what the effect be, and He absolutely wanted a return to holiness and reverent worship in the Temple. He did not harm anyone, but He sure disrupted their business and made them think twice about what they were doing. The people were stunned. And for the moment, at least, the Temple would again be a holy sanctuary for prayer. A place to encounter God in His promised mercy, and to worship Him.
Now pause for a moment and consider—what sort of reverence and holiness did Jesus come to restore? Utter silence so that you could hear a pin drop? Would the noise of children, for example be unwelcome there? Would it surprise you to know that the Bible tells us the answer? When Jesus cleansed the Temple the second time around, described in Matthew 21, He again drives out the animals and moneychangers. Crowds of blind and lame people start gathering around Jesus to be healed, and the little children praise Him loudly in the Temple, saying “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And the Temple leaders get angry with Jesus. Jesus answers them, quoting Psalm 8: “have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” The joyful praise and noise of children was exactly the sound Jesus and His heavenly Father wanted to hear in the Temple! They were praising their Savior as God intended them to. This was holy worship in its rightful place. God is delighted to hear the sounds of children singing and praising Jesus.
Back to our John passage, the Temple leaders were stunned by Jesus’ boldness and swift action—just as they were the second time. Not surprisingly, they want to know what authority He thought He had to do this? It all comes down to it. Were these the actions of a wild, irresponsible person, who had no right? Or someone with God’s own rightful authority to set things right in His house? Jesus’ answer leaves them mystified, and doesn’t make sense until much later. But His answer tells everything about who He is and what authority He rightfully had to do this. They just had to wait for the proof.
Jesus answers them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Not surprisingly, they thought He meant the physical building of the Temple. The Temple was 46 years into a massive renovation project that would continue for more than 25 years longer. It would make it into “one of the most remarkable and beautiful buildings of ancient times” (Garrard, Splendor of the Temple, 5). The thought of destroying this was incredible and offensive to them. But the Gospel writer, John, explains that Jesus wasn’t talking about the building—“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.”
Why would Jesus take this opportunity of cleansing the Temple to tell them that His body was a temple, and one that they were going to destroy? Jesus was signaling the huge change that was coming. Jesus, as God’s own Son, was replacing the Temple. They were not ready to grasp something so extraordinary. But Jesus would slowly teach and explain that the days of the Temple were numbered. Worship of the One True God was no longer going to be centered at the Temple in Jerusalem—but it would be re-centered in Jesus Christ, and all true worshippers would worship God in Spirit and in Truth, all over the earth. Worship of God in the Temple would be replaced by worship of God in Christ Jesus. The sacrifices made to God in the Temple would be completed and fulfilled in Jesus’ One, final, perfect sacrifice, made on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. His body was the Temple they would destroy—He said it to point them forward to His cross—where they in misguided zeal without knowledge, would put Him to death.
He told them ahead of time so His disciples would understand that when He was raised in three days from the dead—that this Temple was His body. Rising from the dead would be the proof that He was truly the Son of God, who had all power and authority in heaven and on earth. Power over death itself, and authority to cleanse the Temple of God’s house, to restore true worship. And while the leaders stood by allowing animals and crooks to overrun God’s Temple courts and worshippers, Jesus took action to clean house. And again when it came to the seemingly hopeless sinful condition of human beings—Jesus did not stand idly by and bemoan what was wrong—but with zeal, with power, and authority, He took action. In the unlikeliest way, He took action with true worship and obedience to His Father, and humbling Himself to die on the cross and become our sin, so that in Him, we could become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
Destroy this Temple…He put it to them. You want proof that I can do this? Take my life—and in three days I will raise it up. If death cannot hold Jesus—and it didn’t and can’t—you know the answer by what authority He did this. He is God Himself in human flesh. No one but God holds ultimate power over life and death. And since Jesus is True God, the only way to the Father, then He is worthy of all our worship and praise. He is rightfully the New Temple in whom we worship the Living God who sacrificed Himself for us, and who desires pure and open worship of Him. He is the God who delights in and prepares children to sing His holy praises.
God is a God of action. Jesus faced the single greatest threat to our well-being, our relationship with God, and our salvation—and He took action dying on the cross for our sin, and destroying the power of death. And we are called to be His disciples. To be men, women, and children of action. Led by a Godly zeal, guided by knowledge, to do good and love our neighbors as ourselves. Someone once said that the only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. God’s Word and Jesus’ example calls us to action. To do good in the face of evil. To have compassion on the poor and needy, to be a voice for those who have no voice, to prevent injustice where and when we are able. There are doubtless opportunities, very near to you every day, where you can begin to make a difference. And a guiding principle that steers our zeal and passion to be helpful and not harmful; to be wise and not foolish—is this: “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). And most of all, be certain of this—that the power to overcome the evil, the injustice, and the suffering that we see in this world is God’s power, and that the ultimate victory of good over evil belongs to Him. We have seen and known His victory in Jesus’ cross and resurrection. So worship Him in His Holy Temple, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Sermon Talking Points
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- Travelers coming to worship at the annual feast of Passover needed to purchase animals for sacrifice in the Temple. What was Jesus’ objection to the sale of these animals and the exchanging of currency happening in the Temple? John 2:16.
- What is the “zeal” that affected Jesus? Psalm 69:9; 119:139. If “zeal” means a passion or fervor for something—what was it that Jesus (and the Psalms that predicted His action) was passionate for? What does it tell us about how much Jesus cared about this issue, that He did it at the beginning and end of His ministry? Mark 11:15-18. How did the Temple leadership respond the second time? Are there any things that you see as so important that they are worth fighting for?
- In Romans 10:2 Paul contrasts a godly kind of zeal with a negative type of zeal. What makes the difference? What else is said positively about the place for zeal? Romans 12:8-11. How are we often prone to laziness or indifference in the face of evil or injustice? What would stir you to positive action?
- Read John 2:19-22. How did the Jews misunderstand Jesus’ statement? How did they distort it at His trial? Mark 14:57-58; Matthew 26:61. Jesus did not say He would destroy the Temple, but told them, [you] destroy this temple, and I will raise it up. It wasn’t possible for them to grasp His meaning till after His death and resurrection. The earthly Temple was a copy, an image, or type, of God’s heavenly Temple—and Jesus is declaring that He is that Temple of God.
- While Hebrews 9-10 does not compare Jesus to the Temple, it does compare Him to the priests and sacrifices, and shows that the earthly things were copies of the heavenly things, and that Jesus has introduced a new and greater way. How was Jesus, as God’s Holy Temple, Great High Priest, and Sacrifice all rolled into One—how was His worship of God pure and holy?