CLEANSING THE TEMPLE John 2:13-22 & Matthew 21:13-17 March 18, 2012 Something is going on over in the temple – the Rabbi Jesus from Galilee has entered the place and He is angry. You know, Lent – the 40 days pf preparation for Easter – is the time in the life of the church when we ask ourselves: • What does it mean to be a faithful disciple of Jesus? And now through our scripture this morning we have the opportunity to ask ourselves • What does it mean to be a faithful church of Jesus? And to answer that question we need to get ourselves on over to the temple and see what’s going on. The temple is located on a small hill in Jerusalem and therefore it is the highest building in this ancient city. The building itself is a magnificent structure of wood and stone – originally designed by Solomon by the command of God to be permanent dwelling place of God on earth. The place where God and humans meet face-to-face: The center of all creation A reminder of the Garden of Eden where God came in the cool of the evening to walk face-to-face with Adam and Eve. The original temple held the ark of the covenant – the mercy seat of God – the place God and Moses meet faceto-face, as the Children of Israel wander their way home. The temple, then is to be The place where joyous reunion takes place between God and (His) children. The place where sacrifices of love purify us – make us holy – so we can stand face-to-face before God. The place where the grateful songs of love and praise welcome the presence of God on earth.. So, looking up at the temple, we walk up the small hill, climb the steps and cross through the gates into the temple complex. And we find ourselves in a large open courtyard with masses of people milling around and animals and children. It looks a lot like the Raleigh Farmer’s Market. The buyers and the sellers are lined up in stalls filling the courtyard – jockeying for the best position. You see, pilgrims coming to worship at the temple are required to make sacrifices to God and the sacrifice has to be an animal with no blemish or disease. So people are busy buying white perfect lambs or doves. And you might think “well, why didn’t they just bring a lamb from home instead of paying these high Jerusalem prices? Most of them have pure white lambs in their flocks at home.” But you needn’t waste your time thinking that because the priests have to approve your lamb as being worthy for sacrifice, and maybe they’re in cahoots with the animal sellers. So they are not going to approve your lamb from home because they’re getting a cut from the sellers in the courtyard. (It’s like going to the movies where you have to pay $7.00 for popcorn that costs 50 cents to make at home. You get the idea here.) And over on the other side, the money changers at their tables are hard at work. You see every Jew is required to pay a temple tax and the money you brought from home is going to be Roman coins, but you can’t pay your tax with Roman money because it has idolatrous images of the emperor on it. You have to pay your tax with special coins that do not have emperor heads on them. So to pay your required tax, you’re gonna have to go visit the money changer who will take your Roman coins and give you Temple money and charge you a fee to do it.
So all around us people are buzzing around – animals crying – people shouting in anger and frustration at being cheated out of their money. And we walk across this courtyard to the portico beyond which is the door to the temple building itself. But we have to stop there. The courtyard we have just walked across is known as the Court of the Gentiles and ahead of us is a sign making it clear why this is. “Gentiles who go past this point will be put to death” the sign says. (With official Roman approval) As a matter of fact, the only people who can go past the courtyard of the Gentiles into the court of the temple itself are healthy Jewish men. No Gentiles No blind people No women No old Jewish men on walkers or with canes No children No man missing an arm or an eye or a leg or a hand Only perfectly formed Jewish men. Now stand with me here on these short steps leading up to the building of the Temple under the covered arch and turn around and look. Behind us is the building – the temple. In front of us is this huge courtyard of the Gentiles we have just walked across. Look straight ahead at the entrance gate and watch. What you are about to see is an event so powerful it finds its way into all four gospel accounts. It is so deeply significant it defines who we are as a faithful church of Jesus. A man enters the gate with twelve rag tag disciples following. They pause and look around – the disciples obviously overwhelmed by the magnificence of the temple they see. But Jesus is angry. He is more than angry – He is furious – He is livid. And He flies into motion with a whip, the Gospel of John says. He clears out the entrance to the temple, driving away those who are buying and selling. He charges up to the tables of the money changers – turns them over – coins flying everywhere, scattered across the courtyard. And in His anger He cries out “My Father’s house is a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” And the place is in shock! The money changers go down and scramble to pick up their coins and stay out of sight of this angry Man. And next we overhear some of the Jews ask Jesus. “Hey, what sign do you give us so we will know you have the authority to cleanse this place?” And Jesus says “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Huh? The sign is His death on the cross- three days in the tomb – and His resurrection. And that makes no sense – yet. But later, the disciples will remember what He said. And they will realize He is saying His Body is now the temple. No longer is the meeting place of God and humans a wood and stone building. It is a flesh and blood body – His Body. The life of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, known as Jesus Christ – from henceforth and forevermore is the place where God and humans meet face-to-face. He is the only sacrifice needed to make us holy so that we stand before God. Through His life, we – you and I – stand face-to-face with our God – face-to- face – to love, to worship, to serve. But look. Something has happened in the temple courtyard. Jesus has cleared out the buyers and sellers, the moneychanger – and now there is a clear path – a straight shot from the gate into the Temple – the presence of god. And look what is happening. Matthew’s gospel tells us everyone is coming into the temple. They’re lining up over there – the blind and the lame – lining up because Jesus is healing them of their infirmities. Healing them so that everyone can come into the temple – into the presence of God.
And listen. The whole place is for sure quiet now. People have no idea what to expect next. And in the quiet we hear the sound of children singing – from behind us! From inside the temple. Even children have gone inside the temple and they are singing to Jesus _ Hosanna to the Son of David. And so, you and I, we are still standing there, under the sign that says Gentiles who go past this point will be put to death. And Jesus – Jesus walks toward us. And somebody says ask Him if we can go in. You ask Him. No, you ask Him. No, you. And so we pick one of our Elders to pray on our behalf. And she walks to Jesus and asks “Lord, can we go into the presence of God?” And Jesus looks at her – at us. And you know what He says. You already know what He says. He stretches out His arms and He says “Come on in.” You know every time you and I gather around the Lord’s Table to remember the sacrifice of Jesus – to eat His Body and drink His Blood, we proclaim to the world that Jesus is now God’s temple on earth. Jesus is the place where you and I meet God face-to-face. Not a stone building but flesh and blood. Jesus is our Garden of Eden Jesus is our Ark of the Covenant Jesus is our temple where His sacrifice is all that is needed for us to enter the Holy Spaceto worship and praise our God. And every time we eat the bread and drink the cup together? We become one body – the body of Jesus. We become Jesus’ visible body on earth – the place all people can come to meet and experience Jesus. And if, through the power of the Holy Spirit – we are the body of Christ on earth - then we are the New Solomon’s temple. We - you and I together – are the place people can come to meet God face-to-face. And so the only thing left for us to do, as the new Temple of Solomon, is ask ourselves some questions we learn from our visit today where we saw Jesus cleansing the Old Temple of Solomon. In the old temple when we crossed the gate from the world into the temple courtyard, we couldn’t tell the difference between the temple we were in and the world we had just left.. The temple was a mall – it was a bank – it was a busy city street with people honking and cursing each other – it was a political rally – and a courthouse. The question is when people encounter the new temple – the Body of Christ – you and I – do they know they are in a place different from the world? Do we treat each other with a love you don’t find in the world? Do we live by higher standards – a higher righteousness than the petty quarrels and drama you find in the world? Do we treat all with kindness and respect – Christian or not? Do we live in such a way people recognize: We don’t worship wealth We don’t worship physical bodies We don’t worship the partying highs of drugs and alcohol.?? Nor do we fritter away our time in the pursuit of pleasure? Do they recognize we do not worship the Democratic or Republican parties – no do we worship America – we worship God? When people encounter us – the new temple, the Body of Christ – do they know they are in a place different from the world? In the old temple we saw the buyers and sellers and money- changers blocking the path to God. But the question here is clear.
In the new temple – the body of Christ – the church – you and I do – do we let greed block the path to God? • Are we more concerned about how much is in the Church’s Savings’ account than we are the needs of the poor? • Are we more worried about paying for the upkeep of our beautiful building than we are the Week of Compassion offering? • I had someone say to me once “what is your church’s strategy for recruiting middle class families with children?” That’s who we have to have to survive, you know. And we look at Jesus knocking over tables in the courtyard and we have to ask: Are we more concerned with perpetuating the institution of the Church than we are doing the ministry of the church – loving and serving the world as the place where the world meets God face-to-face? And finally, in the old temple over our heads was the sign “No Gentiles past this point”. Yet when Jesus cleared the way, the blind – the lame – the children – even us – you and I – streamed into the presence of God. The final question from our scripture today is simply this: Is there a sign over our door (not a real sign that you can read) but a more subtle sign – the sign of who we invite and who we don’t. the sign of who we welcome (come to my Sunday School Class! Church Picnic tonight.) and the ones we smile and pass on by on our way out the door?? Is there a sign that says: Past this point only: Healthy, white, middleclass Americans, married with children with no prior criminal record – allowed??? Or is this house of prayer a place where all people are welcome? Healthy – sick 20/20 vision – blind Rich, middle-class, poor Black, white, brown, purple Sweet, innocent little lambs and old cranky rams who have broken every rule in the book! Are all welcomed here into the new temple? The new temple – the church – forged by the Body and Blood of Jesus, who threw open His arms on the cross to welcome everyone inside?!! What does it mean to be a faithful church in the world today? This is the question we have to ask when we open the Gospel this morning.
Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for clearing out the temple – for cleansing us of everything that separates us from God. Thanks be to God Amen