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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Two Scenes from the Temple (John 2.13-22, Matthew 21.12-17)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 16, 2014
Text: John 2:13-22; Matthew 21:12-17

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Sweet Hour of Prayer" (arr. Rick Bean)
Song of Praise: "But for You Who Fear My Name (Malachi 4:2)" (Welcome Wagon)
The Word in Music: "The Temple Song" (Dawson/Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "How Lovely, Lord" (AURELIA)
Offering of Music: "Silver and Gold" (Gwen Ingram, solo) (Kirk Franklin)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" (arr. Austell)
Postlude: "Olivet" (Osterland)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took 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 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. ~John 2:13-22

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” 14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?” 17 And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. ~Matthew 21:12-17
We are continuing our series entitled, “It is Written…” about Jesus use of scripture in his teaching ministry. As we draw close to Easter, we are adding to that title to call it, “It is Written… and is Being Accomplished,” taken from Jesus’ words in Luke 18 where Jesus says, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.” (v. 31) Increasingly, we are seeing that Jesus not only taught the Old Testament scriptures, he embodied and fulfilled them in Himself.

Today we look at the memorable, if lesser-known story of Jesus “clearing the Temple.” It’s one of the few times we see Jesus visibly angry and physically aggressive when he overturns tables and chases money-changers and those selling animals out of the Temple courts. One of the unusual aspects of this story is that it appears in two different places in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. By that I don’t just mean that two different writers tell the story, but that John places it early in Jesus’ ministry and Matthew places it near the end.

Scholars interpret this in several different ways. Some would outright challenge the reliability of scripture and point this out as a mistake. I am far more compelled by either accepted explanation that Jesus did this more than once (some of the key details are quite different) and/or that John is more interested in making a point about who Jesus is early in his Gospel than the chronology of the event itself. This would be consistent with the overall structure of John’s Gospel, which as a whole is organized by theme and message more than a strict chronology.

Because the two accounts are quite different, I’ve decided to treat them as separate events and present two mini-sermons rather than one with a single message. So, let’s look now at what I’ll call “Temple Scene 1,” from John 2:13-22.

Temple Scene #1: I Am the Temple Now
John 2:13-22

What Jesus saw at the Temple was not unusual or out of the ordinary. It was Passover time, which meant people traveling to Jerusalem to the Temple to make sacrifices of various kinds to God.  It was impractical to carry large animals, and certainly inconvenient to carry the small ones.  Some industrious and helpful people had worked with the Temple priests to sell animals approved for sacrifice right outside the worship area in the Temple courts.  And then there were moneychangers there for those who had foreign coin or needed change.

The sale of animals and the changing of money were really just side-industries that had developed over the years to accommodate those trying to practice their religion.  The businessmen weren’t out to blaspheme God or undermine the Temple practices. But what angered Jesus that day was that all this side-business was a distraction from the primary function of the Temple.  Rather than Jesus quoting scripture, we see him enacting it, with his disciples remembering what was written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Psalm 69:9) He was not just teaching the scripture; he was living it out! (v. 17)

But there’s an even greater embodiment and fulfillment of the scripture – particularly the Law – described in this text. Jesus was challenged over his actions and asked, “What sign do you show us as your authority for doing these things?” (v. 18) His answer was surprising to everyone that heard it: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (v. 19) In fact, his answer was not only surprising, it was really non-sensical, as seen in the response: “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (v. 20)

But John includes the story because he and the other disciples remembered Jesus saying it. They connected the dots and realized that “he was speaking of the temple of his body.” (v. 21) And they “believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” (v. 22)

What does it all mean that Jesus equated his body with the temple? How is he fulfilling scripture in this comparison?

The Temple represented an old and indirect way of approaching God and knowing God.  And the business practices and activities of the various merchants only further hampered the effectiveness of the Temple.  Jesus came that we might have a new and living way to reach God, and in his death and resurrection, he effectively cleaned house and tore down the old way and raised up a new one in its place. This event was a kind of “living parable” and preview of what was coming.

In terms of religion and history, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the one the old laws and prophecies and religious system were looking forward to.  In the clearing of the Temple and later with his death and resurrection, Jesus was saying, “Loving, knowing, and worshiping God is the great purpose of your life; I am the way to God and to fulfill that purpose.”  That has great implication for our personal lives and spirituality!

Back in Lenoir, at my previous church, my colleague and friend, Gerrit Dawson wrote words for a song to capture this event. I set it to music and would like to sing it for you now as you reflect on this first scene from the temple.

The Temple Song
By Robert Austell and Gerrit Dawson, Easter 2000.

Taking up a robe of flesh, to the far country he came.
The Son made his way among the lost; He traveled to his Father's house.
Yet the song of home was drowned by the din of coarse trade and coin.

"Out, out!" he commanded; Tables overturned, coins scattered.
"Out, out!" he commanded, "I am the Temple now!"
"Tear it down and I will raise it!"

Standing in the cluttered court among the baffled and enraged
Jesus lifted up his hands to sing, "Father Here I am!"
Here I am with the children you gave me.  We sing your praise.

"Out, out!" he commanded; Tables overturned, coins scattered.
"Out, out!" he commanded, "I am the Temple now!"
"Tear it down and I will raise it!"

Zeal for his Father's house, the house of many mansions,
Filled his heart and swelled his voice.

I came to give you life, not dwell in a den of thieves.
Come, come in to my Father's house; I am the Place of Meeting now
So where I am, you may be with me today and always

"Out, out!" he commanded; Tables overturned, coins scattered.
"Out, out!" he commanded, "I am the Temple now!"
"Tear it down and I will raise it!"
“I am the Temple now!

Temple Scene #2: A House of Prayer
Matthew 21:12-17

The second temple scene, near the end of Matthew, has the more familiar format of Jesus quoting scripture and teaching in the moment. Yet we also will see him embodying the Word even as he teaches.

It’s the same situation with the buying and selling of animals in the temple and the changing of money. And again we read of him overturning tables and driving out the offenders. But this time, we have him speaking scripture to them. Mashing together Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, he says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a ‘robber’s den’.” (v. 13)

Let’s look at this first use of scripture. As we noted before, he seems angered at the distraction – the misdirection from the true purpose of the temple. Instead of being a “house of prayer” where all people can come before the Lord (indeed, Isaiah tells of outcasts and all the nations coming!), the buying and selling have become pre-eminent, and on top of that, dishonest. It’s not just the transactions being distracting, he is accusing them of “robbing” the people, made doubly wrong by covering it with a religious requirement. With the longer Isaiah scripture in view, we see that Jesus is opening up a place for all people to draw near to God.

And like that, the story moves on. The next thing we read (v. 14) is that the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. So interesting that he would and could chase the people out of the temple and then stick around for people to come to him. Matthew places this right after the triumphal and crowd-fueled entry on what we call Palm Sunday. They were ready to make him King, so maybe no one DARED to challenge him in the temple that day. That timing and detail seems to lend credence to this being a second and later event than what John described. At any rate, the blind and the lame were being healed! Weeks ago we talked about Jesus beginning his ministry by reading from the Isaiah in the synagogue and quoting the prophesy that the blind would see and the lame would walk. He’s DOING it; he’s keeping the prophecy and he’s doing it in the middle of the temple in Jerusalem. This is not the first time he has healed, but we definitely see how he has moved from teaching to embodying the word of God!

And right there is where the children found him. Presumably following from the Palm Sunday entry, they continue with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (v. 15). It is only now (?!) that we read of the scribes and chief priests becoming indignant. They question, “Do you hear what the children are saying?” They are proclaiming him the Messiah, even as all those lining the streets on Palm Sunday did! And Jesus responds with a little more in your face version of “it is written”: “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself.’?” He is quoting Psalm 8:2 and again demonstrating that he is the very embodiment of God’s Word in scripture.

So in this brief account of the Temple Clearing, we have three important messages interwoven and embodied in Jesus:

1.    “All Come Near” – Jesus becomes the place of prayer for all people, near and far
2.    “All find healing and Good News” – as the embodiment of the Jubilee, all hope is found in Jesus
3.    “Find the One who Saves” – Jesus is the Promised Messiah and Savior of the world

Who is this Jesus who takes all of God’s word and promises into himself for the healing of the world? He is more than a story, more than the account of religious events and people; he is God’s story in the flesh, lived out and among the world. This isn’t about what should or shouldn’t happen in God’s temple; it’s about the one who BECAME God’s temple, incorporating and embodying multiple strands of God’s Word and promise for the world.

This is Good News! And I hope you hear it! Amen.

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