Sermon: “The Cleansing of the Temple”
LSB Series B
The Third Sunday in Lent; March 7, 2021
Gospel Reading: John 2:13-22
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 9:13-17).
Today our text reveals Jesus in a way that no doubt makes us all a bit uncomfortable. This is not Jesus as the Lamb or the Good Shepherd. This is not Jesus as the tender-hearted and compassionate images often portray him in various works of art. This is not Jesus as One who would seem approachable in any way, shape, or form. This is Jesus in a zealous anger. This is Jesus with eyes blazing, words flying, and whips cracking. Here the very One who would soon find Himself subject to the end of the whip before His crucifixion was at this time wielding it in His own hands to drive out people and animals. The cleansing of the temple was at hand.
Jesus looked around and He despised what He saw. Animals being sold at exorbitant prices, money changers working the system in their favor. And it was all going on right there in the temple, right there in His Father’s house.
The Jews had come up with a system that in their minds provided both convenience to temple-going worshipers as well as profits for the temple treasury. In their minds, what they were doing was a good thing for the people and for the Lord.
You see, when people came for the Passover, the Jews provided a convenient offering of selling animals required for sacrifice so that travelers didn’t have to bring an animal with them on their journey. They also did money exchanging right there on site so that foreigners could give the half-shekel required for the temple tax.
But get this: “It is estimated that the tax and lambs brought annual profits in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the temple treasury had over ten million dollars when the Romans raided it” (Leon Morris, John, NICNT, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971, 193, note 59). So much for being a non-profit organization.
Jesus walked in and it literally made Him sick to His stomach with anger. That is what it means when it said that “Zeal for His house consumed Him.” The anger burned so hot that he felt it in His bowels, in His gut.
Such anger reminds us of Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai after just having received the Ten Commandments from God. He came down and saw that the Israelites had made a golden calf to worship, and he threw the tablets in anger, destroying them.
It was much the same with Jesus. He looked around, and it all had to go. The temple needed to be cleansed, and so that is what Jesus did. (Pause)
We have come here today to the house of the Lord, and why are we here? Why do we come to the Divine Service? Doesn’t Scripture say that our bodies are temples of the Lord? And would we not say that our bodies need a cleansing?
Like the Jews in our text and everyone else who has walked this earth, we are zealous for ourselves more than God and being in His house. We are covered and consumed in the filth of sin, inside and out. Like a little boy in a mud puddle, we are filthy. Such filthy sinfulness makes us morally and spiritually bankrupt. We are beggars before the Almighty God.
Our Old Testament reading for today was the giving of the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are God’s gift to us to examine ourselves as we do in Confession and Absolution each week. It is His way of graciously showing us that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and we desperately need the forgiveness He gives in Christ Jesus.
But far too often we have grown comfortable with our sin. Like the money-changers and those selling sacrifices in the temple, the people had just grown accustomed to them being there. That’s what they always did, so why think otherwise? Why think there was anything being done wrong?
Interestingly enough, those who were money-changers and those who sold the sacrificial animals did so in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only place that Gentiles were permitted in the temple. It was the only place they could come and worship and pray. And yet the Jews saw fit to turn the court area into a place of business and trade. And in no way did they think they were doing anything sinfully wrong.
How have we justified our sinful actions to ourselves into thinking that we are no longer doing anything wrong? Have we committed the sin for so long that no longer do we even see the sin as a sin. It is almost like we have become immune to what it really is and what it is really doing to us. It is sin. It separates, both from God and from others. It is sin. It is deadly, and it will kill. (Pause)
Yet even when we see it as sin, sometimes, a lot of times, the last thing we want to do is confess the sin. We don’t want to admit that we are in the wrong. So, like a money-changer, we resort to trying to haggle with God, as if we are on an episode of “Let’s Make A Deal” or something.
“Hey God, if you fix this problem, I will start spending more time praying and being in Your Word.”
“Hey God, if you heal me, then I will start going to church again.”
“Hey God, if you help me out with this financial problem, then I will start giving more to the church.”
But what do we think God thinks of such bargaining attempts? Think of it this way. What if we were pulled over by a police officer for speeding or standing before a judge? But instead of admitting our guilt, we decide to try and haggle with the person in authority over us. How do we think that will go? I am guessing any of us that would try that, would find ourselves not only punished for the first crime, but in deeper and hotter water because we failed to admit our fault and even tried to bargain our way out of the punishment.
Whenever we fail to admit our fault and don’t confess our sin and resort to bargaining and making a deal with God, all we do is stir the pot of His anger. When we don’t own up to neglecting His Word or being in worship or giving generously of our first fruits to the Lord, in no way do such things please the Lord.
What does please the Lord is when His people regularly and routinely turn to Him to be cleansed of their sin. That’s why He calls upon us to repent daily. Jesus delights in forgiving sins. In fact, He is zealous about it.
With the same zeal and more, Jesus journeyed through the streets of Jerusalem to face the opposition of the Jews and their fury against Him. He set His face toward the cross and in no way looked back. Though there were beatings, mockery, spitting, whipping, and more, He was in no way deterred. He kept pressing forward until the nails and spear pierced Him through, and it was finished.
That is what it took to rid your body of sin. That is what it took to cleanse you of all that was going to kill you, both temporally and eternally.
The sad thing is, as we look at our text, is that the Jews wanted nothing to do with that. They wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Instead, they just wanted to see His credentials. They wanted a sign for why He came and did what He did in the temple that day. The Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:18-19).
And that is exactly what He did. What the Jews failed to recognize was that Jesus willingly and voluntarily was on His way to the cross to allow the temple of His body to be destroyed unto death…both for them, and for us. But as you and I both know, that was not the end of the story. Death did not get the final say. The resurrection was yet to come.
Thanks to Jesus, we look forward to the same resurrection reality even though we come here completely and totally bankrupt. Though there is nothing in our hand that we bring, it is to Christ’s cross and empty tomb that we cling.
Because there was no deal we could have done to make it happen. The deal was already done two thousand years ago. But the deal wasn’t done with silver or gold. It was done with the precious blood of Jesus and His innocent suffering and death. When He gave His life for us, our sins were washed away. The cleansing of our bodily temples was complete.
That is our hope as we gather in God’s house today. We come to be cleansed of our sins, and that is exactly what Jesus zealously gives to us: In the waters of our baptism, in His Word and Holy Absolution, and in, with, and under the bread and wine. This is where Jesus, the temple that was raised from death, comes to us so that we will be saved eternally. In His name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.