3rd Sunday in Lent
March 14-15, 2009
Text: John 2:13-22
Dear Friends in Christ,
"Maccabeaus and his companions, under the Lord's guidance, restored the Temple and the city, and pulled down the altars erected by the foreigners in the market place, as well as the shrines. They purified the sanctuary and built another altar; then, striking fire from flints and using this fire, they offered the first sacrifice for two years, burning incense, lighting the lamps and setting the out the loaves. When they had done this, prostrating themselves on the ground, they implored the Lord never again to let them fall into such adversity, but if they should ever sin, to correct them with moderation and not to deliver them over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. This day of the purification of the Temple fell on the very day on which the Temple had been profaned by the foreigners, the twenty-fifth of the same month, Chislev. They kept the eight festal days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of Booths, remembering how, not long before, at the time of the feast of booths, they been living in the mountains and caverns like wild beasts. Then, carrying leafy boughs and palms, they offered hymns to Him who had brought the cleansing of His own Holy Place to a happy outcome. They also decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole Jewish nation should celebrate those same days every year." Thus we read in the tenth chapter of the second book of Macabees of the events that happened in December the year 164 B.C.
It is then indeed ironic to read about another cleansing of this same temple about 200 years later. This is especially ironic when we realize that Christ cleansed the temple not once but twice. Once at the beginning of His ministry as recorded in our text, but also at the end His ministry as recorded in the other Gospels. How had things degenerated from the zeal and Purity of Judas Macabees to the market place that Christ found in Jerusalem in 30 A.D? First we must remember that this is the natural course of things. Just look at a typical sporting event. Any place where people travel to in significant numbers will also attract entrepreneurs of all sorts, legal, and otherwise. Secondly it was very difficult to bring animals for sacrifice, it was much easier to simply buy them in Jerusalem. In addition to this, the common currency of the time had the image of Caesar imprinted on it - a graven image. This meant that all donations to the temple had to be made in special "temple" currency. So it was that you had quite a thriving trade in money changing in the temple precincts. Why did the people in charge of the temple allow this to go on? The leadership at this time was vested in the
person of the High Priest Joseph Caiaphous. Caiaphous and his clan were notoriously corrupt. Simply put, they were getting a piece of the action - it was a profitable arrangement. So it was that Christ found the temple converted from throne room of God to a common flea market, with all the corruption and dishonesty that such places bring.
This situation was intolerable. Christ could not allow this to continue. He made a whip and drove them out of the temple courts. He overturned the money changers' tables. There was pandemonium everywhere. The people scrambling to pick up the scattered money. Animals running about and vendors desperately trying to recover what little they could of their property. This is how Christ could accomplish this without having to resort to using His miraculous powers. In the confusion no one could get to Him until the deed was done. Just ask the police how hard it is to find someone in the middle of a riot.
Now this might not have seemed like a very Christ like thing to do. Normally we put people who incite a riot in jail. So what was Christ's justification for doing this. First off, we must remember whose house this was happening in. The Temple was the throne room of God upon the earth. Simply put, it belonged to Christ. It was His house. These people were trespassing upon His property reserved for the worship of Jesus Christ. If someone was hawking souvenirs in your front yard, I think that we would also consider it acceptable to throw such people out.
Why is it that the Temple police did not arrest Christ when thy finally caught up with Him? The actions of Christ would have been very popular with the common people. To arrest Him in public would cause an even bigger riot. This would be reported to Rome and a new High Priest might be named. Also, in the confusion there may not have been any witnesses who could really say what had happened - a case where everyone knows what happened, but it could not be proven in court. They do ask Christ some questions however. They ask what manner of authority He has that He can do this. They were asking in essence that He prove that He was a prophet. If they could show Him as a false prophet, the crowd would turn against Him and they could arrest Him on charges of blasphemy. The answer that He gave them was that He would rise from the dead on the third day. The Jews played dumb, but they knew that He was not referring to the building of the Temple but to the Temple of His body. This is evident by their actions later, when they placed a guard at His tomb. But true to His word, this prophecy did come true. Jesus Christ did rise from the dead. What of the building of the Temple? Forty years later, the Roman general Titus Flavious Vespation Minor leveled it along the whole city of Jerusalem. The Temple was no longer needed. It was part of the world of sin. Our sin was what made the walls and curtains necessary. But now, the throne of God upon the earth is found in the Body and Blood given and shed for you. There is no more need for walls and curtains to separate us from the all consuming Holy presence of God. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are declared Holy and sinless. We are now forever invited into the Holy presence where we find not our judge, but upon the throne we see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The only Temple we really need is the Body of Jesus Christ, which He Himself has invited us to partake in the Holy Supper. We could say that in His death Christ really did tear down the old Temple and raise up a new Temple. The old Temple was just there to point us to the greater Temple found in Christ - the Temple that is a living Temple and a life giving Temple. This Temple will last forever and can never be brought down.
The House of God. This term has meant many things to many people at various times. It has referred to buildings and shelters. But the truth is that the real House of God is wherever God is present in grace. In these gray and latter days, as they are often called, we also have a great blessing. We know that wherever His Word is preached and His sacraments are administered, wherever sins are confessed and the absolution is pronounced, there in that place, Christ is present upon His throne of grace. This is certain, as certain as the raising of the Temple of the Body of Christ from dead.