Sermons : 2015 : March 8, Preparation for Death - John 2:12-22

It’s hard to forget this story about Jesus in the Temple today, isn’t it? There are other moments in the Gospels when Jesus comes across as fiery, but nothing like this. It’s one of those accounts that changes your perception of Him. He’s really not walking around Jerusalem giving everyone hugs or high fives and He’s really not this continually softhearted person who always utilizes diplomacy.

This account in John’s Gospel has so many things to say – about Jesus, about the religion of His day and about the things that are to come. So this morning, as we’re reaching the halfway mark in Lent, I’d like to pull three important observations out of this passage and talk to you about them one by one so that you can have a better understanding of what Jesus is doing here.

So the first important theme in our reading from John today is that Jesus is extending an invitation for Himself to be crucified. Really, Jesus knows why He has come. He knows why He has come to this city specifically; to the place of the temple, specifically. It was the only place where the Jews could offer sacrifices for transgressions. And that’s what they were selling in the Temple that day-birds, goats, lambs, animals for sacrifice. But Jesus is about to put an end to all of that and you can bet not everyone is going to be happy about it.

Throughout the Gospels, there is this battle between Jesus and the religious establishment. And the main issue at hand is who really speaks for God? Who really has in mind the things of God and whose religion is manmade? You’ll notice here that after Jesus makes this big commotion that He’s not arrested. The reason is that He is already known by the authorities. Because He has a following, the establishment needs to be careful. And so they ask Him to prove His actions today by giving a sign.

So Jesus actually complies and says that if they destroy the Temple, He will raise it up in three days. That will be His sign. Now John actually tells us there was some misunderstanding about His statement. But from our perspective, if Jesus is killed and comes back from the dead, then He can say He really does speak for God. Now later, they will actually use this same statement to charge Jesus with blasphemy because to threaten the Temple is to threaten God since this is His house. So ironically, Jesus give them the words here that they will, in fact, use to crucify Him…even if they don’t right now. But the invitation has been given and now the events leading up to that moment are set in motion.

And that brings me to my second point. In preparation for death, Jesus has come to cleanse the Temple. This Temple had stood since the exiles came back from Babylon some 400 years earlier. What a banner day it was when they finished and re-dedicated it. It absolutely cemented the notion that Israel was back, resurrected, re-established; that God had indeed made good on His promise made through prophets like Isaiah.

But now, it once again has the handprints of corruption and distortion all over it. The Romans oversee things here. They tell the religious authorities who the high priest will be and install some Roman sympathizer. The Sadducees and Pharisees fight for control over the people’s minds dressing up in all these garments to elevate their own importance. They burden the people with harsh laws and equate their own teachings with God’s. The whole system from the religious leaders to the Temple to the sacrifices to the people is soiled. It’s political. There are too many hands pulling puppet strings behind the scenes.

And so today, we see that God is not opposed to destroying in one time what He introduced in another . He destroyed Israel; He destroys Jerusalem, He will destroy for a second time His Temple. At the end of the Gospel, He will even destroys His Son. That’s a harsh word to use in reference to Jesus, isn’t it? But you see from His own mouth that Jesus uses that very word. “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” God always brings about destruction for the same two reasons. The first is for judgment and the second is for resurrection.

Israel, Jerusalem and the Land were all under judgment, so God destroyed them. In a way, He did a cleansing first. The city was burned; many inhabitants met their end. The city was effectively cleansed and destroyed at the same time. Today, Jesus is coming to cleanse the Temple prior to its destruction. He’s driving the money changers out; He’s condemning the corruption and influence others are seeking to have. It’s a purging. And Forty years after this event, the Temple actually will be destroyed. The Romans will plunder all its treasures, burn it and tear down every single block.

But Jesus will encounter His own death much sooner. And just like the Land and the city and the Temple, He is also under God’s judgment. God will bring the penalty for all the world’s sin down upon Him. This sentence will be harsh and it will be complete because God does not excuse sin. At times, He delays sentencing because He is gracious, but He never abrogates it. With God, you can be sure, that judgment always comes. Always. But in keeping with His grace, He looks to His Son to pay this penalty Himself.

There is obviously a connection here between the Temple and the body of Jesus. Both are places where the Spirit of God dwells. Both are places tied to sacrifice and the shedding of blood. Both will give an identity to Israel. The reason why Jesus is cleansing the Temple to prepare for its destruction today is the third theme I wish to discuss. I suppose destruction has a third motive behind it, replacement.

In less than a week, the Temple will no longer be the place where sacrifices can be accepted. Christ’s giving of Himself will be the only means through which to appease the wrath and judgment of God. It’s very fitting that the Romans destroy it. After the death of Christ, it would serve His purposes no longer and allowing it to linger would only create confusion . It must be destroyed so that Christ alone would stand and be sought out as the place for God’s presence and forgiveness.

It’s interesting that after all these centuries, the Temple has never been rebuilt. The desire is there and the knowledge is there. You could even say the people are there as the nation of Israel has been Jewish since the year 1948. But despite all these circumstances, the Temple remains just a dream and in its place right now is actually the shrine of another religion. Currently, it’s not possible for the Temple to be rebuilt without starting a major world war.

But for us as Christians, whether or not a Third Temple is rebuilt is an irrelevant question. Any sacrifices done there now would be meaningless to God. His Son Jesus Christ has replaced the Temple and all the sacrifices done there by shedding the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When you have the blood of God’s Son, you don’t go back to the blood of goats and doves and other animals. Compared to the reality of what Jesus has done, all that came before Him was just a shadow.

And so today, Jesus is being prepared for destruction too. He is showing Himself to be the One truly in authority over the Temple and so He is casting out and condemning those who claim likewise for themselves. His invitation to them is to crucify Him and these words prove to be prophetic as they later cite His threats against God’s house at His trial. But Jesus indeed knows why He has come and this scene in John’s Gospel sets the stage for what is about to happen. But after Jesus meets His end in the crucifixion, the world will find its beginning in the new life He gains for us. Thanks be unto Him the One who speaks for God and the One who gives Himself in sacrifice for sin. In His Name. Amen.

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