Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent based on John 2:13-22
Dear cleansed church of God: grace, mercy , and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Is what we do in this church building really that important? The little things that we do or don’t do; the events we allow to take place here; the hymns we sing here; the posters we put up in the narthex? Is it an overreaction if we refuse to advertise or host certain events? Is it an overreaction to say that we should not do certain things in this church building?
The meek and mild Jesus thinks such things are important. The sweet and tender-hearted Saviour who will not break a bruised reed or quench a faintly burning wick (Is. 42:3) made a whip of cords and thrashed people in the Temple! He kicked over tables and scattered their stacks of coins. Jesus cast out these traders with more fervour than He cast out demons. Clearly, some practice that was taking place in the Temple was serious enough to warrant such a strong reaction.
What was so wrong with what was going on in the Temple? Traders were there selling animals so that God’s people could offer the sacrifices prescribed by the Law of God. This way the people who made their pilgrimage to the Temple from far away wouldn’t need to make the long trek with animals in tow. The animals were necessary for the prescribed sacrifices.
The money-changers were also necessary. Every Israelite twenty years old and upward was to pay the Temple tax and it had to be paid in Jewish coins (Ex. 30:11-16; cf. Mt. 17:24-27). Money-changers exchanged Roman coins with the Jewish currency. The Roman coins had the image of Caesar and an inscription declaring him to be a god. The money-changers exchanged these idolatrous and blasphemous coins for Jewish coins, the local currency that was acceptable for the Temple tax.
The problem wasn’t the smell or mess of the animals either. The animals were supposed to be brought to the Temple for sacrifice. The problem wasn’t high prices or bad exchange rates. Jesus says nothing concerning false balances; only that His Father’s house is not to be made a house of trade. Despite the need to have animals for sacrifices and local coin for offerings, the Temple was not the place for such transactions. The Temple was not for commerce or trade; the Temple was not for buying or selling.
The Temple was the place of forgiveness. It was the place where the Ten Commandments were covered by the blood of sacrifice; the place where the sins of the people were covered by sacrificial blood. It was where the Ark of the Covenant was, where God was enthroned above the cherubim. The Temple was to be a sanctuary from the outside world; a sanctuary from buying and selling. The Temple was the house of God, not a house of trade; the place of forgiveness, not a place of defiling mammon.
This place of forgiveness had been turned into a house of trade. The place of prayer had been turned into a place of commerce. The sanctuary from the outside world had the world invading inside of it. The sanctuary of forgiveness had become a place for raising money.
The purpose of the Temple was forgiveness. Anything that interferes with forgiveness cannot be tolerated – even if that something is a necessity. Yes, it was necessary to have animals for sacrifices and money-changers for offerings. But these did not belong in the Temple. These things interfered with the forgiveness of sins that God distributed in the Temple.
Today, the purpose of the church is forgiveness. Anything that interferes with forgiveness cannot be tolerated. This means that we also need to ask ourselves some tough questions. Are we doing things that interfere with or obscure the Gospel? Anything that obscures the Gospel – whether a bazaar, a tea and bake sale, or a poor hymn – cannot be tolerated. Nothing can interfere with the free forgiveness of sins distributed here.
There are not always easy answers to these questions. What we must ask is what are we saying by what we do? If a visitor comes to an event, what impression are we giving to them about the church? That it is just another place to buy and sell or have a cup of coffee? That we are just another institution looking for their money? That any money given to the church earns them some kind of brownie points with God? We have become convinced that just because the cause is good, the event belongs in the church.
Churches have become places of trade. If you are hungry, you can buy some baked goods. Looking to invest money? Invest in the Church Extension Fund. Want entertainment? Come watch a play, attend the bazaar, or listen to a concert.
Like I said, there are not always easy answers to these questions. But we must always ask ourselves what the purpose is of any event or anything we do. Are these things making us appear to be just another place to buy and sell; another place looking for money? Then we must not tolerate them. Are these things interfering with the forgiveness of sins given here freely? Then by all means we must cast such things out. Do we not have enough places of buying and selling without invading the place that should be sacred because it is dedicated to God?
However, when opportunities arise to host events that serve the Gospel, this is a different matter altogether. When we can invite others here to tell them about the forgiveness of sins earned for them by Jesus; when we can host a cantata that isn’t just entertainment but proclaims the death and resurrection of our Lord; when we can serve others in Christians love and hospitality – then such events belong in the church.
In discussing all of this, we must keep in mind why Jesus cleansed the Temple. In casting out the traders and money-changers, Jesus does not reveal anger, but jealous love. Anger would have consumed the traders and money-changers, but Jesus doesn’t consume them, He simply casts them out of the Temple. Jesus is jealous for those He cast out and for all the people coming to the Temple. He wants to give them forgiveness and doesn’t want anything to interfere with that forgiveness. Instead of consuming them, Jesus Himself was consumed.
The disciples remembered the Psalm which prophesies concerning Jesus, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Ps. 69:9) This zeal of cleansing God’s house of anything that gets in the way of forgiveness did indeed consume Jesus. He was consumed completely. Jesus was consumed by the wrath of God on the cross for our uncleanness. The Lord laid on him the iniquity and uncleanness of us all (Is. 53:6).
Jesus died to cleanse the church. His casting out of the traders and money-changers didn’t cleanse His Father’s house even though He did it a second time during Holy Week. It took His blood to cover their sins. It took His blood to cover our sins. It too Jesus’ death to cleanse the church.
The church is the place of forgiveness. It is the place where the Ten Commandments are covered by the blood of sacrifice; the place where our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus. It is the place where Jesus is with us and gives us His forgiveness. Jesus cleansed the Temple by being consumed by the wrath of God. Jesus cleansed the church by being consumed by the wrath of God. And we receive that cleansing when we consume Jesus.
Sacrifices from the Temple were eaten for the forgiveness of sins. In the New Testament era, Jesus gives us His very body and blood which was sacrificed for us to eat and drink. By consuming His body and blood, we are cleansed. We receive forgiveness in this sanctuary from the outside world. It cannot be bought or sold. It is given freely.
Jesus is consumed with zeal to cleanse us. He doesn’t want anything interfering with His forgiveness to us. His forgiveness is free, without any merit or worthiness in us. His forgiveness is never ending, and He gives this forgiveness in His Church, the sanctuary from the outside world. He gives us forgiveness in this, His Father’s house, which He has cleansed with His own blood. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.