3rd Sunday in Lent
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, who has cleansed you and me from our sin, dear friends in Christ,
Do you like to have a clean house? In my house we’re in the midst of trying to pack to get ready for our move and no matter how hard we work, it always feels like we’re half done. Our house is a continual mess. If you’ve ever been through the moving process, you know what I mean. Now, add six kids in the mix. We have boxes here and there, piles of things here and there, trying to keep our house clean is a nightmare. What about your house? How much time do you spend cleaning? We spend a lot of time cleaning, don’t we?
Think about it, we have to clean our dishes, clean our clothes, wash the table, dust the house, pick up after children, vacuum the carpets, sweep, take out the trash, wash the bathroom, mop the floors, wash the car, shower, we even have to clean up our computers from time to time, the list could go on and on, right? And we have a plethora of tools at our disposal to do our cleaning: vacuums and brooms, brushes and cloths, soap and buckets, dishwashers and power washers.
But there’s a far more important cleaning that God wants us to be doing on a regular basis. It’s an internal cleaning. It’s a cleaning that can’t be done with brushes or soap. It’s a heart cleaning. What does Jesus want to clean out of you? What does Jesus want to clean out of me? Well, today we see what He wanted to clean out of the temple.
This event happened fairly soon in Jesus’ public ministry. This is likely April, and Jesus went to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem- a requirement for all Jewish males. And remember the point of the Passover festival. The Passover was meant to focus people’s attention on God, the Savior-God who delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, it was also to picture for them the sacrifice of sins that God was going to make for them not with a lamb animal, but with the Lamb of God. And it was required that every male attend the Passover celebration in Jerusalem so that the images of God’s salvation might be drilled into them. So, some estimate around 4 million people would come to Jerusalem for the Passover from many different nations. So, it was a time that was meant to focus a person even more on God, but it became a time for the chief priests, the religious rulers, and even the Romans to make even more money on the all traveling out-of-towners who came to Jerusalem. Apparently, the Temple had some massive vaults where money was stored. They used this money to loan out to people at exorbitant interest rates and also used it for political intrigues in their dealings with the Roman rulers.
And it all became such a perversion. Imagine being someone who had to travel some distance to get to Jerusalem. You could have brought your own 1 year old lamb along to slaughter, but not only would it have been difficult to make the long journey to Jerusalem with an animal, you didn’t know for sure that your lamb was going to pass the inspection. Every lamb had to be inspected by certain people to make sure it was “without blemish.” No doubt, there were times when an animal was rejected and you had the further expense then of having to purchase another at an inflated price. And so, this is big business in Jerusalem –especially around Passover time. The wheelers and dealers rented spots not in the city, but right inside the temple courts in order to sell their cattle, sheep, and doves.
Why right inside the temple? Well, it would have been most convenient: A. everyone had to go to the temple and B. It wasn’t that far away from the place where you could offer the animal as a sacrifice. Add to this also that you could only use one kind of currency for paying the temple tax for the upkeep of the temple. So, if you came from far away – and there were plenty of people who came from different places around the world – you would need to trade your currency in for the currency that the rulers of the temple wanted. There were many money changers, shulhanim, available to provide this service and for some rent conveniently situated themselves also right inside the temple courts. Add to this that they were known for out of balance scales and scheming and cheating people out of a fair exchange.
Now, try to picture this situation: You’ve come from a long distance to celebrate the Passover. Now you have to enter the temple in order to first stand in line to exchange your foreign currency for the currency that the temple wanted. You listen as people are arguing and bickering with the money changers about dishonest deals or crooked balances awaiting your turn to do the same. Then after that ordeal, you have to stand in line and buy whatever it is you need for the offerings and sacrifices and also look forward to paying exorbitant prices. When the lines go down there are likely some money changers soliciting people as the walk by to stop at their booth much like someone might do at a carnival game at a county fair. In the midst of all this commotion the sun is beating down in this open air courtyard, cows are bellowing, sheep are bleating, there’s a raunchy smell of manure filling the air and wafting further into the temple complex, there’s the bartering and clinking of coins, and all of this happening right inside the court of the Gentiles –right where Gentiles could go to worship God! You get the picture.
But, then, suddenly, Jesus comes in, grasping a whip in his hand, suddenly he cracks the whip, driving the cattle and the sheep out of the temple, he turns on the money changers flipping their tables over, coins scattering and clinking all over the ground, the greedy eyed and scheming money changers and merchants are appalled and upset, but helpless to stop Jesus. And with righteous anger Jesus tells the people selling doves, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”
Wow! Can you imagine being there? Seeing that? It was bad enough that they were cheating people out of their money and doing it right inside the temple! But what was even worse was their hearts – they just didn’t care. They didn’t care that the temple – the visible symbol that was meant to remind them of God’s presence with His people – they didn’t care that the temple was a mess! And since they didn’t care, they totally missed the fact that the very one who fulfilled the whole purpose of the temple, in fact, God Himself, was standing right with them! So, Jesus picked up a whip and cleaned the temple and when asked for a sign to prove His authority to do this, Jesus told them a statement that they were going to remember: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. They missed the point, but Jesus was speaking about the real temple, Himself, His body, which would be put to death, but raised on the third day.
The temple was a mess because the hearts of the people were a mess. Greed, covetousness, selfishness ruled in their hearts and it showed in their lives by their lack of respect for God and His house. When our hearts aren’t right, our head and our hands won’t be right either. Perhaps it’s easy for us to look at this account and think, “Well, at least we would never do something as shameful, disrespectful, and sinful as that!” Right? We wouldn’t bring cows and sheep in here and try to barter them off for a profit, right?
Maybe not, but what are we willing to do? God’s Word actually calls our bodies the temples of God. Yet, what are we willing to do to God’s temple? Abuse our bodies with harmful substances? Fill our heads with thoughts of anger, revenge, bitterness? Pollute our minds with lust, greed, and selfishness? Use our hands to hurt or harm? Use our mouths to lie or tear others down? And why would we do such things right inside God’s temple? Is it not often just the same reason as to why they were abusing God’s temple in our text? That we begin to just not care anymore. Where our hearts aren’t right, our head and our hands won’t be right either. But Jesus cared about God’s temple so much so that he did something about it. And He wants us to care about God’s temple too. What needs to be cleaned out of me? What needs to be cleaned out of you?
Jesus didn’t just clean out the temple once, he did this same thing once again during holy week. But that’s not all the cleaning that Jesus did either. Jesus kept the temple of His body 100% clean 100% of the time and then He ended Holy Week doing the greatest and most important cleaning that this sinful world desperately needed. It was the ugliest mess this world has ever seen as the dirt, grime, and filth of every single person who’s ever lived was swept up and located in one spot: on a cross. And yet, this was also the most beautiful and best cleaning thing this world has ever seen because by taking our sins upon Himself, allowing His temple to be destroyed, by bleeding and dying on the cross, He buried our sins in that tomb once and for all! Jesus’ blood purifies you and me from all our sins! And when Jesus rose from the dead as He promised all our sins were gone. Because of Jesus, you’re clean, spotless, without stain or wrinkle or any kind of blemish.
It is sin that makes us feel dirty inside, it’s sin that makes a mess out of our lives, it’s sin that makes us, God’s temple, stink, but that’s not who we are. In Christ’s blood you were washed, cleansed, sanctified, made clean and pure. In your baptism God clothed you with Christ’s perfect life, in the Supper God gives you Jesus to sweep away all doubts about God’s love and wash away of all your sins, through the Word God fills you with the Holy Spirit making you His temple!
So, this week, when you find yourself doing some kind of cleaning, pause, picture Jesus cleaning the temple out, and be reminded how Jesus has cleansed you with His blood, and empowered by His grace, examine your heart, what sin am I clinging to? What bad attitude is residing in my heart? What indecent thoughts am I entertaining? Clean out whatever sin or filth or mess is there, leave it with Jesus on the cross and live as the clean temple of God Jesus has made you to be! Amen.