13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
I went to McDonald’s a lot with friends when I was in high school. We would often go there after a soccer game or track meet and talk before going home. McDonald’s was the perfect place to do this for a bunch of tired, smelly and cheap high schoolers. On the other hand, if I were to spend an entire Friday afternoon working in my back yard here in Texas before taking my wife out to a nice dinner at Culpeppers, then I better get dressed up because there is no way I can defend staying in my smelly t-shirt, sun-bleached jeans and clay-caked boots to take my beautiful wife out to a nice steak house. As we grow up we learn what to wear and how to act when it comes to a wide range of social activities like just hanging out with friends or going out on a carefully planned evening with someone we love. When we act the right way in a given situation, then there are no problems, but if we do something different, we need to defend ourselves.
As Jesus grew up, he also learned what to wear and how to act in society. Jesus knew how to act at formal events like weddings and knew how to enjoy a Passover meal with his close friends. Jesus knew how to fit in with everyone else, but he also knew the expectations of society didn’t always match with God’s expectations. Whenever societies expectations clashed with God’s, Jesus always sided with God, which put him at odds with the world. Jesus often had to defend himself when he lived as God wanted him to live. You and I also have to defend ourselves as Christians when we follow God and when the world questions what we do, the best defense we have is to Defend the church with Jesus’ words.
Jesus was upset by what he found in the temple. He was at the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, a yearly pilgrimage requirement for all Israelite men. Everyone who came for the festival was required to make a sacrifice, but it was hard for many of the men to travel with their sacrificial animals, so buying the required animals for sacrifice could be done once in Jerusalem. At first, the many men who came each year would buy their animals in the market place of the city. Then, as time when on, those selling the sacrificial animals made more and more money and the markets moved closer and closer to the place where the sacrifice would actually be made, the temple. By the time Jesus was coming to offer his sacrifice, the market was inside the temple courts.
When Jesus saw the temple turned into a market, he sprang into action to return the temple to its original purpose. Jesus
made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”
What Jesus found in the temple would be like coming to church on Easter and finding the lobby filled with vendors selling Easter candy for the kids, Easter bonnets for mom and bunny shaped grill accessories for dad. Easter candy, bonnets and grill sets are fine in themselves, but turning the church lobby it into the dollar spot at Target is wrong.
As the disciples and Jews watched Jesus clear the temple, they didn’t fully understand what was happening. On the one hand, John writes,
17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The disciples knew enough to know that Jesus was the Son of God, so they could understand Jesus’ intensity as he cleared the temple…Keep in mind, this clearing of the temple came at the beginning of Jesus’ three year ministry, he again cleared the temple the week before he was put to death…The Jews on the other hand were still trying to figure out who Jesus was and were upset that Jesus had come in acting as if he owned the place. They doubted who Jesus was and figured he had no way to defend himself, so they asked him,
“What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
The question about Jesus’ authority underscored the whole problem with the situation in the temple, the Jews didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God. They couldn’t recognize Jesus because they didn’t have faith. For the Jews, the temple had become a market place and God was the big guy in the sky you buy gifts for so he likes you. The Passover feast had become a routine for Israel…every year come to Jerusalem, go to the temple, buy the lamb, sacrifice it, make God happy and go home. They had lost all respect for the authority of God’s Word, which gave the reasons and instructions for the Passover and all worship at the temple. If anything, the Jews should have been happy Jesus was cleansing the temple.
The whole point of the Passover had been lost because man had assumed the authority over the temple. Men were supposed to come and make the annual Passover sacrifice to remember that God had saved Israel from their enslavement in Egypt. Israel suffered for hundreds of years in Egypt and had no way to free themselves, but God came to their rescue with ten miraculous plagues and in the final plague put to death all the first-born sons in Egypt. God ‘passed over’ the homes of all the Israelites who sacrificed a lamb and put its blood on their doorframes. It was the faith that God would honor his promise not to kill those with lamb’s blood on their doorframes that saved Israel. And later, all the sacrifices in the temple pointed to that same promise of a sacrifice to save the lives of those who believe in God. Jesus then was the culmination of that promise because his death would actually give life to the believers in Israel and all others who believe.
Jesus defended the temple because it was the place where Israel went to hear the promise of the Savior. Today we don’t have a temple and sacrifices, instead we have a church, but the struggle with God’s authority remains. As believers, we may not make a bold statement like the Jews and ask Jesus point blank what authority he has, but we have all had moments when we’ve questioned why God says we can and can’t do things. If you turn to our first lesson for today from Exodus 20, you’ll find the list of things society and your sinful nature disagree with God about. Look over the Ten Commandments and ask yourself this question, “What are you keeping in your heart in place of Jesus?”
When you hold on to something God says is wrong, it takes the place of Jesus in your heart. For this reason, Jesus was upset in the temple. In a very visible way, the Jews revealed what was more important to them. The money they were making off of the sacrifices, the strict system of rules by which they hoped to earn God’s favor and the rejection of Jesus to his face all showed God was not in their hearts or in their worship. Jesus did what he did in the temple to show how serious their unbelief was and when they questioned his authority to turn their focus back on God,
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
Jesus answered them in a way only someone with faith would understand. The Jews who were already upset and against Jesus, were now even more confused by his answer. They had no faith to grasp on to what Jesus was saying as Paul wrote in
1 Corinthians 1, “22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,”
they wanted a sign and Jesus was going to give them the greatest sign of all, rising from the dead. All of this went over their heads and in response to Jesus, they said,
“It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
Jesus spoke the way he did to the Jews because they had God’s promises but turned their back on him to pursue the ways of the unbelieving world.
You and I haven’t grown up with the temple, but we have heard Jesus’ words. We are living in a world described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1,
“25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
The world we live in now is dominated by the idea that there is no God, and if there is a god, it can’t be the one in the Bible. Instead, God must be something we can see and relate to so that we can think and do whatever makes us happy, but the world still isn’t happy and never will be. The truth is we are foolish and weak, while God is wise and strong.
Jesus proved his wisdom and strength by how he saved us. He made a promise to two scared people in the Garden of Eden who knew true fear of God’s power as the Creator of the Universe when they sinned, but God comforted them with his promise that he would save them through one of their offspring. He promised an old, childless woman and even older husband that one of their offspring would provide them with a nation as vast as the stars. Then he came to a young virgin and her soon to be husband telling them the time had come. Then Jesus was born. He was one of us and kept God first in his heart all his life showing perfect love to him and all of us. Then Jesus laid down his innocent life for us on the cross, so that when you and I are weakest, even facing death, we could be at peace knowing our Passover Lamb gave his life to save ours.
We do not need any sign other than the cross and the empty tomb to prove that Jesus has the authority. His authority as our God gives us all comfort because we get to come to church fully aware of our sins and absolutely confident we are forgiven. That is why we begin every service with a confession of our sins. We come to church as if going to the hospital, broken and unable to save ourselves, because here we find the only remedy for our soul, Jesus’ words.
Whether you struggle to come to church because you think you are not good enough or come back to get some of the prideful tables in your heart flipped over, remember the hope you share with those who walked with Jesus.
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
We defend the church with Jesus’ words because they are life. We will defend it so others can hear the good news and Jesus’ words will defend us until we go home to heaven. Amen.