What’s eating you?
- Order of Service: Service of the Word, p38
- Lessons: Exodus 20:1-17, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, John 2:13-22
- Hymns: 226, 128:1-3, 387, 401, 406
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
The Passover functioned in the life of a Jew like Jesus much like Christmas and Easter do for us. Christmas and Easter stand as the twin peaks of the Christian year. Many who avoid church much of the year, make time at Christmas and Easter for church. Christ is born! Christ is risen! These are the big ones. Likewise Passover. The Passover commemorated the LORD bringing Israel out of Egypt. After ten devastating plagues, after bloody rivers and bloody doorposts, and with the Passover lamb still filling their stomachs, Israel marched out of Egypt towards home ending 400 years of slavery. And the LORD said, “Every year eat that same meal so that you might remember my salvation.” Furthermore, this festival was one about which God said, “Make your way to Jerusalem to celebrate at my Temple.”
Which explains what Jesus found in the Temple when He came to Jerusalem for the Passover. He found it filled with pilgrim Jews, coming from all over the Roman world to celebrate their Christmas and Easter. And since the Passover includes sacrifices to be offered and lamb-meals to be prepared, enterprising businessmen set up a thriving trade to supply such animals. And at some point, some enterprising priest or Levite realized money could be made by selling spots within the precincts of the Temple to these businesses. After all, they weren’t going to set them up inside the sanctuary where the Holy of Holies was, just the outer courts, where people gathered, where Rabbis taught, where priests offered sacrifices, where the common people worshiped.
In other words, the people’s worship didn’t seem that important to these businessmen or the priests who allowed them access. I say that, because the hundreds or thousands of animals in the Temple made noise. And so did the traders hawking wares. And the pilgrims making purchases. And the money-changers shouting out rates. And the money clinking onto scales, into sacks, or falling on the ground accidently.
No wonder Jesus flipped His lid. He came to worship and hear the Word of God, and those were the farthest things from the main thing in the Temple. He walks by the cow pens, the sheep stalls, and the dove cages. He listens to the financial transactions, the bartering, the haggling, the currency speculation. He looks, and He doesn’t see His Father’s house. He sees a market. And He destroyed it. He made a whip and drove them all out. He flipped the tables of the money-lenders. He yelled at the owners of the doves: How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market (John 2:16, NIV84)?
St. Augustine preached on this text and aimed to help his listeners understand Jesus’ behavior. He compared it to your own house. You go home for rest. If you see something wrong at home, you don’t hesitate to fix or correct it. How much more God’s house, which you enter for everlasting rest? Here, in the house of God, salvation is set before you – how can you not make sure all is right here (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 10:9)? And so Christ calls out, “How dare you!” He cries out because these traders and these priests have made the house of God, the gate of heaven, as Jacob termed it, into a marketplace. Or as Jesus calls it at the end of His ministry when He did this all over again: a den of robbers (Matthew 21:13b, NIV84). And so, filled with righteous wrath, Jesus cleanses His Father’s house. He sets aside this space again for holy purposes. Explaining what they’d just seen, Jesus’ disciples thought of Psalm 69, which says, Zeal for your house will consume me (John 2:17, NIV84).
Jacob defined this house for us last week, didn’t he? Waking up from that dream of God’s holy stairway, Jacob cried out: This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:17, NIV84). The house of God – Bethel in the Hebrew – is where God is. Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them, Christ says (Matthew 18:20, NIV84). And so the Temple in Jerusalem isn’t the only house of God Jesus wishes cleansed and free from such things, is it? The Father’s House isn’t only in Jerusalem. Paul and Peter both make use of that picture repeatedly and speak about you, the Christian. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple, Paul asks (1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV84). You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, Peter writes (1 Peter 2:5, NIV84). The Father’s house is the place where He announces everlasting rest, where He grants forgiveness of sins.
What does Jesus see when He enters these houses of His Father? I fear He sees souls consumed by many things apart from, in addition to, or instead of this holy, eternal rest. He sees us consumed by who’s here, what they’re wearing, or the funny bits of wit we can text each other. He sees us consumed with the contentment that comes with being merely present. He sees Easter and Christmas become about the dress, the special food, the special breakfast, the traditional brunches, the hustle, the bustle, the hurrying to get this special thing and that once-a-year doo-dad. But it’s Easter!!
He sees us look at God’s house and say, “That’s not enough.” It’s not enough that Jesus is here. It’s not enough we proclaim grace, offer salvation, and through Christ avoid hell. It’s got to entertain. It’s got to be fun. It’s got to be neat. It’s got to be cool. It’s got to be relevant, whatever that is – as if life and death isn’t relevant. And the cleansing comes. It comes throughout our lives as the Lord rebukes and disciplines. He makes a whip of cords called trials and tribulations. He overturns the tables of money in our congregations or in our lives, until we realize what He’s doing. Until He crushes us. So that He can cleanse us.
And that’s the best part: the cleansing. Don’t you think there were some who thanked Jesus profusely for what Jesus did in the Temple that day? “Finally we can hear the Rabbis again!” “Finally we can sacrifice in peace!” But those buyers and sellers crept back into the Temple. A couple years later Jesus had to go through this all over again. And no doubt, no sooner did they lay His body in the tomb, then those buyers and sellers were back hawking their wares for the big Pentecost festival. It didn’t stop for good until forty years later when God used Titus’ Roman legions to tear down every brick of that Temple, burn down every stick of wood, and carry off every item of golden furniture, about which Jesus warned and said, See, I have told you ahead of time (Matthew 24:25, NIV84).
He tells us. He warns us. He calls us back to faith and faithfulness. As often as we need it, yet with the caveat that at some point the warnings will end and judgment will pour forth. So Jesus repeats John’s refrain, “Repent! Believe! Be saved!” And He cleanses you. Because zeal for you consumes Him. He wasn’t just concerned about a building, He was concerned about the people in that building. He defended His Father’s honor, so that His Father’s Word could be proclaimed and faith created, and souls made a part of God’s Temple. Hence the miraculous sign to which He pointed. Some of those offended by Jesus’ action in the Temple said that day, “Prove to us you can do this.” And Jesus said, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days (John 2:19, NIV84). So much did this zeal consume Jesus, that He let God’s Supreme Temple, His own body, be destroyed – by these very people. “You will destroy my body. I will raise it up again.” And Paul said to the Romans: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25, NIV84). He set aside His body that was God’s Temple so that by faith in Him our bodies too are set aside, cleansed. The sellers and money-changers of sin He overturns, He whips, He casts out. He turns us from marketplaces into His Father’s house. So that every day is Passover, Christmas, and Easter, because every day we gather around God’s Christ, in His house, and receive eternal rest, because here God sets before us salvation, He sets before us Christ, for us to eagerly consume: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life (John 6:54, NIV84). Zeal for His Father’s house consumed Jesus. Zeal for us consumed Him as well. And now, by faith, zeal for Christ consumes us, eats us up. May it ever be so. Amen.