The Third Sunday in Lent March 19, 2006
16, 380, 389, 145
Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus:
The other night in our ladies’ meeting, it was mentioned that the spring cleaning of the church was coming up. The plan is that the work should be done before Palm Sunday. Not only is it a good thing to give our house of worship a good “going over” from time to time, but there is a Jewish precedent for the timing of this cleaning. We are told that when the time came for Passover, a Jewish housewife would do a very thorough cleaning job. The most important thing in her mind was that all leaven (yeast) should be cleaned out of the house before the Festival of Unleavened Bread—the seven-day festival that followed the Passover. She would go through the whole house to make sure that there was not a crumb of leaven found inside.
As we learn from our text, that same purity was not found in the temple at Jerusalem. When Jesus arrived there at the time of Passover in His first year of ministry He found its holy ground defiled by dung. The plazas designed for consecrated reflection and spiritual instruction were ringing with the sounds of coins and worldly confusion.
So it seems, on the surface of this story, that Jesus decided to engage in a little “housecleaning” of His own. But Jesus’ method would seek a housecleaning of the heart because that, after all, is the Lord’s true concern. Jesus tells us in our text just how He will go about this type of housecleaning. May the Holy Spirit find room in our heart to keep our attention and remove all leaven of sin as we consider this housecleaning—the Divine Way. I. Jesus’ temple-cleaning pointed to the heart of His mission and II. His mission was a housecleaning of the heart.
The first thing to become evident from Jesus’ actions is that He didn’t really expect to accomplish much in the way of housecleaning by chasing the moneychangers around with a whip. Jesus’ temple-cleansing was merely intended to point to the heart of His mission.
Our Lord had been attending the Passover in Jerusalem since He was twelve. He was now 29 years old; why should He wait until now to deal with all this? The answer is that He was making a point. The mere act of throwing the money-changers and businessmen out of the temple was not going to change the way things were done. The people selling oxen and sheep and turtledoves were there because worshipers came from long distances to offer sacrifices at the temple. The money changers were ready to help travelers exchange foreign currency for the specific one-half shekel that every worshiper brought for the temple support. It should be noted, too, that they were only allowed in the outer court of the temple—the court of the Gentiles. They certainly did not come into the more central plazas or the temple proper.
But they were still too close for Jesus’ satisfaction. The temple was a place where people came to meet God, where they sought to grow in their appreciation of His gracious covenant with them. They came to the temple to see in dramatic vividness the nature of atonement, to see that blood had to be shed for redemption, to see that the life of a pure creature had to be paid to blot out the transgressions of all these people. Here at the temple they were encouraged and comforted to know that because of the forgiveness of sins the prayers of believers were accepted in heaven, just as the incense of the priests rose heavenward. This was the purpose of the temple, not what the money changers and animal sellers were doing.
Jesus drove the money changers out, but they had been allowed into the temple by the priests. They were patronized by all sorts of worshipers. The fact that this practice was allowed and encouraged demonstrated that it wasn’t just the businessmen that were at fault. It revealed a spiritual problem in all of Israel. As Jesus would say later, quoting Isaiah, “this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8). By driving out the livestock keepers and money changers, Jesus was identifying the spiritual filthiness of the whole nation. The real question wasn’t “How do we get rid of these critters?” It was “How did things get this way? How do we change the spirit of the people?”
That is always the question. “How do we change the heart and spirit of people?” How do we change things for the fellow who sits in church and gives generously to the cause every week, but then goes off to work during the week looking for every penny he can get no matter what harm he brings to others to get it? How do we change things for families who sit and mouth the right words in church, Sunday School, Catechism Class, and even at Confirmation, but at home the spirit is bickering, cold-heartedness, discontent, and whatever else plagues our families? Do we need to do a little outward housecleaning ourselves? Press for a lot of changes? Enact new laws? Push for more regulation?
How often don’t we find ourselves and others going through moral housecleaning—trying to change things and make things better in our lives—but those old demons start slipping back in and we fall into the rut of old ways? Jesus’ temple housecleaning was not the answer. It only anticipated the real answer. It was His way of announcing the true nature of His mission. He had come to clean up the worship of His people, but He would not do it in the temple at Jerusalem. It would happen through the temple of His body.
In driving the marketers and merchandisers out of the Temple, Jesus stepped on a few toes. For one thing, those sellers were there by arrangement with the keepers of the temple. They more than likely received a portion of the profits. But more importantly, the religious leaders understood that by doing what He did, Jesus claimed to have some sort of mandate from God. They couldn’t let that stand without some sort of evidence that He was really a servant of God. So they demanded a sign—some divine proof that Jesus was there on a divine mission.
The proof Jesus gave wasn’t meant to satisfy them immediately. In fact, it wasn’t likely to satisfy them at all unless they came to believe in Him apart from the sign. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” [v.19] The Jews looked around them at the rows of columns, the paved courts, the gold and stone structure where the sacrifices took place. They noted the rebuilding and restoration of the temple that had begun forty-six years earlier. Jesus would rebuild all this in three days? And who was going to destroy it?
“Destroy this temple,” Jesus said. Later, the disciples would understand Jesus’ words. Jesus spoke of His own body—the body in which He served God.
The only truly clean person—inwardly and outwardly—in Jerusalem that day was Jesus. Most of the common people weren’t all that devoted to God and even those who were devoted to God were far short of perfect. The priests and elders—the religious elite—were clearly not what they claimed to be. Jesus later indicted them by saying, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, you whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
“Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it again.” Jesus came to the Passover knowing that the day would come when he would become the Paschal Lamb. He was born to die for our atonement. He was destined to suffer for the sins of all mankind. He would be the sacrifice by which God would forgive man’s sins and accept all who confessed Him to be Lord. It would be these very religious leaders and this worshiping city who would destroy Him. They would see to it that His body was battered, humiliated, pierced, and mutilated until finally, He would be dead and laid in the grave.
But the Old Testament prophesied that God’s servant would not remain dead: “You will not leave my soul in Sheol,” the Psalmist proclaims, “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).
God would accept Jesus’ sacrifice as atonement for all people. In Isaiah 53, which so vividly portrays the Savior’s suffering and death, we read: “He shall see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). Jesus understood what His work would be. He understood what true spiritual housecleaning demands.
Do we understand? Do we understand that we cannot, by any means, account for our failures before God? Do we understand that no matter how loving God may be, no matter how kind and merciful, that true justice requires judgment and punishment on all sin? Do we understand that a few good intentions and a relatively decent life cannot begin to cover the constant rebellion that exists in our sin-corrupted heart?
Jesus understood what true spiritual housecleaning is. It is to turn from sin and sinful distortions of what God might accept, and to humbly accept by faith what God Himself resolved to do, namely, to send His Son to suffer and pay the price for our sins. God resolved to take away our guilt by taking it upon Himself. God resolved to expose the falseness of our religious notions so that He could gather us through the Gospel and have us worship Him in the temple of our bodies.
Thanks be to Jesus, who went to the temple in Jerusalem and then went to Calvary to perform once for all the true spiritual housecleaning we all need. May we take that housecleaning to heart and rejoice in that purity by displaying sincere goodness, purity, morality, and devotion at all times, wherever we are. Amen
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