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Third Sunday in Lent - Series B

Text: John 2:13-25

Title: “Shock and Wonderment”

Date: Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Who is that man? Who does he think he is? Is he possessed, or what? Did you see his eyes? They were on fire! Today's Gospel reading shows Jesus creating a scene and grossly offending people. He is almost like an action-packed “Rambo Jesus,” With whip in hand, He is overturning tables and driving out of the Temple “sheep and oxen” and all the business people. Shopkeepers are being herded out with the livestock they are selling. The noise…the mess…the smell! Jesus is cleaning house and it is “shocking and amazing” to the people who witness it, even though this is not an isolated incident. At another time in His ministry, Christ went on a rant against the scribes and Pharisees. Among other things, He called them…children of hell…blind fools…white-washed tombs full of dead men's bones…serpents, vipers, and murderers. (cf. Matthew 23)

         We don’t often think of the Son of God this way or the way our text describes Him today. We can get really confused about Jesus, His teachings, and His work…if we are not careful to understand what is happening here. Since it is the time of the Passover celebration, there are a lot of people in town. In fact, it’s the most crowded time of the year in Jerusalem. From a purely practical point of view, it’s also the busiest time of the year. The time when most animals will be sold for sacrificing and eating…when the most money will change hands…when the most taxes will be paid. It is kind of what the Christmas shopping season is for retailers…the time when many businesses are at their peak and making their profits for the year. 

However, from a religious point of view, it is Passover, which means it is the holiest time of the year for God’s chosen people. It’s the time to remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt due to God’s power and authority…the time to come to the Temple to hear the preaching of the God’s Word…to worship…and to pray.

The problem is…in coming to the Temple, Jesus doesn’t find preaching, worship, and prayers. Instead, He comes across what is literally a market place or bazaar in the Temple instead of a place dedicated to God and separate from the ways of the world. The Temple…God’s house…becomes a place where business transactions are done. The religious aspects of Passover is taking a back seat to the practical aspects of Passover…the buying and selling…the bartering and weighing of merchandise.

Like those hawking their products in the temple courts…we too can easily use God’s Church for our own ends, even to justify the means. We seek glory and the praise of others. Pastors and leaders of congregations could use their positions to manipulate their people. Worshipers could seek a person-centered service of good feelings and emotional highs rather than a God-centered one. We might be tempted to worship God with tainted motives instead of a tithing heart. We could treat God’s Sacraments casually, as if they were another chore we have to do.

God’s House can also become a place where spiritual business transactions are done. Take for instance the person who weighs their sins on a scale in comparison to their good deeds. As long as their good deeds outweigh their sins, they falsely think they will find favor with God. There are others who see religion as a bartering process…seeing what God will accept from them and what they can do for Him with things like prayers and good works and service, so that He will not hold their sin against them. You fall into the trap whenever you say things like, “God, if you’ll get me out of this, then I’ll . . .” You fall into the trap whenever you compare yourself to other people. You fall into the trap whenever you think God is not being fair to you. Let’s face it…that is how we think and how the world is.

         However, the truth is…God doesn’t make deals with us. He doesn’t make business transactions with us. Out of love for God’s truth and disgust over the world of business claiming a place in God’s house, Jesus is compelled to action. Having divine righteousness and holiness, the Son of God doesn’t lose control or explode in anger. In a straight forward way, the Lord expresses the righteous wrath of God against people who dare to abuse God’s holy place. When Jesus enters the Temple and sees all of this stuff going on, He is highly offended! Personally offended! God established the Tabernacle and the Temple and the Church so that He could be with His people and give them His forgiveness and holiness. God is a giving God…a God of gifts and graciousness! God is a one-sided God. He gives…and you receive. God came in the person of Jesus Christ so that He could give His life for His people and redeem you from your slavery and bondage to sin, death, and the devil. God does not make a deal in any of this. It is all one-sided…all God’s doing. “Take these things away;” commands Jesus, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” (v 16)

         How did things get so bad? How did God and the things of God get to be so misunderstood…not only then but also now? Well, it is from our misunderstanding of a previous “shocking and amazing” demonstration by God. It is the one that took place at Mt. Sinai. When God gave the 10 Commandments and the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle, it was a “shocking and awesome” display. God covered Mt. Sinai with smoke and fire for 40 days.

But instead of taking the commandments as God intended His people to understand them, we tend to think of them as ‘transactional.’ “OK, we gotta do these 10 things. That’s not too bad. Do these, and God will be pleased with us and He will accept us and save us.” With such a view…religion is not only reduced to a business transaction between God and us. It is also reduced to a system of morality and ethics.

         The thing is…God never intended these commandments to be viewed that way! God chose the Israelites and rescued them from slavery and destined them for the Promised Land long before the commandments were given. In our Baptism, you and I were chosen and rescued from our slavery to sin. Our Triune God destined you and me for eternal life long before we ever had the chance to keep or break the commandments. God saved you and gave you life because of His grace and mercy. Be mindful of all that the Lord has done for you. Pay attention to God. Live His commandments under His grace, knowing that obeying the commandments does not count toward your salvation. Realize that the Lord of love has the wisdom and authority to correct you and discipline you, and to change things and do things as He chooses.

         Now, all this is not always easy to understand and do because it goes against our sinful nature and the way things are in our world. That is why it is no surprise the way the Jewish authorities and others in our text respond to Jesus’ Rambo-like action. Instead of them being ecstatic and thankful to Jesus for setting things right by clearing out the merchants and the money-changers, and the livestock from God’s house, they chastise Him by asking a question: “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (v. 18) They request from Jesus a sign about Him and His authority…a sign of God’s power and love…not because they have faith in Him…but because of their unbelief.

So the Lord gives His opponents a sign about themselves and their unbelief. “Destroy this Temple,” declares Jesus, “and in three days I will raise it up.” (v. 19) With these words, the Lord is saying: "I am the Christ, the Son of God." “I am the ultimate Temple… God in the flesh…the place where God makes Himself known to His people.” That God would come down from heaven and allow Himself to be ridiculed… mocked…despised…rejected…and crucified is shocking. But that shock would be followed by the wonderment of the resurrection…the sign of Jesus’ authority…when you and I see the power of death and the grave finally broken!

So remember these words: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Because they are God’s real “shock and wonderment,” remember, believe, and live those words of Jesus. Receive His gifts…depart in His peace…and live in that freedom and forgiveness He won for you! Amen.

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