Third Sunday in Lent
Third Sunday in Lent (B)
March 11, 2012
Text: Ex. 20:1-17; John 2:13-25
Text: Ex. 20:1-17; John 2:13-25
One thing we should clear up right away. Jesus is not against church bake sales, youth group fundraisers, or LWML craft fairs. What He is against is confusing those things with Word and Sacraments, with prayer to the one true God, with the things that are of the essence of the holy Christian Church. He wants us to keep first things first, and everything else in its proper place. You have to understand where all this buying and selling and money changing was going on when Jesus entered the Temple. This is the court of the Gentiles, the only place in the Temple precincts where non-Jewish believers could worship and pray to God. But as they attempted to commune with their heavenly Father and receive His gifts, they had to contend with the sale of noisy animals for sacrifice (big business, that!), and the exchange of secular money for the Temple currency, the only money accepted in the confines of this place of worship. The sanctuary had become a market square. Imagine if you came to church, and at the door we made you exchange all your American currency for LCMS currency, for a price of course. You walk into the nave, the sanctuary, to pray and to receive the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament, and that is indeed going on here, but simultaneously the bake sale, the soup cook-off, the craft fair, and the second best sale are taking place right here in the sanctuary. You’d be a little distracted, to say the least. It would be extremely difficult to hear the Scripture readings and the preaching. Your attention would be drawn to the other activities going on around you. And you’d get the impression that these things that are noisier and more profitable are on a par with, if not more important than, our Lord’s Word and Supper. On your way out, you’d have to exchange your currency again, LCMS money being no good out in the world. The ushers would gladly take care of the exchange for you, for a price of course. Can you imagine? How would such worship edify you? Would you leave such a church believing your sins are forgiven on account of Christ? Would you leave such a church knowing Christ at all?
What do you suppose Jesus would do if He walked into such a church? We know what He’d do, because He did it in our text. He’d fashion a whip of cords and drive the crooks out. He’d overturn the tables. He’d say, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16; ESV). For zeal for God’s house consumes Him (v. 17). Jesus comes into the Temple in our text and cleans house. His Father’s house is to be a house of prayer, not a den of thieves. It’s not that Jesus is against business. Business has its place. But it is not to contend with God’s Word. The whole first Table of the Law, the first three commandments dealing with our relationship to God are being broken here in the Temple in one fell swoop. It is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob being worshiped here in the court of the Gentiles. It is the false god, Mammon. The Gentiles are given no room to fear and love God in such a way that they call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Rather, God’s Name is misused for profiteering. And His Word is despised. That which is supposed to be the heart of the Temple worship, the Word of the Lord, is edged out by the chaos of the buying and selling. The Word is not held sacred, and one can hardly hear it or learn it. Here it is, the Passover, the most sacred of Jewish festivals, and just like our holidays, the whole thing has been sold out to commercialism. So Jesus comes to clean it up. He’s angry. Righteously so. He’s violent, cracking a whip and overturning tables. The Temple has been defiled. It would take God’s blood to cleanse the stain.
Well, we would never do all those silly things here in our sanctuary. That’s not where the Law hits us in this text. Jesus doesn’t have to turn over any tables in our sanctuary. No, what He has to do among us is even more violent. He has to turn over the tables in our hearts. He has to up-end the altars in our hearts that are dedicated to false gods. Money, power, influence, pleasure, whatever we fear, love, and trust the most. Jesus has to rid us of our idols so that we have no other gods before Him. He’s violent when He comes through to cleanse our hearts. He has to rip out our hearts of stone and give us new and clean hearts that beat with faith and prayer. He does that by His Spirit in His Word and in Baptism and in the Supper. He calls us to repentance by exposing our sin and idolatry in the preaching of His holy Law. He kills us with that Law. And then He calls us to faith, to new life by the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in His blood. It’s a death and resurrection that He performs on us. Jesus cleanses our hearts, just as He cleanses the Temple in our text.
You may be tempted to ask, as the Jews do in our Gospel, just who Jesus thinks He is to come in cracking whips and overturning tables and upsetting the whole business. The Jews said to Him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (v. 18). In other words, who gave you the authority to do this? “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (v. 19). The Jews scoff. The Temple had taken forty-six years and great resources to build. It was King Herod’s special project to gain the favor of his subjects. And here Jesus is claiming He can rebuild it in three days? But of course He isn’t talking about the building He had just cleansed. He is talking about His body. His body is the true Temple. His body is the dwelling place of God with men. For He is God in the flesh. That is what gives Him the right, the authority to cleanse the Temple building. He is God. And this is what He will do for the cleansing of the whole world from sin, the cleansing of the Jews, the cleansing of the Gentiles, the cleansing of your hearts, beloved. He will die. The Temple of His body will be destroyed by Jews and Gentiles alike, by you and your sin. He will be crucified. Because it takes God’s blood to cleanse the stain of your sin. And on the third day He will rise. After three days He will raise up the Temple that is His body. And then God will dwell eternally with His people in that Temple of Jesus’ flesh. The Temple building would be destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. That is the judgment for the Jews’ unbelief and rejection of Jesus. To this day, the Temple has not been rebuilt. But the true Temple of God sits at the right hand of the Father. The true Temple is Jesus, in the flesh, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. The true Temple is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary, Son of God, because in His flesh God dwells with us really and substantially, in the Word He speaks in Scripture and preaching and Absolution, in your Baptism where you put on Christ and His death and resurrection become your own, and in the Supper where the bread you eat is His true body, and the wine you drink it His true blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
This is your God, this flesh and blood Man, Jesus. You are to have no others. He cleansed the Temple of the god Mammon, and now He comes to cleanse your heart of your idols. Because He wants you to fear, love, and trust in Him alone. And of course, when you fear, love, and trust in Jesus alone, you are fearing, loving, and trusting the Father and the Holy Spirit as well, because the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are one God. Luther sings of Jesus in “A Mighty Fortress,” “And there’s none other God,” (LSB 656:2), because the Father and the Holy Spirit are one God with the Son, who is Jesus Christ. And the point is, if you have Jesus, you have God, the Holy Trinity. If you don’t have Jesus, you don’t have God. You have an idol.
Lent is the season of repentance. Beloved, repent. Sweep the idols out of your heart. There is no room in your heart for God to share you with them. Like the Temple, you need to be cleansed. Jesus comes to you today in His Word and blessed Sacrament to do just that. He comes to take possession of you whole. Repent and believe the good news. Jesus died for your sins. He is raised for your justification and eternal life. He is your God. Though you are a sinner and an idolater, He has not rejected you. He has won your eternal salvation. So rejoice. Fear Him. Love Him. Trust Him. Alone. Live each day in Him. Have your bake sales and soup cook-offs and craft fairs and everything else. Go about your daily business with great joy. But when you come here, into the sanctuary, before the altar of God where He distributes to you nothing less than Himself, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, understand this: Those things are not your gods. Jesus reigns supreme here. We behave reverently because Jesus is here. For us. And if we can possibly help it, we don’t miss it. Not for those other, secondary things. Those things are not to be our idols. Jesus is our God. We shall have no other gods before Him. Nor would we want to. We call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks to Him. And we hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Because in Him alone there is forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. In the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.