1 Corinthians 1.18-25
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ They then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Post Communion Prayer
grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil,
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sermon – The Cleansing of the Temple
Through the written word, and the spoken word, may we draw closer to your Living Word; Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Today is of course the third Sunday of Lent, and as we walk through these weeks, so the passion and crucifixion of Jesus draw inexorably nearer.
Today’s Gospel tells us the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple, which probably happened just before those final few days, and in fact was perhaps the final last straw for the Jewish authorities in their determination to have Jesus put to death.
There is some debate about whether Jesus cleansed the Temple twice, because the three synoptic Gospels tell us about this event at the end of his ministry, whereas John places it at the beginning. But Matthew, Mark and Luke write their Gospels more chronologically, setting out the story of Jesus’s life and ministry in order, whereas John is far more concerned with using events in the life of Jesus as signs, to show us who Jesus really is. So it is not at all unlikely that it was in fact the same event, but it’s just that John places it where he does to emphasise its significance. Because John wants to show us that Jesus is truly the longed-for Messiah; that he came to renew the Jewish faith, to challenge institutional views of God and to bring passion and purity back into the worship of God; and this event certainly shows us Jesus doing all this in very dramatic fashion.
All Jewish men were required to go to Jerusalem for the Passover if it was possible for them, and we know that Jesus certainly did this. We are told about the family trip to Jerusalem for the Passover when Jesus was 12 years old, and no doubt this was a regular event.
There would have been hundreds of thousands of people arriving in the city for the Passover. The streets would have been full of noisy hustle and bustle, with shopkeepers and innkeepers all hoping to make a quick buck from all this extra trade. And it was just the same in the Temple courts.
When people came to the Temple for the Passover, they needed to pay their Temple tax, and they also needed to bring their Passover sacrifice. The Temple tax was half a shekel, which was the equivalent to almost 2 days’ wages for a labourer. This tax had to be paid in the shekels of the sanctuary; special Jewish coinage, and not the Roman coins which were in common usage. So, in the temple courts there were money-changers, and there was a very high charge for the currency exchange, which many of the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem could ill afford.
Besides this, there were the sellers of the sacrificial animals. The law was that any animal offered in sacrifice had to be perfect, without any blemish. The temple authorities appointed inspectors to examine the animals and birds, and of course there was a high fee payable to have your animal inspected. Then it was all too easy to find some blemish or other to disqualify any animal or bird brought from outside the temple, and of course the official temple sellers’ animals, which were guaranteed to be without blemish, were far, far more expensive.
So, what was happening here at the temple was appalling exploitation of the pilgrims who had come to worship God.
Now I’ve travelled to various tourist spots where there are hordes of people and I’ve probably been ripped off when buying some sort of souvenir from ever hopeful traders, but the temple at Jerusalem was not just some tourist spot for the Jewish people.
The Temple was the place where God dwelt. Right from the start, God wanted to dwell with his people. He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, and he was with the people of Israel in the wilderness in the Tent of Meeting, in the Ark of the Covenant. Then he was with them in the Holy of Holies, in the Temple built by Solomon, and then in this rebuilt second Temple. Of course, the Jewish people knew that God was everywhere, and that he could not be contained by any earthly structure; but here in the Temple God was present with them in a very special way. The Temple was the most sacred place on earth; the place where earth and heaven overlapped.
We read about this over and over again in the Old Testament, as for example when Ezekiel in Chapter 10, writes:
“The temple was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of the Lord.”
And we see it perhaps especially in the Psalms, for example in Psalm 84:
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord.”
But here, not only are the poor being exploited in the name of God, but also Jesus recognises that for many of those performing the sacrifices, it is the ritual that has become important, and not the true worship. Just as we read in so many of the Old Testament prophets, what God wanted from his people was not sacrifices and burnt offerings, but instead, a contrite heart, and justice for the poor and needy and the oppressed.
No wonder that when Jesus comes into the courts of the temple amid all the clamour and the exploitation that was going on there, he is angry. He is furious that this holy place is being desecrated by all that is going on. And so, with his heart burning with zeal for the Lord, Jesus takes up his whip of cords, and he begins to cleanse the temple.
So, what does this incident have to tell us today, here and now? In Paul’s letters, he writes several times about the Temple, but it’s not the Temple building in Jerusalem that Paul is talking about. He refers to each of us as being a Temple of the Holy Spirit, and he refers to us all, the whole church, as being built into a holy Temple as a dwelling place for God.
What would Jesus find going on if he came striding into the Temple of our lives today? During this season of Lent, I believe that I, and each one of us, need to ponder on whether our own hearts and lives are a fit dwelling place for God. Are we living lives that give glory to God, worshipping him in spirit and in truth? Are we putting God at the very centre, refusing to allow the hustle and bustle and the strident voices of the market place to take pride of place? Are we choosing to live a lifestyle which does not oppress the poor and the needy, in the choices that we make in our shopping, our entertainment and our investments?
We all, very much including myself, need to examine ourselves, and to pray, as the Psalmist does in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen.