What’s going on in YOUR temple? (March 7, 2021)

What’s going on in YOUR temple? (March 7, 2021)

March 8, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

What’s going on in YOUR temple?

John 2:13-22

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I have a socket wrench that doesn’t ratchet anymore. The reason why it doesn’t ratchet isn’t because it’s really old and I’ve used it so many times that it wore out. The reason why it doesn’t ratchet is because I used it incorrectly. I used it too many times as a hammer instead of a socket wrench. And the thing about it is, my dad had warned me that would happen plenty of times. Ever since I was a kid learning how to wrench on things, if ever I tried to bang on something with his socket wrench, he’d give me a stern look and say, “Use the proper tool for the job.” Sometimes we don’t heed our fathers’ advice, though, and we have to learn the hard way.

The same lesson was learned in Jerusalem long ago. The temple was a physical place where God would meet with the people. It was a place where the people would go to God in faith, seeking his mercy and forgiveness and offering their sacrifices. The Passover Festival itself, which they were celebrating in the Bible reading, commemorated God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt and pointed ahead to God’s deliverance through the promised Messiah. All of the rituals were carefully prescribed by God and all served a purpose. The death of the lamb and the blood recalled how God saved believers from death in Egypt. The bitter herbs recalled the suffering of the people in Egypt and their deliverance from it. The meal eaten in haste – a call to readiness. All of these in the Passover Festival served as a tool to ready the people’s hearts and focus their worship on God’s deliverance. All of these recalled God’s work in Egypt, and all pointed ahead giving a clear picture of the Messiah and his work.

But if you were to go to the temple on the day Jesus went, what would your heart and mind be focused on? “In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money” (Jn 2:14). This appearance of the temple could not lead anyone to think of worshiping God our deliverer. Instead of prompting the singing of the Psalms of Ascent, filled with joyful expectation of deliverance, visitors would more likely be inclined to hold their purses and their noses. The stench of so many animals gathered in one place along with bargaining and bickering over the cost of animals. The rates of exchange and everything else gave off a spiritual stench. This was not God’s intended purpose of the temple in Jerusalem. They were using it all wrong.

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’” (Jn 2:15-16). In other words, “You are using the temple incorrectly!” Had they forgotten about the days their ancestors saw God’s glory – the pillar of cloud and fire – fill the tabernacle and the temple of Solomon so that those called to serve there couldn’t even enter? Had they forgotten the reverence and the awe and the fear of God that accompanied worship at the temple not long ago? People may have thought this was their temple and that they could do as they please, but they were in God’s house! Jesus gave them a forceful reminder of that. A reminder to “use the tool correctly.”

Surprisingly, the people didn’t really seem to object. It seems that one man was able to clear out the crowds that filled the temple courts. Could it be that Jesus had actually pricked the consciences of these people? Could it be that deep down they really knew the intended purpose of the temple – and knew that this wasn’t it. They couldn’t argue with Jesus.

Though they didn’t really argue, some did want to see some “credentials.” “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (Jn 2:18). They didn’t question what he did, but wanted to know who he was that gave him such authority. But they already had signs. It depends how you count them all, but one book lists over 400 prophecies, signs, pointing to Jesus as the promised Messiah. Yet they still asked for a sign! Their very request proved that they were the ones in unbelief. They were the ones not listening to the Father’s Word.

While they asked for a sign about him and his authority, Jesus gave them a sign of dual purpose. He gave them a sign that would not only prove his authority as God, but would also point out their unbelief. “Destroy this temple,” he said, “and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19). Go ahead! Destroy this temple, if that’s what you’re determined to do. And you will see who’s really doing the right thing here.  Outwardly, Jesus looked like the one destroying the temple. Afterall, the people needed these animals for their Passover celebrations. The fact was, however, that those buying and selling and the leaders who allowed, encouraged, and participated in it were really the destructive ones. Under their leadership the temple had gone from being a house of prayer and worship to being a market and stockyard where thieves worked. Jesus told these leaders what would identify them as the real opponents of God all the way through his ministry. “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19).

But there’s more to it than that. You see, although they were indeed destroying worship at the temple in Jerusalem, there was another temple that Jesus was speaking of. Himself. His body (Jn 2:21). If the temple building is the place where God dwells with his people on earth, how much more is God in the flesh, Jesus, our Immanuel, the place where God truly dwells with us?! So, as they heartlessly destroyed the true worship of Israel at the temple, they also sought to destroy worship of the true Messiah by crucifying him. When they carried out that act, they would have the undeniable sign that they themselves were the true temple-destroyers. And when Jesus rose – “rebuilding the true temple” in three days – they would have the sign that he indeed had the authority to bring back true worship at the temple. To realign it with the Father’s intended purpose.

The 46 years that the Jews referred to was actually a rebuilding and refurbishing project of Herod’s temple that was ongoing. The irony of it, however, was that as they busily went about making the temple look nice, the worship at the temple was continuing to decline. And it would continue to decline because it had been robbed of real purpose for most of Israel. It was not being used as intended. The proof would be in its ultimate destruction in 70 A.D. The people abused the tool of the temple and broke the worship meant to happen there. So God eventually removed it.

So, where is the temple today? Where is true worship found today? Is it here in this building that we have? Yes. When this church building was dedicated in 1980, it was dedicated for worship with words similar to these, “Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have come together to set apart this church for the worship of the almighty God and for the building up of the body of Christ. Our prayers rise to the throne of God our Father through the intercession of Jesus Christ our Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit” (CWOS p. 310). But it’s also much more than that. Listen to what Scripture says, “Do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor 6:19-20). Worship God with your bodies.

And that’s really where the Old Testament reading ties in. How do we worship God with our bodies? Just as my dad gave instructions and warnings when I learned how to use his tools, so also your heavenly Father gives instructions and warnings for how worship God with your body, his temple. It’s the 10 commandments. His instructions for your mouth: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God… You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Ex 20:7,16). It’s repeated in the New Testament, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up” (Eph 4:29). His instructions for your hands and heart: “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). God elaborates on that, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 Jn 3:15). His instructions for your body and mind: “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14). Jesus explains, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28).

I could go on, but you see my point. So I’ll ask you this question: Are you worshiping God with your body and life? Or are you guilty of the same sin as the Jews who defiled the temple in Jerusalem? Have you used your hands, meant to serve, as a weapon? Have you used your mouth, meant to proclaim the truth of God’s deliverance, as an instrument of lies? Have you used your heart and mind, meant to love and build up, as a means to hate and tear down? I have. I’m guilty. My heart and my body are, at times, a den of robbers and corruption. And when I misuse this body that God has given me it takes a toll. It spells condemnation for me and it can often be damaging to my body, his temple. Listen to the warnings God gives in the 10 commandments, or risk destroying this temple and proper worship. We need Jesus to purify this temple and restore true worship here.

Thankfully, he did. He does. God did it, “by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us” (Rm 8:3). Jesus used his hands as his Father intended – to serve those he came to save. Jesus used his mouth as God intended – to proclaim repentance and forgiveness. Jesus used his heart as God intended – to love sinners like you and me. Then, he allowed the temple of his body to be destroyed as a sin offering for you and me. So that the righteous requirements of the law could be met in you and me. He absorbed the sin and corruption of all people into himself and purified you, his temple.

God takes away all our misuses of his temple when we confess our sins – as we did at the beginning of the service – and again when we receive from his body and blood the forgiveness of sins. He takes away sin and also gives us the strength and desire to use his temple for his glory. So go back to the law – the 10 commandments – and see them for what they are. They are instructions for making the most of this temple (my body) to worship God in all I think, say, or do. Hear what Jesus sees when you use your body, his temple, properly: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:35-36,40).