Jesus, The Unexpected RevolutionaryErwin W. Lutzer | February 13, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
Worship is a big deal to God. It should also be a big deal to us. In John 2, the meek and mild Jesus made a whip of cords and drove out the animals, overturned tables, and poured out the coins. He took control of the situation.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer looks at the zealousness of Jesus regarding the temple and explains why we too should be zealous in our worship of the Lord.
What would you say to a woman who is in an unhappy marriage? She lives in a country where women have no opportunity virtually, where the man controls everything, and then if that isn’t bad enough, she marries a second time when the first marriage doesn’t work out. She has high hopes when she comes to her third marriage and then a fourth, and then a fifth, and then ends up living with someone to whom she isn’t married. We already know that Jesus met a woman like that. She’s the woman at the well in the Gospel of John, and Jesus gave her something to do.
Let me say to the person today who is the most oppressed, and to the person who has the most hopelessness going for him or her, Jesus said to that woman that the Heavenly Father is seeking someone like you. Imagine God seeking someone who has no significance in the world at all but mundane work, and has been marginalized and shamed. Jesus said, “Your Heavenly Father is actually seeking people like you. The Pharisees are too involved in their religion to be good worshippers, but you can be a good worshipper if you worship in spirit and in truth.”
Today’s message basically is a primer on worship. In the process of studying worship we are going to have the Holy Spirit look into our hearts. It could end up being a very convicting message. It’s a message of worship. It’s a message of hope. It’s a message that conveys to us today God’s very heart.
Our passage of scripture is the second chapter of John’s Gospel – John 2. Jesus has just had the opportunity of turning water into wine, and if you have your Bibles and turn there to John 2 you’ll notice that now the theme shifts to another topic. I need to tell you that there are some people who think that the cleansing of the temple took place only once during what we call Passover Week or the Passion Week, because that’s where the other three Gospel writers put it, but interestingly, John puts it here. So there is a possibility that indeed there were two cleansings of the temple, and also there are some differences between them, but in this message I’m also going to be drawing on those other instances to give a fuller picture to what happened here in John 2.
First of all, let me say a word about the temple. Do you remember that Solomon’s Temple was built in all of its beauty and in all of its glory? It existed for several centuries and then in 586 B.C. the Babylonians came and totally destroyed it, even as God predicted because of the disobedience of the people. And then they were in captivity for seventy years, and they came back and a man by the name of Zerubbabel built another temple. We don’t know much about it. It was rather small, but it endured for several centuries, and then Herod came along and in about the year 20, before Christ was born, he said to the Jews, “I’m going to build you a new structure,” and he built this new structure over the old. He called it a renovation, but really it was a new temple. In fact as he was building his new one, the old one was being torn down inside, and the rummage of it was being taken out. So whenever you refer to the second temple period, it is really this period. Herod’s temple was considered the second temple – not the third – and it usually refers to a period of time during the time of Christ and before. Now that’s the context.
First of all, I want you to notice how Jesus honored the temple. Your Bibles are open to John 2 and it says in verse 13 that the Passover of the Jews was at hand and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Why did Jesus honor the temple? Well, all good Jews would honor the temple. First of all, the temple represented the Jewish life. It represented God’s opportunity to dwell with his people in a very specific way. Three times a year people were to live in community. They came from all over (even from other countries) to worship in Jerusalem during Passover, during the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Feast of Pentecost. They were obligated if they were in good health to come to Jerusalem. God wanted the people to worship together in community, and this feast – Passover – was the most important, commemorating the Jews coming out of Egypt, of course, and then coming through the Red Sea and eventually into the Promised Land, and therefore, it most beautifully pictured the whole idea of redemption. And so Jesus goes up to the feast.
There’s another reason why Jesus honored the temple. It was not only to be a place of worship. It was to be a place of evangelism. Other people who were not Jews were supposed to come there and worship too. In fact, I want to read a passage from Isaiah 56. Sometimes we think to ourselves, “Well you know the temple was just for the Jews. The Jews were God’s chosen people. Nobody else was invited.”
Listen to what God said in Isaiah 56. “‘And the foreigners who joined themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant -- these will I bring into my holy mountain (that’s Jerusalem), and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings of their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ The Lord God who gathers the outcasts of Israel declares, ‘I will gather yet others to him beside those already gathered.’”
God says, “I want that temple to symbolize not only my presence but my welcoming presence for the Gentiles and the outcasts.” It was to be a means of including others within the covenant, so Jesus honored – very much so – the Passover and honored the temple. And the Gentiles were supposed to come into the temple but there was a special court for them. They couldn’t go all the way where the priests were. There were various stages within the temple precincts, but they were welcome in what was called The Court of the Gentiles. Jesus honored the temple.
But now we come to an amazing passage of Jesus and what a revolutionary he was! Jesus cleanses the temple. You’ve probably read this but we need to read it again and think through what it’s really saying. You’ll notice it says that Jesus, when he was there in the temple, found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting there, and making a whip of cords, he threw them all out of the temple with the sheep and the oxen and poured out the coins of the money changers, and overturned their tables, and he told those who sold pigeons, “Take these things away. Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade or merchandise.” His disciples remembered it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Wow! This is the meek and mild Jesus in the temple.
In order for us to understand what was happening in the temple we need to realize that within the temple precincts, within the Court of the Gentiles, what was happening was people were being helped in their worship very legitimately. You see if you came from another country or you came from forty or fifty miles away, you wouldn’t necessarily want to the bring the sheep that you were going to sacrifice. How much better it would be to simply bring some money and purchase a sheep because you might bring your own sheep and the priest might reject it anyway because it was to be a lamb without blemish and yours might happen to have a blemish that you overlooked, and so let’s just take money and let’s buy a sheep. Of if we were too poor for a sheep, we’d buy a few pigeons because God said, “I don’t want to let money in any way stand in the way of your worship,” and so you’d come to Jerusalem. So these people were providing a service to people coming to Jerusalem.
And then you think of the moneychangers. You see in those days they had currency from different parts of the country and different parts of the then known world and the temple tax needed to be paid in Jewish money, and so if you came with a different kind of money the money changers were doing the people a favor. Here at Moody you can bring whatever coinage you want. We’ll translate it into the kind that we need so that worship can go on smoothly.
Well, if these people are there to help people worship and to make it easier, what’s the problem? I mean, what’s there not to like about this? Two things really got Jesus angry, and we need to see his anger here. The Bible talks about Jesus becoming angry. “When angry do not sin,” but this was justified anger. There are two things. First, where was it taking place? It was taking place in the Court of the Gentiles, in the precinct area. This is where Gentiles were supposed to be welcomed into the community. This is where the Gentiles were supposed to come and pray, and if they had a sacrifice they could give it to the priest there, and that could be offered on the altar too. You can imagine here Gentiles walking by. Maybe they have a heart for God. Maybe they want to seek God. Do you think they are going to go in there where you have all of the animals and where you have the moneychangers haggling? I don’t think so. This was such a huge stumbling block to the evangelism part of the temple area. And then there was another reason too, and that was that the moneychangers were crooked. There was maybe nothing wrong with making a little bit of extra money in paying your wage for helping other people to exchange theirs, but they were robbing people. In fact, that’s why one of the Gospels says, “Jesus said, ‘You have taken my house and you have made it into a den of thieves.’” So Jesus takes a small cord, or he makes cords, and he begins to take care of them and drive them out of the temple. I read this with new eyes this past week. This isn’t just Jesus tapping them on the shoulder and saying, “I don’t think you should be here because this doesn’t look good.” You’ll notice what the text says. It says he drives them out of the temple. He pours out the coins of the moneychangers, and he overturned their tables.
Now you can imagine what’s going on here, and this bazaar (which is really what it was) is coming to a very quick end. I wish that we had a video of this. Maybe sometime in heaven we’ll see it, but I almost can see the glare, the divine holy anger, in the eyes of Jesus, that this place, which is to be a place of worship and evangelism was being desecrated. I marvel at the disciples because they were thinking and they said to themselves Psalm 69:9. Now in their day they didn’t have chapters like we do. Those were added later for the whole purpose so that we can find passages in the Bible. You know, these people didn’t have a Bible. They couldn’t read through the Old Testament every year. They would go to the synagogues where the scrolls were opened and someone would read to them, and they listened so carefully that they were reminded of this passage in the Psalms, which is a Messianic Psalm. “The zeal of thine house has consumed me,” Psalm 69:9 says, and they remembered that passage.
Now, of course, the disciples were trained to read and to write. Some of them wrote the books that we have in our New Testament, but the availability of books didn’t exist. Scrolls were cumbersome and yet people who came to the synagogue listened so carefully that when Jesus did that, the thing that flashed into their minds was that the zeal of thine house has consumed me, and so the disciples were so impressed by the fact that Jesus took total control over the situation.
Now you can imagine what happens. The Jews, of course, are incensed, and they begin to say to themselves (John 2:18), “What sign do you show for us doing these things?” They are always looking for a sign. Paul says that the Jews look for a sign. The Greeks seek for wisdom, and he says, “We preach Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God,” and yet the only sign that Jesus ever really gave them was the sign of his own death, and he does that here. But Jesus sometimes spoke in mysteries. He says, “You want me to give you a sign?” and he says, “Destroy this temple (there it is in verse 19) and in three days I will raise it up.” Talk about an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Not even the disciples got it.
So Jesus now proclaims that he himself is the temple. We have to look at this passage very carefully, don’t we? For one thing, Jesus indeed did speak mysteries because he wanted those who loved and cared about him to ponder the things that he said, just like you and I should. We should ponder and meditate on what he said. That’s part of it.
The other thing that I want to point out, and we do this simply in passing, is that if you’ve ever been at a trial, if you’ve ever been involved in court procedures, you know how witnesses will twist things in their favor. Sometime later when Jesus Christ is brought before various tribunals, one of the charges made against him was this -- that you said that you would destroy this temple and raise it up in three days. Jesus never said that. He said, “You destroy this temple and I’ll raise it up in three days. Do you want a sign?” Well, of course, it was an impossible sign. There was no way they could destroy this temple, which had been 46 years in building. Now think of it! About 20 B.C. Herod begins to build this big temple. It isn’t totally finished yet. It’s going to be finished after the death of Jesus, and then destroyed a few years after that. But Jesus here is saying to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” but he never said that he would destroy it but at his trials he was accused of saying that.
What is Jesus saying though? “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” What Jesus is saying is, “I will replace the temple.” He spoke, by the way, John clarifies, of the temple of his body and the disciples understood that afterwards. I think that if we had been on site Jesus would have even said it this way. “Destroy this body.” Maybe he was pointing to himself when he said it but nonetheless it was misunderstood. The disciples themselves did not understand what Jesus had in mind until after his death and resurrection.
But how does Jesus destroy the temple? There are a couple of things. First of all, when Jesus died on the cross he became the one sacrifice that was needed for sinners. In that act he destroyed any need whatever for any further sacrifices. That was the end of that program. Not only that, Jesus Christ becomes the one priest. In Israel’s history and simultaneously there were many priests. All that now is unnecessary because the one priest is Jesus Christ.
Think about this carefully. In the Old Testament times the priest offered sacrifices. In the coming of Jesus he is the priest, and he doesn’t offer some sacrifice that someone has brought, but he offers himself. He becomes not just the priest but the very offering that people need in order to come into God’s presence, and that’s why when he dies on the cross the veil of the temple is rent in two because what he is saying now is, “All of you are priests before God and there is only one high priest and I am that high priest. Salvation is now available to everyone and that availability has now been completed and made.” John 1:14 says, “The word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” The word became flesh. Jesus becomes the tabernacle. He becomes the means by which we get to God, and spiritually speaking Jesus did away with the temple when he died and rose from the dead. All that was still necessary was that the temple be totally destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans who came against it. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” and so it is.
What I’d like us to do is to ask us the question, “Why should our lives be changed as a result of this story?” You came today with certain needs. We as a church have certain needs, and we say, “How does this story bridge the centuries to us?” So I’d like to give you three lessons that hopefully we shall remember.
The first is this. As you know we adopted a mission statement that says “Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ.” Number one, we should be a passionate – a zealous – community. “The zeal of thine house has consumed me.” I have to ask you today what it is that consumes you. What is your burning passion? As you look at this past week what can you identify as the thing that is the centrifugal force that held everything together? What is it that you live for? What is it that you plan to die for? What is your passion? What is your zeal?
We don’t use the word zeal very often today but it is used frequently in the New Testament. For example, the Apostle Paul says that we should all be zealous to do good works. In Second Corinthians he talks about people who are generous as those who are zealous in giving, zealous of witnessing. We’ve lost our zeal, haven’t we? And sometimes that happens, as we shall see in a moment, because we’ve not taken care of some things in our lives.
As I studied this passage I looked deeply into my heart as well by the Holy Spirit and asked myself what is it that consumes me. Jesus said that the zeal of thine house consumes me, and it consumed him to the point of death.
Now out of that grows the other two lessons. Why was Jesus so zealous for God’s house? So there’s a second lesson that we need to take home with us today. We should be a zealous people and we should be a missional people. Now maybe you are not acquainted with that word but it is used a lot today to speak of churches no longer just thinking of the attraction model. The attraction model says, “We’ll provide wonderful services and hopefully we’ll edify you through music, through Bible teaching, and you’ll come.” It doesn’t work very well today and it didn’t work too well even in Jesus’ day for the temple to be only attractional.
I have to ask you a different question. If the Holy of Holies no longer exists in a temple, and it doesn’t, where does it exist now? Where is this Holy of Holies? The tabernacle is gone; the temple is gone. Where does God specifically reside? First Corinthians 6 says this. “Do you now know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” Now in Greek there are two words for temple. One is the temple precincts – the whole building complex, and that is the word hieron in Greek. But then there’s another word and that refers to the inner shrine, the very dwelling place of God. I’m talking now about the Holy of Holies. Where does it exist? Paul says, “Do you now know that your body is the naos?” That’s the Greek word for the inner shrine of God. As I was thinking about this it was exploding in my mind that the temple no longer exists in Jerusalem. It is no longer a matter of people walking by and coming into a building, though how grateful we are for anyone who walks into this building, but that isn’t our mission in its entirety. Imagine this - the blessed Holy Spirit of God living within us. You will take the Holy Spirit, the shrine of God, if you ride the el tomorrow. Aren’t you glad that God goes with you on the el, or when you are in your hospital room, when you are a banker, and when you are serving God? And some of you are students and you attend the various universities and colleges here. Some of you are high school students. When you go into that classroom tomorrow and in the hallways, if you are a believer you are taking God with you. Now the Church doesn’t exist only in community, though absolutely we must as I’ve been emphasizing. The Church has to exist out there on all the levels of society.
From time to time when I come into O’Hare Field, you know the plane goes around Lake Michigan and then flies right over the city, and every time, if it’s possible, I try to find Moody Church. It’s a little harder to do than you might think situated among high rises, but I’ve often seen at least the top of the church.
Now, I also think to myself, “That’s the building but the Church is scattered throughout Chicago land.” It’s wherever you find yourself to be missional, to know that there are people out there who need to know the Gospel. They need to see the Gospel lived out. We can no longer depend on people simply coming in because we have good programs, though thank God we do. What we need to do is to have the larger vision outside of our walls because the Church is scattered everywhere and that’s the way God wants it – salt wherever we find ourselves, and light in even the darkest places. That’s what broke the heart of Jesus. You see, God bless the Jews, but they had become so narrow in their focus. All that they thought about was “my relationship with God, my relationship to the temple. What are the rules? I’ll keep them and then I’ll be fine.” They lost what God wanted. Worship yes, but without a wider vision for the Gentiles and the outcasts, as it says in Isaiah. That’s the second lesson. First we should be a zealous community. We should be a missional community, and finally and obviously, at the heart of it all, we should be a worshipping community.
You see, what Jesus did is he came and he cleansed the worship. I mean, after all, why do you and I live? We live to worship God. We live to bring glory to his name. Now why wasn’t it happening in the temple? It wasn’t happening in the temple because the temple was cluttered with other agendas.
And now thinking of the temple of our own hearts, is your heart cluttered with other agendas? Jesus came in and took those cords and in a matter of moments I am sure just cleansed the whole place. Jesus actually wants to do that to your heart and to my heart. He wants to cleanse the place so that true worship can take place. We used to sing years ago, “Nothing between my soul and the Savior.” It’s worship that is honest, worship that is open, worship is clean because it’s been cleansed by Christ!
I end today by asking you a question. Since now your heart as a believer is the shrine of God and you are the temple of the living God, and since that is true of you and me, what does your temple look like? Does it look like a temple or does it resemble a garage with all kinds of stuff that has been dragged in? Jesus said, “Your passion for money has to go. Your passion for success without me has to go. Your passion for a relationship even if it’s sinful has to go. Your values as to whom you are and what you are going to do that is so self-centered has to go because I need to cleanse you for myself. “My house shall be a house of prayer and a house of worship,” Jesus said, “and you have turned it into a house for yourself.”
So we end actually where we began with the woman at the well, a woman who obviously was not successful in the eyes of the world, and long ago I concluded that there are many people in this world who, because of what they have done and what others have done to them, cannot be successful in the sense that we usually define success. But it is such that the Father seeks to worship him; lives that have been purified by Christ, throwing out all of the vengeance and the anger and all the other things that inhabit our lives; lives that have all that put aside through confession and faith and cleansing so that we can worship in spirit. That’s why it can be done. Wherever you find yourself you can worship. Obviously church attendance is incredibly important and you can’t worship well out there if you don’t worship here, but it also has to be done in truth, honesty, openness, and cleansing for the Father seeks such to worship him. The Christ who desires our worship is the Christ who desires our cleansing.
Let us pray.
Father, we ask that spiritually you might do in our hearts what you did two thousand years ago in the temple area. Just overturn all of the idols that we have constructed and all of the rationalizations, and cleanse us and give us hearts that really do worship because we’ve gotten rid of the clutter, we’ve gotten rid of the false loves, and we’ve said before you, “We will worship.” Grant that, oh God, we pray, and whatever the Holy Spirit has said to your heart today (wherever you’ve heard this message) take a moment and respond to Christ and tell him that when you have more time you are going to deal very seriously with the issues that stand between you and Jesus, between you and true worship. Let’s just take a moment right here and you talk to God.
Hear our prayer, oh Lord, for we are thirsty for your blessing. Forgive us, Father, for living lives that look like the temple, desecrated by our own impurities. Grant us, oh Lord God, clean hearts to worship you successfully in a way that honors the Father. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.