Providence Church (CREC)
Pastor Uri Brito
Third Sunday in Lent
March 15th, 2009.
Title: Zeal for the Father’s House —Sermon Audio HERE
Text: John 2:13-22
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore 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.
Prayer: Teach us, O Lord, what it means to be consumed with zeal for your house, and in doing so, may we believe the Scripture and the word that Jesus has spoken. Amen.
In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Wormwood, the senior devil says to his junior correspondent that his greatest ally in the war against the church is religion itself. He wants us to think “that a moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all.” In other words, he is talking about a religion that calls you to commit yourself only half-way; after all, a little religion is better than no religion. This devilish advice seems to have borne much fruit in the Church of our Lord today. Generations of such churches have led to empty church buildings in Europe and a gospel-less Christianity.
This moderated religion is at the heart of the religion of the Israelites in the first century. They had a self-serving religion. They embraced a religion that only suited their purposes. They had become so accustomed to their rituals and liturgy, that they had forgotten that their worship was for the sake of the world.
Our passage in John 2 flows from a context of great joy in the ministry of our Lord. He is in the beginning of his earthly ministry. In the beginning of chapter 2 Jesus has turned the water into wine. He has brought joy into that marriage feast. There can be no feasting without wine, so Jesus the great host, produces wine for his guests. He delights in the wedding feast, he delights in joyful marriages. In the remaining portions of John 2, we see that Jesus is zealous for His house. We have spoken in previous sermons how Jesus desires to clean his house. In order to clean His house, he needs to cleanse the leper and cleanse the unclean spirit. You cannot live in a dirty home, so Jesus begins to clean His house in his earthly ministry. We will see in chapter 3 that Jesus is interested in the cleaning of lost sinners. He cleanses them by water and the Spirit. He tells Nicodemus that He must be born again. If you are to be born again, you have to be as little children for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
You will notice in these three narratives Christ’s zeal. First, He renews wedding in the turning of water into wine, then He renews His house by cleaning it, finally, He renews children by baptizing them into newness of life. In order for the church of Christ to abandon her moderated religion, she needs to restore a biblical view of the family in society, to clean the church from heresy, and to administer faithfully the sacraments of the church. This is the pattern of the Scriptures: The entrance of the individual family into the great family of God and the growth of the church through her means of grace.
Our attention is drawn to the second part of Jesus’ work: The cleansing of the temple. In the gospel of John, we find the cleansing of the temple in the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. But if we look at the synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see that the cleansing of the temple takes place during the Passion Week. So, we have one cleansing in the beginning of the ministry and another cleansing at the end of the ministry. Liberal commentators have often pointed out that the gospel accounts contradict one another. But these two accounts do not refer to the same event, rather they refer to two separate events just as the Bible describes. We are looking here in the gospel of John to the very first event when Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
It is interesting that Jesus is coming for the Passover. The Passover is a celebration of God’s deliverance in Egypt. But for the enemy, it is the day when judgment came upon the land. In Exodus, the Israelites were the friends of God, but in the gospel of John the Israelites are not acting like friends, but rather as enemies of Christ. When Jesus enters the temple, He finds moneychangers doing business. They are conducting business in the temple. They could have dealt with business at a different location, but they decided to do business in a particular part of the temple we call the Court of the Gentiles.
In the gospels, we begin to see a shift in redemptive history. In the Older Testament, there were few God-fearers among the Gentiles, but in this new Kingdom period, the Gentiles are being converted unto God. There are Jews who fear God and there are Gentiles who fear God. The Gentiles came to a particular part of the temple to worship. They came to the Court of the Gentiles to worship the living God. But what did the Jews do? They transformed, under the leadership of Caiaphas that part of the temple meant to be a house of worship into a house of trade. The Jews show disdain, derision and contempt for the Gentiles. They still do not understand that Christ has come to save Jew and Gentile alike from their sins. The Jews are treating the Gentiles like second class citizens. They are closing down their place of worship and transforming it into a place of business and trade. They have forgotten that their mission is to bring a light unto the Gentiles. They are acting like isolationists in their evangelism.
Seeing this, Jesus makes for himself a whip of chords and drives them all away with their animals. He pours out the coins of the money changers and overthrows their tables. What is it that drives Jesus to act so radically? The answer is in verse 17: His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This is taken from Psalm 69. Why is Jesus consumed? It is zeal. Jesus is acting as a Son whose holy wrath is ignited at the sight of what people have done to His father’s house. The nature of the temple is not meant for business, it is meant for worship. Jesus is the defender of His Father’s honor. The Jewish leaders had transformed this place of adoration to suit their own needs and purposes. This desecration of the temple is what led Jesus to act so radically. He was zealous for the purity of His father’s house.
Application: What Christ is zealous for is what we should be zealous about. If Christ cares about the agenda of the Father, we too should care about the agenda of the Father.
In verse 18 the Jews ask for a sign. In other words, what right do you have to invade our kingdom? What right do you have to insult our business? Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus is continually speaking and the Jews are continually misunderstanding. They think he is referring to the temple, but he is speaking about his own body. Jesus is the new temple. The present temple in the first century is fading away and the new temple will arise from the grave on the third day.
The beginning of our narrative tells us that Jesus comes to Jerusalem for Passover. Throughout the Older Testament when the Israelites disobeyed their God, they became like the Egyptians and God treated them as Egyptians. In the first century, the Jews still had not learned their lessons. Our narrative shows that Jesus is the last prophet to declare covenant curses should they continue to disobey. When Jesus overthrows their tables, He is saying: “This is what will happen to your temple, if you do not treat it as my Father’s House.” It will be overthrown!
The cleansing of the temple in John is one of three separate cleansings. Though we see the zeal of the Lord in this text, this zeal is not fully manifested in this first cleansing. As Calvin writes, this is only a “milder chastisement.” The true condemnation of the temple would come a generation later.
Jesus says in Matthew 12 that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after signs. Jesus says that the sign they seek for is the sign of Jonah. Jonah was buried three days in the belly of the fish and on the third day he was brought to life. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that the temple of his body will be raised on the third day.
The Jews never understood the significance and earth-shattering consequences of this statement. They were blinded. In fact, even at the end of the earthly ministry of Messiah as he hung on the tree, those who passed by Jesus mocked him saying: “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” They were echoing the words of Jesus, still not understanding what they meant.
John presents the first visit of Jesus to the temple and the other gospels present his second and finally, his final visit to the temple. In the second visit of Jesus in the temple, he finds the same distorted use of the temple. The Jews had used the part of the temple for Gentile worship and turned it into a den of robbers. The Lord desired that His father’s house be a house of prayer. Instead of offering prayers and sacrifices unto Jehovah, the Jews were offering business as usual. They had not learned from the first visit Jesus made to the temple. This time Jesus offers the final warning. He tells them that if they are not to worship Him in His temple, the nursing babies and the children will. At first glance, this does not sound like a great warning, but when you consider the implications of this statement there is a remarkable overthrowing of tables.
The Jews consider themselves all knowing since they have the wisdom of their fathers. They are the great Old Testament interpreters. They are so proud of their status that they cut off the Gentiles from worshipping at the same temple. On the other hand, here are the children, the nursing babies that they consider to be ignorant and lacking knowledge. Jesus says that the worship of the Jews is despicable to him, now the children, the nursing infants will worship and sing His praises. Is he just referring to the little ones in the midst of the crowd? Those are certainly part of the great multitude of worshippers. After all, Jesus is the one who invites the infants and the little ones to come to him and partake of his goodness, but there is a greater meaning to the words of our Lord in his second visit to the temple. Jesus is comparing the worship of the little ones to the worship of the Gentiles.
The Jews have worshipped Yahweh since the days of Moses. They are supposed to be the mature ones; the adults in the faith. But Jesus’ second visit to the temple proves that they are the immature and ignorant. The nursing infants refer to the Gentiles who are new to the faith of Yahweh. They are beginning to understand this new faith. They are young, but still their worship is more sincere than the experienced Jewish leaders. Jesus is saying that the temple of the Jews is doomed. This radical nationalism is doomed. This false worship is doomed. This separation between Jews and Gentiles is doomed.
The little babies, the Gentiles will now have free access to the temple, and this temple is Jesus Christ himself; the true temple.
The third visit of Jesus to the temple is only predicted in the gospel accounts. It is going to occur a generation later. By then, Jesus will have been resurrected from the dead. He will come with vengeance. He had visited the temple twice in His earthly ministry. He warned them, but because of the unfaithfulness and idolatry of the Jewish leaders, the temple, their center of worship, their house of trade, their den of robbers will be destroyed. The exalted Christ comes in AD 70 and destroys the temple. He tears the house down. All the glory of the temple is destroyed. To use the words of C.S. Lewis, their “moderated religion” is no religion at all.
This destruction of the temple follows the pattern of the Levitical Laws concerning leprous plagues in a house. According to Leviticus 14, the process of inspecting a house with a leprous plague was three-fold. The first was that the priest needed to exam and quarantine the house. Jesus came in John’s gospel and examined the house and quarantined it. He told the Jews that their house/temple was infected by a leprous plague. Their idolatry was infecting the house. Jesus then takes down the furniture, overthrows the table and then leaves. According to Leviticus, the priest came to the house a second time. Now he comes to try and clean it. He tries to rid the house of the plague. He warns again of the dangers of the plague. In the same manner, Jesus came to the temple a second time in the synoptic gospels and inspected the temple. The temple showed no sign of improvement. The plague was still there. The final task of the priest in Leviticus was to come the third time and tear down the house. Nothing more can be done. It is beyond healing. The house is left desolate. Jesus comes a third time in vengeance in AD 70 to destroy the house; to tear it down. His zeal for His father’s house is fully manifested. Indeed in AD 70 the temple came down with great violence. The era of animal sacrifices, temple worship had come to an end. Jesus brings into the world the age of the kingdom. Gentiles will no longer be hindered from worshipping. They will gather with Jewish believers and worship the same God forever.
How shall we then live?
a) The implications of the cleansing of the temple are remarkable. The zeal of the Lord for His father’s house consumes him. We are to embrace that zeal for the church of Christ. The Lord came to celebrate the Passover Feast. He had a zeal for the times and seasons of the temple. We are also to have a zeal for the times and seasons of the Christian calendar. We wait with anticipation in this Lenten Season, the Resurrection of our Lord.
b) We know that what is true of the temple is all the more true of the church. Our responsibilities are greater. In the temple, the Jews made unnecessary barriers so that the Gentiles could not come and worship. What barriers do we manufacture to keep others at a distance? Do we act too proud? Do we reach out to others or do we act as the Jews and invent excuses not to fellowship with our fellow believers? Do we look down upon those who have not reached our Christian maturity? Brothers and sisters, if we ever get to this point, take heed of the warnings of our Lord.
c) Finally, we see that the temple is destroyed. The end of the temple means the beginning of a new world. As Christians we are called to go out into this new world. We are called to bring newness of life to a plagued world. We are not called to hide in our Christian caves, but to bring a new reformation to the world. They will mock us as they mocked our Lord, but our message will renew this world, just as the resurrection of our Lord will soon bring us joy.
In The Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Some of these insights come from Rev. Dennis Truuri, pastor of Reformed Covenant Church in Oregon (CREC).
 Calvin, John. Commentary on John 2:16. See http://www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/calvin/comm_vol34/htm/viii.ii.htm
 Mark 15:29-30.
 Matthew 21.
 Mark Horne, commentary on Mark, pg. 154.