Look Closer if You Dare
In the early days of the internet, lighthearted videos were popular that caused you to look ever more closely only to explode into a hideous face. These electronic jack-in-the-boxes startled you. This Sunday was known historically as Occuli Sunday once again from the first word in the Latin Introit eyes.' So, use your eyes to look closer at our textif you dare. Maybe something shocking will pop out.
Look closer; see the disciples' dismay. It would be hard to overestimate the big business the Temple was in First Century Jerusalem. Money was made from selling cattle, sheep, and doves that were guaranteed to be Levitically clean. Money was made changing foreign money marked with idolatrous symbols to the acceptable native Jewish shekel. Of course, all of this was done for a profit.
Now before you get all high and mighty on your free market capitalist horse, consider what else were the faithful travelling from afar to do? How were they to transport their animals? What if they died along the way? What if they made it all the way only to find the animal wasn't clean according to the Old Testament church standards and couldn't be used? And money-changing is a service anyone travelling outside the U.S. appreciates. They don't provide that service for free, you know.
The rub is that they were doing this in the only place non-Jews could pray or worship. The rub was they had turned the Father's house into a market. The rub was that the man who ran the whole operation, Annas, is described by Josephus as "a great hoarder up of money" (Antiquities, IX, 2, 546). He was a 1st century Don Corleone. He, his 5 sons, and 1 son-in-law, Caiaphas, were the high priest for 57 years. Jesus does the equivalent of going into casino run by a mob boss and running everyone out. He does the equivalent of interrupting the Vatican's Christmas Eve Mass declaring it sacrilege. Jesus is doing the 2 things a pastor must never do unless he wants to risk his job and well-being. He touches a powerful unbelieving man's money and calls his religion false.
Look closer at the most popular Old Testament Church festival, while everyone else is happy with the trading, the conviviality, the worshiping, Jesus makes a whip out of cords and drives all - not just the cattle and sheep but the men selling them - out of the Temple. He uses the whip on all, and I don't care if "no material injured the body less than" what Jesus made the whip out of (Bengel's, 1, 567). It's a side of Jesus no one had seen till now.
But look even closer if you dare. See the disciples dismay. What they remember during the incident isn't what they remembered after. Here they remember that Scripture said zeal for the temple would consume the Christ. As the next verse of Ps. 69 says, this gets Him nothing but reproach. This is futile to the disciples. His zeal isn't going to change anything; they're right. At the end of the Gospels, these people will be right back in the Temple polluting it. His zeal won't change a thing; it will only consume Him.
Look closer; Jesus' disciples don't support Him. Look closer still if you dare. See the Jew's unbelief. Malachi 3 says Yahweh would suddenly come to His temple. Is this sudden enough for you? And when He came "he would purify the sons of Levi"; how's He doing so far? And He asserts that God is His Father in a way that He is no one else's. It's "My Father's house" not "our Father's house." He's saying to all what He first said to Mary and Joseph 18 years ago in this very temple. "Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"
"Prove it." That's what the Jews say. Duh? Jesus just singlehandedly cleared the entire Court of the Gentiles, as much as 35 acres (gospelsmuseum. div.ed.ac.uk). Everyone fled even as they will on the Last Day when they see Him who've they pierced. The Temple had police. Yet, no one tried to stop Jesus. See what happens when someone runs on to a NBA court or an NFL field. But unbelief says, prove one miracle by doing another. And as Jesus says elsewhere, if you don't listen to Scripture, you won't believe even if someone rises from the dead.
But that's the sign Jesus gave them. He literally says, "You must destroy this temple and in 3 days I will raise it." Look closer - if you dare. This statement stuck with Jesus' enemies and disciples all the way till the end and into the new beginning. As we hear in the Passion Reading "Some stood up and gave false testimony against Him: We heard Him say, I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by men.'" You see how they get this all turned around and why it's false? Jesus didn't say, He would destroy this temple, but that His enemies would. And He didn't say He would build another but would raise the one they would destroy. However, oddly enough they got before Easter what the disciples didn't till after. They got that what Jesus was talking about is a Temple not made by human hands.
Look closer; the disciples at this time didn't get as much as Jesus' enemies. No, they made the mistake of taking what Jesus said about divine things as being only about human things. "This temple" could only be the building even though repeatedly in the Old Testament the Lord said He could not be contained in a dwelling built by men, and what Solomon said of the Temple that anyone who prayed toward it would surely be heard could not be true of a physical building or anything or one but God.
Look closer; it you dare because the image is about to explode. Even though the disciples don't understand what Jesus is saying now, 3 years later they will remember and believe Scripture and Jesus. How many words of Jesus don't you understand or misunderstand, and you just let go? Hey, if I don't get it the first time I hear it, how important can it be? Rather than living from every Word that comes out of the mouth of God many get by with only the ones they think important. In such a minimalist faith-world, a temple can only be a building not a Person. And His body can no more be the Temple than this Bread can be His Body, or this Wine can be His Blood. In a world where a person gets no more than what they can see or understand: Water can't wash sins off their conscience, and these Words can't forgive what they can't forget. May none of us live here, ever.
But how come these dramatic, climatic words, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in 3 days" don't stay with us as they did the unbelieving Jews? Because we think we understand them. Look closer. Jesus says His enemies must destroy Him, but haven't we known that since the first time Baby Jesus came to the temple? He wasn't redeemed with money as all first-born sons were. That meant He was devoted to destruction. And that's why Simeon told Mary a sword would pass through her soul too. The temple had always been a place of destruction as the tabernacle Moses had built in the wilderness was. Here is where animals were killed, bled-out, cut up, burned up, and eaten. And remember both tabernacle and temple were built according to a heavenly blueprint. This earthly structure was only a shadow, says Hebrews, not the substance. And as Paul tells us in Colossians when the reality arrives the shadow disappears.
Come out of the shadows. Come to the substance. It's true, as Hebrews plainly says, that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. And the Old Testament Church was taught that from Adam on. Sin caused death; men put animals to death in place of themselves. But it's equally true, as Hebrews also says, it's impossible for the blood of goats and bulls to take away sins. They are shadows. I've been in an open field when a plane too far away to hear casts a shadow over me. I jump. But shadows can't do anything. They have no substance, and they pass away when the thing that is casting them arrives. Stand with a light to your back; walk toward your shadow on the wall. When you reach the wall; gone is your shadow.
The error of the Jews was grabbing on to the shadow of animal sacrifice as if they had the real thing. The bigger error which even the apostles fell into was not seeing that the massive, ornate temple itself was a shadow. Remember what happened once when they were leaving the temple? Mark 13 records the dialog: "As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to Him, Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!' Do you see all these great buildings?' replied Jesus. Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.'" Aw, shucks Jesus, why did you go and do that again? Every time the disciples raise a cheerful, positive balloon, you pop it. Why?
Look closer; Jesus' body is the true temple; His blood is the only thing that can appease the wrath of God against sinners because it's the blood of God. As long as the temple stood, it pointed to the need for daily sacrifices to remove sins because they couldn't once and for all be taken away by them. That was an important function of the temple: to point to the need for the True Temple to come, and the buying and selling going on inside it were getting in the way of that function. That's why Jesus cleansed it, but He didn't do it to preserve it. He did it to assert His Lordship over it.
Come out of the shadows. Stop acting like the temple still stands and sins haven't once and for all been paid for. Come out of the shadows where guilt and shame can hide and whisper to your conscience: there's still something for you to bear, to do, to feel before you can really be forgiven. Come out of the shadows; your Savior has purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the devil Himself, not with gold or silver but with blood that is holy and precious and suffering and dying that is innocent.
Look closer and dare you must. In the light of the risen Christ, Water isn't just plain water but a life-giving water rich in grace; and Words aren't dead letters but sharp and living able to separate what you can't you from your guilt; and Bread is Body and Wine is Blood and by them the true Temple once more comes to His people to cleanse them. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (20180304); John 2: 13-22