Open Our Eyes
We have seen lots of footage from Iraq. We see the war from the air, from the ground, from maps, and more. We think we're informed about the war. Sorry. Our eyes need to be opened, and this is the Sunday for that. If we used the Latin names for the Sundays in Lent, you'd know this. Today is Occuli Sunday. It's called this because in Latin our Introit begins with the Latin for eyes, occuli. In the early Church, this was the Sunday those in confirmation instruction were examined and asked if they renounced the devil, all his works, and all his ways. Then the devil was cast out of them by a formula of exorcism. Thus their eyes were opened.
In these troubled times in which we live, at war abroad and under terror alerts at home, we need to see clearly what's going on. And the text before us, hardly seems to help. Jesus doesn't launch His war where we think He should. Does it make sense that Jesus should be attacking the Church? Weren't their dens of thieves, houses of ill repute, houses of the rising sun in Jerusalem? Weren't their God-denying, Christ-ridiculing places of higher education where Christ could have exercised His righteous wrath?
Wasn't the political power of Jesus' day, Rome, involved in unjust wars all across the inhabited planet? Wasn't Rome in engaged in an unjust, brutal occupation of Jesus' own homeland? Instead of ransacking the Church on earth why didn't Jesus invade the barracks of the Roman garrison that was right there? Why did Jesus take a whip to the backs of those buying and selling in the temple rather than to the soldiers who used whips on Jesus' own people? Why didn't Jesus march on the Roman governor's palace with a sign saying "Peace for Jerusalem," or, "No occupation for taxes"?
Are you trying to tell me that the worst people in the city of Jerusalem were the people working in or going to church? Are you trying to tell me the Church of the living God, the place on earth where God had promised His real presence was worse than the red light district; worse than the place thieves hung out; worse than the place where people drank themselves silly?
Besides doesn't this attack by Jesus seem futile? It was to the disciples who were there. At the end of the text it says that after Jesus had risen from the dead the disciples remembered what Jesus had said at this time. The death and resurrection of Jesus put this whole incident in a different light for them. This was not the case at the time it was going on. The text says as Jesus made a whip, used it to drive out animals, buyers and sellers from the temple, scattered coins, and overturned tables that, "His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for Your house will consume Me." The disciples had the feeling that Jesus was wasting His strength. All this righteous wrath would only result in Him being devoured.
His disciples thought it futile, and the Jews didn't think it was much of a divine sign. They asked for a miraculous sign to prove a miraculous sign. What Jesus did was miraculous. The whip Jesus fashioned was nothing like the kind of whips that would be used on Him in holy week. It was nothing like people used to drive animals. There is no material which inflicts less hurt on the body than this cord. It wasn't fear of being whipped that drove the people away. They were so numerous they could've easily overpowered Jesus, but they were powerless against the divine wrath that radiated from the enraged Man who is God. Here Jesus did what no ordinary man would dare to do, and He did what no ordinary man could do. However, it was all lost on the Jews. It was a powerless sign to them, and so they demanded another one.
This should not surprise us. This is in accordance with what St. Paul writes to us, "Jews demand miraculous signs." Their sinful disposition is bent toward wanting displays of power that never satisfy them for long. Think of them in the wilderness. How many big signs did the Lord give them, and yet they grumbled. Jews demand miraculous signs, and the sinful disposition of us non-Jews, us gentiles, is to look for what we consider wise, and this sure isn't wise. This is the first year of Jesus' ministry. This is one of His first public acts. Don't you know what happens to pastors who come to churches and immediately start making changes? What would happen to one who used forceful, violent actions? He would be toast, and Jesus most certainly is toast. His fate is sealed from this time forward, and now our eyes are opened.
The war that really matters. I mean matters for all time and eternity. Matters from here to kingdom come no matter what kingdoms come or go is not the one in Iraq, not the one in our own homeland, not even the one that might be going on in your sick body. The war that really matters is not even the one that went on in the temple during Jesus' first year of ministry. The war that really matters is the one that was conducted against Jesus.
Jesus, speaking of Himself, says to the Jews, "You must destroy this temple." Jesus is the real temple of God on earth for which the temple in Jerusalem was but a shadow, a sign to point God's Church to the coming Christ. The war that really matters is the one that was carried on against the holy body of Jesus. That's why every Lent your pastor has gone over the facts about Jesus' suffering and death that you know as well as he does. You don't come to Church in Lent to study the history of World War I or II. You don't come to Church to study the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the Boer War, the Punic Wars or any other war other than the war against Jesus.
Jesus' body is attacked by sinful men and horrible demons; His flesh is ripped and His blood is spilled; He is crushed with grief and overwhelmed with terror because God made Him who was holy and just to be sin itself. Jesus is abused and misused by men because He bears their sins. Jesus is damned and abandoned by God because that's what sinful men, women and children like us deserve. God goes to war against His only Son because sinful men at no time or place have been able to live in peace with each other. The war that God conducted against His only beloved Son was for the sake of temple, Church, Jew, Gentile, Iraqis and Americans. Christ Jesus was not crucified to redeem just America but the whole world.
And Jesus was successful. This too is in our text though, like for the disciples, it's only clear after Easter. Jesus body was destroyed not just to cleanse the temple but the whole world. That His death did this is shown by the fact He rose again in 3 days. Jesus was put to death for our sins and raised again for our justification says St. Paul. Jesus didn't die because He was a sinner, had sins, or sickness. He died because He bore the sins of the entire world, and death is the punishment for even just one sin. Once Jesus had fully paid the price for a whole world of sins, neither devil, nor sin, nor even death had any claim on Him, so He rose again.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, during these times of war and terror, of fear and worry, let not your eyes be focussed on the news but on Jesus. Listen and take heart in the Gradual for Lent: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus." His death and resurrection will open your eyes to the comfort and consolation, the hope and peace that fallen men and women need at all times. That's true, isn't it? Every Lent the focus is the same. Whether the times be of peace and prosperity or of turmoil and terror, the message of the Church is the same: Jesus, Jesus and only Jesus.
Even when the world is relatively peaceful, Satan attacks us with doubts, fears, worries. He rightly points out what sinners like us deserve. What peace can we have with consciences befouled by so very many sins? What peace of mind do sinners like us deserve who will personally go to war against anybody we think has mistreated us? What peace can we find in hearts and minds that can think of 10,000 different ways we can be attacked by that old evil foe, Satan?
When Satan comes trying to collect the doubts, fears and worries our sins cause us to owe, we are to point him to Jesus. Jesus' holy conscience suffered the pangs of doubt, fear and worry that rightly belong to me. Jesus knew the black despair Satan says I must rightly suffer. Jesus knew the creeping anxiety Satan says my sins rightly deserve. Jesus knew the panic sinners in the hands of an angry God ought to know. Because Jesus knew these things you don't have to. Because Jesus knew these things in your place, you can send the devil packing. "You Satan say I'm bound to suffer the doubts, worries and fears my sins deserve, but Jesus speaks louder in His Word and He declares Me forgiven, free; free to be a child without a care in the world because I have a loving heavenly Father for Jesus' sake."
Open our eyes to Jesus, O Lord, when death breaths it's icy breath down our necks. Death is one of the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse that was sent out into the world when Adam fell. It follows war, disease, famine. At times like these, death threatens from all sides claiming we are at its mercy. Death says it determines when and how we die. It can use war, disease, disaster, terrorists, or just plain old age how it sees fit. That's what death breathes down our necks, but death lies. Jesus was the death of death. "O death your sting is no more and neither is your victory. Jesus took your sting, your victory, and me from your jaws by climbing into them Himself. You thought you had won; you thought you had defeated the suffering, sighing, dying Jesus, but that Man was God in flesh and blood. So you, death, had to spit Him out. Death cannot swallow divinity no matter how hard it tries."
You dear friends go where Jesus goes because you've been joined to Him by Baptism. Death can no more swallow you than it did Jesus. You are no more at the mercy of death than Jesus. Death doesn't decide when you're number is up or put names on bullets. Death too is a servant of King Jesus. It can do no more and no less than what your King Jesus wants.
Open our eyes, O Lord, that we might fix them on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our Faith. Fix them on Jesus as He comes in the Holy Supper right into this time and into this space, right to our altar, into our very hands and mouths. Christ Jesus comes to a time and space threatened by terrorists and war. Christ Jesus comes to hands that may tremble and mouths that might quiver. He comes under weak Bread and Wine, but He comes as no weakling. He comes as the Ruler of Satan, Death, and War. He comes as the King over everything above the earth, on the earth and even under the earth. Open your eyes and see that the One who gladly gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink surely will never withhold any good thing from you.
Read your Lenten devotions this week. Pray the Collect for today again and again. See with open eyes that the Almighty God knows "we of ourselves have no strength" and so He, through Jesus, must "keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul." Do you see Jesus striding confidently across the battlefields of this earth to hold you, to comfort you, to rescue you? It doesn't matter if you see Him or not. He is there, and He is here. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, TX
Lent III (3-23-03), John 2: 13-22