Consumed to Clean
Are you consumed with cleaning? If you walk by a dirty table must you wash it? Can you ignore a sink full of dishes? Do you find yourself cleaning even outside your home? Jesus is not only consumed with cleaning, He is consumed to clean.
The temple of the Jews needed cleaning. It had become a market place. Literally Jesus says, "How dare you turn my Father's house into an emporium." The temple had become a big business selling everything people needed for that satisfying worship experience. You need an animal certified acceptable for sacrifice? The temple sold cattle, sheep, and doves. You need to exchange foreign money to pay the temple tax? The temple had money-changers who gladly did that for a price.
The Lord's house of worship, the sanctuary that the Lord had established on earth had become a market place, a place to raise money. It wasn't a sanctuary from the business mentality of the world. Profit and loss, buying and selling, fees for services were part of the temple. But even worse the buying, selling and money changing went on in the court of the gentiles. The only place in the temple a gentile could go and not be stoned to death, the only place he could pray to the true God, was filled with mooing cattle, bleating sheep, cooing doves, and clinking coins. What message did this preach to the non-Jews about the true God?
The same one it preached to the Jews. The temple is a place where you do things for God. You build the temple; you keep it going by buying your sacrificial animals and exchanging your money there. So what if cost a little more? It was for a good cause. You came away satisfied that you had helped God in some small way.
The temple needed cleaning from the market place attitude that had corrupted it. How about ours? You know that almost every church engages in fund raising of some kind. Up until the 1950s in our circles, this text was used to teach that a business mentality, a fund raising attitude had no place in the Lord's house. But the desire for bigger churches and better schools led to people looking the other way: after all it's for a good cause. And so the business money-making mentality took root in our churches. Hungry? Churches sell for profit every edible item imaginable. Have money to invest? Districts sell annuities, have cds, and saving accounts. Want entertainment? Churches offer plays, bazaars, and dinners for a modest price.
To the unbeliever, this looks no different than Luby's, Chase, or Disney. To everyone, it gives the impression they are do something for God by buying from the church. But what about me? Can I preach on this and not mention my allowing craft fairs, selling cards, and garage sales? And make no mistakes; these are my decision and no one else's. I go back and forth in my mind between: it's just something fun for people to do and I'm leading the church the way of the world. One thing I'm sure of is this. If I have established a business mentality here, our temple too needs cleaning.
But this text really isn't about the Jewish temple or ours; this text is about the true temple, Jesus. You can't tell this in any translation, but the word "Jesus" brackets this text. It's the first and last words of it. This text is all about what Jesus does and says. It's recorded not so we might realize how dirty our temple is but so we might know that Jesus is the One who must clean it. Our eyes are to look to Him not ourselves.
Zeal for His Father's house consumed Jesus. Although the temple was a big business accepted by everyone, Jesus did not. Although everyone was expected to pick their way through the merchandise and business going on, Jesus would not. He was consumed with cleaning it. He made a whip and "drove all": people and livestock, buyers and sellers, from the temple.
This zealous action on Jesus part would get Him killed. The disciples saw that right away. As they saw Jesus acting like a crazy man whipping people and animals, scattering coins and overturning tables, they thought, "This is going to get Him killed." They remembered Scripture said that zeal for the temple would consume, that is kill, the Christ. And it did. The temple cleaning here happened in the first year of Jesus' ministry. Three years later Jesus rides in on Palm Sunday, goes into the temple, and cleans it again. That does it. The church leaders immediately seek a way to destroy Him. Jesus has upset their lucrative business for the last time. He will have to die.
Being consumed with zeal for His Father's house led the Jews to consume Jesus; does it lead us to do the same? Some of you bristle at me for daring to challenge such sacred cows as church fairs, Church Extension Fund, and Lutheran school fund raising. You chant the mantras: "It's for a good cause." "It works." "It doesn't harm anyone." Why, in your mind I would have to be crazy to challenge such accepted practices, wouldn't I?
Now do you see what got Jesus crucified? He dared to say practices accepted by men were not acceptable to God. He had the audacity to say what everyone thought was part of the temple - the business mentality - was not only not part of the temple but interfered with worshipping God. He had the nerve to say to the people who ran the church that their principles of business were not from God but from the fallen world of men.
O Jesus if only you hadn't taken this position. If only you had marched into Jerusalem, turned into the Roman palace, and cleansed it instead of the Jewish temple! If only you had thrown Pilate and the soldiers out instead of Jewish sellers and money changers! If only you had turned over tables of Roman denarii instead of Jewish shekels! If only you had taken on the world rather than the church! But You were consumed with cleaning the temple of God. You insisted on driving out the religion of men that had taken the temple over leaving no sanctuary for fallen sinners.
Yes, Jesus is the Great Cleanser, but you see how He did the cleaning? Jesus didn't cleanse the temple by marching in there with a whip. He failed to clean it this way. No sooner did He cleanse it in the year 27 than it was dirty again in 30. And it went right back to being dirty after Palm Sunday 30 A.D. Jesus didn't clean the temple by force but by being consumed. He was consumed in this way. Paul tells us that God the Father "made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf." Isaiah described it this way: The Father laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus was like the scapegoat in Old Testament Day of Atonement. All the sins of the world were confessed with hands laid on Jesus' head.
Jesus was loaded with all the sins of money-making churches, business-minded men, and man-made religions. Then He went to the cross to be sacrificed for them. He cleansed the temple, our churches, our pastors, our people by bearing their sins on His shoulders and shedding His blood to wash them away. Jesus was consumed by God's fiery wrath against sin in order that we might be clean before God.
Jesus is the true sanctuary of God. Jesus points this out although you can't see it in our insert. Jesus calls His body not a temple but a sanctuary. The point is the temple corrupted by men wasn't a sanctuary to sinners anymore; it was driving them to buy, to sell and to do things for God rather than having God do things for them: forgive their sins and relieve their hearts. The body of Jesus is a true sanctuary for sinners. It is the place that God gives sinners refuge from their nagging guilts and His burning wrath.
Friends, looking at the business mind set of the church we are tempted to despair. Where can poor miserable sheep like us be forgiven rather than fleeced? Where can terrible sinners like us who know we have never done enough for God go to hear what God has done and is doing for us rather than what we have to do for God? Where can guilty sinners like us go to find refuge from our guilt rather than have our guilt added to because we don't buy Lutheran insurance or invest in Church Extension funds?
Where can we go? To Jesus. He is sanctuary from God's wrath. He is not only the scapegoat; He's the Passover lamb. When a door frame was painted with the blood of the Passover Lamb the Angel of Death passed over that house. Those under the blood of Christ have the wrath of God pass over their homes. Jesus is constantly forgiving rather than fleecing them; constantly promising them blessing not extracting promises from them; constantly reliving their guilt not adding to it.
How do I get cleansed personally? Christ cleansed the temple by being consumed by the wrath of God against sinners. We are cleansed by consuming Him. In the OT, if you brought an animal for a sin offering, you did not get forgiveness unless you ate of the victim sacrificed for your sins. You could eat all the goat, cattle, or dove you wanted, but there was no forgiveness in them only in the dead one sacrificed for your sins.
Here is a paradox. The Jesus who provides a sanctuary for sinners is not the strong, fearless Jesus who scatters those promoting a man-made religion. Just as the Passover lamb that provided sanctuary for sinners was not a living one but a dead one, so our sanctuary is not in a mighty Jesus but in a crucified One, not in the Jesus who was consumed to clean the temple but in the One who was consumed for doing it. A popular Bible verse for Lutheran churches use to be, "We preach Christ and Him crucified." Our glory was not in being big or successful. We didn't point people to our state of the art facilities, our works of mercy, or our marvelous organization. We pointed people to a shamefully crucified Christ.
Our hope, our sanctuary is in a crucified Jesus, in a Jesus who was a failure in this world. The temple Jesus went into clean was prosperous and popular. As for Jesus and His followers: they had no place to lay their heads and no money to pay their temple taxes. Jesus was an absolute failure in terms of business principles and marketing success. A crucified Jesus does not sell well; a poor Jesus is not a popular Jesus. But this is the Jesus who was consumed to clean us and is consumed by us so that we might be clean. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (20120311); John 2: 13-22