Some radio DJ's are called "shock jocks." They're known for inflammatory, outrageous, inappropriate words or stunts. It's a negative word in the industry. But there is some value to shock, isn't there? Father John Fisher was the personal chaplain to Henry VII's mother. He was accustomed to set a dead man's skull on one end of the altar whenever he preached (Winter King, 335). That was shocking when you first saw it, and our text has shock value when a person first really hears it.
This incident is called "Jesus cleanses the Temple," and whenever an incident has a name it summarizes many details that can be easily overlooked. You can probably see Jesus finding "men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money." But can you see Jesus making "a whip out of cords?" I think that would take some time. "What you doing there, Jesus?" asks one of the disciples. "What are you going to do with a whip?" asks another.
We're not to a human skull on the altar yet. Jesus uses that whip to drive all out of the Temple area. The insert is at pains to make you think Jesus didn't use the whip on people. Nope He did. Animals and people were whipped. And not only that, coins were poured out; tables overturned, and men were ordered to get the dove cages out of there. I can't imagine Jesus spoke in a quiet voice. "How dare you turn My Father's house into a market" sounds like a shout, yell, or roar.
Now we're to the skull on the altar. O no, we're not because this is exactly the Jesus we want. Don't you want Jesus to walk into the Metropolitan church and say, "How dare you make My Father's house a den of homosexuality?" Don't you want Jesus to turn over the coffee bars in the mega-churches or march into LCMS churches hawking everything from investments to life insurance and start tearing down posters and whipping people? Don't you want a Jesus who at last expresses the outrage you feel toward the churches protecting sin and advancing business? I do.
I'm not shocked by Jesus cleansing other people's temple. The shock comes when I realize the skull at the end of the altar has my eyes staring out of its holes. I see Jesus striding into my life whip in hand, voice raised turning over the tables of my life piled with sins that I have become O so comfortable with. I think nothing of the worrying I do. I think little of misusing His name. I think not at all about holding preaching and the Word of God as sacred. I think what those merchantmen thought. I can't be doing anything wrong because after all I am doing it in God's house. To this Jesus replies: How dare you!
Now that skull begins to haunt me. I can feel its empty eye sockets boring into me, and the shock gets worse. In our text, Jesus tells the Jews they will kill the Messiah that they have waited thousands of years for. Okay, so this is only the first year of Jesus' ministry and only His little band of disciples believe He might be the Messiah. But even to say they will kill a prominent rabbi is pretty shocking. That's what thugs, gangs, criminals do, not the people who run the Temple.
My telling you that you are always trying to put Jesus back in a box is the equivalent in shock value to what they heard. You keep Jesus in this place, maybe even isolate Him to this altar, that font, or my mind, and in the rest of your life you're free. You don't pray that the Word have free course but believe in fact you do. Jesus has nothing to say or do with how you live your day to day life, treat your spouse, raise your kids, or think. Jesus is the jack in the box that pops out only when you want Him to. You pop Him out when you're scared, lonely, needy, or guilty, but the rest of the time you live your life as if He had little to do with and certainly nothing to say about it.
Jesus goes on to tell them that He will raise His dead body in 3 days. Up till now Jesus has raised no one. As far as we know not for 800 years had anybody been raised from the dead, yet Jesus says He will raise Himself. Ponder a dead man raising himself and there is some shock value. But ponder that this also means there is no way you can keep Jesus in the box you have constructed for Him, and there's more.
You're right. I'm preaching the resurrection of Jesus as Law, and it is shocking, and we need to be shocked. How many times do we say I'm going to do this or that in future totally forgetting that James says "You who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow...Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
The only reality we know is one where we're in charge of Jesus. Where He only has as much of our lives as we allow Him to, and as for the rest? Why He is as good as dead to us. We stand on our lives triumphant, sure of ourselves, in control, and then out of the ground comes the hand of Jesus and grabs us. And that has real shock value. Jesus won't be dead and buried. He won't only have pieces of our lives here and there. He wants it all the good, the bad, the ugly. The past, the present, the future. Our hopes, dreams, fears are all His.
You may think you can see a skull on the altar over there. You may think, "Okay, I'm shocked back to my senses." But "you ain't seen nothing yet." You know when Jesus told the Jews, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in 3 days," that they didn't understand Him to be talking about His own death and resurrection. They thought what He said was laughable. They knew how long it took to build the Temple so far, 46 years, and He was going to raise it in 3 days? The way I preached this text to you is not what they heard, but it is what His disciples eventually heard and that's a shocker.
The shocking thing about Jesus is not that so few people believe in Him but that anyone at all does. It is a miracle if you hear this text anyway but how the Jews did. Unbelief sees nothing but what meets the eyes. You often find this in the Gospel of John. Water is water to Nicodemus. Being born again can only mean going back to your mother's womb. To the majority of His disciples, not enemies,Jesus can't really give His flesh for food and His blood for drink. And Temple is stone, wood, and metal not body. But Jesus gives them a clue here in that He uses the word for sanctuary, the holy of holies, when He says destroy this temple. They use the word for the whole temple complex.
The disciples see more than the Jews at this point but not much more. Both groups see the skull on the altar. The Jews are shocked but think it's absurd; the disciples see it as foreboding. They conclude, based on Scripture, which they rightly take to refer to Jesus, that this sort of zeal is going to get Jesus killed and perhaps them with Him.
Are you where they are? If you are shocked into seeing that Jesus has all your life not just bits and pieces, then there is real value in this shock. Jesus in all your life means He will ultimately control your living, planning, doing, suffering, and dying. The disciples got that but you can get more. Zeal for His Father's house was going to consume Jesus and those with Him, but Jesus will be consumed to save them.
Jesus cleansing the Temple leads directly to His suffering and dying. But remember He is given over to death on a cross for you. His blood will be shed on the cross for you. You know why? Because the Father's house is not made of stones and metal but of bodies and souls. The Lord's House that Jesus is ultimately consumed for is made of people. And they can't be a part of that house as long as the Law stands accusing and convicting them of every sin under the sun and demanding its punishments be carried out.
The skull on the altar doesn't toll for thee but for Jesus. He will carry out every command and demand of the Law that bites into your shoulders and makes you despair of ever keeping them. He will live the perfect life, and then kneel in Gethsemane to receive not just the sentence of death but damnation for you and your many sins. And He will carry the awful weight of all the world's sins to the cross and bear them there, and pay and pay and pay on their debt till at last it is finished.
The disciples in the text weren't here yet. They couldn't be, but we know they get here after Easter. "After He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled what He had said. Then they believed." How shockingly different everything looks after Easter. The bloody cross becomes a glorious crown. The tortured death of Jesus becomes the life of the world. The Gospel that the sins of ever every man, woman, and child everywhere have been forgiven can be preached to all nations because every sin was on Jesus and the Father wouldn't have raised Him from the dead if there was still payments to be made.
Shocking, utterly shocking. No one need to go to hell to pay for their sins. Shocking, God is not in anyone's life bill collecting for their sins for all sins on Jesus were laid and paid for there. Shocking, that nothing I do, suffer, lose, gain, or go through in Jesus' name leads anywhere else but home to heaven. Shocking, that though I don't and can't think on Jesus every moment of every day, there is not a moment that goes by or went by in eternity that I wasn't on the mind of my God and Savior.
That chaplain of Henry VII's mother put a skull on the altar every time he preached. It would eventually loose its shock value, wouldn't it? The Law of God doesn't, and as long as the Law shocks you the Gospel can comfort you. The Law shows you a skeleton. The Gospel shows you a risen glorified body. Not just Jesus' but yours. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (20150308); John 2: 13-22