The Cleansing of the Temple
I have chosen as a text verse today 1 Corinthians 3:16:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple
and I want to talk about the humility of Christ……a humility that comes with a whip and overturns tables……and that’s a picture that many would say is the very opposite of humility.
How can humility go hand in hand with great anger and great violence, we may ask? All 4 of the Gospel writers include this story – that means that all see it as very important in the picture of Jesus that they felt compelled to paint for us. John, whose Gospel is seen by many as more theologically thought out, sometimes even as “more spiritual” than the others (just think for a moment of how each gospel begins, and you can’t help but notice that John’s beginning “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”) – when John records this story he tells us that Jesus not only turned over the tables, but made a whip to help Him drive out……and for many, that is not seen as a picture of humility.
Washing feet is humble, but taking up a whip and turning over tables is not typically understood as humble. And so we may tend to gloss over this story as not relevant to our lives in 2017.
Scripture teaches us that from His birth to His death, He “humbled Himself, taking on the nature of a servant and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians2:1-11)
So this cleansing of the Temple, stuck as it is in between the cursing of the fig tree and the death of the fig tree – these are all lessons for us in humility and lessons for us regarding what type of a King we serve.
Humble people can get very angry – in fact should get very angry.
Jesus was angry at what the Temple had become. It was meant to be the meeting place between Heaven and Earth – it was where Heaven and Earth intersected. It was where people met God, particularly……in prayer and worship. But Jesus enters and sees anything but prayer and worship....He sees buying and selling, He sees a market place, He sees a general thoroughfare through which people pass as a short cut to get from one side of Jerusalem to the other. But the main thing He sees is the great injustice this causes to the poor, the foreigners who are trying to get closer to God in prayer and in worship and who are either being pushed aside or ripped off.
And He gets angry……and He says, “You do not come to the house of the Lord to buy and sell……you come to pray and to worship……this is not a place to trade or barter……this is a house of prayer for all nations……all people.”
This is one of the occasions that Jesus gets really angry.
What makes you angry – is it things that hurt you that make you angry, or is it things that hurt others that make you angry? Is it when you are treated unjustly that you get angry, or is it when others, the poor, the outcast, the foreigner are treated unjustly that you get angry?
Now, we can read these verses and say that they tell us how God feels about buying and selling at the entrance to the church building.....or we can say they tell us what He thinks of the bartering that goes on inside the church building.....if you heal me Lord I'll never do that sin again...or...I'll start tithing if you get me a job Lord; or we might say these verses tell us how God feels about people who use the church as a thoroughfare, a place to pass through when you want to get married or confirmed or buried. These verses may well speak to some of these things, and maybe not.
BUT...remember our text verse: "Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?"
The temple is no longer a place or a building......the temple is now a person....You!....Me!
If we have invited the God of heaven and earth revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to come and dwell in us by His Spirit...then we are the temple, the dwelling place of the LORD. Each one of us, wherever we find ourselves, is now the place where heaven and earth intersect...come together...so that whoever comes near us, says Jesus, has come near the Kingdom of God.
And Jesus comes to that temple in all humility, to you and to me, in all humility, and He fills that temple with His presence...and He empowers and equips....He gifts and He heals...He comforts and restores....in a word, He makes whole. All of this is Good News and if you haven't already I encourage you to invite that Jesus in and offer yourself as a temple for Him to dwell in.
But remember: He has great expectations of His temple-----it, in other words you and I, are called to be a people of prayer and worship; in us, the nations, in other words all people, not just people like us, no, all people, even enemies...should see in us, in our words, our actions, all should see temples of the living God....temples that don't require any overturning or any whips.
What needs overturning or chasing out of you right now? If we let the season of Lent do its proper work in us, we ourselves should be using the Spirit who is in us to show us what needs overturning and chasing out, with a whip if necessary, and we do this in the humility of confession and repentance using the power He gives us, so that He, the humble King who never wore an earthly crown, does not have to come with His whip and overturning hands.
I hope and pray, fellow temples, that our Lenten journey is such a journey.