Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, February 23, 2018

Lent 2: The Humble Jesus Who Comes with a Whip

This is one of those more difficult stories of the humble Jesus isn't it. In Mark's gospel it comes immediately after another strange act of humility on the part of Jesus: 

... the story of the poor old fig tree that has no fruit and Jesus curses it and, as if that's not enough, kills it. Then, gentle Jesus meek and mild goes on to the Temple:
It's a story that is obviously important because each of the gospel writers feels it's necessary to include it in their recording of the Good News. Remember, the gospels were written quite independently, by different authors, for different audiences. They didn't think: "Well, Luke told this story, so I don't have to."...No, they each recorded what for them was the essence of the gospel that they felt had to be conveyed. And each of them includes the story of the cleansing of the Temple as essential to the gospel. They don't all include .... for  example, include the account of the first Holy Communion, ... they don't all record the parable of the prodigal son ... and so we could go on. They ALL include this story of Jesus turning over tables, making a whip, and driving people out of the Temple.

Interestingly, John places this story right at the start of Jesus ministry, in John chapter 2. In fact, all that's happened in John's gospel at this point is that John the Baptist has baptised Jesus, Jesus has called some disciples and they've gone to a wedding where Jesus did His first miracle ... then comes this Temple cleansing, followed by the rest of the story of Jesus' ministry in the next 20 chapters. Matthew, Mark and Luke all place this story in the last week of Jesus' life, at the end of each of their gospels. It would seem therefore, that Jesus raged through the Temple twice, turning over tables, chasing people and animals. Twice, at the very beginning and at the very end of His ministry ... for me that makes the story even more "difficult". 

Be that all as it may be, this story reminds us once again, that ours is a Saviour that you don't mess around with ... does He love these people whose tables He's throwing over ... of course He does ... He loves everyone and He dies for them. But our Lord, although He is very patient, longsuffering ... He does not put up with nonsense ... these people were mocking God with their behaviour, persistently ignoring some of the most elementary moral claims that God had on their lives as His people, so, eventually He comes, with his whip. 

They might have got away with it if this was the market place ... but it was the Temple. When we mock God in the very places where we we worship Him ... if we mock God in His church ... God does eventually bring judgement. George Whitfield, who many call England's greatest evangelical preacher, said: "The sins of the church are more offensive to God than the sins of the nation."

The Lutheran church that supported Hitler felt the judgement of God ... the Dutch Reformed Church of SA that supported apartheid came under this judgement. Some of the churches that we read of in NT came under this judgement ... and were, in the words and imagery of Scripture, "spat out of Jesus' mouth." You don't want to be in a church that Jesus is about to spit out.

So this is an unpopular image of Jesus, but one which can be seen at different times and in different contexts, throughout church history, over the last 2000 years.

In some way or another, Jesus will come with His whip. Yes, He is, in the words of another hymn, Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, ... but His is Kingdom meekness and Kingdom mildness, which sometimes comes with a whip.

I like that John places this story right at the very beginning of Jesus ministry, there's a sense that it is a declaration: Don't mess around with God's house .... Don't mess around with God ... and Don't mess around with God's dear friends, the poor. Estimates vary, but it is believed that with Jewish pilgrims coming from all over the "world", as many as two and a quarter million people would be in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, most of them poor. 

And the religious leaders and Temple authorities had turned the Temple into a racket which fleeced the poor. The Temple and the priesthood got rich, which in itself is not a sin, but to get rich at the expense of the poor, that, throughout the Scriptures, is a different matter, and one which always places you under the wrath and judgement of God. But, confronting a religious leadership who have lost their way is often a very dangerous business, but it's never one that Jesus, or the prophets before Him or after Him have shied away from. Right at the start of His ministry we see that Jesus didn't come to make friends and influence people so much as He came to proclaim and inaugurate a Kingdom ... and from the very start, that proclamation would make far more enemies than it would ever make converts and disciples.
I'm sure almost all of us have seen a movie or read a book or newspaper article where there is an out of control car hurtling down a steep, twisty and turny road and lower down the mountain is a car or a truck or a tractor making its innocent way up the mountain. Imagine you're watching the scene, and with horror you see what's going to happen ... round one of the corners, any minute now ............... a big collision is just waiting to happen. 

That's what's happening in this story of Jesus clearing out the Temple. Jesus is on a collision course with sin and sinners. He has called for repentance and the general rule of repentance is: private sin requires private confession and repentance; public sin requires public confession and repentance. Confession and repentance is all that will prevent the collision between Jesus and the sinner. In the context of the folk at the Temple, Jesus has been warning His fellow Jews since the start of His ministry, that God's kingdom is coming. But they, for the most part, have preferred their own ideas about what salvation is, their own agendas regarding what a king and Messiah will look like. They have been speeding on their way, continuing in their particular path of mocking God. Within Jewish society, the rich have been getting richer, and the poor poorer. The self-appointed religious watch dogs have been concentrating on the outward rules and purity regulations rather than the heart. The Temple itself, the place where heaven and earth were supposed to meet, where God's forgiveness was supposed to happen, has been turned into a market place. They've ignored the warning signs and are heading straight for a sharp bend ... where, coming the other way, is Jesus.

Jesus has been announcing that this was the time for God to become king ... that’s what the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is all about. What's more, He had been making it happen - bringing God's fresh rule of healing and restoration to broken lives, families, households. He has been in person the place where heaven and earth meet, where forgiveness and all that goes with it have happened. And now He's come to Jerusalem, on a collision course with the Temple, granted what it has become. The place won't be big enough for both of them, something will have to give. At the end of the gospels we see the outcome of Jesus action ... and that outcome is that another whip is raised, this time onto the back of Jesus.

So .... who won ... we serve a King who doesn't jump out the way of those speeding in the opposite direction, don't we?

In Lent, more than other times of the year, we focus on ... Who's winning in your life? God's way or your way ... Jesus or you ... the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world? There isn't room in any of our lives for both, because they move in opposite directions, God's will and your will, and the end result of that is always messy.

Therefore, Jesus, because of His deep love for us, comes to the temple, which is you and me, not always with a whip, in fact very seldom with a whip, but come He does and cleanse He longs to do.

Where do you need cleansing? (Or do you sin no more, and therefore you do not need cleansing?) Where do you need cleansing?

Do you want to be made clean?
I close with a prayer attributed to Francis of Loyola

O God,
I cannot undo the past,
or make it never have happened!
-- neither can You. There are some things
that are not possible even for you
-- but not many!

I ask You,
and from the bottom of my heart:
Please, God,
would You write straight
with my crooked lines?
Out of the serious mistakes of my life
will You make something beautiful for You?

Teach me to live at peace with You,
to make peace with others
and even with myself.

Give me fresh vision. Let me
experience Your love so deeply
that I am free to
face the future with a steady eye, forgiven, and strong in hope.

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