The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:13–22, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, this has been one of those winters. No, not the typical hard Iowa winter. The un-typical mild Iowa winter. In spite of all the troubles in the world, here in Iowa we've had spring for the last 3 months. It's time, just about, to get outside and start cleaning up the yard, tilling your garden, and more. It's even been warm enough lately to open the doors of the house and let out the stale air. It's time again to start thinking about cleaning house, spring cleaning.
Today’s text is about Jesus cleaning house. It’s important to note that this isn’t the only time he does this. St. John records this account in the first part of his Gospel, and the other Apostles tell us of a similar time during Holy Week. And considering the condition of things in the temple, and what was going there every day, it wouldn't surprise me if Jesus did it there every week. Jesus comes to the temple and doesn’t like what he sees, so he cleans house.
We don’t see this picture of Jesus very often; whip in hand, raised voice, overturning tables, driving people away. The only way to describe it is that Jesus is angry. Don't let anyone every sell you the picture of Jesus meek and mild. Jesus argued with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus called demons to account. Jesus was a force to be reckoned with. Here in the temple he's downright aggressive. But he's doing more than just spring cleaning. He's repurposing the temple. He's cleaning the "Father's House" and pointing to something beyond himself.
Another thing to notice about this text is when it happens. It's an important point that it’s Passover. For those of you who when to the Seder Meal we did a few years ago, do you remember how we started. We started with a cleaning. Before Passover the Jews clean house. Everything is cleaned and the whole house is searched for yeast, and all of it is removed. Yeast is a strong symbol of sin and before Passover the Jews remove it from their houses to symbolically remove sin from their lives.
The Passover is a major holiday for those in Israel, in Jesus time, as well as today. Jerusalem was crowded to capacity. Every room was full, the streets were crowded, there was joy in the air, but also tension. Whenever there are large crowds of people there is always the possibility of trouble. Roman soldier patrolled the streets. Since every family was required to slaughter their Passover lamb in the temple, it too was very crowded. Other sacrifices were also required during that time.
When Jesus entered the temple he found a market place. It’s not that he’s against free trade. The market itself was even understandable. People would have to exchange their money. If you’ve ever traveled out of the country you know what that’s all about. The people in town for the Passover came from all over the Roman world their money needed to be exchanged. But even more than that, all Jews were required to pay the temple tax. It couldn’t be paid with Pagan money. That doesn’t mean that people weren’t being taken advantage of, they probably were. Whenever, you gather people around business transactions greed pops up its ugly head.
But Jesus anger isn’t necessarily aimed just at the moneychangers and their greed. After all they provided a necessary service that was required by the Law of Moses. His anger seems to be about something else.
There are also the tables of people selling animals for sacrifice. (No one from PETA was there to complain!) They are also providing a necessary service. It’s difficult to travel with animals. People needed to be able to buy what was necessary for sacrifice. And remember they had to be perfect without blemish. Who would want to carry a lamb all the way from Egypt, a journey of several weeks, just to find that it didn’t pass inspection? It was better to buy one that was already certified. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the practice of buying a sacrifice for the temple. Of course here to there were probably abuses, and inflated pricing, because the sellers had motivated buyers. But again Jesus isn’t necessarily driving the animal sellers out of the temple because of their greed.
Here’s the picture I want you to put in your mind. Think of the property all around our church. Imagine it all enclosed with a high wall, all the way around the perimeter; all the way from the outdoor worship center to Spenser street. That whole area is full of tables and people and animals. You’ve go bulls, and sheep and goats and doves in cages. People have come from Des Moine, St. Louis (MO.), Kansas City, Denver, all the way here, by the hundreds. They’re outside the walls and inside. There is a steady stream of animals being brought in, also by the hundreds. People are packed together, there’s arguing, haggling, bleating, cooing, and mooing. Imagine all that noise, and worse imagine the smell. It’s a huge mess. And here inside the church people are tying to pray, and sacrifice, and worship.
Jesus cleans house. We can understand why. But remember it’s not just that he wants to get rid of the noise, the smell and the mess. He’s not necessarily angry that people are buying and selling. He’s not necessarily angry that you can’t hear yourself think to pray. There is something else that troubles him even more.
With all the commerce, the buying and selling, people had gotten the impression that you could buy your way into God’s presence. It was a system that seemed to imply that if you paid enough money, got a perfect enough animal, had the right kind of cash, you could get in to see God. “My Father’s house is not a market!” Jesus shouted. This is not a place where business is done—not a place to exchange money, or buy and sell lambs for sacrifice, or cashing in on the worship of God and commercializing worship with Him. This is a house of prayer; a place where we meet God, not in a barnyard or bank. It’s not a place where money of any kind buys anything! When we come here, God looks for faith, not at your checkbook. He doesn’t care how much you give, or how perfect your lamb is.
Jesus is making a very important point about the worship of God. “If you want to come to God, you don’t need money, you don’t need an animal sacrifice, and you don’t even need the temple… anymore. I am the temple! God has come among you. I am here to take you to the Father. It doesn’t require all this mess, the blood of these animals. It requires my blood. It requires my death. The death of God’s very own Son, on the cross.”
Jesus cleans house. He pushes it all aside and out of the temple, the moneychangers, the pigeon sellers, and the sacrifices, too. He comes to replace it all. He earns our way to the Father. He is the final and complete sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. “Destroy this temple, torture me, beat me, crucify me, and kill me, and I will come alive again in three days. Everything you see here in this temple of stone, is right now being replaced in the temple of my body.”
And there’s something else we should pay attention to here. God’s House, this house that Jesus is cleaning is a house of prayer for “all nations.” That’s what St. Mark says Jesus shouted. Remember that the temple had some pretty strict rules about access. Jewish males could go into the temple proper, but women and Gentiles were left to do their worship in the outer courtyard; out there on our parking lot, out there among the animals, the noise, mess, and moneychangers. You see, Jesus isn’t just cleaning house for the Jews. He’s making room. He’s opening the house up for all nations. He opens it for every person: Jews, Gentiles, rich, poor, sick and well; farmers, factory workers, bikers, teachers, auto-mechanics, and children. The temple, that is Jesus Christ, is for all people. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus commanded.
It’s time for us too to clean house. Remember God isn’t interested in your money; he’s interested in finding faith. He doesn’t want perfect sacrifices that are empty; he wants your fait to be focused on him. He wants this house of prayer to be open to “all nations” people from all walks of life, people from all social classes, and races. When Jesus cleans the temple he opens it up for all people. And he doesn’t just clean up the temple; Jesus Christ cleans up the whole world. His life, death and resurrection are about cleaning up the mess of sin. His blood cleans the mess of sin in your heart and mine. His blood cleanses the sin of everyone who believes in him, the Jew and the Gentile. When people have faith in the work of Jesus Christ they have access to the Father, through him. There are no more outcasts, no second-class citizens, no one who is beyond help and hope.
Isn’t it good to know that you don’t have to deal with moneychangers for access to God? Isn’t it nice to know that Jesus guarantees your access to the Father by his death? Jesus cleans house. He cleans the temple. He cleans your heart. He cleans mine. He gives us forgiveness. He cleans us a way to God by removing our sin. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.