By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 7, 2021
John 2:13–22 (ESV)
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 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. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 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.
When you think of Jesus what do you see? Do you see a kind man sitting on a rock with kids playing at his feet? That is one image that was always hung up in Sunday School classrooms as I was growing up. Does our mind go to the image of the last supper painted by Da Vinci? This was a print that hung up above the countertop in my home church where all the potluck dishes were aligned for our feasting. Or is the dominate image of Christ you have in your mind the image that we have hanging here behind me? The image of Jesus praying in the Garden. I bring up these images because we all have a dominant way of imagining Jesus. For some the primary image is the baby in the manger. For others it is Christ on the cross. I am guessing that the image that comes to our minds while reading today’s passage is one that many of us rarely even imagine. How many of you have even taken the time to develop a mental image of this passage?
Of all the events that are recorded in the Gospel accounts there are only a few that are recorded in every gospel written. The events of Holy week are recorded in all gospels, although Mark does not record Jesus appearing after the resurrection, he simply says that the tomb is empty. The baptism is alluded to in every gospel, which is important because it was the initiation of Jesus into the ministry. The feeding of the five thousand is also in every account, but the walking on water is only in two. Of all the things that we think are important about Jesus, only a few stories make it into every gospel account. But of those events that every gospel writer finds as being the most important, this story, the story of Jesus cleansing the temple is probably the one we overlook the most.
We like the stories of Jesus healing people, we like the stories of Jesus feeding a multitude, we have developed holidays to celebrate Jesus’s birth and presentation at the temple, but even those events are not mentioned in every Gospel account. But this one, we do not have a holy day for.
We do not like to dwell on an angry Jesus. We do not like thinking about what caused Jesus’s anger. We shutter at the thought but why? This story is found in every gospel account but the most detailed report is found in John. I find this interesting because John is also the account that promotes the love and grace of Jesus to the greatest degree.
I want us to really reflect on this passage today. What caused Jesus to get angry enough to lash out?
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went to Jerusalem. We need to know this because it sets the scene for the whole story. The Passover was at hand. Ancient Israel had many holidays, and many of these are still celebrated today. But unlike our holidays, the celebrations in ancient Israel were not a mere day but often a weeklong festival. There were three of these celebrations that required a journey to Jerusalem, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. Passover is the day before the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins. It was the day that memorialized the preparation of the people for God’s redemption and liberation.
If we were to read through the account of Exodus, we would find that the night before the last plague of Egypt, God commanded the children of Israel to prepare for their departure. And part of that preparation was to put the blood of a lamb on their doorframes so that the Spirit of God as it would make its way through the land destroying the first born of all of Egypt, the spirit would Passover the houses of Israel. The Passover feast we often hear about today, is the preparation for the true event. It is the pep rally for liberation.
Passover is approaching and each day it nears more and more people are crowding into Jerusalem. They all need to be in the city by Passover so that they can be ready for the upcoming Festival week. The thing with the festivals is that everyone must be ready to celebrate. There are sacrifices that need to be made and foods need to be purchased. Basically, Jerusalem is beginning to look like Black Friday at Walmart.
John goes on to describe the scene further, “In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons and the moneychangers sitting there.” There is nothing remotely wrong with the selling of goods and the provision of services. These are necessary especially when there are people needing to make purchases. But the issue is seen in the first three words of verse fourteen, “In the Temple.”
The people were required to go to Jerusalem by dictate of the temple. They were required to travel to the temple for their own spiritual good. The religious leaders wanted the faithful to enter the celebration with a clean conscience. They wanted those that celebrated to have their hearts set on the right path so that they could be drawn closer to their God and deepen the collective faith of their communities. These celebrations were not only religious events but events that were to unite and build relationships among those traveling.
The celebration is not what caused the ire of Jesus to raise, but what was going on around them. In the Temple, the very place where these people were coming participate in the celebratory events, a market was set up.
Markets are a positive thing. We often hear people opposed to ideas of capitalism using this passage as a prooftext against free markets. I think this is just as wrong as capitalist totally disregarding the lessons that can be learned from this passage. Jesus is not opposed to the market, but where and why that market is there. It is in the temple. The religious leaders have turned a place of worship into a place of commerce. And as he looks at the market, he makes a whip of cords, and he drove them all out of the temple, along with the sheep and oxen. He overturns the tables scattering the money on the ground, and he pointedly accuses one of the merchants with his zeal for the house of God.
Why is Jesus so angry? The temple made the necessity of the gathering and the temple is using the event to exploit those that participate. And if you do not participate you are not part of the community. I want us to really think deeply about this. The religious leaders in control of the temple have called the people to worship. Millions of people make their way to the city, and it is difficult to travel with all the necessary products, not to mention very few people can go on vacation without forgetting at least one essential item. Usually, it’s a toothbrush or your swimsuit, but we always forget something, so we decide that we will just buy it when we get there. The temple leaders see this vast court of space where people are gathering and they think why not rent space to merchants that way we can “help” provide easier access to these necessities for the people.
It sounds like an excellent idea. What could possibly go wrong? This market most likely started with the best intentions in mind. Leaders just wanting to help provide a benefit to make the whole process easier and more meaningful. If they can buy a sacrificial animal here, they would not have to argue with venders outside and we could guarantee adequate quality. It sounds beautiful and I would probably have voted for it if it were on the ballot.
The problem is who is in control of the market. If you go to a movie theatre there are signs that say, “outside food is prohibited.” This sign is there to limit access to the market. The theatre would like every customer to purchase food from their concession stand so that they can increase their profits. This is a private business so who can blame them. I love movies and the arts, but what if there is a statute requiring that every person is required to go to that theatre a minimum of three times a year, and that you would be required to attend movies every day for a week with each visit.
Every year you would be required to enter the movie theatre twenty-one times and purchase a ticket for each family member at $20 each. Then you would be required to make purchases within the theatre. Just for my family that law would require me to spend $1260 just to attend the movie, and approximately an additional $1260 for concessions. That law would require me to spend $2520 a year for my family to be upstanding members of my community. Like I said I love the arts, I love going to movies. The problem becomes an issue when those that have control of the market then decide to limit it even more, or to exploit those within the market.
If there was a law requiring movie attendance, what would stop the theatre from raising the price of the ticket? They would raise the price of the ticket, and they would continue to raise the price until someone put a stop to it and made a different law. And then they would focus their attention to another required amenity until no one could enjoy the movies because it cost too much or the theatres would be completely centralized and limited that only one movie could be shown and only one concession would be offered to keep the costs down. The people had to go to the temple. And the market within the temple can only become corrupt because there are not other options. Jesus is upset because the people are being exploited in the name of God, for personal gain.
It is not the market that Jesus is upset about, it is that the market is exclusive. It is not the profit that Jesus is upset about, in several parables he speaks of increased profits as being extremely positive. He is upset because the system has moved from encouraging the community, into something less positive. He is upset because a celebration set up to honor and remember the glory of God has become a method of exploitation. Jesus is upset because those that proclaim the name of God have turned worship into a way to manipulate the masses for personal gain.
He looked at what was going on in the temple, and he made a whip out of a cord and he drove them out, but he does not stop there he then says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
I want us to really think about this in a sociological manner. The tabernacle was built to provide Israel a place to worship. They spared no expense on the craftsmanship of the tabernacle, so that it would honor the God that had done so much for them. Eventually the tabernacle was no longer glorious because the people were established in their nation what good is a tent when you are not moving? David decided that he wanted to build God a house. They built the temple. Then as the monarch demanded more from the people the temple became a symbol of division, instead of an icon directing worship.
The temple, there to honor God and unite the people, divided the north from the south, why? Is it because of God? No, people used the temple to control and divide, to force and to manipulate. This is not what God wants. When Jesus said to destroy the temple and in three days, I will raise it up, is more than just a prophecy about his resurrection. He is saying the things that we use to control and divide people; the systems and the organizations will not stop God. God does not dwell in the organization or the building, but God dwells in the hearts of humanity. And when humanity uses an organization that was started for good to cause harm to others or coerce them into do something, that organization ceases to be an instrument of God’s glory and it and all involved needs to repent.
In what ways are we causing anger in Christ? We can justify much in our own minds, but anger Christ because we take something positive and use it to cause some degree of harm. Have you ever complained about someone taking care of responsibilities because you wanted something? Have you used guilt to manipulate others? Have you thrown a fit to get your way? These are no different than the temple monopoly exploiting the masses.
In each case we are using an advantage over someone to manipulate things to our benefit at their expense. We are being dishonest and often we are being self-righteous in our dishonesty. And when we as followers of Christ use the methods of the world for dishonest gains, we dishonor the one we claim to follow.
Jesus’ anger is one of the stories that we should all spend some time reflecting on, because emotions are in our life for a reason. They are there to direct our attention to something, emotions of desire direct our attention to the amazing beauty of creation, while other emotions should cause us to examine our life. If we are angry, we need to know why because that anger is driving a wedge in our relationships that will eventually cause a split. We need to be angry at times, but we need to let our emotions prompt us to think deeper while we act. Jesus did not just drive people out of the temple he told them why. They had made money and idol, and what was going on in the temple courts was more important to them than what was going on at the altar.
As we join with each other in centered worship today, let us consider our actions and activities. Let us consider our words and our motives. Let us promote the truth and purity of the gospel and the lifestyle of Christ. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.