One Disruptive Lord
Our Disruptive Lord
June 22, 2008
We’ll start with a reading from Experiencing God Day-by-Day; entitled, Beware of the Amalekites!
He said, “Indeed, [my] hand is [lifted up] toward the Lord’s throne. The Lord will be at war with Amalek from generation to generation.” — Exodus 17:16
The Amalekites were the persistent and relentless enemies of the Israelites. When the Israelites sought to enter the Promised Land, the Amalekites stood in their way. Once the Israelites were in the Promised Land and seeking to enjoy what God had given them, the Amalekites joined the Midianites to torment the Hebrews in the days of Gideon. It was an Amalekite that caused the downfall of King Saul. The Amalekites continually sought to hinder the progress of God's people and to rob them of God's blessing. Thus God swore His enmity against them for eternity.
As you move forward in your pilgrimage with the Lord, there will be “Amalekites” that will seek to distract and defeat you. God is determined to remove anything that keeps you from experiencing Him to the fullest. If your commitment to your job is keeping you from obedience to Him, God will declare war against it. If a relationship, materialism, or a destructive activity is keeping you from obeying God's will, He will wage relentless war against it. There is nothing so precious to you that God will not be its avowed enemy if it keeps you from His will for your life. King Saul mistakenly thought he could associate with Amalekites and still fulfill the will of the Lord. You may also be hesitant to rid yourself of that which causes you to compromise your obedience to God. Don't make the same mistake as King Saul. He did not take the Amalekites seriously enough, and it cost him dearly.
Let’s read today’s Scripture now. Please turn to John chapter 2 and we’ll read verses 13 -25: The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;
and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business." His disciples remembered that it was written, "ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME." The Jews then said to Him, "What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"
But He was speaking of the temple of His body.
So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
Many people have a hard time reconciling the love and grace of Jesus with the anger of Jesus. Yet the story of His cleansing of the temple is a crucial element in understanding the truth of Jesus. It is a story with profound implications for our lives today.
Isn't the gospel account of Jesus cleansing the temple amazing? It stands in stark contrast to many popular notions of Jesus' character. Here is no picture of a gentle, soft-spoken Jesus calmly confronting the religious establishment with authoritative teaching and divine wisdom. Rather, here Jesus appears with His sleeves rolled up ready for a fight, full of righteous indignation. This is the same righteous indignation Christians today should have about practices such as abortion and euthanasia. After making His very own whip, He charges through the heart of the religious establishment striking forcefully and aggressively at a religious system that has become skewed. Imagine it! Jesus is opening pens and cages of oxen, sheep, and doves with one hand, while, with a whip of cords in the other hand, He is driving animals and people alike into confusion and retreat.
John describes an incident which happens at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. How appropriate that Jesus would cleanse and purify the temple. This fulfills the prophecy of Malachi, chapter 3 as Jesus comes to His temple, His Father’s house. He comes as a refiner’s fire, a launderer’s soap, a purger of His people that they may offer to God an offering of righteousness. (v. 1-3)
John records the fact that this cleansing occurred at the time of a Passover feast. He undoubtedly wants to remind us that at the Passover, every Jewish household spent the day before the feast meticulously going through the house, seeking out any kind of yeast or substance that could cause fermentation, then cleansing every such manifestation from the home. This was absolutely necessary to properly celebrate the Passover.
So when Jesus enters Jerusalem, He enters a city in which every household is involved in a process of cleansing. By contrast, when He arrives at the temple, the very House of God, He finds it filled with clutter and noise, dirty-smelling animals, money-changers and merchandise. No one in the temple seems to be concerned that the House of God is itself in need of cleansing!
So Jesus became angry.
He was not only angry about the confusion, the clutter, the noise, and the smells. He was most particularly angry at the extortion and racketeering that was going on. Here is how the extortion racket worked:
Once a year at Passover time, every Jewish male was required to go to the temple and pay a half-shekel temple tax. The tax could not be paid in Roman or Greek coin but had to be paid in a special temple coin. So it was necessary to change the secular coins for temple coins. Money-changers were allowed to use the temple grounds as a convenience for those who had only secular coins. The problem was that the exchange rate they charged was outrageously high — often nearly 50 per cent above the face value of the coins being exchanged! The temple collected enormous revenues from this practice.
Another exploitative practice was the selling of animals for Passover sacrifice. If people had an animal of their own to bring, they didn't have to buy an animal at the temple — but the animal they brought had to pass inspection by the priests. The animal could not be sacrificed if it had a blemish or imperfection. Since the priests profited from the sale of animals by merchants in the courtyard, the priests had a built-in motive for rejecting as many animals as possible that were not sold by the temple merchants. You can be sure that if a priest looked hard enough, he could find some tiny imperfection on almost every animal!
As a result of these practices, even people who brought their own animals usually had to buy one of the approved animals from the temple herd, which were sold at inflated prices. It was barefaced extortion — legalized robbery, using religion as a gun. The victims were frequently the poorest of the poor. No wonder our Lord's anger was inflamed! So great was His anger that He made a whip out of the cords that held the animals together and He drove the swindlers and extortionists out of the temple.
Is this really our Lord Jesus? What about His commandments to turn the other cheek or to give your cloak also if anyone takes your coat (Matthew 5:39-40)? What about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you? (Matthew 5:44) Mercy and love do not seem as evident in this account of Jesus driving people out of the temple like so many animals. Yet all four gospels agree (Matt 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46) that our merciful and loving Lord Jesus charged through the temple like a bull in a china shop. He overturned tables and poured out the coins of inappropriate commerce on the floor. Jesus drove money changers and animals from the temple. At the height of the Passover season, no less, in a city filled with pilgrims gathered at the temple to commemorate God's delivering mercies and covenantal love, an angry Jesus -- God's Son, our merciful Lord -- is overturning tables and disrupting the religious life of the people.
This account of Jesus' aggressive behavior doesn't mesh too well with our cherished views of Jesus as teacher, healer, comforter and gentle shepherd. So we may be prone to think Jesus didn't swing the whip too hard. If He did wield the whip forcefully, He surely didn't hit anyone with it. Our Lord would never do anything that disruptive, would He? As someone said to me once, "Maybe, maybe not." But overturning tables and disrupting life really is the way of our loving and gracious Lord Jesus, you know. Did He get their attention? You bet He did!
Here we see a different Jesus than most people like to think about. We are comfortable picturing Him as the "gentle Jesus, meek and mild," the loving, understanding, forgiving Jesus. We'd prefer to serve a Jesus who lets us get by with anything, who winks at our sins and says, "Hey, you're not so bad. Don't be too hard on yourself."
But the real Jesus is not an indulgent, permissive Santa Claus-type character. The real Jesus of the gospel of John is a Jesus who demonstrates anger and who drives out oppressors and thieves.
Yet, even while we squarely confront the fact of Jesus' anger, we should recognize that His anger is not like our own anger. His anger was under control. He didn't rage and strike out blindly. His lash may have stung, but He didn't wound anyone.
He didn't even deprive anyone of their property. The animals He drove out could easily be collected again. The money He poured out on the temple floor could be gathered up and recounted. He didn't open the cages of the birds and let them loose, but ordered them taken away. He didn't destroy. He made a point: Don't turn God's House into a flea market. Don't use religion to make a fast buck.
Jesus is far more confrontational than we often imagine. It is a characteristic of His work in the world. Jesus is constantly disrupting things, whether it be on the corporate level of, say, a religious establishment, or on the personal level of an individual's life. Wasn't it our Lord who used the purification jars to hold wine instead of water at a wedding in Cana? (John 2:1-11) Remember the time he entered a house to eat with some Pharisees but refused to wash before dinner? (Luke 11:37-54). Then before the food was passed around the table He called His hosts hypocrites, pronounced woe upon them and left without eating. Try that the next time you're invited over to someone's house for dinner and see if that doesn't cause a disturbance!
Can you imagine what the disciples felt while their newfound Master was lashing the money-changers and animal vendors out of the temple? Were they shocked? Awestruck? Embarrassed? They had not been with Him very long, and they did not know Him well. Though they were attracted by the magnetism of His personality and the miracle they had seen at Cana, and though they were convinced He was the Messiah, they had not worked out all the theological puzzles surrounding this amazing Man. He was full of surprises.
What did they think when their Master strode into the temple as if He owned the place and began driving out the people whom the temple priests themselves allowed to do business there? No doubt, the first question on their minds was, "What will the authorities do about this? "Certainly Jesus doesn't expect to get away with this!
But as they watched Him lashing out at the swindlers and racketeers in the temple courtyard, a fragment of Scripture floated up into their minds — a verse from Psalms 69: "Zeal for your house will consume me."(v.9)
For centuries, this psalm had been regarded as a Messianic psalm, a prophecy of the coming Messiah, and of His suffering. This verse — "Zeal for your house will consume me" — speaks of the fact that the Messiah would be seized, driven, and compelled by a zealous love for worship of the one true God, and respect for His house of worship. When that line from God's Word came to their minds, they suddenly understood that the One they had chosen to follow would never compromise with evil.
Herein lies one of the great paradoxes of our Christian faith. Throughout John's gospel, we see that anyone — anyone! — can come to Christ: murderers, prostitutes, swindlers, liars, alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, cynics, snobs, religious hypocrites, and anyone else as long as he or she realizes there is something wrong with his or her life and wants God to come in and change it! Anyone who wants to be free can come to Jesus.
But as the disciples saw Jesus cleansing the temple, a realization must have dawned on them: Suddenly they understood — perhaps for the first time — that if you come to Jesus, be assured He is not going to leave you unchanged. He is not going to settle for clutter, compromise, dishonesty, and racketeering in your soul and your lifestyle. Whatever defiles and corrupts the "temple" of your body and soul will be purged. This purging may not take place immediately. In His love, He deals with us patiently. But equally according to His love, He never lets us remain complacent with sin and inner corruption. If we mistake His patience for indulgence and acceptance of our sinful habits, then we are in for a surprise.
When we commit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus, He receives us in love. But we dare not forget that He also comes into our lives with a zeal for purity. Many of us, like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, maintain an outer appearance of righteousness. But within, hidden from public view, is the clutter of sinful habits: a lust for pornography or adultery; a lack of integrity in business dealings; an addiction to rage or indulgence or abuse. These habits have been a part of our lives so long that we think God will just wink at them and accept them. But God loves us too much to allow these sins to continue forever. If we do not wish to experience the chastening, loving lash of His righteous zeal, then we must clean house ourselves.
And what about the lives of his followers? Did Jesus not cause substantial disruption in their lives? Fishermen who were successful enough to have boats and hired hands left their livelihoods behind to follow Jesus in the far more difficult and unsettling work of fishing for men, and women, and children, (Mark 1:16-20). Similarly an affluent tax collector walked away from a lucrative business and the security it gave him in order to journey with the One who, unlike even foxes and birds of the air, had no- where to lay His head (Mark 2:13-14; Matthew 8:20). Likewise, Jesus disrupted the lives of Mary Magdalene, Mary, Salome and countless other followers. Jesus had that kind of disruptive influence upon people's lives.
Jesus still has that kind of disruptive influence on people's lives today, doesn't He? Our presence here this morning bears witness to some degree of Christ's disruptive work in our lives through the Holy Spirit. Career choices and goals have been altered and reshaped. Family relationships and lifestyles have been interrupted. Decisions for faithfulness and obedience have collided with cultural values and expectations time and again. I suspect all of us could point to more than a few costs and disruptions that have accompanied our responses of faith in following our Lord Jesus. Now as then, followers and antagonists alike have been disrupted by Jesus' presence and work among them. And so the cleansing of the temple is really but one more event in Jesus' totally disruptive ministry. He is still in the business of cleansing the temple. Our temple. What does Romans 12:1 and 2 say about our temple. Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. What do 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 3:16 say? Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? We are the temple of the Holy Spirit! Is your temple in need of cleansing?
Now at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was disturbing a very settled and solid institution. The temple was firmly established at the center of Israel's religious and national life. The people believed it was the principal place where God in Heaven meets people on Earth. Moreover it was a symbol of God's relationship with His people and served as a constant reminder of God's claim upon their lives and of their responsibility to God and God's people Israel. The temple took 46 years to build, and was undergoing continual restoration from the time of Herod the Great in 20 BC through the reign of Herod Agrippa in 64 AD. and traditions surrounding it stretched back to before the reign of Solomon. Little wonder the temple was important to many loyal and faithful Jews. It was established by God's own plan (cf., I Kings 5-8)
But something was amiss. Something was wrong. You see, while Israel's sacrificial practices are spelled out pretty thoroughly in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, it's not altogether clear how or when money-changing and the sale of sacrificial animals originated in the temple. Somewhere along the way the religious leaders found it expedient to allow for currency exchange and the provision of appropriate sacrificial animals on the temple grounds -- a move which surely had popular support. No longer was it necessary to drive one's own best sheep or oxen all the way to Jerusalem (cf. Lev. 22:19-20). No more must one suffer the inconvenience and hardship of lugging one's own first fruits of the field along a hot and dusty road to the temple (cf. Exodus 23:19). Even planning ahead to secure the proper coinage for the temple tax was no longer necessary (cf. Exodus 30:11-16; Nehemiah 10:32-33; Matthew 17:24). Moneychangers could now make whatever exchanges were necessary on the spot. This was for the convenience of the people and the business of the temple.
Whenever it occurred, the merger of these financiers with the sacrificial animal conglomeration on the temple grounds was probably a welcomed reform. What a great system! It made the people's temple responsibilities so much easier and more convenient. More people could enjoy being religious; the system made being faithful a more comfortable, secure and accommodating experience.
Comfortable, secure, accommodating! Sounds good, doesn’t it? Does Jesus was us comfortable? No, absolutely not! He will provide comfort (2 Cor 1:3-5), but He does not want us comfortable. He does not want our security found in anything or anyone else. As for accommodating, isn’t He to be our Provider? So, if your are looking for a comfortable, secure, accommodating Savior, look out! Expect Jesus to step into your temple swinging His whip! He will drive out your habits, overturn your plans, spill your ideas. When Jesus did it at the Temple in Jerusalem, the people there retaliated and demanded a sign; they knew He was calling Himself the Messiah by calling the temple His Father’s house. And Jesus answers, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!" Can you imagine the barrage of responses from the religious leaders to such a preposterous statement? John gives us a sample. They said, "It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?" John was too kind to tell us the rest. What they really said is, "Bull! You're crazy! A: No temple under heaven can be built in only three days. B: You can't do it alone even if it could be done. And C: Things are fine just the way they are! There is no reason to change." Jesus answers, "Destroy the temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Notice, He said “Raise it up”, not “Build it up.”
What in the world is Jesus talking about? Is He talking about tearing down a religious establishment that has lost its way by accommodating itself to the people? Does He mean to destroy a religious program that has become confused about its responsibility for being both a transformed agent of God and an agent of transformation among the nations? Is He talking about pulling down systems of self-identification, personal arenas from which one's life receives more meaning and direction than from vital communion with the living God and trusting obedience to God's word? Is He talking about Himself who, after being torn down from the cross, would be raised on the third day, who will now be the point of intersection between the God of Heaven and the people on Earth, who will be the new and everlasting "temple" marking God's relation with His people? Could He be talking about all of this?
Indeed, after Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, His disciples saw clearly that He had been speaking of the temple of his body (John 2:21-22). And they also came to see that Christ constituted the perfect sacrifice offered by God on our behalf so that no more sacrifices were needed beyond the sacrifices of repentance and trusting faithfulness and praise and thankfulness (cf. Mark 1:15; Galatians 1:4;Heb 13:15). And they saw that all who believe in Jesus are both temple and priesthood through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (cf. I Corinthians 6:19-20; I Peter 2:9,24). They could see all of this because they had come to know and celebrate the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the risen Son of the Living God -- the One who was, and is, and always will be the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6). In Christ Jesus they encountered the One who calls us by name -- disrupting our lives and beckoning us to follow. In walking with Him we may know him and so know ourselves, that we may love and serve God and one another as God intends. We may live appropriately as God's own children who love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Following the first miracle in Cana and His assuming of the role of Messiah by cleansing the temple, Jesus launched into a public ministry involving miraculous signs (v.23): healing the sick and lame, and restoring sight to the blind. Many people were attracted to Jesus because of His miracles — but Jesus did not entrust himself to the masses (v.24). He knew that the masses were fickle. Many would come and believe and ask Jesus to be their Lord — but their lives would not change, and eventually they would drift away. Jesus knew that, because He knew what was in the hearts of men and women. Jesus was not fooled by outward professions and appearances. He had a penetrating understanding of the workings of the human heart (v.25).
Nothing has changed from that day until this day. We are still dealing with a God who cannot be fooled. If we honestly confess our sin, He will deal with us with loving forgiveness. If we defend and minimize our sin, we can only expect to receive His chastening, cleansing lash. God knows what is within you and me.
As the disciples watched the cleansing of the temple, they learned some astonishing, wonderful truths about God. They learned that even though God is loving and forgiving, He is a God to be revered and feared. Though He is a God of mercy, He is also a God of majesty. The disciples first experienced the warmth and acceptance of God's grace, but after the cleansing of the temple, they had a deeper and more solemn understanding of God's justice and purity.
We belong to one very disruptive Lord. And this Lord of ours is bent on overturning anything and everything that hinders His brothers and sisters from appropriate devotion and service to God our Father and to one another. This disruptive Lord of ours does not passively abandon persons and institutions which he has called into being and commissioned with a task. No, our loving Lord boldly confronts that which is inappropriate within us and among us for the purpose of making us clean, whole and faithful.
May you and I take away the same solemn truth from our encounter with the real Jesus — the Jesus who not only loves and forgives, but refines and purifies and stakes His claim upon our lives. The Jesus who calls the little children to himself is the same Jesus who braids a whip out of cords and is consumed with a zeal for the purity of God's rightful worship. Let us, as believers and disciples, give all of who we are to all of who He is.
So may we continue praising our loving and merciful God for stirring us to faithfulness. May we thank Him for throwing upon us gifts of the Spirit for special works to do within this body that He calls the Bride of Christ (Rev 21:9). May we praise Him for disturbing our complacent lives through Christ Jesus our Lord. Praise Him for disruptively working to make us more nearly the persons and the community God created us to be.
Thanks be to God!