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On Dangerous Ground

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Scripture: John 2:12-23

" After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." (John 2:12-25, NIV)

[1]

Are there limits to God’s patience?  Do you suppose he looks at the world today and the “lightning finger” begins to twitch by times.  Funny how we object to the fact that God sometimes doesn’t seem to care enough to keep bad things from happening?  What would we ever do if God let loose in justifiable anger toward our society today.  Even the Christian community winced in discomfort when Jerry Falwell suggested that the collapse of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001 could have been the hand of judgment.  We can’t imagine that God would ever act in such a way.

I have come to believe that we live in an age of grace when God will not punish us for our sins here and now but we will reckon for them when we stand before Him one day.

1.           An Offensive Review

“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area.”

Jesus went to the temple near the time of Passover.  John’s words of testimony were still ringing in his ears as the Lord of the temple came to observe in flesh and blood.

" The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”" (John 1:35-36, NIV)

[2]

This was not his first trip to the temple.  Undoubtedly he attended every year with his parents.  This time however it was different from the other trips.  He was now the inaugurated Lord, baptized publicly by John The Baptist, anointed by the presence of the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove and proclaimed to be the beloved son of God by the voice of the Father himself.  He was fully charged, duly authorized and totally offended at what he observed.

As a matter of fact, Malachi had prophesied his coming to the temple and his cleansing of it,

"“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:1-5, NIV)

[3]

It was quickly evident to Jesus that things were not as they should be and now it was his time to make the difference. 

Ø      These marketers were there with the full blessing of the priests.

Ø      They were dishonoring the nature of the Father.

Ø      They were perverting the purpose of the temple.

Ø      They were profiting from the devotion of those who came to give themselves to God in obedience.

The Christian Concession Stands

Ø      Spiritual Scalpers – Get it at the door for more.

Other temple businessmen sold livestock for the sacrifices. A lamb brought by a worshiper might be rejected because of some blemish when inspected by a priest: it had to be traded then for an animal that was “acceptable.” Jesus angrily drove the traders from His Father’s house[4]

The buying and selling of animals in the area was probably rationalized as a convenience for the pilgrims coming into Jerusalem. But abuses developed, and the pilgrim traffic became a major source of income for the city. With money to be made, worship easily became corrupted.

[5]

Ø      Legalistic Lucre – What you have to offer is not proper

There they visited the temple and saw the money changers at work. These were businessmen who exchanged other currencies for coins minted at the temple, because the religious leaders had decreed that only temple money was acceptable to God. Smiling, the money changers inflated the rate of exchange—and probably gave the leading priests their cut.[6]

The money changers were another convenience for the pilgrims. Temple dues had to be paid in the acceptable Tyrian coinage, and a high percentage was charged for changing coins.[7]

The moral intention of Jesus’ work is seen in his driving out the money changers who were profiting from worshipers more than was appropriate. This was apparently acceptable to Judaism, but was unacceptable to Jesus.[8]

Ø      Discounted Doves or Poverty’s Pigeons - Equitable Abuse

 

It seems that these ecclesiastical entrepreneurs were determined to gather every stray shekel.  The doves were the “poor man’s sacrifice”.  These too were sold at a profit, affordable yet profitable.  We have learned over the years that there is a fortune to be made in doughnuts.  Even the smaller purchases can be incredibly profitable.  And so there were overpriced sacrifices for sale even for those who could not afford a more

Sometimes God uses a whip.

2.           An Officious Response

 

.” Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?

Naturally, the proprietors would wonder why this man would take it upon himself to clear the clutter out of the temple.  We can get used to abuse that persists over long periods of time.  They were looking for credentials that would support his actions.

Christ was an unwelcome rebel out to identify the abuse of God’s intended purpose in the existence of the temple.  And when the boat is rocked there are always those who want to know who is rocking it and what gives them the right to do so.

How well does a church hear the voice of the reformer? 

For instance, if God wants to help us to be effective in a rapidly changing world we must be somewhat receptive to change.  Most often that will come through people.

One one hand we say that we want new people to come to church, come to Christ and then become grounded.  One great indication of spiritual maturity is that we become “contributors”.  We learn the scriptural concept of stewardship and we practice in the use of our time, our talents and our treasure.  As we see this happen change comes to a local church.  How open are we to receive this?  Often, new people coming into a church have a blindness or lack of awareness of tradition – the way things have been done.  With this blindness comes an ability to see things that others of us have “grown” blind to.  We have understood the reason that certain things are less than they should be and we have understood the reasons.  Over time we have accepted these deficiencies and they have left the realm of our consciousness.  New people see these things relatively quickly and they sometimes are able to identify them and work to correct them.  Other times they meet with a closed-minded, possessive, proud, arrogant spirit that attacks their desires to “better” things.

We think we are “good enough”.

Everything was working just fine in the temple prior to Christ’s entrance.  People were coming and offering their sacrifices.  It was focused on God and the Old Testament directives for worship.  Everyone was happy it would seem – even those who were being taken advantage of.  No one else was waving a whip, kicking tables over or throwing people out.

Everyone was happy except for God.

And so they said to Him, “What right do you have to change things?”

Unwittingly they still say the same things today.  “What right do you have God? 

q     We like the familiarity

q     We like the predictability

q     We like having control

q     We like our temple the way it is

Once in Persia reigned a king

Who upon his signet ring

Graved a maxim true and wise,

Which if held before the eyes

Gave him counsel at a glance

Fit for every change and chance.

Solemn words, and these are they:

"Even this shall pass away."

Theodore Tilton (1835-1907)

At the committee meeting: "All right, everyone in favor of changing the maroon baptistry curtains, which Mrs. McIntire purchased 25 years ago, to green ones, after she moves to Florida, say so with an uplifted hand."

   -- Cartoonist Rick Green in Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 4.

I do not know of a single pastor who is not confronted at some point or points in his ministry with things that are commonly accepted in a local church that are not pleasing to God nor beneficial to the advancement of his kingdom.  It therefore becomes a part of every man’s ministry by times to introduce discomfort in a local church, the end being to change or to realign with God’s purposes in mind.  Let me suggest some areas that drift in the local church and periodically need to be addressed:

Sometimes God uses the Word.

3.           An Obscure Reference

In response to their challenge Jesus replies:

Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

[2.] He foretells his death and resurrection, not in plain terms, as he often did to his disciples, but in figurative expressions; as afterwards, when he gave this for a sign, he called it the sign of the prophet Jonas, so here, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Thus he spoke in parables to those who were willingly ignorant, that they might not perceive, Mt. 13:13 , 14. Those that will not see shall not see..[9]

Many people would have God prove himself to them before they would believe.  They want wisdom to find it’s way into their own laps.  I really don’t believe that God will do that.  If He does, He will first bring you to the end of your own ability to reason.  He will provide some great question or perplexity for which there is no answer and He will show you that your own mind is finite or limited to the point that there are many things that you don’t understand and are not capable of understanding – even things here on this earth, science, philosophy, . . whatever.  When you acknowledge the limits of your own understanding then perhaps you will catch a glimpse of God.  But what the scripture say about wisdom and understanding?

"He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers." (Proverbs 19:8, NIV)

[10]



13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

[11]

"Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”" (Acts 6:3-4, NIV)

[12]

"My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her." (Proverbs 8:7-11, NIV)

[13]

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”" (Jeremiah 29:11-14, NIV)

[14]

Some quick observations regarding this response:

q     Your spiritual perception is related to your spiritual appetite.  If you are not sufficiently hungry for God he will remain a mystery to you.

q     To know God requires effort on your part.  We need to read and listen and think and pray if we want to experience an intimate relationship with God.  Let me challenge you this year to read something that you struggle with.  Put away the Christian fiction every now and then and pick up a book that will speak to you of spiritual truth and life.  You won’t enjoy it as you might the fiction but it will be much more profitable to you.

q     God will not “dumb down” his word into pre-chewed pablum to feed to roly-poly babies who will quickly spit it out.  He is able to distinguish between our honest questions and our predisposition to disbelieve.  Our doubts will never damn us but our refusal to believe based on our pride will separate us from God.

" The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:18-32, NIV)

[15]

 

"For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:" (Isaiah 44:3, ASV)

[16]

 

"He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life." (Revelation 21:6, NIV)

[17]

Sometimes God withdraws.

4.           An Obvious Ratification

“. . .many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. . .”

Despite the fact that there are always those who resist God, He does His work in and through those who are receptive and obedient.  He never established his authority to those who looked for a sign from him but there were others who had their eyes open and believed.

Sometimes God passes us by to find others who will see what He is doing.

FUNNY how small our sins seem, but how big their sins are.

FUNNY how we demand justice for others, but expect mercy from God.

FUNNY how we are so quick to take directions from a total stranger when we are lost, but are hesitant to take God's direction for our lives.

FUNNY how people want God to answer their prayers but refuse to listen to His counsel.

Funny how we believe what newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.

             

Funny how a $10.00 bill looks so big when you take it to worship but so small when you take it to the supermarket.

Funny how reading the church bulletin is a chore, but reading a 30 page newspaper every day is a habit you have grown to enjoy.

Funny how long an hour is spent in worship, but how short it is when golfing, fishing, or attending a ball game.

Funny how we applaud when the ball game goes overtime, but we complain if the worship hour is over the regular time.

Funny how laborious it is to read a chapter in the Bible, but how easy it is to read a 300-page novel.

Funny how people scramble to get a front set at the ball game, but scramble to get a back seat at services.

Funny how we cannot fit a Gospel meeting into our schedule with a year to plan for it, but we can adjust the schedule for other events at a moment's notice.

Funny that parents are so concerned about school lessons but are completely unconcerned about Bible lessons.

Funny how everyone wants to go to heaven provided he/she doesn't have to believe, or to think, or to say, or to do anything.

All of this would be funny if it were not so tragically true!

In the court of the temple had been allowed a secular market for sacrificial beasts. An exchange for money was also set up, where Jews were ready to furnish, on usurious terms, the proper coin, the sacred half shekel (value, one shilling and three pence), in which form alone was the temple tax received from the provincial visitors or pilgrims from distant lands. No coin bearing the image

of Caesar, or any foreign prince, or any idolatrous symbol then so common,

would be allowed in the sacred treasury. So the Lord found those that sold

oxen and sheep and doves, and the exchangers of money sitting; a busy

bazaar, deteriorating the idea of the temple with adverse associations. The

three sacrificial animals mentioned were those most frequently required.

The strangers, doubtless, needed some market where these could be

obtained, and where the sufficient guarantee of their freedom from blemish

could be secured. It was also indispensable that exchange of coins should

have been made feasible for the host of strangers. The profanation effected

by transacting these measures in the temple courts was symptomatic of

widespread secularism, an outward indication of the corruption of the

entire idea of worship, and of the selfishness and pride which had vitiated

the solemnity and spirituality of the sacrificial ritual. – Pulpit Commentary

The temple of stone and gold, of stately decoration and ceremonial, derived all its true meaning from its being the gorgeous crystallization of a Divine idea embodied in his life. The temple had no value save as a meeting place for God and man, where by sacrifice and worship man might approach the Father, who declared himself to be reconciled, long suffering, and yet just. – Pulpit Commentary

Ill. The Perfect gift – might want to use this re: Hugh’s donation to Beulah Camp


----

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]Richards, L. O. (1987; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). The teacher's commentary (electronic ed.) (Jn 4:43). Wheaton: Victor Books.

[5]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Jn 2:13-15). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6]Richards, L. O. (1987; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). The teacher's commentary (electronic ed.) (Jn 4:43). Wheaton: Victor Books.

[7]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Jn 2:13-15). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[8]Douglas, J., Comfort, P. W., & Mitchell, D. (1992). Who's who in Christian history. Illustrated lining papers. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.

[9]Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Jn 2:12). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[10] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[11]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jas 3:13-18). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[12] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[13] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[14] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[15] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[16] American Standard Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[17] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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