JESUS IS THE GREAT REFORMER.
In the name + of Jesus.
We do not see Jesus get angry very often. That is why his actions in this gospel reading are so shocking. Jesus was not only angry, he displayed his anger by overturning tables, scattering coins, and driving animals out of the temple courtyard. It's not that Jesus punched anyone out. But he did treat animals like animals, and he showed no respect for the coins. What we see on display at the temple during that Passover festival is what the Psalms said we would see: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17; Psalm 69:9) Jesus demonstrated zeal, love, and respect for the place where God had said that he will come to his people to bless and to save them. And Jesus took it upon himself to rid from the temple whatever would intrude and desecrate that.
We do not see Jesus get angry very often. Though the Lord is slow to anger, that does not mean he never gets angry. But we ought to understand exactly what Jesus got angry about. Jesus was not angry that there were animals in the temple. Sacrifices went on daily in the temple. Naturally, animals would have been there. Jesus was not angry that the Jews were exchanging money or buying animals. Many Jews came to the Passover from distant lands. They would not have brought animals with them for the feast; they would have bought them in Palestine. They also would have been carrying Roman coins with them. At the Passover, each Jewish man was obligated to pay the temple tax. That was not paid with a coin which bore the Roman Emperor's image. So, each Passover pilgrim would have exchanged his Roman denarius for a shekel or a didrachma. Such transactions were not evil. However, the priests had decided that the best place to do this business was in the temple courtyard where people were praying and worshiping. Jesus had assessed it correctly: “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” (John 2:16)
What's worse is that people were being taught that forgiveness was a commodity to be purchased: “Come to the temple. Buy your animal. Pay your tax. Make your sacrifice, and God's forgiveness has been secured.” God's people were not being taught not to trust in the Lord and his word for salvation, but that salvation could be purchased for the right amount of money. Zeal for God's house and for God's salvation moved Jesus to drive the animals and the money-changers out of the temple courtyards. Jesus acted to reform their worship to what is God-pleasing. Jesus is the Great Reformer.
You'd think that people would have learned the lesson. You do not look for salvation where God does not give it. Nevertheless, God's people were deceived again. While you cannot fault people for their desire to be saved, you can fault people for seeking it wrongly. Many have sought God's favor by fasting, by monastic vows, by paying money for a mass offered in honor of a loved one or for themselves, by reverencing relics, or by purchasing indulgences. Much money was handed over by people who were eager to believe that God forgives sins and saves sinners. But it was all a lie. Salvation is not something that man works out. Forgiveness is not a commodity to be purchased. As a result of his own conscience being vexed by such inventions, Martin Luther challenged the church leaders of his day and demanded that they forsake their inventions. Luther clung fervently to God's word as the only source of hope, certainty, and salvation. If God said it, we can be sure of it. If God did not say it, at best we are in doubt that salvation is real. When you are facing death, you do not want to be vexed by doubt or fear. You want certainty. Our works may have the appearance of piety, but they have no certainty. Only faith in Jesus' words and works are certain for salvation; for it is only Jesus Christ who saves. He was pleased through faithful ministers like Luther, to turn people away from pious-sounding inventions to the sure word of God. Jesus Christ is the Great Reformer of his Church.
You'd think that people would have learned the lesson. You do not look for salvation where God does not give it. Nevertheless, God's people are still often deceived. To this day, we are told and tempted to look into our hearts for assurance that we are doing or believing the right thing. But this is what the Lord says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Our hearts are so corrupt that God has to reveal to us how bad our condition is—and even then many do not believe it. Everyone believes that he is basically a good person. The Lord declares that none are good, that all fall short of his glory. Our sinful hearts believe that God owes us answers and that God should act like we would act. Then we assume he does, and we reject God when he does not. This is blasphemy and idolatry. It is evidence of utterly corrupt hearts and minds, and it will result in damnation to be sure. Repent!
Jesus is the Great Reformer. He does not submit his word to us for our approval. He does not take suggestions for how to improve it. By his word, Jesus overturns in our hearts everything that desecrates his kingdom or distracts from his word. Jesus pours on us fear, terror, judgment, and despair in order to destroy every religious impulse that derives out of our hearts, no matter how pious it sounds. For, our salvation does not flow out of our hearts and minds; it comes only from God's word to us. God reforms our hearts and transforms our minds. He causes our hearts and minds to submit to his word. That is where we find divine truth and a sure salvation. Jesus is the Great Reformer.
When Jesus did lash out at the false worship in the temple, the Jewish leaders said, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18) They demanded to know by what authority Jesus did what he did. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Jesus pointed them to the resurrection. The temple is the place where God dwells among his people to bless and save them. Who is Jesus? He is God who dwells with his people to bless and save them. The people would put him to death, but he would raise up the temple of his body to show that he has all authority. Jesus has authority not only to drive out men-centered worship, but also authority to forgive sins, to raise the dead, and to give eternal life to all who believe in him.
Jesus is the Great Reformer, and he turns us away from ourselves and put our trust completely on him. It seems like a violent act because it destroys all that we consider to be reliable and trustworthy. It destroys every other foundation so that we are left with nothing but Jesus. And that trust is not misplaced. For Jesus Christ has paid for all our sins by his death. Jesus has delivered us from death by his resurrection. Jesus opens the kingdom of heaven to us and has every right to do so.
Jesus summons us to hear his word and receive his sacraments. That is where he delivers salvation to us. That is where Jesus is at work to wash away sins, to strengthen faith, to proclaim salvation, and to feed his people. Jesus continues to reform us, to work in us, to preserve us, to strengthen us, and to save us. And since Jesus is the one doing the work for us and in us, we do not have to doubt if it is sure or fear that it will fail.
At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus cleansed the Temple and reformed its worship. Jesus repeated this cleansing at the end of his ministry, just three Passovers later. The people did not learn their lesson. Jesus is the Great Reformer, for he continues to cleanse and re-form each one of us who are still learning the lesson. Salvation never comes from us—from our works, our worship, our piety, our sincerity, and our hearts. It all comes from Jesus. He delivers it through his word and sacraments. And since it is Jesus who has worked at the cross and tomb to win salvation, it is sure. Since it is Jesus who delivers it in the sacraments, it is sure. Since it is God's Word to you, it is sure.
Jesus is the Great Reformer. Since you and I are humble sinners in need of God's reformation continually, we will surely continue to flee to God's word and to feed at God's altar where God re-forms our sinful hearts into godly ones and where God delivers his forgiveness. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.