Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 4, 2018)

JOHN 2:13-22


In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus is commonly depicted as a smiling, friendly man who would never upset anyone.  I suppose we like that image of Jesus because he is our merciful Savior who dies on behalf of sinners rather than seeking to put sinners to death.  But Jesus has more personality than just being friendly.  Jesus speaks and acts boldly; for the battle of the kingdom of God against the kingdom of the devil is not a polite debate.  It is a battle for you and for your eternal well-being. 
     So, when Jesus preaches, “Repent!” it is not a polite request that you do better.  It is a command that you forsake your sins and to devote yourself to what is God-pleasing.  When Jesus drove out demons, he did not humbly ask that they depart.  He gave an authoritative word, and the demons came out with loud shrieks—because the devil is playing for keeps and does not want to lose anyone from his kingdom.  And when Jesus encountered Israel's leaders teaching people that God's favor is gained only by keeping a list of rules, he did not offer a correction, but blasted a condemnation at them.  He called them “Hypocrites!” and “Brood of vipers!”  Jesus was not worried about their feelings.  He was acting only to save souls, because Jesus is zealous for his church.
     When Jesus entered the temple around Passover time, he was outraged by what he saw.  Now to be fair, animals were always seen at the temple.  They had to be if they were to be slaughtered for sacrifice.  And money was also seen in the temple.  It had to be if the temple tax were being collected at the Passover.  However, the temple had lost its atmosphere as a place of sacrifices, worship, and prayer.  It had become an emporium.  And that spectacle was a great distraction from the worship which was supposed to be the focus of the temple.
     Jesus was zealous for his church.  Therefore, he put together a whip from the ropes he found among the animals and drove out the distractions.  The temple was never designed for business or trade.  It was not a place for money changers and exchange rates.  So Jesus, neither smiling nor friendly, scattered everything and cried out, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” (John 2:16)  Jesus was zealous for his church.
     You can understand why the Jewish leaders confronted Jesus about this.  They had a legitimate concern for the care of the temple.  They said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18)  Perhaps they missed the impact of Jesus' bold statement when he called the temple, “my Father's house.” (John 2:16)  That should have been all the authority Jesus needed to claim.  Nevertheless, the Jewish leaders demanded a sign from Jesus to prove himself. 
     They are not alone.  Sinners commonly ask the Lord for signs and demand that God prove himself.  Those demands usually sound like this: “If God really loves me, then he will take away my (fill in the blank) problem.”  This is not only demanding God prove himself.  It is worse.  It is an ultimatum in which we assign to God what specific task he had better perform.  Or, perhaps the challenge is not as personal.  Sometimes God is told to prove himself with demands like this: “If God were loving, why would he let there be so much pain in the world?”  The premise is that God is not loving—or certainly not as loving as I would be if I were in control.  And if God fails to perform up to my satisfaction, I get to stand in judgment of him and declare him unloving, incompetent, incapable, or ignorant.  This is a horrible turning of the tables.  It suggests that God is our creation and he must answer to our demands.  Imagine a child saying to his parents, “Your job is to feed me.  So if you really love me, you will take me out for steak.”  That attitude would result in the child dining on a bar of soap instead of a cut of meat.  To demand parents to prove their love like that is reprehensible.  To demand it of God is blasphemy.  Repent.
     The Jewish leaders in the temple demanded a sign from Jesus to prove himself.  Jesus gave them one.  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?” (John 2:19-21)  The temple in Jerusalem had been going through a renovation project for quite some time.  When the Jewish leaders heard Jesus' claim, they seem to have feared that Jesus was going to go from cleansing the temple to destroying it. 
     The temple is that place where the Lord had put his name.  It is where God dwelt with his people.  It is where God's sacrifices were made.  It is where God bestowed blessing and salvation.  Now, when we say that Jesus is zealous for his church, he is not zealous for a building.  Jesus is zealous to save people.  The temple that Jesus said would be destroyed is his own body.  Jesus is the true temple.  He is God who came in the flesh to dwell with his people.  He is God's sacrifice for atonement.  He is where God bestows blessing and salvation upon sinners.  If you want to see God prove his zeal for his church and his love for the world, you will find everything you are looking for in Jesus.
     God proves his love to all mankind in that he has made them and given them life.  He sustains each life by daily providing what we need to live—clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home.  Sometimes he even provides spouse, children, and animals.  God does this for all people, whether they serve him or despise him.  But for you, he has done even more.  The Lord is zealous for his church.  He is not willing to see us perish, even though we deserve it. 
     How zealous is the Lord for your salvation?  He took on human flesh so that he could submit himself to destruction at the hands of sinful men.  He bore the flogging, the spitting, the bruising, the bleeding, the nails, and the spear in his body.  More than that, he bore our sins in his body which was then consumed in God's wrath.  Your sins were transferred to Jesus, and he gave himself as the ransom price to set you free from them.  Though God had come to dwell with his people, the people sought his destruction and orchestrated his death.
     But Jesus' sign was not merely that he would die.  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  ...But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  (John 2:19,21)  Jesus rose from the grave on the third day.  His body lives as proof of God's love.  First, his resurrection proves that Jesus is who he says he is.  You can't fake a resurrection from the dead.  Jesus' death was overseen by Roman soldiers who were good at crucifying people.  The spear into Jesus' side was added for good measure.  But Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples to prove his victory over death.  That resurrection is also proof that God has forgiven your sins.  The death of Jesus was payment enough.  You are free from sin.  In Christ, you are victorious over death.  Jesus is the source of blessing and salvation.  He is the proof that God loves you.  Jesus is where the Lord makes his face shine upon you.
     The Lord is zealous for his church.  Jesus' death and resurrection do not guarantee that life will suddenly be easy or pain free.  But God does not prove that he loves you by making life easy or giving you more stuff.  Stuff gets lost, stolen, or worn out.  Life on earth gets harder as you get older.  Finally, it ends.  The Lord proves his love for you by taking away your guilt and making you children of the resurrection.  The Lord proves his love by granting you a place in heavenly glory which never perishes, spoils, or fades.  Health and wealth, possessions and popularity may come and go, but the mercy of the Lord endures forever.  This is what sustains us through this life and will bring us into the life to come.  The Lord has proven this by the sign he has given—the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The zeal of the Lord has accomplished this; for the Lord his zealous for his church, for you, and for your salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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