Lent 3 · John 2:13-22 · March 15, 2009
By Joel D. Biermann
Thoughts from the Text
The number of midweek Lenten series with at least one Wednesday devoted to a meditation on the scourge is probably beyond number. “Jesus and the Scourge” is a title that makes sense and you know the basic outline: our innocent Lord is made to suffer excruciating pain at the hands of a heartless Roman soldier and his fearsome weapon—Jesus feels the scourge so that you may escape the scourge. But, the same title could easily apply to a sermon with an inverted outline: Jesus’ scourge inflicts unprovoked pain and suffering on peaceable businessmen who were providing a legitimate service sanctioned by the religious authorities. Sermons following this angle on the scourge of Jesus don’t enjoy much popularity. The whole incident raises too many troubling questions and challenges too many cherished notions about our Lord. Yet, with no apparent pangs of conscience about shattering quaint ideas of an irenic and gentle Jesus, John gives us Jesus with a scourge, herding the shopkeepers along with the livestock they were hawking.
Yet more threatening to our portrait of an inclusive and welcoming Jesus is the realization that instead of inviting people into his temple, Jesus is driving them out. It will not do to claim a motive other than the one revealed. There is no hint from John that the sellers were dishonest, or corrupt, or charging airport or stadium prices to a captive audience. To insist that Jesus’ is doing what he does out of love for the common man or to thwart avarice is to go beyond the text and supply answers that prop up a preconceived and tottering image of our “ideal Jesus”. John makes it clear that Jesus is compelled to action simply out of love for God’s truth (doctrine) and disgust over the world of business claiming a place in God’s house (practice). Of course, this raises not a few more uncomfortable questions about the church’s usual enthusiastic willingness to adopt “proven” insights, strategies, methods, models, and missions, from the world of business. One wonders how Jesus might respond, today, were he randomly to attend an ordinary congregational or synodical meeting—perhaps it would be wise first to insure that no cords were lying about within reach of the guest.
By far, the most arresting aspect of this narrative, however, is Jesus’ claim regarding the temple—the audacious assertion that he could rebuild a destroyed temple in three days scandalized his first century audience, but this is not the real temple scandal. The stunning climax of this account is the revelation that the sacred temple of Jerusalem has been eclipsed and made obsolete. Jesus has come. Jesus is the temple. Jesus is the place where God and man are reconciled. Jesus is the place where one goes to meet God. Jesus is the place where God makes himself known to his people. The temple is irrelevant. Jesus is the only temple anyone needs. When Rome destroyed Herod’s temple in 70 AD, it was of little consequence to the community of believers—Rome had already destroyed the Temple decades before…but as predicted he rose, and he lives.
Finally, after Jesus’ sign of authority had been conclusively demonstrated with the Easter dawn, the disciples remembered and believed (exactly which Scripture they believed is left unspecified, though context would point to Psalm 69:10). Jesus had said it, they had seen it: he was Lord—authority to cleanse, redefine, or raise a temple clearly belonged to him. The uncomplicated faith of the disciples is the only right response to Jesus.
Suggested Outline “Bringing Down the House”
Intro: ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition could provide a nice launching point for the sermon, which would be tracing God’s work of Extreme Makeover Temple Edition.
I. God’s house: the temple
A. God gives it.
1. It is his means of establishing his relationship with his people.
2. The people corrupt and pervert God’s house.
B. Jesus has authority over it.
1. The scourge cleanses it.
2. He determines who is welcome.
3. He is zealous for God’s truth (doctrine!).
II. God’s house: the church
A. God gives it.
1. It is his church, not ours.
2. It is his means of delivering grace to his people.
B. We insist on having it on our own terms.
1. Unlike the disciples, we struggle to believe Jesus’ authoritative word.
2. Try to manipulate it to meet our agendas and ideas.
3. Impose business models on its operation.
III. God’s house: the Christ
A. Jesus is God’s final and full self-revelation.
1. He is the temple.
2. God and man meet.. .literally.. .in Jesus.
B. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament.
1. This happens through the means of the church.
2. This happen on his terms.
3. We receive grace.