Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. John’s gospel account the second chapter (John 2:13-25).
Beloved in the Lord,
The Passover is approaching. The day of our redemption is at hand. Jesus is in Jerusalem with His disciples. The city itself swells with pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire. Everyone is making their way to the temple. The temple is everything to the Jews. The temple is the house of the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The temple is where Leviticus is fulfilled: animals are offered, their blood shed, their bodies burned; The holiness of the Lord is shared, priests make petitions, forgiveness is delivered, the people of God are blessed with His Name. God’s benediction is voiced over His redeemed.
Pilgrims coming to the temple for the Passover must have a lamb. They did not travel across the empire bearing one from a distant land, one that may fail inspection upon arrival, one that may derive some sort of spot or blemish along the way. No, pilgrims bought and purchased their lambs from the merchants at the Temple. These lambs were without spot or blemish. These lambs passed inspection. These lambs could be sacrificed at the Feast. And so . . . these lambs could be sold for an inflated price. But Roman coin wouldn’t do. Only temple coinage buys paschal lambs. So, Roman coins had to be exchanged for temple currency. And the exchange rate was neither fair nor just. The merchants had the lambs and the moneychangers had the coinage. Pilgrims were cheated. God’s people were taking advantage of one another. A house of prayer became a den of thieves.
But this Passover is different. Jesus is in Jerusalem. And He does not like what He sees. He does appreciate what He hears. The people He has come to redeem are too busy hoarding from one another, paying homage to their idols, profiting from deceit. Thus our Lord in righteous anger, in true zeal for His Father’s house, takes a whip of cords and chases them away. The animals are set free. The tables are overturned. The cheaters are rebuked. The scene causes quite a stir. The Jews are indignant. “What sign do you show us that you do things?” In other words, “who do you think you are? By what authority do you upset our way? Who sent you? Show us?”
Such is the reaction of sinful man when his idols are overturned. Our God will not tolerate idolatry, to do so would be terribly unloving. Idolatry brings death, despair, and hell. The Lord does not want that for you. He wills life, repentance, faith, forgiveness! He wishes to be for you Savior and redeemer. But the heart of men, women and children loves to play the harlot. We love our money. We love our traditions. We love the way things are and we refuse to be challenged along the way. We don’t like it when the ground shakes or the boat rocks or the tables are turned. We don’t like it when Jesus is mad at us, rebukes us, or attempts to bring us to repentance. We like Jesus when He’s speaking nice things, doing good deeds, building us up rather than tearing us down. We much prefer Him healing us instead of wounding us.
We forget who we are and what we’ve done. Even we Christians are tempted to trust the wrong things, the wrong people, and go the wrong way. We need to hear God’s Law. We need to be accused by the Word, to be shown our sin, to have our wounds opened up before we can be healed, forgiven, and built up. The Law must precede the Gospel. Contrition must come before faith, not to earn our salvation, but to prepare us for it. Contrition is the hunger and thirst for Christ’s mercy. It is the desire to be saved from sin, death and devil precisely because a person cannot save himself. Such a reaction, such feelings are awakened in the heart only when the Law has pierced through the barriers of self-righteousness that we have erected in ourselves, only when the idols in our hearts have been tipped over, broken down, revealed to be false.
Yet Old Adam and his idols will not surrender easily. The Jews did not take kindly to Jesus’ actions. You and I are very uncomfortable being called to repentance. It is for this reason we often fight against the Lord and His Word. It is for this reason the Jews sought after signs and wonders. And it is for this reason Jesus gives them word of a resurrected temple. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
Like most things Old Adam didn’t get it. Focused on their idol the Jews could not fathom the destruction of that which took them 46 years to build. Nor could they comprehend its resurrection in three days. But that’s because they were clinging to their idols. We never think that our idols will lose. We never imagine that they will fail.
But Jesus wasn’t talking about a building. He was talking of the temple of His body. He was directing them to Himself. They would not look. They would not listen. Instead they preferred to crucify Him. They took the temple of God into their own hands and defiled it with their unbelief. And Jesus let them. That’s right, He let them. He surrendered Himself to them. No fighting, no swords, no whip of cords – at least not in His hands. There was plenty of violence against Him, but He chose to do none. He turned the cheek. He offered His beard. He suffered the torment and fulfilled Leviticus completely. What no oxen, dove or lamb could do, Jesus did once for all. His death was enough, His blood sufficient, His suffering satisfactory. For He is the perfect Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world. He is the exact exchange needed to make payment to God for our sins. Neither Roman nor Jewish coinage would be acceptable, nor will anything you offer to our God. Only the innocent suffering and death of Jesus will do. Only His blood, only His suffering, only His passion, only His death, only His cross, only Jesus.
That’s the point beloved, only Jesus will do. And only Jesus will do it for you because only Jesus through His cross will bring down the idols of the world, the sins of man, and the power of hell. And Jesus will be raised up on the third day. The temple is destroyed, the body is laid to rest, but on Easter He is alive, He is risen, the dawn of the Resurrection is upon creation. He is the first-fruits from the dead, the first of many to follow even all who believe and are baptized.
Therefore beloved, do not be like all those who test and tempt the Lord asking for a sign from above or a reason to believe. Note well the disciples’ reaction in our text. “When Jesus had risen from the dead His disciples remembered that He had said this to them and they believed the scripture and the Word which Jesus had said.” They believed. Their hearts took Jesus at His Word, took His Word into their very depths.
Thus our Lord sets before you this morning the Word of the cross. Though it is foolishness to the gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews He is not ashamed to save you by the power of His gospel. For the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The Gospel is the Word of the Cross in all its bloody foolishness. And it is for you and for your children, for every man, every woman, every child. The gospel is for the poor, the sick and infirm, the suffering and dying, the broken and the wounded. The Gospel is for you beloved. Jesus is for you! Take Him at His Word. Listen as He pleads for your heart. Heed His call. Come unto Him by faith! Trust Him. He is risen from the dead. The temple has been destroyed but He has been raised on the third day just as He said. The tomb is empty and now the font is full! The grave is powerless and today the supper gives life. The angels have spoken; paradise is open once more, open to all who believe and are baptized, to all who take Jesus at His Word.
Beloved in the Lord, the Passover is near and Jesus is in Jerusalem. The eyes of the world are drawn to the temple, to the Lamb, to the sacrifice. Jesus directs our eyes toward Himself. Indeed, let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith. Truly, He is our temple, our Lamb, our sacrifice. Truly He is risen and is worthy of our praise. No greater praise could be given than to trust His Word. No higher Worship could be offered than to receive His mercy by faith. Come, beloved! Come to Jesus and be set free from the bondage of your idols. Repent and believe the gospel, the story of the cross, the power of God unto salvation. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Pastor Tony Sikora
Hope Lutheran Church
De Witt, MI