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Purifying the Temple
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 8, 2015
Exodus 20:1-17 John 2:13-22 Psalm 19
In our reading from John, Jesus makes a connection between His body and the temple in Jerusalem. In a scene filled with dramatic action, Jesus drives out the money changers and the men selling animals for sacrifice. The Jews question Jesus, asking Him by what authority He does these things. Jesus’ answer is cryptic. He says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” By this, Jesus is referring to the temple of His body. It is a prediction of the resurrection. After Jesus’ death on the cross, He is raised from the dead after three days.
It can be said that this one story sums up Jesus’ entire mission on earth. Cleansing the temple and raising His body from the dead are what Jesus came to earth to do. Cleansing the temple is a metaphor for reforming the church. And raising His body from the dead is a way of saying that Jesus cleansed His mortal part to such a degree that there was nothing left but the Divine Human. This Divine Human was a total and complete union of God and Man in the body of Jesus Christ. Cleansing the temple is also a metaphor for Jesus cleansing His humanity and making it divine. For the temple symbolizes Jesus’ body.
Driving out the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals would have been seen as a huge disruption in the status quo. For many Jews–and particularly for the leaders of Jewish culture–the temple was the very focal point for Jewish worship. Performing the right sacrifice for the right reason was at the heart of worship in those days. By driving out the salesmen and money changers, Jesus was challenging the way Jews worshipped. He was saying that they had it all wrong.
Who would be prepared to hear that about their worship? Who would be able to see why Jesus was doing what He did? Who would accept the fact that the way things had been done for thousands of years was wrong? So it is not surprising that the Jews would ask Jesus, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” In other words, they are asking Jesus who He was to disrupt things so dramatically. For here was a peasant from the backwoods of Galilee coming into the ancient heart of Judea, the most cosmopolitan city in Judea, the capital, if you will, and dramatically vandalizing the temple. I’m not so sure His answer would have been satisfactory. In fact, it may have been inflammatory.
He says that He was able to raise the temple in three days were it torn down. What could this possibly mean? Could it mean that Jesus was Lord of the temple itself? Does it mean that Jesus could tear down and build up? John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus meant that His body would be raised up in three days after His death on the cross. But what does this have to do with the temple? Somehow, Jesus is making a connection between Himself and the temple.
The connection between Jesus’ body and the temple can be seen in what Jesus did for the church and how He did it. Cleansing the temple can be seen as a metaphor for what Jesus did for the church. Jesus cleansed the church. He reminded Jews of the teachings that are at the heart of their laws. Jesus reminded them that love for God and love for the neighbor are at the heart of all the law and the prophets.
Jesus taught further that religion is an inward matter. He taught that it is not an outward matter of performing the right sacrifice for the right reason. I think that John is setting up the reader for this teaching. In all the other Gospels, Jesus’ dramatic cleansing of the temple happens late in His ministry. It immediately follows Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. But In John’s Gospel, the cleansing of the temple happens very early in Jesus’ ministry. It comes right after Jesus’ first miracle, when He turns water into wine at the wedding feast. By cleansing the temple this early, John is already pointing his readers away from external practices. John is telling us that temple sacrifice isn’t what religion is all about.
The idea that religion is something internal then comes in the very next chapter of John. In Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus teaches that we must be born again of water and the Spirit. Then John actually negates temple sacrifice in the next chapter, with the story of the woman at the well. The woman asks Jesus about temple sacrifice. She says, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20). Jesus’ reply teaches the world that temple sacrifice is not what religion is about,
The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father . . . But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:21, 23-24).
With these words, Jesus points away from temple sacrifice and toward our internal spirit. He tells us that our spirits need to seek God, not our body with correct rituals.
So by pointing toward our spirits, and pointing away from the temple, Jesus is reforming Jewish worship. He is implanting a new form of religion in the world. In this sense, cleansing the temple is a metaphor for purifying the way religion had been practiced. He is cleansing the world and opening the windows of heaven to flow into each human with new life from God.
And this opening of heaven was done through Jesus’ Divine Humanity. John’s Gospel contains those beautiful words, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory” (John 1:14). This Word that became flesh was God, is God. God became flesh. Can you imagine the power of God in a Human form, walking right next to you? You would certainly be able to feel it. The two disciples who walked next to Jesus on the road to Emmaus certainly felt it. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
This church teaches that before Jesus’ incarnation, God flowed into humans through the heavens. The church also teaches that the spiritual world had become so filled with evil spirits who choked off heaven’s influx. Heaven’s influx was blocked. But when God became a material being, God could flow into His own Humanity, and bring the power of God’s Love to earth through Himself. Jesus was now the conduit from God to humanity. This divine connection from on high to here below broke up the grip hell had in the spiritual world and opened heaven’s light again. Now heaven could flow into us and God could come directly to us through the resurrected Divine Humanity of Jesus. So in our statement of faith we say, “He defeated the demonic power, destroying its hold on the world, releasing us from bondage.”
So on the earthly plane, Jesus reformed religion by teaching that temple sacrifice was not the way to worship. He taught that our inward state was where to find true religion. And Jesus reformed and reordered the spiritual world to allow this to happen in our souls. Jesus’ incarnation opened up a way for God to come to us here on the material world. And as He brought God to humanity in His own Divine Human form, God also opened up the windows of heaven so that heavenly light could shine through to us here on earth.
By driving out the money changers and the salesmen from the temple, Jesus taught us a new way to worship. He cleansed religion as He cleansed the temple. And by raising up His divine Human form, by His own power, God and Human became one. God can now come to us immediately through the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. And God can come to us through the opened windows of the heavens.
Lord, when you were on earth you cleansed the temple of impure practices. You also made your humanity divine, by purging the merely mortal humanity. So this morning we pray that you cleanse the temple of our bodies. We ask you to give us the strength to cooperate with you in the good work of purifying our souls. Give us the power to drive out every evil and limiting passion and thought. May we be filled with your Holy Spirit. And may we be open to your inflowing love. May the windows of heaven be opened to us and may heavenly light shine upon us and fill us with the desire to good at every opportunity we have.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.