Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lent 3 Sermon -- John 2:13-25 (LSB Lent 3B)

March 15, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

The Jews said to [Jesus]: “What sign do You show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

It should not surprise that the Jews wanted Jesus to give them a sign. After all, His actions were very abnormal. No one had cleared the Temple of the vendors like that in recent memory. Now the Temple authorities had to go round up the oxen and sheep and restore order to the proceedings. The Passover pilgrims would continue to stream into the Temple courts and demand the required lamb for sacrifice. Their pagan coins would have to be exchanged. But Jesus had put a huge crimp into the whole enterprise.

So they ask: “What sign do You show us for doing these things?” Jesus needs to provide some identification after this escapade. The chief priests had authority given to them. The same Lord God who had spoken the Ten Commandments had also entrusted the operation of the Tabernacle and, in turn, the Temple to the Levites. All the vendors and moneychangers had received their permission from the chief priests. But by what right does Jesus “make a whip out of cords” and drive them out of the Temple?

Paul reminds you: “The Jews demand signs.” And for good reason, for this is how the Lord God said that people with His authority would prove it. Jesus was not a Levite, so He could not be one of the Temple leaders. But if Jesus were a prophet, then He would have authority. And all the religious Jews knew that a prophet would be able to confirm what He said and did by providing a sign. So Jesus does: He gives them a sign to confirm His identity and authority.

You heard the sign that Jesus gave which was to prove His identity and provide evidence of His authority: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” What type of sign was that? Utter foolishness, the Jews said: “It has taken us forty-six years to build this Temple, and You will raise it up in three days?” The Temple is a three-storey stone edifice. Three days would give Jesus one day per storey. Our friends in Lancaster County might raise a wooden barn in one day, but not a building of granite and marble. This sign won’t prove anything about Jesus, except that He is a fraud—or at least that is what the Temple authorities thought.

The Gospel Writer gives you a very important key to understanding what Jesus meant by this sign: “But He was speaking about the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” Jesus’ prophetic sign was going to prove more than just why He could clear the Temple, it would also show why the entire Temple enterprise was coming to an end.

John says that “[Jesus] was speaking about the temple of His body.” This means that Jesus is the place where the Lord God dwelt on earth, where He could be found and approached by mortal men for salvation. Jesus was a walking, talking sanctuary—just like the Tabernacle of old. You have already heard that from John’s pen. Those who worshiped on Christmas Day heard about Jesus: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or more literally: “The Word became flesh and made His Tabernacle in our midst.” Jesus is to be identified as God incarnate.

Because Jesus is God incarnate, His body is the true dwelling place of God. He is the Temple. If so, then He has all authority to clear the grounds in Jerusalem of the vendors and moneychangers, especially if they were unscrupulous in their dealings. As the Lord God incarnate, Jesus can restore His Father’s house, even His own house, to a place of prayer and not a commercial center.

But this isn’t the full extent of what the sign of Jesus’ dying and rising shows. The tearing down of His body and having it raised three days later tells something more. It shows that Jesus has authority, but more importantly it shows that He will be the all-availing, atoning sacrifice offered for the entire world. The sign that Jesus will give will prove His identity as the Messiah, the obedient servant of the Father who brings salvation to mankind by death and resurrection.

Jesus promises that this is going to happen, but no one understands it until the actual events take place: “When therefore [Jesus] was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this.” Everyone had to wait for the events to transpire, and then they could comprehend what was meant by Jesus’ words.

Jesus declares that He will be the source of salvation and that salvation requires the death of God-in-the-flesh, which is an odd concept. Receiving that salvation also requires believing that Jesus is actually just that, even though the religious leaders of Israel didn’t agree and all the earthly presentation of Jesus didn’t convey that at all. Paul mentions the hard-to-believe character of this whole enterprise: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

That people believed Jesus’ miracles can be understood, since you heard from John: “When [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His Name when they saw the signs that He was doing.” The miracles and wonders do spark belief. But when Jesus speaks about tearing down temples and raising them up, when He calls His disciples to trust Him who will be crucified, then faith is a hard thing. It’s a bit sketchy, a bit iffy. The Lord God, the Author of Life, is made human, but dies. It doesn’t make sense, unless one is called by the Lord God to believe just that.

For you who have been so called, the words of Jesus are understood. You can believe what John said about Jesus: that He is the dwelling place of God on earth, that His body is the true Temple. You can be just like the disciples: “When therefore [Jesus] was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” When called to faith by the Holy Spirit, having been chosen by God Himself, you can hear Jesus’ words and understand what He meant by them and see how His actions are the fulfillment of all the promises of the Scriptures.

When the disciples saw that Jesus had cleared the Temple, “[they] remembered that it was written: ‘Zeal for Your house will consume Me.’” They remembered the words of the psalm that had predicted this very thing. Psalm 69 includes other statements that describe Jesus: “The reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on Me. . . . I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it, they will be glad; you who seek God, but your hearts revive.” Jesus’ actions may have perturbed the Temple authorities and brought their reproach, but to those who believe Him, the acts are worth more than any sacrifice.

Jesus provides the Passover pilgrims and all the faithful people of God a new destination. He is the place where the Lord God is found. He is how the Lord God acts in mercy and compassion for His people. He is the way that salvation is brought to those who need it. The walls of Jerusalem’s Temple would literally be torn down and never be raised again. But Jesus’ crucified body would not be left to decay: it would be raised, just as He said.

You have been called to believe what many in Jerusalem never did. Some may have believed that Jesus was a Man of God, even a prophet or a Messiah of some sort, but not the Redeemer of the world. Others never even got that far at all, but rejected Jesus and His words out of hand. But by the work of the Holy Spirit, you can hear Jesus’ words and believe that you are saved by what they promise. You see that Jesus is the sacrifice of your sins and the source of eternal life to remedy your mortality. You can understand that what Jesus promised had to be that way and it would replace everything that went on in Jerusalem’s Temple, since He was the place where the Lord God dwelt.

The death of God incarnate does not compute in the minds of man, but it makes perfect sense for you, His people: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” So you believe in the folly of the Crucified Christ, and in it you find the authority that He possesses as the dwelling place of God in the world. That is the authority to clear Jerusalem’s Temple and to clear your body and soul of all sin and death. Jesus was torn down, but three days later He was built up again for you and your salvation. So He promised, and so He fulfilled, in order to deliver you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

No comments: