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Sermon, November 1, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church

Better Than You Know Yourself
Sermon Series: 
Psalm 69:1-15
John 2:13-25
Sunday, November 1, 2020

We return again to the gospel of John, looking today at the second half of the second chapter. Last week we looked at what was the first sign that Jesus did, the first of seven that John refers to specifically to prove that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Timing-wise I guess I should have pushed that off to this week—it would have been nice to preach on the turning of water into wine on the same day we have communion, but hopefully at the very least that message was a good preparation for today.

The story we have for our scripture today shows Jesus making the first trip to Jerusalem during his ministry. It was customary for Jewish men to celebrate the great feast of Passover, which was really an entire week, in Jerusalem each year, to make a pilgrimage there. And so Jesus did, but this time was a little different than the other times that he had probably been to Jerusalem. Let’s read it, shall we, John chapter 2, verses 13 to 25, listen, this is God’s Holy Word for us this morning.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 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.

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

The Word of the Lord.

Quite a scene, isn’t it? We’ve of course heard this story before. Actually, strangely enough, I’ve actually preached on a story very much like this in this church before, probably three years ago. I filled in for Mark once while we were going through Luke, and he wanted us to continue preaching in Luke while he was gone that week, so I actually preached on the cleansing of the temple recorded in the book of Luke that time, about three years ago. Maybe you remember that, likely not.

Anyway, though the applications about the cleansing of the temple that we’ve heard about before are similar, what we actually have here is a different event. The cleansing of the temple in Luke, and for that matter Matthew and Mark as well, took place at the beginning of what would be Jesus’s final trip to Jerusalem, the start of Holy Week. There are some people who have tried to argue that what we have here in John is the same event—John simply has written things down thematically, and so it is not chronological—but those arguments don’t make much sense. The details recorded here, the conversation had with the leaders there, all point to this being a different even than the other cleansing. So at the outset of Jesus’s ministry, at Passover, he clears out the temple, and then at the end of his ministry three years later, also at Passover, he does it again—obviously they didn’t learn their lesson!

So for our first of three points today, let’s look at the cleansing itself. Remember that the people selling oxen, and sheep, and pigeons were really performing a useful service. Especially here at Passover when there were so many people in Jerusalem for the feast, there were many people coming to offer the various sacrifices that were required of them. Those sacrifices, of course, required that the people bring an animal to sacrifice. And the animals that you brought for sacrifice were inspected, they had to be without blemish or they would be rejected. So what if you made this pilgrimage all the way to Jerusalem with one or several animals, and then they didn’t pass muster, they were declared ineligible for sacrifice when you got there. That certainly wouldn’t be fun! And now you have this inconvenient animal with you for the rest of the Passover feast.

What’s more, how fun is it to travel with an animal that you don’t need with you for any other reason than to offer as a sacrifice! So, practical solution. Let’s sell animals for sacrifice at the temple. We can pre-inspect them, so that there’s no risk of having a blemished animal, and people won’t have to travel with them. Sounds good, right?

And then the money-changers, why were they there? Well, the temple taxes could only be paid in one kind of currency, and it was not the one that most people would use in their communities, so they would often need to change their money in order to pay that tax. Now this was often done by unscrupulous people, there are reports that the exchange rates at the temple were ridiculous and were taking advantage of people, but hey, it’s like buying popcorn at the movie theater, right? If you want it or need it, and this is where you happen to be, you pay the price because there’s no other option.

And this was all technically legal. Money changers, animal sellers, in the temple, and they are performing a useful service to the people coming to the temple. Maybe their prices are a little exorbitant, but they are saving people a fair bit of hassle.

Well, what does Jesus think about this? Can you imagine? For all of those people who have an incomplete view of the character of Christ, sometimes we forget too, an incomplete view that only sees him as a person who loved everyone unconditionally, didn’t make a big deal out of sin, they’re not reading this story, are they? Or that think that God had a change of heart somewhere in that 400 years of silence between the testaments. The Old Testament God was vengeful and wrathful, but then Jesus came and showed us that he’s now soft and gentle and no longer wrathful. These stories are here to remind us that that is not a complete view of the nature and character of God.

It is true that God withholds judgement of sin for a time, he chooses to, but he always will judge it, in his time. Sometimes Jesus did not immediately judge sin upon seeing it—he had every right to judge the people who were wrongly putting him to death and chanting the crucify him. If he chose to judge that behavior right then, it would have been just for him to do so.

So don’t get Jesus wrong, he, and he is God, he hates sin. When Jesus died on the cross, God the Father, the judge, was pouring out his righteous wrath on Jesus for the sins of the elect. That is really what was happening, that sin was being judged. All sin will be judged.

Which is why we get a scene like this—this is Jesus, pouring out some righteous anger, and it is righteous. Jesus goes into the temple, and sees all of this activity. Animals everywhere, money changers calling out, offering services, and it is chaos. So it says he made a whip of chords and drove them all out of temple. Not just the people, but all the cattle and everything. He whipped at their heels as he chased them out, and went to the tables covered with coin and threw them over. No, this time, and the other, Jesus chooses to deliver some immediate justice for this.

But weren’t they doing something helpful, useful? Yes, but, they were doing it in the wrong place. If there is one thing that every Christian should take from reading the bible, the whole bible, is that God takes worship very seriously. He is very concerned with how he is worshiped. The sons of Aaron, Moses’ nephews, who should have been great priests in their father’s heritage, struck down for offering “strange” or “unauthorized” fire before the Lord. God takes this very seriously, and of course we should too.

And what Jesus is reacting to here is that they had filled the outer courts of the temple with commerce. That place was meant to be, intended to be a place of prayer, and it was the only part of the temple open to gentiles. So any gentile who wanted to worship the Hebrew God, the real God, at his temple, the only place they could, where they were invited to pray, was in this messy, chaotic, certainly foul-smelling outer court bustling with people.

So Jesus is angry, and justifiably so. And when they see this they remember a passage from the Psalms where David says that zeal for the Lord’s house will consume him. And David was talking about himself in that Psalm, but here it is appropriated to the Messiah as well. A Christian should be zealous for the house of God and what happens in it.

This won’t be my primary point today, but I remember making the point last time that I believe there is far too little careful thought put into the content of our worship in the American church. Many churches readily adopt the newest catchy tune from the radio and bring it into worship without really considering the text, the poetry, not only its theological content but also its excellence as poetry, its excellence as music. Churches regularly add elements to their worship and their church buildings that were never intended to be things with which we formally worship God on Sunday. But it’s something we should always be aware of and think critically about.

But we’re going to move on from that now, because the rest of the passage contains two other lessons that are even more appropriate for today, the first of November 2020. First, that God is working in ways that we will not see until we are far beyond them, and then second, a related point, that we only get to see what God chooses to reveal to us.

Let’s look at the first. Starting in verse 17:

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 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.

Twice, right here in this story, John records the disciples remembering two things. First, recalling a passage from the Psalms that explained Jesus’s behavior. And second, remembering after the resurrection that Jesus had said this cryptic thing to the people at the temple, and they didn’t understand it at the time, but they did later. And it is cryptic. Here he is violently driving the commerce out of the temple, and the Jews there say, “What are you doing, what gives you the right? Give us a sign that shows you have authority here!” Now, they had no right to demand a sign from Jesus, they should have, if their hearts were convicted, repented after he rebuked them this way and thanked him for cleansing the temple of its misuse. That’s what should have happened. But instead they have the audacity to demand a sign, and he says something confounding. He says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And that makes no sense to them because they’ve been building it for 46 years. It’s not even done yet, actually.

And there’s no more explanation of what was said at that juncture, the conversation isn’t recorded, what is recorded is what mattered. Later, the disciples remembered this and they knew that Jesus was speaking about his body. How many times did Jesus speak figuratively and people took it literally and were confounded? We’re about to get to just such a story in two weeks with a man named Nicodemus.

Yes, God is working in ways and doing things that we will only see later for what they are. I’m sure you can point to times in your personal lives where some sort of tragedy, a trial, in hindsight turned out to be a blessing, even a great blessing! A relative of Meagan’s has three children, and I remember her saying once that all three times she found out she was pregnant, she didn’t rejoice, she cried. Each and every time the timing was awful, a lost job, financial hardship, all three times a pregnancy added hardship. But is that stress still there now that her children are grown? No, they are blessings! You all know that my family has moved around quite a bit—not as much since coming here, but still—I’ve spent plenty of days in my adult life shaking my head saying “what am I, what are we doing here?” only for God to smack me with a realization years later—that’s why!

So remember, let that be a comfort to you, that this is not random, things are not happening by chance, there is an omnipotent God ordering everything in your life exactly as he has purposed it. He does not promise ease, but he does promise ultimate blessing. Like I said last week, he is preparing that seat at the table for each of us who believe right now.

And then to the related point, that we only get to see what God chooses to reveal to us. I find the rest of this passage comforting, humbling, and even haunting all at the same time. Verse 23:

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

He himself knew what was in man. Just as the disciples didn’t see the cryptic statement for what it truly was until much later, the fact that they did see what it meant was a blessing from God. God is here to open our eyes. The Spirit reveals God to us and strengthens our faith, it is not a function of ourselves and we should never forget it. I find this comforting because I know that my plans are worse than God’s plans every time, and that he knows what he’s doing and I don’t, just like we said in the last point—I don’t know what God is doing, but looking back, I may, and it will be blessing. That is comforting.

I also find this humbling, because when I reflect on the reality that God is actually omniscient, that he actually knows everything, that he actually knows me better and more completely than I know myself, I am humbled, I stand in awe of that. That is the God we serve, one that knows all. Nothing is hidden from him.

And I said haunting too, maybe that’s not the right word, but it’s close. Many believed in his name because the saw the signs that he was doing, but they were not actually being saved by that belief. It brings to mind that most humbling and haunting passage that I can think of in scripture, Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.

Here, John is saying that though these people believed because they saw signs, he did not entrust himself to them. What were they believing in? The signs, not the Christ. The disciples that he called in chapter one came, and followed, and believed, because the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to see who Christ actually was, the Messiah, and they put their faith in him. Not in the signs that he was doing, but in him because of the signs.

And this is why I said before that of the three points in this story, the caution to be mindful of our worship, the comfort of knowing that God is working whether we recognize it or not, and the reality of God’s omniscience in the creation, it is the last two that are most important for us to recognize right now, on the first of November in 2020.

It’s come up, hopefully naturally, in the messages over the past few months that our country is facing an enormous amount of challenges right now. It’s been a very difficult year. And though I never want to put politics into my preaching--I don’t think that’s appropriate--I do think it is appropriate to reflect on our shared experience as people. In two days we will elect new leadership in this, what I believe to be the greatest nation that God has given the world. And with the enormous struggles our country is facing, and included in that are the machinations of many actors at all levels of government, and the fact that the people we are supposed to be able to trust to be honest about it, often are not being. So we are possibly at a real crisis point in history. That could be what we are being given right now.

But take heart. God doesn’t make mistakes. And, he is often showing us things that we don’t understand, and won’t understand until he shows them to us. When we read the gospels, how often are all of the people Jesus interacts with confounded by what he says to them, even his closest disciples? It’s like every time. Because God’s ways are not our ways. We need to think bigger, and trust that God will reveal to us what he wills to reveal when he chooses to reveal it. And it is always he who is crowning kings and deposing them, raising nations and putting them back down. And it is all for his glory. Not ours, always his. So if we, as individuals, as a church, as a nation, are about to be confounded once again by how God acts, that may happen. But it will all be for God’s glory, and ultimately to our blessing. Amen.

Let’s pray,

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for keeping us in the palm of your hand. For holding us up not just when we fall, but every second of every day. Because it’s always you. Grant us understanding, and give us comfort when we don’t understand. Grow our faith, so that in our struggles and in our times of plenty, we are constantly looking to you for it and nowhere else. Bless us now as we come to your table to receive your Holy Communion, which in turn shows us both the great sacrifice of your Son on our behalf, and a witness to the great feast to come. In the precious name of Jesus, amen.




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