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2024-03-03 Lent 3







Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!


Way back in 2006 we were living in Edmonton, AB. It was the final year of Seminary education so it was a busy time to say the least with trying to finish the Master’s thesis and other course work. Our roommate Mark, now Pastor Mark Chiang, was likewise in the same boat. One February morning he went out to start his truck and quickly realized that some hoodlums had smashed out the back window and stolen the stereo. Good old fashioned smash n’ grab vandalism. Window was broken into a thousand pieces and so was the dash. The police officer said that there had already been 12,000 car break-ins and such acts of vandalism since January 1st of 2006. And this break-in was only in February! I fortunately have not experienced a break in first hand. Yet. But I’m sure many of you have had to contend with having your cars vandalized or stolen and broken into.


When I think about a house break in, there are hardly any more invasive crimes. A stranger rifling through your possessions and the rooms in your house evokes a lot of emotion. After all, our homes are our sacred sanctuaries, our castles and refuge against the world. But if this happened to you or someone you know, you no doubt felt the hurt and anxiety and maybe even a sense of eeriness or fear! It’s unnerving and violating. The only thing worse is if this kind of thing took place in your parent’s house. “This old house” where you grew up and had all of your childhood memories. Now it is that place that has been ransacked and destroyed and violated! How much more do the feelings of fear and hurt and anger rage on when it’s your parents who are victimized! Perhaps this is exactly how Jesus felt in our Gospel lesson from John today.


The time of the year was Passover. And like every Passover, everybody was making the journey to Jerusalem. And as they made the trip up to Jerusalem, they encountered city streets that were jam packed full of people. It was wall to wailing wall people as the city would fill to overcapacity with faithful Jews coming to celebrate the holy feast in the holy city. And when you’ve got that many people, commerce is all a buzz! A marketplace was setup in the Temple probably started as a well-intentioned service to help out the pilgrims who had to travel long distances in order to take part in the festivities. In fact, ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote that when the governor Cestius asked the high-priest to count up all the Passover lambs for the festival in order to impress Emperor Nero, the total was 256,500 lambs! Since at least 10 worshipers were to take part in one lamb, simple math, even for me, tells us there was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2.5 million Jews celebrating Passover in Jerusalem that year! Ug! Can you imagine the logistical nightmare that must have been?! I can’t even stand going to COOP on coupon day let alone be part of a sea of people like that. All you could hear in Jerusalem would be the bleating of sheep, the lowing of cows, the cooing of doves and the utter screaming of merchants. Let alone the smell!


And likewise, with this scale of a market going on, the money changers were there too. Sacrificial animals were bought and sold and that filthy government money that was covered in Caesar’s image and likeness had to be converted to Temple-approved, kosher-currency! This goes all the way back to Exodus chapter 30 with the institution of the half-shekel tax for the upkeep of the Tabernacle. Think of it like a mandatory church-tax. Anyone “from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering” (30:14). A half-shekel was the equivalent of around $5.00 today. The money changers were more than happy to do this conversion for the spiritual pilgrims for a not-so-nominal fee. It was lucrative business at this kind of scale, with some estimates as high as $200 million dollars a year in our money!


So this is the context. This is the big picture of what is going on in God’s House. Jesus’ Dad’s house. And all the while the verse from Isaiah is running through Jesus’ head: “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (56:7). It’s not hard to imagine our Lord Jesus, upon seeing this utter cesspool, becoming incensed to notches unknown to mankind! And then comes the TSN Turning Point: “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” (JN 2:15). The house of prayer had become the house of merchants. And our Lord uses His authority as the Son of God to clean house. He wanted to restore the Temple to its original purpose as a house of prayer and worship.


But as you can well imagine, the Jews didn’t take to kindly to this cleansing. Everything they were doing was legal, registered and on the approval of the ruling council, even if it was a ripoff! It was an approved ripoff. They were printing money hand over fist. Until this Jesus guy showed up. They’re all there, witnessing Jesus going ballistic on the market and in utter shock they wonder on whose authority can this backwater preacher from Nazareth do this?! They go after Him to prove He’s the legitimate Temple Sheriff: “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (JN:2:18). They want to see some kind of miracle. But Jesus won’t play into their hands even for a minute. Even if He did do a miracle before their very eyes, they wouldn’t have accepted it. So He gives them a different sign, a completely unexpected wonder: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (JN 2:19).


There’s your miracle, boys! But they don’t get it. In fact, they chortle in utter disbelief! “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (JN 2:20). But St. John fills in the blanks and connects the dots for us, less we miss the forest for the trees. “But He was speaking about the temple of His body” (JN 2:21). The fulfillment of this sign would prove that Jesus had not only the authority to cleanse the temple, but to forgive sins and make life reign where there was only death. This sign that Jesus gives was prophetic prediction of His resurrection. His body would be crucified on a Roman cross, utterly destroyed. The Lord of life, the mighty maker of all would die. But on the third day, He would be raised again. This resurrection, this restoration of the Temple as it were, would be concrete proof that He was the Son of God. He had the authority to declare righteous all who repent and believe this Good News. He had the authority to overcome sin, death and the devil and restore the true worship of God.


It’s now time to ask that oh so Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” What does this mean for me? Really, it is a lesson in priorities. The worship of God and God’s house and even ourselves as the Temple of the Holy Spirit should be as free as possible of worldly jibber jabber. A house of prayer, a people of prayer, this is what we ought to be about. Putting God first, fearing, loving and trusting in Him above all things. Calling upon His name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. Gathering together as His people in His house on His day to receive His gifts. Dedicating our lives to His commandments. This is what this means. Often it seems that churches in our time have forgotten this, with many of them making worship into some kind of commonplace, everyday thing. And likewise bolstering worldly values instead of scriptural ones. The reverence, the heavenly mystery, the very presence of God with His people - its all gone. It seems to have been swapped out for a noisy pandemonium and rackets that Jesus reacted so harshly against. Rather, we as God’s people must cling tighter than ever to God’s Word! To the Cross! To our Baptism! To the Lord’s Supper! To the reverence and holiness of our Liturgy – for this is where God meets us and reminds us that this is a heavenly place of prayer because He is truly present among us. Let us zealously keep it that way, that Lord’s house would always be a house of prayer for all people. Amen!

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