Scripture: Exodus 12:21-28; Psalm 27:1-6; John 2:13-22
We are now in the fifth week of Lent. Today we will reach Jerusalem with Jesus.
Today we look at how easily we can prioritize other things over our true worship of Jesus. We find ourselves sometimes identifying with the people in our biblical accounts who found Jesus to be an impediment to what they really wanted to do.
Today our biblical stories focus on Jesus being the presence of God among us rather than simply finding Jesus when we are in our sacred places of worship.
We need some back story to the events that were read about this morning. It has been one of the most eventful weeks in the life of the earthly ministry of Jesus.
Jesus had often spent time in the little town of Bethany with the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They believed that He was the promised Messiah and it was possible for Jesus and the disciples to relax in their presence. In recent days Lazarus had become seriously ill. His sisters had sent word to Jesus to come, believing that Jesus would heal him.
Jesus had waited and when He arrived at their home Lazarus had died and had already been buried for three days. It becomes an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate the power of God as Jesus calls Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. Lazarus is restored to his family.
This has not gone unnoticed by the religious leaders from the Temple in nearby Jerusalem. Historical references tell us that Lazarus was well known at the Temple. The religious leaders have come out to Bethany to mourn with Mary and Martha so they are present, along with a host of other mourners, when Jesus arrives on the scene. Because of what those gathered witnessed, many of the Jews who had gathered there believed that Jesus was the Messiah. The religious leaders from the Temple witness the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead and the belief of the many gathered there. It was a turning point.
The Chief Priests and the Pharisees convened a council.
“What are we doing?
This man is performing many signs.
If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, had the solution to their problem. He said,
“…it is expedient for you that one man die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish.”
The problem with the hierarchy of the religious system in Israel was that they served at the pleasure of the Roman government. They were to keep the people pacified and content with being subservient to the rule of the Roman Empire. These leaders saw Jesus as a threat to their power and their position. They began to plot as to how He could be eliminated.
It is now near the time of the Passover, the celebration of that great act of God that liberated the Hebrew nation from the enslavement of the Pharaoh of Egypt.
Every male Jew who is of age and physically able is expected to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the celebration. In addition, God-fearing Gentiles from all of the known world also make the pilgrimage for the eight days of celebration. Historians tell us that the population of Jerusalem could swell to perhaps 300,000 to 400,000 during that week. As was their custom, Jesus and his disciples, his mother and his brothers were among those who made the pilgrimage.
There was much preparation that must be made by the individual or family before the Passover feast. There must be sacrifices offered at the Temple before the celebration. The officials at the Temple have worked out a system that financially benefits not only the moneychangers, the bankers of the day, and the merchants who deal in animals for sacrifice, but a kickback for themselves as well.
On a day Jesus and his disciples made their way to the Temple. The sight that Jesus came upon at the Temple was beyond anything that the Son of God could ignore. His anger soared at the desecration of his Father’s House.
A little history of the Temple during the time of Jesus: The Temple in the time of Jesus was actually the third Temple of the Jewish people.
The Temple was called Herod’s Temple because Herod, a Jew who was chosen by Rome to rule over Israel, had enlarged it as a way to appease the Jewish people over whom he ruled. The building project had taken 46 years. Herod had remodeled the Temple’s fortress, added a Royal Portico for hearing cases and conducting official business, and built a large forecourt for commercial activity.
Herod loved to build structures that could be credited to him. When he completed his building project the Temple Mount on which the Temple sat covered 36 acres. Herod considered the structure and its grounds as a tribute to himself rather than to God. All of these additions were meant to showcase Herod’s wealth and power. Herod’s additions created a problem for pious Jews who did not consider them compatible with holiness.
Within the Temple there were four courts for worship. Moving from the first entrance toward to center of the structure, there was
- the court of the Gentiles,
- the court of the women,
- the court of the ritually clean men, and
- the court of the priests where sacrifices were offered.
Beyond these courts was the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant resided, representing the presence of God.
The Court of the Gentiles had been turned into Herod’s marketplace. Here doves and animals for sacrifice were sold. Here foreign coins with images of rulers could be exchanged for Temple coins in order to pay the Temple tax.
With Roman rule there had been lost the reverence, the respect, for the House of God. When Solomon had built the first Temple there was so much reverence for the house of God that not even the sound of a hammer could be heard during the construction. All of the stones and boards were pre-cut elsewhere and then brought to the building site and quietly and reverently assembled (1 Kings6:7).
Jesus frequently was at the Temple, but today, as He arrives during this Passover Season, He is visibly grieved, greatly angered, as He enters the courtyard and surveys the turmoil. As much as is possible, let us look with our human eyes and see what is happening through the eyes of the Son of God.
The merchants and the bankers have overtaken the area where God-fearing Gentiles can worship. It has become a merchandise mart. It is a for-profit operation.
- The bankers are exchanging foreign money for Temple money for a fee.
- The bankers would provide a safety deposit box to keep large amounts of money for a fee.
- If one needed a loan to buy an animal for sacrifice, they would make the loan for rates up to 300% interest.
It does not matter to these bankers that charging interest breaks the Law of Moses (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 23:19-20).
To pious Jews the exchange of money in the Temple was considered vulgar. Animals for sale for the sacrifice dirtied the space with their droppings. All of this was incompatible with the holy function of the Temple where people gathered to worship.
Imagine trying to worship with cows and sheep milling about, sharing your space, and doves cooing in the merchants’ cages! Imagine having to watch where you step while you are trying to worship God! Imagine the stench that no amount of incense at the altar can overcome!
No wonder Jesus cried out
- “My Father’s house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” (You have taken away the place where non-Jews can worship.)
- “Stop making my Father’s House a house of merchandise!”
- No wonder that Jesus picks up the ropes that have bound the animals and drives them out of the court!
- No wonder that Jesus turns over the tables of the bankers!
Imagine the scene: animals running in every direction; coins rolling across the floor of the courtyard.
For the Temple Priests and the Council this is all that they need to proceed with eliminating this Man. By this very act, by calling the Temple his Father’s House, in addition to just recently having raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus has sealed his fate with the religious leaders of the Temple.
The threat of the loss of money and power has always been a great motivator to action. The Temple Council now has all that they need to bring a charge of blasphemy against Jesus. Jesus has claimed to be the Son of God by calling the Temple his Father’s House. It only remains to find a way to get Rome to sentence Jesus to death before all of the common people follow Him and the official priests lose their positions of status and power.
While places of worship remain sacred, this event in the life of Jesus at the Temple reminds us that Jesus, and not the Temple, is the focus of God’s presence on earth. God is no longer limited to a presence within the Holy of Holies in the Temple. God is walking among the people in the presence of Jesus, touching them and teaching them about who God is and what God is like. No wonder that the common folk are following Him and not the religious leaders who are puppets of Rome.
Before many days the religious leaders will formally charge Jesus. They will charge Him before the Roman rulers as claiming to be the King of the Jews. It must be a political charge because the Roman government will care nothing about a charge of blasphemy. The charge must be a threat to the power of the rule of Rome over Israel if they are to act.
In another week Jesus will again enter Jerusalem to the accolades of people gathered to greet Him. Jesus will celebrate his last Passover with his disciples and his family. He will be arrested and condemned to death. All of his disciples except John will go into hiding for fear of their own lives. He will be crucified until dead and buried in a borrowed tomb. What is the price of a sacrifice for sin? The price of the sacrifice of Jesus will be 30 pieces of silver. Amen.