Cleansing the Temple audio
Two weeks ago, we looked at John’s account of Jesus at a wedding in Cana. And now this week, he’s travelling on to Jerusalem for the Passover. But before we look any further, please pray with me.
I have a riddle for you. Why is a metcard like an Old Testament temple? What do the two things have in common? They both represent old systems.They were both used for a certain purpose, but now the method has changed and they've been replaced by a new system. So, given that the Old Testament temple, much like a metcard, is no longer in use,
it seems like it wouldn’t matter that much to us what Jesus said in John’s account that Sophia just read. We don’t worship in a temple anymore, we don’t make animal sacrifices to God anymore. But I can tell you, Jesus’ words to these 1st century believers relate directly to our lives as God’s people.
But before we think about what Jesus did and said in the temple, let’s ask ourselves another question. What did everyone else do and say in the temple? Why did Jews in the first century even go to the temple? What was the point of it? One reason people went there was to offer sacrifices to God, to experience God’s forgiveness and to repent of their sin. Another reason was to meet with each other and to learn from Jewish teachers. And another was to draw near to God- it was his dwelling place. But really, the temple had 2 purposes. It was the place where you went to sacrifice to God and ask forgiveness, and it was where you went to meet God in his dwelling place and to learn about God from other people. For the people Jesus is talking to in John’s account, the temple is the centre of their life. It’s a sacred place and a place they’re very familiar with.
Which is why it’s a bit abrupt and, perhaps even a shock, when Jesus says this: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus actually says he’s going to destroy God’s meeting place. He doesn’t think the temple is worth much at all. Maybe he thinks the thing is poorly built. So poorly build that he could do just as good a job in only 3 days. Or maybe he has something else in mind altogether. Something other than an impressive building. "The Jews then said, 'This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” John’s account says that after Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said in the temple. So Jesus has destroyed the temple and rebuilt it in 3 days. But what did he rebuild it as? What did he have in mind when he talked about destroying the temple? It’s right there in verse 21. Jesus is predicting his own victory over death. He’s hinting at the time when people will come to Jesus as the place where God dwells, not the temple.
So now I want to think for a while about the temple primarily as God’s dwelling place, and the place where we meet with and learn from other Christians. Jesus’ body is now the place where we go for everything that God’s people once went to the temple for. But what does that mean for us, almost 2,000 years after Jesus left the Earth? If Jesus’ body is the place where God dwells, then where is Jesus’ body? With Jesus now in Heaven, not on Earth, the temple seems less accessible than ever, right? So how can Jesus’ body be the Temple? He doesn’t mean his physical body, because that he took with him. He didn’t leave it here. And don’t think we don’t need a temple any more.
Because now, the same as always, God’s people need to confess to God and ask forgiveness, and they need to meet God where he dwells and learn about God from other people. So where do we go instead of the temple? The first answer that comes to mind might be – church. We go to church regularly, just as the people in John’s account went to the temple. But is church the same as the temple? Do we sacrifice things to God when we come to church?
No, though we do remember Jesus’ sacrifice. Do we just enter God’s presence when we come into this building here, and leave it when we go out? No, God doesn’t dwell only inside the church building. So, actually, the church building isn’t our equivalent of the temple at all. And it’s not what Jesus was talking about in John’s account.
Something else has become Jesus’ body, now that he’s in Heaven. Have you noticed how the body is one of the main pictures we’re given in the New Testament of the people of God gathered together? For example, in 1st Corinthians, Paul warns the church that some of them are getting sick because they ignore the body when they come together to eat a meal in remembrance of Jesus’ death. I think what he means by body there is the people of God gathered together as Christ’s body. And in chapter 13 he tells them that they’re the body of Christ, and individually members of it. So here’s an exciting thought: Jesus is saying that the temple, the place where God now dwells, is us, his people. As we gather together, as we meet in small groups, as we interact with each other one to one,
God is present. It’s a shift from a physical building to a spiritual community. We aren’t just part of the temple when we come here to repent of our sins and ask for forgiveness. We don’t leave the temple when we close our bibles or when the sermon finishes or when we walk out the door. George, when you’re away from home, do you stop being married to Sarah? No. And Sophie, when school finishes for the day, does that mean you’re not part of your grade 6 class anymore? No, that’s right. Just like when we leave this building on Sunday afternoons, we don’t stop being part of the church. So what does it mean that we’re part of Christ’s body? It means we need to think about our priorities, and our participation.
Being a part of Christ’s body is always going to be about priorities. As we already talked about before, we’re not just part of Christ’s body on Sundays. And even more, we’re not just part of Christ’s body on the Sundays that suit us, when we’re not busy, or the ones when we don’t sleep in. We’re part of Christ’s body on Tuesday nights and on Thursday mornings as well. We’re part of Christ’s body all the time. So Christ’s body needs to take priority in our lives. More than this, looking after Christ’s body and not exploiting it needs to take priority in our lives. This means not entering into the body of Christ with the wrong motive, or for our own gain. Instead it means using Christ’s body for what its purpose is – learning about God and meeting with God’s people. SO unlike the money changers and the merchants in John’s account, who came to the temple to profit off the needs of others and to take advantage of their fellow believers, our task is to become productive/fruitful members of the body, to do all we can to build up the body and make it strong. It reminds me of something I heard on a CU camp a few years ago. The speaker referred to Christian Union as a dating service, which is not entirely inaccurate. And its a joke that gets made a lot- A big group of Christian uni students, all just beginning their adult lives and all looking to see what God had in store for them. Of course people are going to keep one eye out for a potential husband or wife, like they do on most mission trips or camps. However, if a student joined the Christian Union just to meet girls (which does sometimes happen), then he would be coming into the body of Christ with his priorities wrong, and with mistaken motives. He would be joining the body, first and foremost, for his own gain. Not to encourage others, not to serve the body, and not to grow in his relationship with God. Our priority needs to be looking after the body, not ourselves.
The great thing about the picture of the Church as a body is that it illustrates so well how important participation is to the health of the body. You see it isn’t just about our priorities. Its about how we act as members of the body as well. This means having unity and cooperation within the body. Not self-interest.
Not indifference. Not laziness. But cooperation and concern between members of the body. Participation means working alongside the rest of the body of Christ, encouraging them, supporting them, not just seeing to our own needs. "But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (1 Corinthians 12:18-27).
I’d like everyone to reach underneath their chair and check if there’s a little tag bluetacked on there. Just reach under from the front, if you’ve got one it should be right behind your legs. Ok. Now I just want to check that the whole of the body is included, and that I didn’t leave anything out. Hands up if you’re the head. Ok thanks. Come out the front. Do we have the torso? Do we have the right arm? And the right hand? How about the left arm? Ok now let’s just check we have legs. Where is the right leg? And the left leg? Ok thanks. And lastly the two feet. Hands up feet. All of you can come out the front and connect up with the appropriate parts. What a healthy looking body!
Now, everyone with red writing on their tag, you can go and stand along the stage there, if you don’t mind. Everyone with black writing you can stay where you are. Now let’s take a look at what we’re left with. Where is the left arm? Oh, it’s gone away. Sorry hand you haven’t got anything to hang on to. Body, we’ve lost contact with the hand. How about the right foot? Oh no, we lost a foot and what looks like half a leg. Where’s the neck? Oh... no.
So there’s nothing supporting the head of this body!. I know this seems like a joke. But look at this body, missing half of its members. Look around you, guys here next to me. Does it look sparse? Because it does from here. In fact, those of you who are still in your seats, look around you. You probably have some empty seats in your row, thanks to me recruiting all these volunteers. But actually, is this ever what our church looks like? Even on a week where the address doesn’t require volunteer assistance, this is sometimes what we see. Ok, everyone you can take your seats again. If you were thinking that having empty seats next to you is familiar, I was thinking the same.
Which is why this is so important for us to think about. The church without half of its members is like the body with parts missing. It’s limited, it doesn’t function as well, and the other members of the body needs to work hard to compensate. In the same way, the members of Christ’s body rely on each other for strength, for development and for worship. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.”
We aren’t part of the body of Christ just for ourselves, we’re part of it for the benefit of others. Coming to church isn’t just about our own worship – it’s not a private matter between ourselves and God. So when we aren’t at church, when we aren’t at our smallgroups, when we aren’t at youth group, when we aren’t at the important events in the life of this community, when we aren’t helping out where we’re needed, it causes harm to the rest of the body.
We don’t just belong to the body of Christ on Sundays. So if you’ve ever heard that term ‘Sunday Christian’, it doesn’t exist. Nobody can be a Sunday Christian, because being part of Christ’s body means being part of His body all the time. So if you stay home from church, the body feels that loss. If you stop going to smallgroup or youthgroup, the body notices. That’s not to say that presence is all it takes to participate. No, it takes more than presence. We heard from Paul before in 1st Corinthians that, while each member of the body contributes in a different way, they’re all equally important to the health of the body. It’s important for us to remember this.
No one in this body is of less importance than the anyone else. And we’re all responsible for meeting the needs of the rest of the body, in whatever ways we can. You might participate in the body by helping someone move, or giving someone a lift. On the other hand it might be that you’re there for someone who’s having a difficult time, and your listening ear might be exactly the support they need. Or you might volunteer to serve the rest of the congregation at church, even in a way that won’t get you much praise. Even in a way that’s not exciting. Even doing a job that you won’t particularly enjoy. Its all of our responsibility to build up the body. So when an opportunity comes up to serve or help the rest of the body, we should take it gladly, instead of expecting someone else to do it.
The example Jesus sets us in this account from John is one of absolute passion for God’s honour, and for God’s dwelling place. In the same way, as members of Christ’s body, we need to honour him and the look after the temple he’s given us. We do this by prioritizing and participating in the body of Christ.