“The Temple’s Zeal” – John 2.13-22

Last week we considered Jesus’ first prediction in Mark’s Gospel of his death and resurrection. This is the first of three such predictions in Mark’s Gospel. That was around 8.30. The other ones are around 9.30 and 10.30—to remember it more easily. And what Jesus confronts us with these predictions is the cost of saving others. And what the cost is for following him.

The point of such sacrifice is not to merely make you frustrated with life—“I can’t do that” or “I have to do this”—it allows us to be freed from the shackles of self-centered living. It expands and multiples and fills our lives many times over. Like Jesus will say later in the Gospel we are looking at today, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” What did Jesus win by dying? He glorified God through his perfect life—perfect obedience—perfect sacrifice. And in his breaking forth from the ground, his faithfulness was multiplied produced more seeds.

But the path that Jesus chooses. The path that God chooses for us. It is a foolish path in the world’s eyes. It is a path of suffering and giving. It is a path of weakness and disgrace.

John 2.13-22

13 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

John 2:14    He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.”

John 2:18   So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.

Main Point: God is zealous to be known by his people. As such he sets out to destroy pretense and religiosity.

The Way of God is not the ways of men

There are three points from our text that support this main theme of the passage. Our first point is: The Way of God is not the ways of men. We have already thought about this point the past two weeks as we considered the price the Anointed One of God had to pay for his people. But we drill down a little deeper into this as we see the Temple being a marketplace.

Jesus is moved to throw out all those who were making profits from the sale of animals. What we see here is how subtle our self-centeredness creeps into our professions of faith and religion. The people needed animals to sacrifice at Passover. Those who were selling these animals could have easily said, “Hey! We’re just serving people by providing a service for them. They don’t have to lug an animal across the Judean countryside. They can just show up and buy the animal.”

This is true. But why does Jesus seem to go over the top in his reaction? I mean, he makes a whip!

Quite simply, the vendors were taking advantage of a situation. They were overcharging and had presumed to move into the outer court of the Temple to set up shop. God became the means to the miserable and ultimate goal of serving the creature. But they were also minimizing the life of faith to one of transaction.

There are two implications we can draw from Jesus’ statement about a marketplace:

  1. We must be careful not to try and justify our actions using religious means. We can easily make the Christian life one of buying goods and services. We replace the rich texture of relationship with the Almighty with a flat and thin system of have to’s. Bible studies. Community groups. Prayer. Giving. These are intended to be overflows of the heart to where you want to do them because they stem from love for God and others.
  1. Be careful not to compartmentalize life.I remember in college I had a t-shirt that looked like the Play-Do logo on the front, but the words said “Pray Mo’.” I remember going to a fraternity party with my shirt on and thinking that I was taking a great risk to my great popularity. I walked into the party, stood against the wall, and stood and watched people partying. And then I walked out, believing I had done my Christian duty of witnessing for Jesus.

    What would have been better in that scenario? Not going? No. It would have been better to saddle up next to someone and start talking to them.

    We cannot reduce the life of faith to a transaction or to a moment. It is a life of faith. A constant walking and growing and changing and loving others. At great risk to ourselves. For the sake of others.

Let’s look for a moment at John’s comment in v. 17: His disciples remembered that it was written: Zeal for your house will consume me.

This comes from Psalm 69.9. Whenever the biblical writers make a commentary on what’s happening, we need to go back to the place it comes from. They are not just pulling the verse out of context, but they are using the verse as a placeholder for the entire passage. In this instance, John wants us to go back to Psalm 69. I’d really encourage you to go back to this passage today and meditate on the entire psalm, but for now let me just read the first 9 verses:

1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.

2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;

I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.

3 I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.

My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

4    More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.

What I did not steal
must I now restore?

5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

6    Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord GOD of hosts;

let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.

7 For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that dishonor has covered my face.

8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother’s sons.

9    For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

Don’t let the moment escape your notice. Jesus was ridiculed and shamed in this interaction. It ends with the Jewish leaders saying the obvious: It’s taken 46 years to build and you’re just a charlatan. It wasn’t until the Resurrection that Jesus’ words were made clear.

Jesus is the True Temple

This leads to our second point today: Jesus is the True Temple. The Temple Jesus was cleaning was the Second Temple. The first Temple was made by Solomon. It was destroyed when the Babylonians came and destroyed it. This Second Temple was constructed when they returned from that Exile—between 521 and 516. You can read Ezra to get more details on this.

What was the purpose of the Temple? To manifest and remind God’s people of his perpetual presence. After the first Temple was constructed, Solomon prayed this prayer (2Chronicles 6.18):

“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!”

Solomon knew that the Temple represented a greater reality. But, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and like our tendency to equate God with the finite situations and material stuff of our lives, Israel began to find comfort in their religiosity. The prophet Jeremiah indicts the people when he tells them that God will destroy the Temple they had put so much confidence in—you can read more about this in Jeremiah 7. Listen to the prophet:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’

Jer. 7:5   “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”

Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple shows us that God is more concerned with a life of humility and loving others. What is more, God destroys those things which compete with him. The Temple was destroyed twice.

The Way of God is not only different, it is foolish and weak.

We heard earlier in our Epistle Reading the Apostle Paul comment on this tendency among the Jews of Jesus’ day to demand a sign. We see it here in v. 18: “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 

The sign that Jesus gives to base his authority to cleanse the Temple comes from his future Resurrection. As we discussed last week, a suffering and destroyed Messiah was ludicrous to the Jewish religious leaders.

This is the problem Paul was seeking to address in Corinth. This is made clear in his first chapter that the cross is utter foolishness and weakness.

Have you ever considered why God chooses weakness and foolishness according to the world’s measurements? Think about it for a moment. Why would God choose this way?

I would submit to you that the reason God does this is to free us from our tendency to preserve ourselves—be self-referencing. What is Paul talking about in 1Corinthians 1? He is addressing the divisions throughout the church to follow certain teachers and eloquent speakers. He says in v.17 of 1Cor 1 that if we opt for wisdom, then the cross is emptied of its power. In this way, the way of humility and weakness is the way to be filled—the paradox of the life of faith. The cross forces us to come to terms with not only what kind of Savior do we want, but it forces us to come to terms with what kind of existence we want.

Why do these divisions happen in the church? Why do quarrels happen? As James will say, they happen because we want and crave to satisfy ourselves. Our appetites end with our own bellies.

I wish I had more time to go into this. We will do it another day. But consider later what the Apostle Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians:

We are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people.

The grain of wheat died so that it could bring many sons and daughters to glory.

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