What Makes God Angry, John 2:12-22 (2/26/12)

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Feb 262012
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ February 26, 2012 ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

12After this Jesus went down toCapernaumwith his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up toJerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’

17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’

18The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’

19Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’

20The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After 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.  (John 2:12-22, NRSV)

 

I’m going to admit something to you this morning.  I cry at Disney movies.  I’ve tried to hide this fact, particularly from my children who can somehow watch these heart-wrenching sagas and stay dry-eyed all the way to the special features.  I never make it.  Inevitably, one of my kids will look over at just the right time, or overhear a sniffle I tried my best to disguise, and they’ll say, “Dad, are you crying?”  Sometimes I lie.  Sometimes I can’t lie; it’s just too obvious.

I cry every time I that scene in Cars when Lightning McQueen gives up his chance to win the Piston Cup and lets that nasty Chick Hicks take the checkered flag so that he can stop and help The King.  I teared-up in Toy Story III when Andy finally gives up Buzz and Woody and goes off to college.  Man, that was a killer.  I tried to hide it, but my kids still caught me misty-eyed during The Lion King when Simba watches his father, Mufasa, die in a stampede of wildebeests.

And do you know what Disney movie gets me every time?  Finding Nemo.  I’ll tell you what, when Marlin the clownfish, after this long and dangerous journey across the entire ocean, is finally reunited with his only son, Nemo, I’m done for.  I don’t even try to hide it at that point.  Maybe it’s because I’m a dad myself and have kids of my own.  I know if one of my own kids were separated from me, I’d travel across heaven and earth just to get them back.  Most parents would.

Now, I know that Finding Nemo is just a made-up cartoon about a bunch of fish.  Still, isn’t there one aspect that story which touches a nerve deep inside most of us?  Haven’t you, at some time in your life, found yourself separated from somebody you love?  Something has come between you and this other person.  It could be distance, or conflict, or another person.  It could be a border or a prison sentence.  It could be an illness.  It could even be death.  The reasons vary but the results are the same.  Now you are now separated from your beloved and the separation is agony.  At that point your only desire in life – perhaps it even becomes your all-consuming passion – is to be together again.

Do you have at least some sense of what I’m talking about here?  Do you know what that sort of agonizing separation is like?

Do you realize that God knows what it’s like?  In all of God’s creation, nothing is of greater worth to God than people.  Made in God’s image, people, all people, are God’s beloved.  And yet, people are separated from God.  Because of our sin we have been alienated from God.  In rebellion, humanity walked away from God.  We turned our backs on God.  Though God offered us everything, life in eternal abundance, we chose life apart from God.  And our rebellion, as rebellion always does, created a great division between us and God.

The stunningly good news of the Gospel, however, is that even though we walked away from our God, our God refused to walk away from us.  God refused to live with this separation.  Instead, God became like any parent who loses a child.  God’ consuming passion became the bridging of the separation which had been created by our sin.  God spared no expense in working towards the day when he and his beloved children could be together again.

Some days this seems too much to believe, too good to be true.  But it is the truth.  The great desire of our Creator is to be with us, his creation.  God’s desire is to walk with us, to live with us, to enjoy us, to bless us.

This truth is affirmed when you realize that the entire Old Testament of the Bible is really just the story of God setting the stage for his great journey to come and find us and bring us home so that we can be together again.  The choice of Abraham and his descendents as God’s people, the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, the vision of the Promised Land, the establishment of David as king, the revelations of the great prophets, all of this and much more are really just preparations and foreshadowings of God’s forthcoming journey across the ocean of existence to find us and to bring us back home.  All of it leads up to Christ, the Son of God, who was sent by the Father from heaven to earth, full of grace and truth, on a grand rescue mission that would lead him through the cross but then on towards the empty tomb where a way back to God would be forever established for all who want to come back to God.  The entire Old Testament is a preparation for this great reunion.

One particular aspect of the Old Testament which was meant to prepare people for this reunion with God was theTemple.  As you may remember, in ancient times God established theTempleinJerusalemas the place on earth where God could come and meet with his people and they with him.  It was the place where men and women could offer up sacrifices of animals and, through the spilling of blood, find themselves, if only temporarily, made right with God again.

Of course, theTemplewas just a dress rehearsal.  It was only a shadow of the real thing which was to come.  God was present with his people at theTemple, but not like he once was.  And not like he would be once again.  Sacrifices were offered that patched things up for a time, but it was only a temporary fix.  For the hearts of the people were prone to wander.  And so it would not be until the Messiah, the true Lamb of God came into the world, not until his blood was spilled in sacrifice, that full and lasting reconciliation could be achieved.

Until that great day arrived, theTemplehad been established in the meantime to keep pointing people forward.  It was a sign for people in those days of what was to come.  It was a reminder that there would be a day when good news would be offered to the poor, and healing to the brokenhearted, and freedom for the captives, and God’s favor to those stuck in guilt and shame.

During the early part of the first century, theTempleinJerusalemwas rebuilt.  Soon it became once again the beating heart of all Jewish life.  Every day in those days theTemplewas filled with people coming to seek God.  This search to be together again with God reached a climax on special days of feasting.  At those times,Jerusalemwould overflow with pilgrims who came from all over the ancientMiddle Eastto seek God’s presence and blessing.

The greatest of these feast days was Passover, the celebration of the time God delivered his people from slavery inEgypt.  We can imagine that the typical pilgrim to the Passover feast would have been a young man who leaves his village and family and, out of genuine devotion to God, travels many miles to worship and offer a sacrifice in theTemple.

Imagine with me that as a devout Jew this man’s lifelong dream has been to worship in person at theTempleinJerusalemon Passover.  To meet God at theTemple!  Such an experience would be the climax of his religious life.

As he makes his way toJerusalemhe is bursting with anticipation.  He has heard the story countless times.  Long ago God came and saved his people inEgyptand brought them back home to the Promised Land.  God did it once.  Now he believes that God could come and do it again.  This is his hope.  That is what drives him to theTemple.

Like many of you on Sunday mornings, this man comes to this sacred space hoping to meet with God, to worship and praise his God who has been faithful.  He comes to offer gifts that he hopes will express his gratitude.  He comes to make a sacrifice that he believes will move him closer to God.

When he finally arrives at theTemple, however, the scene is quite different from what he imagined.  The building is enormous and the crowds are overwhelming.  He expected that.  But the scene somehow lacks the reverence and solemnity he envisioned.  The Temple in Jerusalem on Passover is the most sacred space on earth.  And yet, the space has been turned into a circus.  In fact, the entire outer court of theTemple, the court typically reserved for Gentiles to come and worship, is jammed full of booths and exhibits.  Everywhere there are vendors selling animals, exchanging coins, working the crowd, promoting their businesses.

After asking around a bit, this man soon discovers that to even enter theTemplehe must first pay theTempletax of one half-shekel.  In other words, it’s two full days’ wages just to get inside.  When he tries to pay the cover charger, however, he is promptly told that his foreign currency is no good here.  It’s unclean and polluted.   Only Galilean shekels or shekels of the sanctuary are valid here.  He will have to visit one of the booths of the money-changers where, he soon finds out, he will be offered an exchange rate that is less than fair.

This man is beginning to feel a bit like you feel when you go to a Kings game and are hungry and thirsty and find that the only option you have available to you is a $7 hot dog and a $6 soda.  What are you going to do?  You’re hungry and there are no other options.

Similarly, what’s this man going to do?  He’s traveled all this way to meet with his God.  He’s got no other options.  If he has the money, he’s got to pay what they ask him to pay.  If he doesn’t, he’s out of luck.

On the bright side, at least on his way into town he found a fair price for a lamb and bought it so that he would have something to offer as a sacrifice.  He wouldn’t dream of coming to theTempleon Passover without a lamb to sacrifice.  To his surprise, however, as he enters theTemplehe is told that his lamb does not pass quality control.  What he needs is a lamb that can be Temple-certified, one that is flawless and unblemished.  This common lamb he bought on the street simply won’t do.  Fortunately for him, there are other vendors inside theTemplecourts who would be more than happy to sell him a suitable animal.  Unfortunately, those animals cost nearly twice as much as the lamb he already paid for.

At last, with his money exchanged, and his taxes paid, and his certified lamb bought and paid for, he finally makes his way into the inner courts of the Temple where, in spite of all he’s been through, he still hopes he can worship and meet with his God.  He’s far less optimistic than he once was.  So far the experience has been nothing like he expected.  “At least”, he thinks to himself, “At least I’m not a Gentile.  If I was a Gentile, I’d have to go through everything I just went through and then I’d have to stay out here in the outer court and somehow, in the middle of that circus, worship God.”  Can you imagine?  The lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep, the cooing of the doves, the shouts of the businessmen hawking their good, the rattle of the coins, the voices raised in bargaining disputes – how could any man, no matter how devout, meet God in a place like that.[1]

As you keep that scene in mind, let me remind you that the man Jesus who walked into that sameTemplescene that day was not just another man coming to worship God.  He was, in fact, the very God all those people were coming to worship.  He was the eternal Son of God, the Savior of the world, who had, after ages of prophesy and preparation, at last come to earth, become one of us, to satisfy God’s all-consuming passion to be reunited with us, his people.  This Jesus was the same God who, years before, had established this veryTempleinJerusalem, and established it as a place where people could come and meet with God.  It was Jesus’ intention that theTemplewould be a sign pointing to a time when all barriers between God and God’s people would forever be torn down.

It is this Jesus, on his grand mission to reunite God with his people, who walks into theTemplethat day just before Passover.  And what does he find when he gets there?  He finds the very circus I just described to you.  In the one place above all places on earth which has been established to allow people to freely come and meet God, Jesus discovers that all sorts of barriers have been set up to keep people at a distance from God.

Are we surprised at how Jesus responds?  How would you respond if somebody stood in the way and kept your long-lost beloved from finding his way, finding her way, back to you?

We’re told that Jesus does not hesitate.  Immediately he fashions a whip out of strips of leather and begins to drive the animals out of theTemple.   As the sheep and cattle begin to stampede, Jesus tosses over the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins and merchandise everywhere.  To the men selling the doves he yells, “Get these things out of here.  Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!”

Now understand something.  God does not have a temper.  Unlike some of us, the Lord does not have a short fuse.  In fact, I do not believe there has ever been a single instance when God has flown off the handle.  In fact, the Bible tells us repeatedly that God is “slow to anger and abounding in love.”[2]  But just because God is slow to anger doesn’t mean he will never get there.  God can and does get angry.  It’s always calculated anger, always justified anger.  God does not get angry quickly, but God will get there eventually.

And I’m not certain if there is anything that is guaranteed to provoke God’s anger more so than when God sees barriers being set up that keep his people from him.  If that’s true, it would explain why an anger which has been slowly growing in God for some time is finally released when Jesus comes face to face with the circus in theTemplecourts that day.

When Jesus unleashes his anger, the people on the scene respond with two very different reactions.

The disciples, we’re told, aren’t all that surprised.  Perhaps because they’ve spent some time with this man Jesus, they are beginning to get a sense of who he is.  On the way into town that day, perhaps they even wondered among themselves how Jesus was going to respond when he came face to face with what they already knew the would find when they got to the Temple.  Maybe they had a feeling he wasn’t going to like what he saw.

Now their suspicions are confirmed.  They are even reminded of a verse from the Psalms: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[3]  If Jesus is truly the Messiah, as they are beginning to suspect that he is, then it is natural that Jesus will be jealous to protect the house, the interests, of God.

Others standing around, have a different reaction.  When they can finally get his attention, the Jews demand from Jesus, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”  In other words, “By whose authority do come in here and start tossing things around?  Show us your credentials!”

Jesus responds, “You want to see my credentials?  Tear down this temple and in just three days I will raise it up again.”

Of course, they have no idea what Jesus is talking about.  This is one of those times when Jesus is saying something for the benefit of his disciples who, only much later would understand.  In the moment, however, his words seem like nonsense.  The Jews think Jesus is nuts.  “It took us 46 years to build this place, and you’re going to knock it down and build it back up again in three days.  Good luck with that.”

At the time, even the disciples must have been scratching their heads.  A lot still had to happen before they would finally get it.  Eventually, however, they would come to see that it was Jesus who was, and is, and will always be, the trueTempleofGod.  Eventually they would watch with their own eyes as the trueTemple, Christ, was torn down on the cross, but then was rebuilt again in three days at Easter.

The resurrection would be Jesus’ credentials to the whole world.  At that time, the disciples, and many others after them, would come to see and believe that in Jesus, God has given the world an eternalTemplewhere they, and we, all of us lost children, can come and finally be reunited to, and reconciled with, our Heavenly Father.  For them and for us, Jesus is now theTemplewhere we go to meet God.

The good news of the Gospel is that in thisTemple, in Christ, there are no barriers.  To be welcomed inside, you don’t first have to exchange what is foreign for something religious.  God has blessed all people of all places.  There is no entrance fee, no cover charge.  The price has already been paid, in full.  And you don’t have to bring a spotless offering to make things right.  A spotless Lamb has already been offered.

When we come to meet God in Christ, sin, itself, is no longer a barrier.  The past is no longer a barrier.  Neither is failure, or guilt, or shame.  Race, or culture, or background, or gender, or age – none of these are barriers.  In Christ we are all invited to come and to meet God, to be with God, to live alongside God.  Forever, we are invited to enjoy the blessings of God, the protection of God, the abundance of God, the health and life of God.

The only barrier, really, that can now possibly remain between people and God is an unwillingness to come.  Lack of faith is the only barrier left.  Refusal to believe and trust in what has already been accomplished is all that can keep us from God.  In Christ, because of Christ, all other barriers have been destroyed.

I’m reminded here of what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to thechurchofEphesians.  Listen to these beautiful words from chapter 2 of his letter:

Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  For Christ himself made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations…[Jesus] came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both [now] have access to the Father by one Spirit.[4]

Isn’t that beautiful?  The Gospel is beautiful.  The Gospel is beautiful good news for all of us who discover it and receive it in faith.  By the grace of God we have been given this beautiful Gospel to share with everybody we will ever meet in this life.

With that in mind, I want to leave you with a question before I finish.  If I had time, I’d love to explore this question this morning with you.  I don’t have time.  So, instead, I want to ask you to wrestle this question in your Life Groups this week, and in your own personal reflection.

If we’ve learned anything in this story today we’ve learned what makes God angry.  Since God’s all-consuming passion is to be with his people, God’s anger most provoked when barriers are set up that keep people from God.  And so I have to ask – this is my question – do we, as a church or as individuals, ever set up such barriers that make it, in any way, more difficult for people to come to God?

As a church, what, if anything, do we do which keeps people from God?  If Jesus walked in here this morning, is there anything he would point to and say, “That thing you do, that attitude, that tradition of yours, do you realize that is making it more difficult for people I love to come and be with me in this community where I desire them to meet me.”

As individual Christians, let’s ask the same question.  Ask yourself, “Is there anything in my life, some attitude, some behavior, some habit, some fear, that is keeping people from meeting Christ in me as Christ wants them to meet him in me?”

It’s a vitally important question and one I hope we all will take up seriously and honestly.  Nothing makes our God more angry than barriers set up that keep him from his children.  Having had every last one of those barriers removed for us by Christ, we would be wise to make sure we do everything we can with God’s help to keep from putting those barriers back up for others.

Amen.

 

The Next Step – A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

Read John 2:12-23 again.  What do you notice in this amazing story?

In this scene Jesus makes a whip and drives people out of the temple in anger.  Is this how Jesus is supposed to behave?

As Jesus looks at our world today, what do you think makes him angry?

As you look at the world today, what makes you angry?  Do you think Jesus shares you anger?  How do you know?

Do you believe it when somebody tells you that the great desire of our Creator is to be with us?  Is it easy for you to believe that God will spare no expense to have you live with him, and He with you?

What sorts of barriers have kept you (or still keep you) from being with God in your life?

If Jesus were to walk into Faith Presbyterian Church today, would he find any barriers we have set up that make it more difficult for people to come to be with God?  If so, what can be done about it?

What about in your own life?  Is there anything in your own life which is functioning as a barrier between other people and God?  Anything making it more difficult for those around you to see Christ in you?  If so, what can be done about it?

What is beautiful to you about the Gospel?

Further Scripture Readings for the Week:  This Lenten season, in preparation for Easter, join others in the church setting aside at least 1% of their day each day to read through the Gospel of Luke.

Monday:               Luke 3:1-38

Tuesday                Luke 4:1-30

Wednesday:         Luke 4:31-44

Thursday:             Luke 5:1-26

Friday:                   Luke 5:27-39

Saturday :             Luke 6:1-16

 

 



[1] I’m indebted to William Barclay for this sentence and for the rest of the details mentioned here.  The Daily Bible Study Series: John.  Volume 1, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955), p. 95-98.

[2] See Psalm 86:15, for instance.

[3] Psalm 69:9.

[4] Ephesians 2:13-15, 17 (NIV)