Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2018
Zeal for His Father’s House
It is time for the Passover. It is time for Jews from all over to make one of their three annual trips to Jerusalem to worship God at the temple. This means they must offer a sacrifice. For many, it is an inconvenience. They come to a city that swells in population and places to stay are crowded and hard to come by. The journey itself may be long and difficult and if they have to bring their sacrifice with them, it makes the journey that much more difficult. So it makes sense to have a marketplace set up in Jerusalem. It makes it convenient for everybody to have those animals already penned and ready to be purchased as sacrificial animals. It was practical. It made sense both to the worshipers and to the sellers. It seemed to be a win win situation. So why does Jesus chase them out?
First, let’s note what Jesus doesn’t do or say. He doesn’t tell them that they cannot provide this service of animals for sacrifice. He doesn’t say that it is immoral to conduct commerce and trade. He doesn’t say that it is wrong to provide an exchange of money. Nor does Jesus fly off the handle and attack them in a rage. Here the picture on our bulletin leads us to believe that Jesus was angry, but He took the time to deliberately make a whip of cords. He planned and made a deliberate action to achieve an intended result. He didn’t just arrive on the scene and explode. He was thirty years old at the time and had experienced this scene many times already. He knew what he would see. He knew what would be happening in the temple. He wasn’t surprise nor was he being reactionary.
What He did do, was drive the commerce out of the temple. What He did say is that they should take these things outside of the temple and not turn His Father’s house into a house of trade. The temple was not a store front. It did not exist for the worshiper’s convenience or for man’s profit in business. The temple was, as Jesus said, a house for the Lord and these traders had turned it into something common and had lost the sense of the holy. They had made the temple a place so familiar that they did not recognize the presence of God. They had lost the trepidation of their ancestors at the foot of Mount Sinai where Moses met God and received the Ten Commandments. This action of Jesus was merciful considering that the alternatives were plagues or fire from the sky to consume them.
John writes that the disciples recalled the Scripture that we sang in the Introit; Psalm 69:9 that says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Jesus was all about pure worship of the Father and uncorrupted use of the temple. It wasn’t just about respect for a location. It was what consumed Jesus fulltime – the perfect obedience and observing of God’s word. It was His obsession to worship God in spirit and in truth from the highest worship forms to the most common and mundane actions of man. It would put Him at odds with those that liked things the way they were; those that thought they were serving God by combining all kinds of practical things with the holy requirements.
The zeal of Jesus for the house of God and worship of Him would go well beyond the deliberation and eviction of a few money changers and animal salesmen. His deliberations began before there was a temple, before there was corrupted worship. His deliberations began even before the deception in the Garden that led to Adam and Eve’s corruption of the true worship of God. His deliberation had begun even before the world was created as the council of the Holy Trinity had decided that you would be saved from all manner of the sin of false worship. It began when He decided that Jesus would worship completely and to the end – to the end of His life that is, a life that would be recognized as sufficient in obedience even for you.
Zeal is a word that is related in meaning to other words such as jealousy, love, and passion. He was jealous for God and His house. This jealousy for proper respect and respectful worship led Him to drive these merchants from the temple. His jealousy for God’s people and His jealousy for you as one of God’s children is what led Him to the cross to be the unblemished Lamb of God that could not be bought or sold but was freely given and must be freely received. His love for the Father and His love for you is what prompted Him to willing allow men to do far worse to the temple that is His body. And in His raising it up, that is, in His resurrection, He shows that His zeal for the Father’s house has atoned every manner of our false worship. He has redeemed us from all of the corrupted practices and practicalities that we have brought into worship and every disrespectful action that has not recognized the true presence of our God among us.
Certainly worship encompasses every aspect of our lives from how we talk to our children and how we think of those with whom we work to giving time to prayer and thanksgiving to God. But as we read in the Old Testament this morning we can see that our worship, as the people for whom God is jealous, is encompassed in God’s will for us as expressed in those ten words or what we call the Ten Commandments. The first three we might properly attribute to worship, where we have only one God, we use His name properly, and we don’t neglect actively worshiping.
For Jesus there is no other God while those defiling the house of God had little fear for God and more love for the money they stood to make and the security they saw in it. Too often churches fall into fear of things other than God such as the fear of an aging and diminishing population. It is too easy to cry over the apparent lack of young people and then fall prey to those practicalities that some church consultant says should be undertaken to attract young people because they prefer this or that style of worship.
The people selling and buying may have forgotten that God put His name in the temple that He may dwell among them but Jesus was fully aware that He possessed the name of God and that in Him the fullness of the Godhead dwelled bodily. Those busy in the courtyards may know that name of the Lord their God but their attention and their devotion called upon the drachma and the denarii with more reverent focus than the God to whom they prayed. The god upon whom they called bore an image more like Caesar than the Christ who would die for the sins of the people. So too it is in our times that churches too easily call upon the government for bailouts, social change and laws to protect than to the God that suffered the loss of all so that His people would have want for nothing.
They demanded a sign from Jesus and Paul speaks of the Jews desire for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom in various philosophies. Jesus would only offer the sign of His death and resurrection for all mankind. He would only proffer the foolishness of a God that would humble Himself to the point of dying under the judgment due His creation. There would be little respect for the Word of God, whether proclaimed or incarnate, without the fire and the lightening to frighten. And so it is for far too many today that neglect God’s Word by avoiding it in every manner and dismissing the humble ways by which He bestows His grace in the Sacraments
In these ways, we too, should pause and reflect, confessing our lack of zeal for God’s house; for the edifices that we build, either physically or figuratively, that capture our devotion; our initiatives that we contrive that compete with God’s name for adoration; or our elaborate ways seeking assurance from God other than by the means He has ordained. Because we have not feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things, our efforts too are overturned and scattered. There is no place for them in God’s house. We cannot look to them for security now or in eternity.
But to Jesus we must cling. For Him we must be zealous. For it is in Him that we do find the temple of God. It is to Him that we look as the perfect sacrifice for sins that cannot be purchased. There is no transaction for us to make, no bargaining, no deals to negotiate. For in Him is perfect zeal for God’s house; a perfection offered and given to each of you in this house, where there is only one God, where His name dwells in and upon each of you in Holy Baptism, and His Word conveys to you forgiveness for your every sin in the body and blood received at this altar. His zeal has made it so.
In the name of Jesus. Amen