Clarence Jordan was a fascinating man. He had a Ph.D. in the Greek New Testament, but he was better known for his translation of the New Testament called, “The Cotton Patch Gospel.” He was also an incredible story teller. Dr. Jordan was invited to speak at a church in South Carolina by an old hillbilly preacher. Dr. Jordan didn’t know the preacher and had no idea what he would find when he got there, but he accepted the invitation to preach. When Dr. Jordan arrived he found a large, thriving, racially integrated church, and this was in the 1950s!
After the two spent some time together Clarence asked the old hillbilly preacher how the church came to be like it was? The old preacher told him that he came to the church as a substitute preacher, just filling in until they got a preacher. The church back then was a small, white congregation with only a few dozen families. So he gave a sermon on the bit from Galatians where Paul writes: “You are all children of God … There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The old preacher said, “When the service was over, the deacons took me in the back room and they told me they didn’t want to hear that kind of preaching no more.” Dr. Jordan asked, “What did you do then?” The old preacher answered, “I fired them deacons!” “How come they didn’t fire you?” Clarence asked. “Well, they never hired me,” the old preacher responded. “Once I found out what bothered them people, I preached the same message every week; I put the knife in the same place, Sunday after Sunday.” Dr. Jordan asked, “Did they put up with it?” “Not really,” the old preacher said, “I preached that church down to four people. Sometimes revival begins not when we get a lot of new people into the church, but when we get some of the old people out of the church. If people are going to stand in the way of the moving God, it’s better they be gone. After that, we only let Christians in this church.” Clarence wanted to know, “How can you tell who the Christians are?” “Well,” the old preacher answered, “down here we’re taught since we are knee high to a grasshopper that there’s a difference between white folk and black folk and they shouldn’t mix. But we know that when people get saved then all of that garbage is gone. We know that we got Christians on our hands when all that stuff about race is taken out of folk’s hearts. Well, when we got some Christians in this church, it started to grow and grow. And that’s how we got to the way we are now.” (Adapted from Tony Campolo’s, “You Can Make a Difference.”)
The story makes a great point: Sometimes what is isn’t what’s supposed to be. To get things back to where they should be you’re going to have to rattle some chains, upset the apple cart, or in the case of our study this morning, drive the merchants out of the temple courts.
Last week we found Jesus in Cana turning water into wine at a wedding. This week we find Jesus at the temple. How did he get from the wedding in Cana to the temple in Jerusalem? Great question! Jesus left Cana with His mother, half-brothers, and His disciples and they walked about 16 miles to the town of Capernaum, which is located on the Sea of Galilee. John tells us that they only stayed there for a few days because it was almost time for the Passover. Jesus and His disciples left Capernaum and walked up to Jerusalem, which was about 110 miles away. Let’s turn to John 2:12 and pick up on the story. Read along with me.
12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. 23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:12-25 NIV)
Wow! What a story! Can you imagine what Hollywood could do with the scene of Jesus running the merchants out of the temple?! I will promise you that it couldn’t be any more dramatic than the scene that actually took place so long ago. Before we get to the heart of the story, the lessons that I’ve learned this past week, I want to share something interesting with you.
All four of the Gospels report that Jesus ran the merchants out of the temple, but not all four of the stories are the same. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report that Jesus cleansing the temple happened at the end of Jesus ministry (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46). John places the incident at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry here in John 2. This leaves us with two possibilities: First, there’s the possibility that all of the Gospel writers are writing about the same event, but John simply moved it to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The second possibility is that there were two times that Jesus found practices taking place in the temple that were unacceptable and responded by running folks out of the temple courts. There are lots of Bible teachers who believe that the first option is the best option: John simply moved the story to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. I happen to believe that there were two temple cleansings by Jesus and let me tell you why.
In John’s Gospel he reports at least three Passovers that took place during Jesus’ public ministry, in John 2:13; 6:4; and 11:55. John pays more attention to the Passover than any of the other Gospel writers. In John’s report, after Jesus runs the merchants out of the temple, the Jews demand a sign from Jesus to demonstrate His authority. In John 2:19 we read,
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19 NIV)
What’s interesting about this statement of Jesus is that it’s not reported as part of the story of Jesus cleansing the temple in the other three reports from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. The only other place where we find this statement made by Jesus is found in Mark’s Gospel, but it’s not found when Jesus cleansed the temple. The phrase is repeated by Jesus’ accusers when Jesus was on trial. Turn to Mark 14:56-58 with me and let’s read together.
56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.'” (Mark 14:56-58 NIV)
Does this sound familiar to you? It’s not an exact quote from John 2:19, but its close isn’t it? His accusers added to what Jesus said, but the most important thing I noticed is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke never connect Jesus’ cleansing of the temple with Jesus’ words, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The only place this phrase is found is in John’s report in John 2. Because of this I believe that Jesus tightened up the practices going on at the temple on two different occasions.
The more I thought about this during the week it dawned on me—we so easily get off track don’t we? Stop and think about it. Where did the temple come from? Why was the temple built in the first place? It wasn’t thought up by some great Israeli “think tank.” God gave the instructions for the construction of the temple, and before it, the tabernacle, or tent, that the Hebrews carried with them while they were making their way through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Turn to Exodus 25:8-9 and I will show you where it all began.
8 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. (Exodus 25:8-9 NIV)
The tabernacle, or tent of meeting, was built under the instruction of God as a visible reminder of God’s presence with His people. That simple tent that was moved around while the people spent 40 years in the wilderness served God’s people quite well. The tabernacle is referred to 139 times in the Hebrew Bible; 100 times it is referred to as “the dwelling place of God.” God wanted His people to know that He was with them. And God was with His people, through the visible expression of the tabernacle, throughout the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and throughout the 400 year period of the Judges.
When David became King he recognized that he was living in a nice house and that God was still dwelling in a tent. David wanted to build God a house so he went to the prophet Nathan and told him about his plan. Nathan thought it sounded like a great plan, that is until God came to him at night. Turn to 2 Samuel 7:5-7 and let’s read together.
5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”‘ (2 Samuel 7:5-7 NIV)
David didn’t build God a house, but his son, Solomon, did. It was built with God’s blessing and according to God’s instructions. Solomon’s temple was magnificent and it stood for 410 years, but even at the dedication of the temple Solomon knew the truth of the matter. Listen in on his prayer.
27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. (1 Kings 8:27-28 NIV)
Solomon follows these words with about every scenario you can think of presenting to God. “When folks are at odds with each other and come before Your presence to take an oath here at Your temple, hear them from Heaven and judge between them.” “When Your people are defeated by their enemy because of their sin and they repent, and cry out to You here at Your temple, hear them from Heaven and forgive them of their sin.” “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because of Your people’s sins and they turn to You to confess their sins, hear from Heaven, forgive their sins, and bring the rain.” “When the foreigner comes who does not belong to Your people, hear from Heaven and do what the foreigner asks so that Your name will be great in all the earth.” And the list goes on and on. Bottom line is this: the temple was God’s provision for the benefit of His people—God didn’t need a house.
Now, let’s get back to the scene when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem at the temple. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for Passover and what did He find? Let’s refresh our memories by taking a look at John 2:14-16.
14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:14-16 NIV)
You have to remember that folks came from all over the Roman Empire for the Passover celebration. It wasn’t practical to bring cattle, sheep, and doves from distant villages so the merchants in Jerusalem provided a service for the worshipers. At one time the merchants set up shop across the Kidron Valley by the Mount of Olives, a good distance from the temple, but when Jesus arrived for Passover they had moved into the temple courts. Those who were “exchanging money” were also providing a service. Those who came from all over the Roman Empire had to exchange their money for Tyrian coinage, the coins from Tyre, the money used to pay the temple tax of a half of a shekel. Tyrian coins had a much higher silver content than other coins. The money changers were located right there in the temple courts alongside of the merchants selling animals. What was once a place of reverent worship had become a bizarre of busyness and business. D.A. Carson writes,
Instead of solemn dignity and the murmur of prayer, there is the bellowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep. Instead of brokenness and contrition, holy adoration and prolonged petition, there is noisy commerce. (Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. pg. 179)
Jesus’ eyes got big, His blood boiled, and He fashioned a whip out of cords and began to overturn the tables of the money changers while He was running the animals and the merchants out of the temple courts. It’s a tragic story isn’t it? What God set up to benefit and bless His people became a mess of merchandising. This is the human way isn’t it? What God gives to bless us and benefit us, we take and turn it into something altogether different. God has blessed each and every one of us with gifts, but are we using those gifts to bless God and His people or are we misusing His gifts? God has called His people to come together for the purpose of worshiping Him, crying out to Him in prayer, finding forgiveness in His presence, and ministering to one another, but is that the heart and soul of modern-day worship today? Has today’s worship morphed from what God desires into nothing more than entertainment and a spare-no-expense effort to draw more and more people even if it means having Disney characters or Spiderman and Batman as guests on Sunday morning while holding raffles during the offering for flat screens, trips, and cash money? I know I will probably hear from someone about what I’ve just said. I know I will probably have someone point out that “those” churches are growing, baptizing the masses, and packing their pews in multiple services throughout the week. I know those things are true, but I’m not so sure that Jesus is through cleansing His house yet.
I’ve mentioned it before, but it is worth repeating. If all we want to do is grow big then I know how to do that. Invite a larger-than-life personality to come each Sunday and we will grow. They pack thousands upon thousands of people into stadiums around here each week, but I’m convinced that we need to see and hear Jesus more than we need to see and hear superstars.
After Jesus ran the merchants out of the temple area He had visitors. Those who confronted Jesus were not just Jewish people who had come to Passover, they were temple authorities or members of the Sanhedrin, and they demanded that He perform some miracle to prove that He had the authority to do what He had done. Jesus responded to their demand. “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19 NIV) They didn’t have a clue what Jesus was talking about. They said,
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (John 2:20 NIV)
They thought Jesus was talking about the temple where folks had come for Passover. You want to know something really interesting? Herod the Great had started a massive building campaign on the temple in 20 B.C. The incident that we are taking a look at this morning happened about 26 A.D., about 46 years after Herod had begun his renovation and expansion of the temple. Herod’s building project would continue for another 37 years until its completion about 63 A.D. After its completion, the temple was the most magnificent building in the world. Some of the stones in the Western Wall weigh 600 tons. The Talmud says, “He who has not seen the temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life.” (Babylonian Sukkah 51b) You would think that something as awe-inspiring and magnificent as the temple would be prized by God right? Wrong! In Mark 13, we read where Jesus was walking with His disciples as they were leaving the temple one day. Listen in.
1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2 NIV)
Only 7 years after the temple was completed, it was destroyed by the Romans and has never stood since. What an incredible story! Now you can see why those who heard Jesus say, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” were doubled over in disbelief. Yet, Jesus wasn’t talking about the building; He was speaking about the real temple, His own body.
Jesus cleansed the temple, but once it was destroyed there was no need to rebuild it. The temple was a sign, but Jesus is the reality. The tabernacle, and later the temple, were symbolic of God’s presence, it was the place where God’s people met with Him, it was the place where they cried out to God, it was the place where the sacrifices for sin were made, it was the location of the Mercy Seat of God—all of these are fulfilled in Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us,
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:11-14 NIV)
Everything the temple was supposed to be—Jesus is. There’s no longer a need for the high priest to make petition for you and me, Jesus is our High Priest. There’s no longer a need for the sacrifices that took place every day–Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for your sins and mind. We don’t meet God in a place—we meet Him in a Person and that Person’s name is Jesus.
I want to close our time together this morning by taking you to the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, a book that was written by the same man who wrote the Gospel of John. John was there with Jesus when He ran the merchants out of the temple. He was there with Jesus when Jesus said, “Not one stone will be left standing on top of another one; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2 NIV) In the book of Revelation, God gives John a glorious vision of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and John describes it in vivid detail as best he can. John describes the dimensions of the city, the walls surrounding the city, the gates in the walls of the city…he’s taking it all in. And then, in Revelation 21:22-23 we read,
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:22-23 NIV)
Wow! There’s no need for the temple any longer and when we get to the New Jerusalem, you won’t find a stone structure because the Lord God Almighty and the precious Lamb of God will be our temple. I’ve got news for you. It’s not just the temple of the Jews that needs cleansing. It’s not just the temple that was in need of the Savior’s reformation. You and I need cleansing this very morning. Our church and churches all over the world need the Savior’s cleansing power. Won’t you cry out to Him and allow His cleansing power to work in your life?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK 73114
August 18, 2013