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Lent 3, “It’s Time to Clean House”

Pastor Gary Wong, March 7, 2021

John 2:13-22

13 The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers sitting at tables. 15 He made a whip of cords and drove everyone out of the temple courts, along with the sheep and oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those selling doves he said, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a place of business!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews responded, “What sign are you going to show us to prove you can do these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 The Jews said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple! And you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this. Then they believed the Scripture and what Jesus had said.

My Mom was a neat freak. She lived by the motto, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” My Mom also had this thing about cleanliness. For my mother, dirt was public enemy Number One. Her quest for cleanliness rose to a fever pitch in the days before Chinese New Year, our most important holiday celebration. We washed, scrubbed, dusted and vacuumed the whole house from top to bottom. As each room was cleaned, it became strictly off limits to my brother and me. Even though my mother and I weren’t Christians at that time, she certainly put the fear of God into me if I were to be so foolish as to try to go into one of those freshly sanitized sanctuaries. I shudder to think how my Mom would have hit the ceiling if I were to trample into one of those rooms with muddy shoes and make a huge mess. I probably would have been banished to my room and might have missed out on the big celebration.

In today’s lesson, St. John recorded the account of Jesus and his disciples coming up from Capernaum to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, one of the holiest festivals for the Jewish people. This wasn’t the first time Jesus had been to the temple. His parents had brought him there when he was just forty days old to fulfill the ceremonial law. The law of Moses required that parents present their firstborn son to the Lord. Because Joseph was a poor carpenter, the price to redeem their son was two doves. Every year, Jesus’ God-fearing parents traveled from Nazareth to celebrate the Passover, including the time when Mary and Joseph had accidentally left Jesus in Jerusalem when he was twelve years old. Jesus didn’t waste his time while he was in the city of David. He spent those three days in the temple courts, listening to the teachers and amazing them with his questions and insight. As a young man, Jesus faithfully went travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate all of the festivals prescribed in the ceremonial law. Jesus was very familiar with the temple and what was supposed to happen there.

This particular visit of Jesus took place in the early days of his ministry. When Jesus and his disciples went into the temple courts their eyes and ears were greeted with the sights and sounds of merchants selling cattle, sheep and doves that were to be used for the sacrifices. Money changers sat at tables exchanging foreign coins for the half shekel needed to pay the temple tax. Perhaps all of these activities had been going on in the temple courts for a long time. The Bible also doesn’t tell us that Jesus had ever said or done anything any of the other times he had been there. This time was different. Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove all the animals out of the temple area. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of the money changers. He said to the ones selling doves, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (Jn. 2:16).

Jesus’ disciples were dumbfounded by Jesus’ behavior, and maybe even a little afraid of this display of anger. This was a side of the Savior they had rarely, if ever, seen. They knew that Jesus could be passionate, especially when it came to God and his Word. For the most part, Jesus’ disciples saw him as kind and compassionate, mild mannered and even-keeled. Before this incident, his disciples had probably never seen Jesus rage over anything or against anyone. So, what prompted Jesus to tee off on those merchants and money changers? The disciples must have wondered what the reason was for Jesus’ uncharacteristic behavior. As students of Scripture, the disciples remembered what David had written in Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (Ps. 69:9). They also knew that the temple was a holy place where the Lord had chosen to dwell among his chosen people. The temple was a house of worship and prayer. Folks, the temple had even greater, personal significance for Jesus. As the Son of God, Jesus rightly regarded the temple as the earthly dwelling place of his heavenly Father. So, Jesus’ actions were in defense of the sanctity of his Father’s house.

Jesus’ zeal for his Father’s house compelled him to drive out the animals and overturn the money changers’ tables. Jesus objected to those activities on several grounds. First, he objected to the fact that these business transactions were taking place on holy ground. The temple courts were a place that God had set aside for Gentiles to come and worship the one true God. Jesus also objected to how these transactions were carried out. Basically, the merchants were cheating these God-fearing pilgrims. They were being charged exorbitant prices for the animals they were going to offer as sacrifices, while the money changers were making obscene profits by cheating on the scales. But the biggest reason that Jesus drove out the animals, merchants and money changers in righteous anger was to point out the people’s sinful priorities and attitudes.

God’s law convicts us of the same sinful attitudes and actions toward God and his Word. Sadly, we are like those merchants and those money changers. Rather than loving God with all of our hearts, souls, strength and mind, we put the things and people of this world ahead of God. Rather than being content with what the Lord gives us, we want more and are never satisfied. Rather than worshipping the Lord and serving him only, we often are on autopilot when we’re at church. Our minds wander as we listen to the sermon. We serve ourselves first and then give only half-hearted service to the Lord. We are like the hypocritical Pharisees whom Jesus rightly condemned: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain” (Mt. 15:8-9).

As we take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s law, we have to admit that we constantly fall short of God’s glory. There is nothing that we say, do or even think that is acceptable to God. Isaiah points out that “we have become like one who is unclean; our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). We don’t deserve to be in the presence of our holy God; we deserve to die. What’s more, we can’t do anything to fix our situation. Only God can; and he did! Out of his love for all people, God sent his beloved Son to be our Savior. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place and then sacrificed his life on the cross. Jesus is the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. Jesus’ blood purifies us from all sin and is the fulfillment of God’s promise: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isa. 1:18).

Because of Jesus, we are acceptable in God’s sight. At our baptisms, he washed away our sins by water and the power of his Word. We are now God’s dearly loved children and heirs of eternal life. In Psalm 24, King David asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” The answer is you and I can! Please understand. Our status as heirs of eternal life is not something that we have earned or deserved. All of our blessings are gifts from a loving and gracious God who does not treat us as we deserve. Because of Jesus and through faith in him, we have “clean hands and a pure heart.” Jesus has cleansed our hearts of sin and has restored our relationship with our holy God. He is with us now and we have the sure and certain hope that we will be with him in heaven forever.

So, what is our response to these priceless gifts of God’s grace? We thank and praise the Lord. We live as God’s children and strive to do what is pleasing to him. At the same time, we don’t want to have anything to do with our sinful natures with its evil deeds and desires. We want to get rid of our Old Adam so that the New Man can arise to live before God in righteous and purity. We want to live lives of repentance, trusting that God forgives all our sins for Jesus’ sake. Jesus transforms our lives. The inward change brought about by the gospel shows itself in our outward attitude and actions. Motivated by the gospel, we fear, love and trust in God above all things. We regard God’s Word as holy and gladly hear and learn it. Since he has made our bodies temples of his Spirit, we offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices. Finally, we gladly and joyfully worship and serve him with our time, talents, and treasures.

Going back to our lesson one last time, the unbelieving Jews wanted Jesus to give them a sign that would prove that he had the authority to do the things he had done in the temple courts. But even if Jesus had performed a miracle, they wouldn’t have believed him because they had already rejected Jesus. The sign Jesus did give—“Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days”—pointed to his death and resurrection. John tells us that after Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said. They then believed the words that Jesus had spoken. Jesus speaks his Word to us today. As his disciples, let’s take Jesus’ words to heart, apply them to our lives, and share them with all who don’t know that Jesus is their Savior. John reminds us, “These were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31).

Last year, Chinese New Year came about a month before Ash Wednesday. While my Mom celebrated it for what turned out to be her last time, she wasn’t gung-ho about cleaning house—not just because she was 93, but because she realized that dirt wasn’t her biggest enemy; sin was. But my Mom also knew that Jesus’ blood had washed away all of her sins and that Jesus has given her a perfectly clean, spotless robe of righteousness that she is wearing for all eternity. God promises to do the same thing for all who believe that Jesus is their Savior. As we approach spring, some will do spring cleaning. For Christians, every day is a great day to clean our spiritual houses. Let’s throw out the Old Adam and bring in the New Man. Let’s do it all for the glory of God. Amen.

“Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation” (CW 531)

Text: Latin hymn, c. 8th century, abr.; tr. John M. Neale, 1818-66, alt.

Christ is made the sure foundation,

Christ our head and cornerstone,

Chosen of the Lord and precious,

Binding all the Church in one,

Holy Zion’s help forever

And our confidence alone.

To this temple, where we call you,

Come, O Lord of hosts, and stay;

Come with all your loving kindness,

Hear your people as they pray,

And your fullest benediction

Speak within these walls today.

Praise and honor to the Father,

Praise and honor to the Son,

Praise and honor to the Spirit,

Ever Three and ever One,

One in might and one in glory

While unending ages run!

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