13The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Passover was the time for the yearly remembrance of, and participation in, that great event where God forged Israel as His own beloved people and called them out of slavery. The yearly offering of blood to cover sin and set apart this people unto God. It is at the Passover that the Lamb of God will make his intentions known and His zeal to accomplish them felt by one and all.
BUT 14In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Instead of prompting the singing of psalms visitors to the Temple were more likely to hold their purses and their noses. The stench of so many animals along with all the bargaining and bickering over the cost of the animals, the rates of exchange and so forth made it all into a spiritual stench. This was not God’s business, but man’s. This was no longer a house of prayer for the nations, but a farmer’s market for the fleecing of religious tourists.
The cattle and the doves were a necessity for the prescribed sacrifices, but to make of the great Temple court a stockyard was no sacrifice but the height of abuse. The people’s reaction tells you everything you need to know. Where is the objection when Jesus calls it a den of robbers? The people knew the truth. Like teenagers scatter from a house party when the home owners arrive unexpectedly, no one stands before Jesus in defiance. They all turn tail and run away from His righteous wrath.
But notice also that Jesus does not destroy their property, yet He does remove every last bit of the desecration. Jesus made no excuses for what He did. He clearly maintains the privilege and authority of the Son to clean the house of His Father. There is a reason for all of this, but it is not anger. It is zeal. A zeal that will indeed consume Him.
18So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
The Jews met the temple-cleansing with unbelieving ignorance. Again, like busted teenagers called to answer for the unauthorized party they were impenitent. They should have confessed their guilt immediately. Instead they go on the offensive. “Just who do you think you are? You better have some miraculous sign ready to prove your right to miraculously clean out this whole temple single-handedly.” It is very obviously not about signs.
Jesus answers them with an imperative that also serves as a prediction and a judgment. “Go ahead and destroy this temple since that is what you are so determined to do. But once you have, I will rebuild it the right way!” Outwardly it looks like Jesus is the one destroying the temple, but the fact is that those buying and selling and those who encouraged and permitted it were the destructive ones. Under their leadership the temple had gone from being a house of prayer to a noisy marketplace and stockyard full of state sanctioned thieves.
For 46 years the temple had been undergoing building improvements but at same time Israel’s worship was in steady decline. And just as they heartlessly destroyed the true worship of Israel, so too would they destroy the temple of Jesus’ body by crucifixion. When they carried out that act, they would have the undeniable sign that they were the temple destroyers. Only God would rebuild it. Only six months into His ministry and He has already laid out the full extent of what it will be and what, in His zeal, He is willing to pay. His zeal for our salvation will consume Him.
When the leaders in Israel rejected the person of Jesus and led Him to His death, they also destroyed the temple as God’s dwelling … What the Romans accomplished later was but the external razing of an already empty shell … The temple was the place where God and man met for man’s salvation. It was the place for sacrifice and being set apart. It was the place that, like no other, foreshadowed the coming of Christ in the flesh. Christ, in whose flesh lays the sacrifice that brings God and man back together once and forever. Christ in whose flesh the people of God are set apart from the unbelieving world to become the people of God.
23Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
The uncleanness in the temple is just the outward symptom of the corruption of the people and the impurity in their hearts … We are told that many came to believe in Jesus that day – if only superficially, based on the miracles and bold actions they had seen. Yet this in itself is inwardly the very same problem Jesus just outwardly refuted by cleansing the temple! How many still refuse to believe until they see? How many refuse to trust until the need to trust has been taken away? How many are just in this for the turning of a spiritual profit, but run when the cost becomes too much? Jesus calls us to abandon outward pretense, truly repent and trust in Him fully for He offers Himself fully for our forgiveness and mercy!
Outwardly, it may look like the old stand-by’s of Word and Sacrament, Liturgy, Confession of sin, Hymn-books, and the like are slowly destroying God’s church. The world has moved on and so should we. It’s the cost of doing business in the modern world. Don’t be fooled into letting too much of the world into God’s house. This eternal house of God exists to change the world by the proclamation of Christ. This place stands to bring heaven into the world, not the world into God’s courts.
Would that we were moved by the same zeal of Christ to defend the Bride of Christ. Would that we were willing to cast out what doesn’t belong so that those who are called may find a place where they can meet God without worldly distractions. A place where their sins are forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ and they are set apart from the market place of worldly ideas to live as the chosen people of God. Would that we were a little more consumed by true zeal for God’s house.
For this Zeal did indeed consume Jesus, just as the scriptures foretold. Jesus was the willing passover sacrifice, but that should never be mistaken for one who is powerless, anemic, or a hapless doormat. He came to lay down His life, but that doesn’t mean He will lie down and roll over. Even at the beginning of His public ministry He is already working His way to that great sacrifice, that voluntary crucifixion, because zeal consumes Him. The scourge and whip in He uses to cleanse the Temple of sin is directly connected to Jesus’ own scourge and whip that He will bear for our sin in the temple of His body. The ill-gotten coins here scattered on the ground foreshadow the thirty pieces of silver that will pay for his death and then be scattered at the feet of those who today demand a sign. The sacrifices driven from the temple point us to that day soon coming when Jesus will be driven out of the temple precincts to the waiting cross, there to have His blood mark the wood of the cross so that death might pass over the people of God once and for all time.
Luther once said that zeal is an angry love or jealous love … His anger doesn’t arise from hatred, it springs from His fierce love toward God and those belonging to Him. Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection reveal God’s heart which is consumed with zeal for those He loves. A zeal that will permit nothing to stand in the way of our salvation, not even His own death. A zeal that He would have us share for the world around us. A zeal that will not lie down and roll over, but also doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice everything for the good of others.