John 2.13-25 (NIV)
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 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. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 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.
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
The Temple must have towered over life in Jerusalem.
As NT Wright says, for many people, “[the Temple] was believed to be the unique dwelling of [God] on earth, the place where heaven and earth met” (John, p. 178).
The ancient historian, Josephus, offers a picture of the Temple:
“Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either mens mind, or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white. On its top it had spikes with sharp points, to prevent any pollution of it by birds sitting upon it (Josephus, pp.707-708).
It was beautiful.
It was imposing.
I guess it had to be, if it was supposed to be God’s dwelling place on earth.
If Jerusalem was the center of Israel’s life, the Temple was the center of Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of worship and sacrifice … on sacred days like Passover, it was the center of activity. Pilgrims from all over Israel would travel to Jerusalem so they could worship together in the Temple. There were even times in Israel’s history when the Temple functioned as a center of politics or as a center of hope for freedom and renewal.
The Temple was the center for so much of life.
And, here, Jesus seems to challenge how people understand the Temple, and who is really at the center of life and faith and worship.
In the beginning of chapter two, John tells us Jesus attended a wedding with his mother and his disciples in a little town, Cana, and turned water into lots of good wine. Jesus demonstrated God’s abundance … He revealed God’s overwhelming grace … grace upon grace (as John says in his first chapter). Now Jesus is in Jerusalem, the biggest, most important city around, in the Temple, the center of Israelite life and worship with a homemade whip, singlehandedly bringing all the activity in the Temple to a grinding halt.
It wasn’t just the usual, everyday, comings and goings in the temple Jesus disrupted … he stopped the whole religious institution on Passover, one of its most important days.
To John, it seems like this scene is about Jesus having authority to decide what could and couldn’t happen in the Temple.
No wonder people wanted Jesus to give them a sign to explain why he could do this … of course they would want to know who gave Jesus authority to bring the whole religious machine to a standstill on one of the most important days of the year.
Jesus is doing something significant here.
It is so important John can’t wait to tell us about it.
The other Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us about this scene at the Temple toward the end of their gospels. Mark even writes that after Jesus cleared out the Temple, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching” (Mark 11:18). John tells us this story right away. For John, it’s not the immediate reason why Jesus is killed, but as he and the disciples look back on Jesus’ life it is something that makes more sense in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jesus wasn’t talking about rebuilding the stones and gold-plating, and anti-bird-dropping spikes of the Jerusalem temple … Jesus was talking about himself … he was talking about his body. When Rome destroyed the Temple three days later … years later … it stayed a pile of broken down, dusty, rubble. When Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross, three days later he was surprising his disciples, offering them his peace, and including them in his work.
For John, this scene at that Temple gives us important insight into who Jesus is.
Jesus is making the claim that he is the dwelling place of God … he is God in human skin and bones … he is the place where “heaven and earth meet.” Jesus can disrupt worship, Jesus can say what can and can’t happen in the Temple, because he is God, he is the center of worship.
This points us toward, one of the biggest questions we can ask ourselves – what is, who is, at the center of our lives?
Who do our lives revolve around?
What are our lives arranged around?
There are so many things we can center our lives on … so many things that could be the most important parts of our lives … what is it for you?
In this passage, Jesus helps us answer the question.
Jesus want’s to be at the center of our lives. As we make our way through John’s Gospel … as we learn more about Jesus … we will see more and more why Jesus is the trustworthy center for our lives and what it looks like to live with Christ as our center.
This is a great passage to look at today as we ordain and install our new elder and deacon and have leadership on our minds. The leadership of our church, pastor, elders, and deacons, are called to keep Christ as the center point of our life together as the church.
Our Book of Order talks about this:
“The Church’s ministry is a gift from Jesus Christ to the whole Church. Christ alone rules, calls, teaches, and uses the Church as he wills, exercising his authority by the ministry of women and men for the establishment and extension of God’s new creation. Christ’s ministry is the foundation and standard for all ministry, the pattern of the one who came “not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28)” (BOO PCUSA G-2.0101).
Later in John, just before Jesus was arrested, he shared a meal with his disciples. Jesus got up from the table, grabbed a basin of water, wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his disciples feet. This was surprising because it was a really demeaning job. Even the lowest ranking servants wouldn’t be expected to humiliate themselves by washing someone else’s’ feet.
But Jesus did it.
He told his disciples he was setting an example and they should wash each others’ feet, just like he washed theirs.
Then Jesus said. “A new command I give you: Love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
This is a big piece of what it looks like to live a life that is centered in Christ – this is the life we are called to as disciples … this is the life leaders in our church are called to live and to lead us toward – lives shaped by Christ’s love … lives shaped by serving each other.
Who is at the center of our church’s life?
Who is at the center of your life?
Jesus wants to be at the center.