Wednesday, February 19, 2014

He Drove Them All Out of the Temple

Life of Christ 27

          Jesus wasn't a long haired, effeminate, vegan pacifist. If you really want to know what He was like you need to stop getting your concept of him from Italian homosexual artists and graying 60's radical activists. For that matter, you need to lose your mental image of him from that picture that hung in your Sunday School class when you were a child. In fact, I purposely refuse to hold a mental image of His face in my mind. With respect, no human being could ever come close to drawing a man accurately from 2000 years ago, and I don't want a human revelation of Him anyway. The Bible is the only revelation of God in our dispensation, and it is completely silent about His features, other than to say 'he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him' (Isaiah 53.2). No, what I want is a revelation and understanding of His spiritual graces, of His character, and of His philosophy. I want to 'know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death' (Philippians 3.10).
          To this end, our story today is particularly helpful in understanding Who He was, and in destroying the long haired, effeminate, vegan pacifist image that so many hold of Him, to wit, the occasion in which He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple (John  2.12-22).
          As an observant Jew, Jesus would have almost certainly attended Passover every year for the last eighteen or so, but this year was different. He had been baptized, tested by six weeks of fasting and temptation, and then gathered unto Himself His first disciples in Judea recently. He then returned to Galilee only to place Himself squarely in the spotlight with His first miracle at Cana. Following this, He moves out of Nazareth, and finds a place to stay in Capernaum, a nearby town and regional center in Galilee. Here He will stay, on and off, for the rest of His life. That done, Passover time rolls around again, and so, of course, He goes – only this time, as I said, it is different. Having now begun His public ministry, one announced indirectly and directly by John the Baptist, He now begins to establish His claim to be Israel's messiah. He will see, again, a Temple He has already seen numerous times, but this time His response to what He sees will be different. His response will be fitting for the Messiah, one that expresses His moral outrage at the wickedness, and one that expresses His authority to do something about it.
          In my humble opinion, one of the great benefits of being an independent Baptist is the complete lack of religious hierarchy with which we have to deal. But most religious systems are not independent, and, not coincidentally, most religious systems eventually have to deal with the inevitable corruption that creeps into such a hierarchy. The simony of the late medieval Roman Catholic Church is the classic example here, and the Jewish system of the time of Christ was in a similar mess.
          To be a Jew was to be religious. From their national birth at the foot of Mt. Sinai they had no concept of the separation of church and state. From the time of Moses and Aaron on through the judges and the kings this was true. Beginning with Ezra, when the nation was restored following the death of the monarchy and the Babylonian Captivity, and continuing largely unchecked for the next 400 years, the Jews were not politically independent but rather under the thumb of some other empire. Those empires largely administered their territories with a fair measure of autonomy, and the Jewish system that developed, as would be expected in their culture, was a political and religious leadership under the outside empire all combined in the High Priest. It is true that said High Priest received much help from a group of seventy one leading men known as the Sanhedrin, but largely he was the be all and end all of government and religion.
          By the time of Christ, 400 years after Ezra, the high priesthood had become an office that was bought and sold. One particular family had maintained a hold on it for some decades, and had basically turned it into the family business, for there were great moneymaking opportunities in Israel's religious system if someone was wicked. The beauty (from the wicked leader's perspective) was that the system they set up could insist it was only seeking to ensure people were following the instructions of the Old Testament. In other words, the Torah and the rules the Pharisees drew from it made a great cover for the selfish greed of an high priest motivated by a love of money.
          For instance, certain sacrifices were required in certain situations, and the animals for these sacrifices had to meet the requirement of being without blemish. It was relatively easy to assert, upon inspection, that the animal the family had brought with them was unacceptable, but fortunately for them they just happened to have a substitute animal available at a reasonable cost. You could also take their blemished animal in on trade, and, of course, sell that one to the next unsuspecting victim. In fact, if the courts were busy, one didn't need to actually sacrifice an animal at all, just charge someone an inflated price for one, and then point to another being sacrificed across the courtyard.
          At the same time, Jews from all across the Roman empire were commanded to send an annual tithe to the Temple. However, there was a slight problem. A traditional Jewish interpretation, strongly held, of the second commandment (Exodus 20.4) insisted that images of any person were not acceptable. This included images of Roman emperors on coinage. Because of this, regular money used outside the Temple had to be exchanged for Temple approved shekels before being tithed into the Temple treasuries. The corresponding arrangement of Temple approved moneychangers and cattle merchants, rife with corruption, theft, and deceit, operating on the actual grounds of the Temple itself, brought the High Priest a tremendous income.
          Jesus' reaction to this was not the reaction of a private citizen, nor even of a religious reformer. No, it wasn't a reaction at all. It was the considered and appropriate action of an angry Messiah. When the place that was supposed to be so holy, and the earthly representation of all that was good and right about religion had instead become a den of thieves an angry reaction is completely appropriate.
          Anger isn't a sin (Ephesians 4.26). Losing your temper is a sin. Anger over light things is a sin. Anger cultivated for lengthy periods of time is a sin. But righteous anger is certainly not a sin, else God Himself sins every day (Psalm 7.11).
          One of the great mistakes people in twenty first century America make is that they think God isn't angry anymore. They couldn't be more wrong. The Jesus Christ revealed in this story is One Who is justifiably furious when those who claim to be His people are living in open wickedness. To add insult to injury, the wickedness He encountered in the Temple that day was a wickedness that sought to mask itself in the guise of careful obedience to Jehovah. No wonder He would later say in that greatest of all sermons, 'This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me' (Matthew 7.6). Beloved, Jesus is the same now as He was then (Hebrews 13.8), and His actions toward unrepentant and systemic wickedness on the part of those claiming to be His people will be the same now as they were then.
          Not only was Jesus right to be furious, but that very fury is an insight into His character. How so? My dear friend, there isn't a much more revealing peak into your character than examining just what it is that makes you angry. Jesus' anger in this story is an evidence of His holiness. Fairbain says it this way:

A character incapable of indignation is destitute of righteousness, without the will to give adequate expression to its moral judgments. Here there was almost the worst possible perversion of the holiest things, an offence the conscience would condemn in the proportion to its purity. The emotions awakened in the mind of Christ by the conflict of the ideal and the real could not have been more strongly, and therefore more fitly, expressed. Then, too, the act was finally intelligible to a Hebrew, an act of splendid loyalty to his God.

          We must never forget that our God is a holy God, and that He demands that same holiness from all men, but especially from those who claim His name. Holiness isn't an outward show, a point that Jesus would make over and over again in dealing with the externally oriented Pharisees. Holiness is an inward thing. It is an heart thing. Yes, it works its way outward, and becomes visible, but it is first and always a genuine, real, bona fide heart given in obedience to God.
          This thought convicts me because so often my anger is not an evidence of my holiness, but of my pique, lack of self-control, and selfish desire to have things my own way. As I type this I blush to think that I just got angry today at my wife for getting our van stuck in the snow in the alley while trying to pull out of the garage. I had carefully spent time to clear the area outside our garage of snow, and yet she still managed to put it in the pile of snow by the trash cans. 'How could she be so inept?', I growled to myself while I left my snowblower running in the front and stomped back there to fix it. Was that anger a holy anger? Of course it wasn't. It was the selfish anger of a man interrupted, and the proud anger of a man who certainly wouldn't have let that happen if he had been driving. And God and I had to do some business about it.
          Are you real? Are you holy? What does your anger reveal about you?
          It is amazing what an encounter with the real Jesus Christ of 2000 years ago reveals about Him – and about us.

If you would like to listen to the audio sermon that accompanies this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just click on 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 11, 'He Drove Them All Out of the Temple.'

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