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Jesus went to church one day and He didn’t like what He found one bit. One of you gave me an article to read about a couple of congregations in upstate New York that bear the name of Luther that celebrated “Dr. Seuss Sunday.” The sanctuaries were decorated with Dr. Seuss books, the pastors were dressed up like cats in a hat, the liturgy was written in rhyme, they celebrated the “Seussacharist,” and of course the after service fellowship featured green eggs and ham. What would Jesus have done had He walked into that church? “Do not make my Father’s house into the house of Whoville.”
Jesus went to church one Sunday and He found that the “Father’s House” had been turned into a “house of trade,” literally, an ‘emporium.’
I remember from when I toured the Holy Lands that once a day, the tour bus would stop at a house and we would all be invited inside. The house was full of crafts and souvenirs for sale. I’m sure the guide got some kickback for bringing a busload of tourists into their ‘house of trade.’ What the heck. They’ve got to make a living too.
It’s one thing for a family to decide that they are going to turn their house into an emporium. It’s another thing altogether to decide that you’re going to turn someone else’s house into an emporium, especially if it’s “The Father’s house.
When worshipers came to the Temple, the primary purpose for their coming was to offer to God a sacrifice for their sins, a sheep, a goat, a bull, a pigeon if your were poor. The Priests in charge of the Temple had dedicated a certain portion of the Temple for the sale of these animals. It probably wasn’t like this all of the time, but during the three great feasts, Passover being the big one, men and women from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple and offer a sacrifice for their sins.
The moneychangers exchanged foreign currency, for a commission. There was also the ‘temple coin’ which was the only coin accepted for an offering. Roman currency had the image of Caesar impressed upon it. In strict obedience to the 10 Commandments, graven images were forbidden. Special ‘temple coins’ were minted and sold, for a commission. What the heck. They’ve got to make a living too.
The priests may have justified such an operation in much the same way we do. ‘People are going to buy these things anyway. It’s a good way to get people into the building.’ (This was of course, before bean suppers and rummage sales). Getting people into the building is indeed a significant challenge of evangelism. But what takes place in the building once you get people into it is even more important.
We visited my daughter when she lived in Pittsburgh and she took us to a church that had been converted into a restaurant. It was no longer a church but it retained the stained glass windows, the scared art, even the chancel railing. She thought it would be the perfect place to take me because I like to go to church, and because they made their own beer. The place was packed. The food was excellent and the beer wasn’t bad. Someone had figured out a way to get people into the building.
What was it that bothered Jesus so much about the marketplace that was operating in the Temple? Don Pryor would have been bothered by the janitorial issues associated with bringing animals into the building. But that’s not the issue for Jesus. And it wasn’t His love for the building itself. The disciples were enamored with the building. “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” But Jesus saw the future of the building itself. “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2).
No, the thing that bothered Jesus was that this was His Father’s house. “Do not make MY FATHER’S HOUSE a house of trade.” When Jesus was just a 12 year old boy, Mary and Joseph brought Him to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. And on the way back home to Nazareth they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. And after searching high and low they found Him in the Temple. And Jesus explains Himself saying, “Didn’t you know that I must be in MY FATHER’S HOUSE.” (Luke 2:49).
Who is this who refers to God’s House as MY FATHER’S HOUSE? There is a unique intimacy that Jesus has with THE Father such that He refers to Him, not as THE Father or OUR Father or YOUR Father, but as MY Father.
Not once in the Old Testament does anyone refer to God as “my father.” But Jesus can say “My Father” in a way that no one else can. He is begotten of the Father. To be ‘begotten’ means to be of the same essence. The Nicene Creed makes this point very clear. “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the ONLY-BEGOTTEN Son of God, BEGOTTEN of His Father before all worlds, BEGOTTEN not made, being of one substance with the Father.”
You and I are ‘children of God’ through Holy Baptism, but we are not BEGOTTEN of God. We are BEGOTTEN of our mother and father and of the same substance as they are. But our relationship to the God the Father is as ‘adopted’ sons and daughters. Jesus is BEGOTTEN of the Father.
And so, when we hear Jesus speak of “MY Father,” we need to hear those words in the same way that we hear the Father speak of Jesus. “This is my beloved Son.” Jesus later explains to the Jews, “the Father loves the Son and shows him all that He Himself is doing.” (John 5:20). The Son knows everything that the Father is doing. And the Father entrusts His Son to do all His talking for Him. This relationship between the Father and the Son is so intimately connected, Jesus can say, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30). “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9).
So now maybe we can understand why Jesus acts the way that He does when He sees what the Temple is being used for. You know, because I love my wife, if you disrespect her, I get angry. I can handle a certain amount of constructive criticism of my children, but because I love them, if it goes too far, I start to get a little hot around the collar.
That kind of reaction that we have when people whom we love are mistreated is called “zeal.” “Zeal” is ‘angry love,’ or ‘jealous love.’ This is the way we should understand our Old Testament reading this morning when we heard God say that He is a “jealous God.” It’s anger that arises out of love, not hate. When someone is ‘zealous’ it means that someone whom they love is being treated wrongly. Jesus was ‘zealous’ for His Father’s house. Not because of the ‘house’ but because of MY FATHER. That which was sacred to the Father, the Father’s holy ground, was being desecrated.
It had been said long before this, in Psalm 69, our Introit for this morning, that when the promised Messiah came, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” When St. John points out that this is the how the disciples understood Jesus’ behavior, he wants us to be sure that we get the point of it all too. This must be the Messiah.
This also raises a question in our minds, what are we “zealous” about? What do you love so much that when it is threatened or taken away, or disrespected, we are consumed with zeal? Does it tear you up when you see God’s Word treated with such misuse and disrespect, not only by others but when you abuse it, mostly by ignoring it? Or, doesn’t it both you much? Are you consumed with zeal when you see the institutions that God has created and blessed, marriage, the family, the government, treated with such ungodly disrespect, not just by others but by you? Or, doesn’t it bother you much?
Are you ‘zealous’ for God? Jesus says that we are to love God with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength. You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. You shall honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Are you consumed with zeal when you see these commandments being broken, not by others, but by you? Or are you fairly unfazed?
Are you ‘zealous’ for your neighbor? Jesus says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In your ‘zeal’ for your neighbor, you shall honor your father and mother, you shall not kill your neighbor, you shall not commit adultery with your neighbor, you shall not slander your neighbor, you shall not steal from your neighbor, you shall not covet your neighbor, you shall not covet your neighbor’s stuff. Are you consumed with zeal when you see these commandments ignored or broken? Or doesn’t it bother you much?
If you’re not sure if it’s really okay for Lutherans to be zealous, you know we’re pretty even-keeled folks, just listen to Jesus’ words to the church of Laodicea. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, SO BE ZEALOUS and repent.” (Rev. 3:19)
So, if Jesus came to His temple today, how would He react? What would He say? “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19) So, if Jesus came to His Temple, not the one located in Jerusalem but the one located in you, what would find? What would He, in His zeal for you, take a whip to and overturn and drive out? What have we set up in the temple of our body that dishonors and desecrates God? What have we invited into our life that interferes with the worship of God?
In His zeal for you, God the Father sent His ‘only-begotten Son,’ not just in the world, but also into you. In Holy Baptism, Jesus entered into the Temple of your body and drove out the sin in us, not with ‘a whip of cords,’ but with His Word and water. He washed you clean and made you holy and righteous before God.
As a sign of His zeal for you, Jesus declares, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” For the Priests whose zeal for their money consumed them, this was the sign for their judgment. They would remember what He said, and later, use it against Him. “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.” (Mat.26:61).
But for you, let this be the sign of His zeal for you. The whip that He took to the cattle and sheep was taken to him. As the coins of the moneychangers were poured out onto the ground, His blood was poured out for you. Zeal for our salvation consumed Him and He was consumed by our sins. He Himself was driven out of His Father’s house because of our utter lack of zeal for the things of God. It was our death that consumed Jesus on the cross. And on the third day, God raised His only-begotten Son from the dead.
This is why “we preach Christ crucified.” Not a god who is willing to let us go our own way and do our own thing, who just winks at our sin, who doesn’t want to rock the boat, who says, “what the heck, they’re only human.”
He is ‘passionate’ in His love for you, not willing to simply watch us be overcome by the devil and our sin.
The temple that Jesus visited in Jerusalem no longer exists. But the true temple, not by the hands of men but begotten by God the Father, has been raised and lives and will never be destroyed.
The temple coins are obsolete. For He has purchased your way into His Father’s House with His blood, which is more precious that silver. Animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins is obsolete. For the Lamb of God has been slain and “we have now been justified by his blood.” (Romans 5:9) The Son has ascended to the Father and declares, “In My Father’s house, are many rooms, and I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again to take you to be with me where I am.” (John 14:2). He, who came to the Temple in Jerusalem, now comes to you. Not to drive you out, but to welcome you home.