"The Temple That Is Christ Himself"
Lent III Midweek Vespers
St. John 2:13-25
March 22, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
The tables had been turned—literally. Christ, in His zeal to maintain the purity of the Temple, overturned the moneychangers' tables and drove out the merchants. It must have been a sight to see, thinking that the Son of God had lost either His control or His mind. Yes, He was mad. But He was mad at what the Temple had become. It became the antithesis of why He Himself came in the flesh. The Word became flesh to die for the forgiveness of sins, so that man would be declared righteous in the sight of God the Father on account of His Son, apart from any work of man. But the Temple had become defiled. The building had become desecrated. But until this death would take place, those who sought the forgiveness of sins would need to have the priests offer up sacrifices on their behalf, to intercede for them. The merchants, sensing an opportunity for profit, offered the convenience of selling oxen, sheep, and doves in the temple courts, so that the Jews would not have to travel so far with these animals. What angered the Lord was not that the merchants were selling the animals for the sacrifice for profit, for Christian churches today pay for the bread and wine necessary for the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. No, what angered the Lord is what the sacrifice had become: a work to merit grace ex opere operato, by the work merely being performed. This means that the priests, the merchants, and the Jews had begun to view the required sacrifice as a means to an end. They thought that by merely offering up the sacrifice was enough to earn the forgiveness of sins. They paid the price. They bought the animal. The priest offered the sacrifice. That was enough for them. The Jews were living in opposition to the Scriptures. They were to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but they trusted in their own merits, and their own money, for their self-justification.
The Jews were, in essence, purchasing indulgences. They bought the forgiveness of their sins. They did not repent of their sins. They bought animals that were supposed to take their place, while they remained unrepentant of their sins. They became lazy and ignorant about sin and grace, about the faith. The priests, Levites, Pharisees, and scribes became lazy and ignorant, thus setting the example for the laity. Move ahead to the year 1517. The pope authorized the sale of indulgences to finance the building of a new basilica in Rome. He, through a man named Tetzel, seduced the ignorant faithful into "buying" their forgiveness, purchasing pieces of paper, signed by the pope, indicating that they had merited the forgiveness of their sins. Indulgences could also be purchased to get a deceased loved one's soul out of the unscriptural state of purgatory. One could buy his forgiveness; one could buy his way into heaven, according to this line of thought. This sinful, unscriptural practice continues today in Rome with the blessing of the one now holding the position the Lutheran Confessions call the Antichrist: Pope Benedict XVI. The sale of indulgences, the abuse of the central teaching of justification, moved Martin Luther to begin a movement to reform the Church of her errors, a movement which Rome has condemned to this very day. Zeal for the Lord's house continues to eat at the Lord, for false prophets continue to tarnish the Temple that is Christ Himself.
It eats at Him now, even as we are gathered here this evening. God, who saw into the heart of evil Cain, sees into our hearts and knows our innermost thoughts. Look into your own heart and see yourself in the light of Scripture. We had dinner before we prayed Vespers this evening. Did you come to hear the Word of the Lord and behold the presence of Christ, the Lamb of our salvation, in His Word? Or did you come mainly for the dinner and are here for Vespers as an afterthought? Do you believe that by your merely being here that you are earning points with God? Is this how you also view the celebration of the Lord's Supper, viewing your participation in the Sacrament as meriting grace ex opere operato; that is, do you view the Lord's Supper as an automatically signing an indulgence, thinking you are forgiven only because you ate the Lord's body and drank His blood? To this the Holy Spirit inspired the Blessed Apostle St. Paul to write: "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself [according to the Ten Commandments], and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (1 Cor. 11:27-29). When we come to the Lord's Table in an unworthy manner, or when we attend a worship service paying no heed to the Word of the Lord but to our own selfish desires, we desecrate the Temple, for we are sinning against the very Temple that is Christ Himself.
The Temple is wherever the Lord manifests Himself, wherever He establishes His holy presence. The Jews no longer understood this concept of God's grace. For where God was present, there were His blessings and gifts as well. He was present in the form of the Ark of the Covenant. He was present in the burning bush. He was present atop Mt. Sinai. Wherever the Lord God was and is present, there was and is the Temple. For nine months the Temple was the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then on that silent and holy night the Temple was the stable, and the altar, the manger. In our text the Temple was the Temple in its truest sense, for the Lord was truly present, hidden in bodily form. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (v. 19). The Jews, in their hatred of Jesus and in their inability to see Him as the Christ of the Scriptures, saw the temple only in terms of the building that King Herod built for them. "But," as the Blessed Apostle and Evangelist St. John reminds us, Christ "was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said" (vv. 21-22). The disciples were in the very presence of the Temple that is Christ Himself, though they did not realize this until the Lord had risen from the dead and opened their minds to the Scriptures. He is here to open our minds and hearts as well to His Word. He is opening our minds and hearts to hear the Word of the Lord and keep it, sending His Holy Spirit into our hears to call us by the Gospel, enlighten us with His gifts, sanctify and keep us in the true faith. Why is this so? It is so, for we are in the very presence of the Lord who comes to us in His Word. The Lord has made His holy dwelling among us. We are in His temple, the Temple that is Christ Himself, for we are all members of the body of Christ.
The Lord, who came with great zeal to cleanse His Father's house comes to you this evening with equally great zeal, to cleanse your hearts and minds of what keeps you from hallowing His Name or letting His kingdom come. He comes with the message of repentance. With great zeal He comes to expose your sin, for with equally great zeal He comes to give you the total and complete forgiveness that He won for you by dying on the cross. With great zeal He knocks you down by His Law, and with equally great zeal He lifts you up with His Gospel, for He has paid the price for your sins. He has cleansed the temple of your hearts. He officiated the temple liturgy perfectly for us, for Christ Himself is the Temple, the High Priest, and the Sacrifice, and the cross served as His altar. Zeal for His Father's house ate Him up all the way to the temple of Golgotha, where He carried out the perfect Sacrifice that is Christ Himself. He paid the price for us, not purchasing an animal in the temple courts but has redeemed us, lost and condemned persons, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.
By the resurrection of Christ it is a possibility—nay, it is our new reality—that we are, as members of the body of Christ, members of the Temple that is Christ, for He has united us in Him through Holy Baptism. We are baptized into Christ's death and resurrection and are building blocks of the Temple that is Christ Himself, fellow members of the body of Christ, for through Baptism we are all through faith united with Him. "Now, therefore," Paul writes, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:19-22). Remember, too, fellow redeemed, that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, for the entire Godhead, the entire Trinity, lives in you through faith begun in Baptism and strengthened through the preaching of the Word, that you would live with the same zeal for His house that He has for it and for you, that you would serve Him with hearts cleansed in the Temple that is Christ Himself. To God alone be the glory, to the Temple that is Christ Himself.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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