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Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 20:1–17; Mark 8:27–38

James T. Batchelor

Lent 3, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Mar 8, 2015 

In order to get a sense of the events recorded in todays Gospel, we need to review the layout of the temple grounds in Jerusalem.  A variety of court yards surrounded the temple itself.  These courtyards and the rooms of the temple itself followed a strict access policy.  Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies inside the temple, and even he could only enter on one day of the year the Day of Atonement.  Then there was the Holy Place that was reserved for priests offering a variety of incense sacrifices and other duties.  Outside the temple was the area of the altar for animal sacrifices located in the courtyard of the priests.  Then came the Court of Men, reserved for Jewish males who had passed Bar Mitzvah.  Then there was the court of women which was really for all members of the Jewish family.  Finally, there was the court of Gentiles which was open to all nations.

The tradition of setting aside a place for Gentiles goes clear back to the days of Solomon who built the first temple.  The scribes recorded Solomons prayer at the dedication of that temple.  Solomons prayer of dedication includes these words: [1 Kings 8:4143] Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your names sake 42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

The Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah the prophet to remind the people that the temple was to be a house of prayer for all people. [Isaiah 56:67] And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. At the time of todays Gospel reading, we have the Court of the Gentiles for foreigners from all over East Asia and all of the Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, people of Jewish ancestry and religion had also scattered to the far corners of the known world.  While it is one thing to bring a Passover lamb from other places in Israel, it is just impossible to bring a lamb from Spain or Ethiopia.  Passover Pilgrims had to bring along enough cash to purchase a lamb after they got to Jerusalem.  Sooner or later, someone came up with the idea that it would be really handy to purchase your sacrificial animal right there on the temple grounds.

Now they are not going to set up a market in the Court of Men or the Court of Women, but who really cares about the Gentiles.  The man of the house could pick up his sacrifice in the Court of the Gentiles and then proceed to the Court of the Men and then slaughter his animal and give it to a priest to sacrifice.  This is all very convenient for everyone except the God-fearing Gentile.  The Court of the Gentiles had, in effect, become a sale barn.  While a person can always offer up a prayer in a sale barn, it is very hard to meditate or listen to the reading of Gods Word in a sale barn.

This is the scene that confronted Jesus when He entered the temple courts on that particular Passover.  Gentiles were trying to pray while Jews were buying sheep, goats, oxen, birds, and other sacrificial supplies just a few yards away.  Oh yeah!  There was also a currency exchange so that coins from all over the realm could be changed into the temple Shekel.  It was chaos.

Here we learn that there are limits to Gods patience.  Foreigners had come all this way to be in the place where God promised to reveal Himself to His people.  They were in a place where the Holy Spirit would shower them with His gifts.  And at the same time there were cattle sales going on just a few yards away.

Jesus demonstrated that there is such a thing as righteous anger.  He found some cords, fashioned a whip, and began doing what the temple authorities should have done.  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.  And he told those who sold the pigeons, Take these things away; do not make my Fathers house a house of trade.

God is protective of the place that is called by His name.  Desecrating His holy place is the same as desecrating His holy name.  It is a way to despise preaching and His Word.  It is a way to make a rude gesture to Almighty God.  If we look to the Ten Commandments in todays Old Testament lesson, we see that the merchants in todays gospel were violating every commandment that had to do with loving God.

The livestock sales and the money changing were not the problem in and of themselves.  The problem was that these activities were disrupting the prayers and meditations of the faithful.  The commercial activity was disrupting the spiritual activity.

What would Jesus do if He came to our churches today?  What do you think Jesus would think of a sermon series entitled, Fifty Shades of Grace, based on the novel Fifty Shades of Grey? What would Jesus do if He saw a pastor and his wife sitting on a bed where the pulpit should be in the church where the discussion of their intimate moments replaced the sermon?  What do you think Jesus would say about evangelical pole dancing?  I have been to the web pages of other churches that engage in activities that I wont even talk about in a family setting.  I will just say that there have been lawsuits because these churches publicize upcoming sermon series in family oriented places.

Many congregations focus so hard on entertaining people into the church that they totally forget the reason for getting them into the church in the first place.  What good does it do to have thousands of people in a church if they never hear about their sin and the forgiveness Christ earned for them with His death on the cross?  What good does it do for a church to have a reputation as the best free entertainment in Las Vegas if the pastor never tells people about Jesus?  What good does it do to entertain people if they never hear the Gospel?

Of course when we point one finger at others, three fingers point back at us.  What about us?  When the Holy Spirit works faith in a person, that person becomes a temple.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 3:16-17] 16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?  17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.  [1 Corinthians 6:19-20] 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  What does the Lord find when He comes into the temple of our hearts?  What distractions block our relationship with God?  What causes Jesus to enter our heart, get out His whip, and start cleaning the heart the place that should belong to Him?

Todays Old Testament lesson contains a list of characteristics that describe Gods children.  We call that list The Ten Commandments. Jesus unpacks many of these commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. [Matthew 5:2122] You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, You fool! will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:28] Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [Matthew 5:44] Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. These are just a small sample of Jesus teachings concerning the Commandments.  When you hear what Jesus has to say about the commandments, you realize that you have broken them all.  You realize that the temple of your heart is much worse than that temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus cleared out the temple with a whip made of cords.  He uses something much more precious to cleanse our hearts from sin.  He allowed the authorities to abuse the temple of His body.  They arrested Him, beat Him, and then nailed Him to a cross.  They did everything they could to destroy the temple of His body.  In this way He produced the cleansing agent for our hearts His holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.

Where is the sign that this cleaning agent of His body and blood are effective?  It is the sign that He gave to the temple authorities.  Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. It is in His resurrection from the dead that we have the sure and certain hope of the cleansing of our hearts.  As the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts, we know that Jesus has moved into our hearts and made them His temple.  He has carried away all our sins.

Those who believe in Jesus Christ are already part of the family of God.  God the Father is our dear father and we are His dear children.  He speaks to us in His word and we speak to Him in our prayers.  Those of us who have had our temples cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ can boldly walk into the Holy of Holies, crawl up onto Gods lap, and tell Him anything in prayer.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, but then brings the comfort of continuous forgiveness to us.  All these blessings are ours because Jesus has cleansed the temple of our hearts with His blood.  We know that we are His and He is ours forever.  Amen

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