Biblical Text: Exodus 20:1-17, John 2:13-22 (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
This sermon might be a bit intellectual, but it is lent which is a season for some challenging fare. The challenge here is to think about what does the cleansing of the temple of our body. Our first answer is always the law. We think that we can control the passions. We think that our heads control our hearts. After that falsehood breaks, I think we often pursue some “middle ground”. We want to build a temple or sacred booth in this world. We clear out a bit of the world. We put our hope in something like “beauty” or “the arts”. And it is not that the law, or “the arts”, or any of these things are wrong. It is just that tomorrow, all the money changers are back anyway.
Our hope isn’t in anything in this world. Not in the law which is written on our stone hearts, although that dead thing can’t follow it. Not in the prettiest work of human hands, even though those might move the heart occasionally. Our hope is in faith in the cross and resurrection – the work of Christ – alone. We need a new heart, a new want-er. And that only comes about by the foolish work of the Spirit.
We are often pretty good at realizing when something that shouldn’t be at the center of our life is, and when something that should be isn’t. We just aren’t that good at changing. That is part of the message of the Cleansing of the Temple which the evangelist John makes the theme of the ministry of Jesus. We are not good at centering the right things, but Jesus has come to cleanse us and to keep us centered. The Temple was supposed to be at the center of the life of Israel, and of course it was a “true myth” in Lewis’ terms. God really was in the temple at the center of Israel. But we are very good as creating distance and de-centering the things that should be there. Jesus cleansed that temple and pronounced the new one. The temple of the new covenant would not be made of stone, but of living stones. The cornerstone which would be Christ. This sermon thinks through what it means when God comes to the temple – both old and new.
I used the title remembrance because that is the word John uses twice in the text to help explain it. John has yanked an event out of time, an event from Holy Week, and put it at the start of his gospel. He’s done this because the spiritual importance to him, what he wants to get across to us, he’s only seen in remembrance. And his importance is different than that attached to the event by the other gospels.
The event is the cleansing of the temple. To the other gospel writers this event is the action of the returning king, even if it is drenched in irony as in Mark. To John, in remembrance, this is the start of the sacrifice. This is where Jesus starts to clean the temple. But the temple is not one of stones. It is one of flesh. Jesus chases the animals out, because he becomes the offering.
The two pieces of music I’ve left in here pick up on that theme. The choir sings “What Wondrous Love” which is a gorgeous meditation on that sacrifice. And I’ve left in the hymn we sang after the sermon, LSB 431 Not All the Blood of Beasts which contemplates exactly that exchange. “A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.”