Sunday, March 04, 2018

What's Most Important to Jesus

[This message was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

John 2:13-22
Imagine for just a moment that you’re the parent of a young family. You’ve spent a rare evening out with your husband or wife. It’s about midnight. As you get closer to your house, you hear sirens. Then, you see flashing lights. A block from your home, you see that your cul de sac has been blocked off by emergency vehicles. Terrified, you pull your car off to the side of the road and run toward your house. Within seconds, you see that your house is engulfed in flames, destroyed. But you don’t care about that. When a second later, you see your kids huddled with the babysitter and some neighbors, you fall on your children with tearful embraces.

The house is just a building. What matters is the people inside it.

In today’s gospel lesson, John 2:13-22, we see that God feels the same way.

Let’s take a look at the lesson: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”

That last line quotes Psalm 69:9. On the face of it, the verse would seem to say that Jesus is protective of the temple, like the member of one of my previous parishes who was upset that I wasn’t upset when people brought coffee to worship.

In fact, Jesus is upset by the extortionists preying on the faith of those who have traveled to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple. Many of these pious Jews came from long distances, many for the only time in their lives. It was impractical for them to bring sheep or pigeons from Spain or Italy or Egypt, or wherever they lived. So, once they got to the temple in Jerusalem, they exchanged their gold or local currencies for temple cash, the only stuff they could use to buy animals for sacrifice there.

Jesus didn’t like it that people who came to worship God were gouged for the privilege! It would be like Living Water charging admission to people who came to worship God on Sunday mornings. It was out of zeal for His fellow Jews, the household of God, that Jesus became angry.

And this is important to note. Jesus’ zealous ire is aroused against those who would stand between God and people who need God.

This reminds me of something Jesus said when His disciples tried to keep children away from Him: “Let the little children come to me [Jesus said], and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

Listen: The only thing that seems to ever have made Jesus angry was when someone--be it the Pharisees, the religious authorities, the devil, the demons--got in the way of people who wanted to know God.

That’s because for the God we know in Jesus, nothing is as important as people.

All people.

Including you and me.

Jesus’ fellow Jews who made up the temple leadership were upset by what Jesus did. He was cutting into their revenue, disrupting their routine! So, they ask Jesus in verse 18 of our gospel lesson: “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus proves His authority with these words: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (v.19)

“I’m going to give an evil, cynical world a sign of my authority,” Jesus is saying. “My Body is the temple of God’s Holy Spirit, as is the body of every person who confesses faith in Me (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19). And if you cut this body down, if you kill Me, I will be raised again on the third day.”

The sign of Jesus’ authority is His resurrection.

It isn’t just the sign that He had the authority to throw the money-changers out of the temple, though.

It’s the sign too that He has authority over all that keeps people made in the image of God from experiencing life with God.

Jesus has authority over the sin that blackens your conscience, the public disclosure of which would mortify you, the sin that makes you sick to remember.

Jesus has authority over death.

He has authority over your heartaches and sadness.

He has authority over your deepest regrets and your most earnest desires.

Because of His resurrection, Jesus can erase the power of sin, death, heartaches, and disappointments over your life.

Because of His resurrection, Jesus can give life--abundant, never-ending life with God--to all who dare to daily turn from their sin and daily trust in Him.

But is it true? Did the resurrection, this sign of Jesus’ authority over everything in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18) really happen?

An Israeli scholar, rabbi, historian, and diplomat of the last century wondered the same thing: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

This scholar, Pinchas Lapide, set out to learn the truth. Lapide looked at the witness of the early church--of Peter, who had spinelessly denied knowing Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest; of the other apostles who had run away from trouble when Jesus was executed; of the 500 or so early Christians who had made themselves scarce on the first Good Friday.

He saw how these same once-gutless people, after they’d received the gift of the Holy Spirit, had staked their lives on proclaiming that Jesus was risen from the dead.

He considered how a rational scholar like Paul, a hard-headed businessman like Peter, and all the other first followers of Jesus Christ faced death and persecution and refused to renounce what they knew to be true: Jesus Christ of Nazareth, true God and true man, crucified, dead, and buried, was also risen from the dead and now seated at the right hand of the Father, offering new and eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Lapide looked at how the resurrection had changed these people’s lives and said that the resurrection of Jesus must be true.

As He put it: “I accept the resurrection of Jesus not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as an historical event." We can accept that too!

The resurrection of Jesus is the sure and certain sign of what Jesus bore witness to on that day in the temple: People, people made in the image of God, people lovingly formed in their mothers’ wombs, people for whom Jesus died on the cross, people, all people, including you and me, are what matters most to God.

It is people--your friends, your enemies, your family, your neighbors, YOU--that Jesus came to this world came to save, to gift new life, to know God for eternity.

And it is this resurrection that Jesus came to share with you and me if we will follow Him, day in and day out.

As Jesus promises: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25)

Houses and skyscrapers will crumble.

Empires and fortunes will be lost.

But the God we know in the risen Jesus and all who trust in Him will live forever.

It is on this fundamental truth--and nothing else--that we baptized believers in Jesus are called to live our lives.

May we always do just that. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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