July 31, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, but one thing you could not find in either heaven or on earth was a temple. The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven, writes King David (Ps. 11:4). God did not need a special dwelling place; all of creation was His dwelling place.
But that all changed with the advent of sin. God was indeed still present everywhere, but His holy presence would mean death for unholy man. So in mercy, God made Himself the Deus absconditus, the hidden God. He hid Himself in order to reveal Himself in a particular way. In time He established His tabernacle as a place for His particular presence—a place of prayer, worship, and propitiation for His people. There is where you went to find God graciously disposed toward you, forgiving sins and giving gifts.
The tabernacle served well during the time of the Judges, but when Israel became more established and demanded a king, King David came to think it unfit that Israel lived in houses, and Israel’s king resided in a palace, yet the Lord still lived in a tent. God should have a dwelling place that befits His glory.
So he insisted on a temple, even against God’s objections. But David insisted all the more. So God finally allowed a temple, though David never had the opportunity to worship in it. The temple was built by his son, Solomon. After 500 years of tabernacle worship, and another several thousand years prior to that with no set place of worship whatsoever, the God who fills heaven and earth, whose throne is in the heavens, at last had an established home on earth.
But, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” So preaches St. Paul on the Areopagus (Acts 17:24-25).
As the worship of God goes on throughout the Old Testament, you see a gradual progression of man trying to get a better hold on God. Although David’s (and Solomon’s) intentions to provide a fitting house for God seem noble, there is also an underlying desire to arrest God and force Him into a box of our own making and worship Him on our own terms. That’s human nature. It’s the old sin from the beginning—the desire to not only be like God, but to be the Lord’s lord.
Once the temple was built, it inevitably became a place of corruption and idolatry. So God destroyed the first temple. After another captivity and return to the promised land, the temple was rebuilt and later expanded. Though not quite one the list of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple was certainly a sight to behold—both version 1.0 and 2.0. What had started as a place for God’s particularly gracious presence for prayer, worship, and propitiation had now become a point of human pride. The business of God was gradually replaced with the business of man.
Human nature cannot abide a God who is sovereign. We would rather a rabbit’s-foot god, one we can stick in our back pocket and pull out whenever we could use a god, but in everything else, we’d rather be in control. A god who dwells in a temple built with hands is a god who is under our control, one that we can manipulate with our own religiosity or spirituality or invented works of righteousness. This is the kind of god that the moneychangers and the Sadducees and the priests worshiped—a god of their own invention.
And so what began as a system of ceremonies and sacrifices that justified God’s people because they pointed ahead to the one Sacrifice that counts for all turned into a system of merits and buying and selling salvation. It’s not a little bit coincidental that the exact same thing happened in the New Testament—the preaching of the Gospel of God’s free grace and the Sacrament that delivers forgiveness for all sins turned into means of profit for the Church. Tetzel’s indulgences promised salvation for a small fee, and even today you can pay a priest to say a mass in your favor to earn you a little grace.
When Jesus comes into Jerusalem, He weeps. It’s not surprising, because He knows that the temple’s corruption will finally mean its destruction. In 70 AD, just a few decades after Jesus wishes to gather His people as a mother hen gathers her chicks, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and tore down the temple. Today only one wall remains, and people still weep. No longer will there be a single turtledove sold for sacrifice.
When Jesus comes to the temple to keep God’s Law, he finds them buying and selling salvation. It is absolutely contrary to the purpose of the temple. So,
Jesus Cleanses the Temple to Restore Prayer, Worship, and Propitiation to His People
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (vv 45-46). John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus even made a whip of cords to drive out the money changers. But the problem with threats and whips and the Law is that it doesn’t produce any lasting change. The Law can never cleans and sanctify.
John and Luke report Jesus cleansing the temple at two different points in His ministry. Some scholars think that this event only happened once and that the evangelists arrange their chronologies differently. But the better explanation is that Jesus cleanses the temple twice (in fact, I would submit that Jesus may have repeated this same act every time He went to the temple during His public ministry).
The real cleansing of the temple didn’t happen in this temple made with hands; God does not dwell there. The dwelling place of God is not in brick and mortar, but in flesh and blood. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14); In Him all the fullness of the deity dwells bodily (Col 2:9). Jesus is the new and final temple of God. He is the place of God’s particular presence for you.
“Destroy this temple,” says Jesus, “and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). The temple that Jesus cleansed of moneychangers wouldn’t be destroyed until 70 AD, and it’s never been raised up since then. But this temple, of which Jesus speaks, is something altogether different. You can almost imagine Him tapping His chest when He says, “this temple.” Its destruction would happen on the cross. Driven by whips, pierced by nails and thorns, crushed under His own weight, the Temple that hung on the cross became not only the place of God’s presence, but the place of man’s presence, suffering a sinner’s death.
But there were no sins of His own. He did not need to be cleansed of His own impurities, but of those He took upon Himself. He is the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world. The Psalmist writes, Purge me with hyssop, and I will be clean (Ps 51:7). Every Psalm is about Christ, and so this Psalm is fulfilled on the cross. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (Jn 19:28-30). John tells us why this final drink was necessary: when the soldier found that He was already dead, He pierced His heart and out came blood and water. He was not purged of His impurity, but of His holy, precious blood. The blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7b).
But the Temple would be no good for us if He remained destroyed. True to His Word, He rose again on the third day. Christ has now become the name by which we offer prayer, the object of our worship, and the place of our propitiation, the place of forgiveness and mercy.
There’s a saying, “The body is a temple.” It’s actually a saying that culture has appropriated from Scripture—St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, to be precise. Pop culture uses it as a motivation for healthy living, but that’s not what the Bible means. St. Paul says that your body is a temple because you now are home to the Holy Spirit. When Jesus rises from the dead, He shows His disciples the wounds in His hands and side—the place that issued forth the cleansing blood—and He immediately says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” This cleansing blood is yours by the ministry of the Spirit, which is the forgiveness of sins. You are absolved, and so become the dwelling place of the Spirit.
But you are not a temple unto yourself. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:4-5). This is your baptismal gift—baptized into Christ, the true Temple.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard