John 2:13 aThe Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus bwent up to Jerusalem. 14 aIn the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And 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. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make amy Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, a”Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, a”What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, a”Destroy this temple, and in three days bI will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,1 and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about athe temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, ahis disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed bthe Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name awhen they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus aon his part did not entrust himself to them, because bhe knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for ahe himself knew what was in man.
(Joh 2:13 ESV)
“That’s the bad guy!” “No, he’s not the bad guy! She did it! She’s the bad one!”
If you were to sit in the living room with an average family, perhaps you’d hear such talk between them as they watch certain programs. They’re ever trying to guess who the “bad guy” is when watching mysteries. One such program of recent memory was simply entitled 24. In that show, the hero, Jack Bauer, has one whole day, but only one day, twenty-four hours, to save the United States from disaster.
As each season progressed, Agent Bauer would learn of a threat and then determine who was behind the threat; he’d have to figure out who the “bad guys” were. For there were always “bad guys” to be found, and they’d often be found working in important places, using their “insider positions” in the government hierarchy as a way to make sure they could elude Agent Bauer and accomplish their “bad guy” things! That’s the source of the banter back and forth between husband and wife as they each try to guess who the “bad guy” is and who’s trying to stop the hero, Jack Bauer, from saving the nation!
On occasion the viewers might have trouble determining who the “bad guys” are in a TV program, but in the Gospel before us, we see that Jesus had no problem doing that—at all! As we heard, Jesus “knew all people” and “needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (vv 24, 25).
Of course, these words of St. John refer to something far more important than a television program. John’s words have a true “life and death” aspect to them—unlike the fictitious situations with which the fictitious Jack Bauer contends:
JESUS KNOWING ALL PEOPLE LEADS TO OUR CLEANSING.
Let’s consider all this for the next few minutes.
It’s time for the annual Passover celebration, so as a faithful Jew, Jesus goes to Jerusalem as required.
But, when he went to the temple, he was disgusted by what he found. The temple courtyard had been turned into a marketplace! Merchants had set up shops selling pigeons, oxen, and sheep to the faithful who had come to Jerusalem from far-off lands. Money-changers were also there, changing foreign currency into local money, again, so the faithful could pay the temple tax of one-half shekel.
To have these things available to the foreign worshipers wasn’t bad, because worship of the Lord demanded the people bring sacrifices in proportion to their wealth. (Something that continues to this very day!) And it was totally impractical—if not impossible—for someone who had come a long distance to bring his own sacrificial animal. There needed to be some way for those things to be acquired in Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, God had even given instructions for this kind of arrangement.
Problem was that the sellers had set up shop right in the temple itself, in what is known as the court of the Gentiles. The people had made the house of God into a stinking spectacle.
Think of it! The worshipers, as they passed through the courtyard on their way into the temple, were probably more focused on bargaining over the cost of the animals or bickering about the exchange rate for their foreign money than they were on singing entrance psalms and preparing their hearts for worship of the Lord Most High!
What a disgrace! They were making the temple itself a place of thieves and corruption. No problem recognizing how guilty was everyone involved in all this trading. As Jesus came into the temple, the “bad guys” were right out in the open for all to see.
Jesus, incorrectly thought by some to be weak and soft—well, Jesus shows himself to be a man of strength and action. He personally—and by himself—took on the whole lot of them—putting even Jack Bauer to shame! He took cords and, using them as a whip, drove the animals and merchants out of the temple, thus fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah would have “zeal” for the house of God (Ps 69:9).
Again, for those who think of Jesus as a “softy,” you have to think again. Not only did he take them all on, but also, according to the account before us, not one of the merchants even dared to stand up to him!
We hear this story, and we say, “Good! Good for you, Jesus! There’s no doubt this smelly spectacle of sweaty people and droves of animals being sold right within the house of the Lord was bad, but Jesus was seeing even more.
“Good for you, Jesus,” You saw that those insiders from the temple hierarchy were ‘bad guys,’ and you busted them, kicked ’em out in quick order!” He looked into people’s hearts. He saw through their duplicity, their hiding behind God’s instructions in order to make a fast buck. Indeed, history shows that these sellers were also engaging in the corruption of the temple leaders. The family of Caiaphas, the high priest, was corrupt, robbing the temple treasury and making a big profit on what these sellers were overcharging the people.
As bad as the scene and the smell had to be, the spiritual stench of the place—lust for money at God’s expense—was worse!
And how could Jesus know that? John tells us: “because he knew all people” (v 24). Jesus knew their hearts and saw them for what they were—sinners through and through, more interested in making a few shekels than in honoring the Lord’s house.
But before you sit on the couch, self-righteously pointing out the “bad guys,” consider again the words before us: “[Jesus] knew all people . . . for he himself knew what was in man.” The Lord Jesus knows all and sees all. And, if he knows the hearts of the money-changers and animal purveyors, he knows your heart as well!
He sees your real attitude toward those Ten Commandments we heard as our Old Testament Reading a bit ago! Although you might not be caught bowing down to a “carved image,” he sees your attitude toward the myriad of other things you allow to be foremost in your life—such as your work, your money, your family, your vacation, your schooling, your good looks, your reputation. He sees your attitude toward sins of the flesh, toward other people’s property, toward speaking well of your neighbor.
Oh, yes, he sees it all! Admit it: you—just like the temple merchants—you are one of the “bad guys” rightly deserving to have Jesus take a whip and drive you out of his presence forever!
A commentator described why Jesus had to rid the temple of those “bad guys.” He writes: “The uncleanness in the temple portrayed the corruption of the people and was an image of the impurity in their hearts. The conditions existing in the temple are therefore a testimony against the people. [Jesus’] blows [with the whip] struck at their hearts. And the cleansing is a picture of what must occur with the people to make it a holy nation acceptable to God. And what is more, this must be made to apply to the individual. The house of the heart must be cleansed if it is to be the temple of God” (Ylvisaker, 138–39).
Dear people of God, we, too, have a “spiritual stench,” and it’s far worse than the largest holding pen of sheep and oxen in a closed-up barn on a hot, humid summer day!
During this holy season of Lent, our Lord calls us to recognize our utter need for cleansing of our hearts laden with sin. He calls us to allow his right and just Law to show us our sins and then in repentance and faith to receive him as he reaches out to us—to you—with his love and mercy.
He urgently desires to cleanse “the house of [your] heart,” to wash it pure with the only cleaning agent that will get the “stench” out—his holy, precious blood shed for you and the whole world!
This he did on the blessed cross of Calvary. “Zeal” for his Father’s house drove him to cleanse the temple that fateful day, and “zeal” for you—zeal motivated by his eternal love—drove him to the cross to cleanse you, so that you could be a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19)—your body and soul washed clean and pure, thereby making you to be a righteous one of his forever!
You see, you’re no longer a “bad guy” in God’s estimation. No! Through faith given to you in the washing of renewal in your baptismal waters, you’re now one of his very own, a forgiven child of his.
Rather than chasing you out of his eternal presence with a whip, he eagerly walks toward you, always seeking to embrace you, inviting you to dine at his Table, regularly here on earth and eternally with him in heaven!
Dearly beloved of God, continue to walk with the Lord Christ in repentance and faith. On this day, led by the Spirit of Christ, vow that you’ll allow the house of your heart to be—and remain—cleansed, that it will forever be a temple of God! Amen.