Cleansing the Temple

Marcus the lion, who lived in a forest cabin with his keeper, was said to be the meekest carnivore in the world. He never fought, not even to defend himself. smaller wild animals thought it tremendous fun to walk up and strike the lion, knowing that he would not strike back. Then one day, a hungry grizzly showed up in the forest. He heard about the pacifist lion and thought that the keeper would be an easy meal. The bear broke into the cabin and went after the terrified human. The lion jumped up, leapt upon the bear and tore him limb from limb. Everyone was very surprised at what Marcus had done. "I thought you were a pacifist." said one of the local wolves.
"I favor peace." said the lion. "But that doesn't mean that I will give place to evil."

Today's subject is the cleansing of the temple.

A great many people are confused by Jesus' cleansing of the temple. They believe that Jesus was a pacifist. These bouts of violence do not seem to make sense. Tonight, we're going to be examining what Jesus did. In this message, I'll be referring several times to a sermon by my father, Pastor Lee. Let's go to the passage in Matthew.

Matthew 21:12-13 (NKJV)
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.
13 And He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"

The temple consisted of a number of buildings and courtyards. Even in the days when it was not yet an actual temple, but only a tabernacle, it was an impressive place. At the core of it was the holy of holies. This is where the arc of the covenant should have been kept. Unfortunately, there is no official consesus on whether the arc was there in Jesus' day. Outside the Holy of Holies was the Holy Place, separated by the temple veil. It was the home for the showbread, the golden lampstands, the incence altar, and the corresponding sacred implements. This was the place where the angel prophesied to Zacharias about the birth of John the Baptist. Outside of this building were the court of men and the court of women. Beyond these courts, the court of the gentiles. The market was set up in this court.

There was not supposed to be any sort of merchandising in the temple. Now this is not to say that the activity that was going on there was wrong in and of itself. If you live a long way away, it's a whole lot easier to sell your lamb or bull or goat, take the money instead of the animal, buy another animal in Jerusalem, and there make your sacrifice. God provided this alternative because He's not insensitive to the complications of bringing livestock all the way from Galilee. But this became so common a practice that oportunists couldn't resist the temptation to set up shop right there at the temple. The reason this was allowed is because the high priest was making a hefty percentage of the proffits.

How many of you have ever had to make regular drives by a feed lot? You know how stinky it can be. And you know that while you can toilet train many animals, including dogs, cats, even rats, it's not the same for bulls, sheep, goats and pigeons. They're going to do what they have to do when they need to do it.

Now imagine you're sitting here trying to worship, and out in the foyer, there is all manner of livestock. How easy do you think it would be to worship God with the smell of dung wafting through the sanctuary door? Worse yet, imagine trying to worship in the middle of all of that. For a first century gentile, that's as far as he could go. A convert to Judaism was forbidden in the inner courts until the third generation.

Would we ever allow something like that here at St. Fred's? What if the merchants offered us 10%? 50%? What if they offered us a new sanctuary? Actually, I can give you an answer to that. There was a service which we were considering while freejavachat was unavailable, until we found that they were running inappropriate ads in the applet. I decided, and others agreed, that it would be better not to gather that to allow God's house to be thusly profaned.

Have you noticed that Jesus has been accused of being a wimp? Think about it. Whenever you see a picture of Him, it's usually with a little child in His lap or a lamb in His arms. Now I am not saying that there's anything wrong with that. Jesus is the heir of the entire world. According to His own preaching, it is only appropriate that He be meek. But this placid face is not all there is to Jesus, as many people seem to think.

Here was God in the flesh. These people were desecrating His house and keeping many of the people He loved from coming to Him. This was a wrong that Jesus could not tolerate. He did what he had to do to cleanse that temple.

Jesus was not a wimp. My father likes to call Jesus a "man's man". He made a whip and used it. He kicked, he threw, he was violent! And this was not something He did merely because He lost His perspective. He did this three times! Once early in His ministry and twice during Holy week. He was not afraid of being politically incorrect. This was, after all, the seat of political power in Israel. He went toe to toe with those in power and did what was right.

This man was not a wimp.

You'll notice that whenever I draw a furry Jesus, I always make him a sheep in keeping with his nickname, "the Lamb of God". Sheep have horns, and they use them. We see plenty of Jesus as the gentle nurturer. Here, we see Jesus the protector. He is called "the Everlasting Father", and here we see an excellent example of what a father should be. Gentle, yes, but willing to use force when needed.

And the beautiful thing about all of this is that He did it with such power and authority that the priests did nothing to challenge Him until the next day.

Now this is not the only temple that needed cleansing. Let's read 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.

And then John 14:16-17.

"And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever;
17 "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.

We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. By right of purchase by the blood of Jesus, our Lord owns us. We are His body, His bride, and His house. If WE, then, don't keep clean, how much worse is it than allowing the temple of stone to be polluted?

In 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, we see more about what this entails.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people."
17 Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you."
18 "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty."

And then in 7:1

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Now if it were merely our bodies that were God's temple, it would be easy to keep them clean simply be avoiding obvious vices. Don't do drugs, don't drink, don't smoke, don't sleep around, don't make a pig of yourself, don't stuff beans in your ears...

But you're not a body. Each of you also has a spirit: a mind and a soul. Those are also part of the temple. in verse 17 which we read a moment ago, the bible tells us not to touch unclean things. Does this mean dead bodies, rotten food, toxic waste, etc? Hardly.

It means the whole of what is listed in Galatians 5:19 - 21

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,
20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies,
21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Hatred, jealousy, heresy, dissension, avarice... these are things that make the soul unclean, that poison it. My father lists a number of other sins to this list from elsewhere in scripture.

Unresolved anger Ephesians 4:26

cowardice Revelation 21:8

Lying Colossians 3:9

Prejudice James 2:1

Laziness Matthew 5:26

Having a superior attitude Titus 3:2

He then goes on to say "It would be far better to have cattle and sheep in this building on Sunday Morning than to have one Christian who has not cleansed His temple."

At this point, I'm going to lift an illustration directly from Dad's sermon.

Did you ever read Bret Harte's story The Luck of Roaring Camp? Roaring Camp was supposed to be, according to the story, the meanest, toughest mining town in all of the West. More murders, more thefts--it was a terrible place inhabited entirely by men, and one woman who tried to serve them all. Her name was Cherokee Sal. She died while giving birth to a baby.

Well, the men took the baby, and they put her in a box with some old rags under her. When they looked at her, they decided that didn't look right, so they sent one of the men eighty miles to buy a rosewood cradle. He brought it back, and they put the rags and the baby in the rosewood cradle. And the rags didn't look right there. So they sent another of their number to Sacramento, and he came back with some beautiful silk and lace blankets. And they put the baby, wrapped around with those blankets, in the rosewood cradle.

It looked fine until someone happened to notice that the floor was so filthy. So these hardened, tough men got down on their hands and knees, and with their hardened and horny hands they scrubbed that floor until it was very clean. Of course, what that did was to make the walls and the ceiling and the dirty windows without curtains look absolutely terrible. So they washed down the walls and the ceiling, and they put curtains at the windows. And now things were beginning to look as they thought they should look. But of course, they had to give up a lot of their fighting, because the baby slept a lot, and babies can't sleep during a brawl.

So the whole temperature of Roaring Camp seemed to go down. They used to take her out and set her by the entrance to the mine in her rosewood cradle so they could see her when they came up. Then somebody noticed what a dirty place that was, so they planted flowers, and they made a very nice garden there. It looked quite beautiful. And they would bring her, oh, shiny little stones and things that they would find in the mine. But when they would put their hands down next to hers, their hands looked so dirty. Pretty soon the general store was all sold out of soap and shaving gear and perfume and those kinds of things, the baby changed everything.

This is the way it is for those who seek to please God. When Christ comes into our lives, He affects every corner of it.

Now we cannot allow Jesus to live in a filthy temple. Fortunately for us, it's not that hard to clean. Has anyone here ever heard me use the phrase 1 John 1:9 as a verb? Well, you're going to.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

HE is the one who does the cleansing. All we have to do is tell Him what needs cleaning. And if there's something we've forgotten, He'll get that too. Of course, if there's any little bit of mess you're keeping from Him, that's the first thing He's going to go for. He's not going to go clean anything else until You give Him free rein (and reign) to clean up everything. My father warned his congregation: "Donít be fooled, God know whether we forgot or just held back."

But think about what Jesus felt when He returned to the temple and found it cluttered with buying and selling again. When we clean our temple, it needs to stay cleaned. Confession must be accompanied by repentance. Contrary to what some people believe, repentance does not mean saying you're sorry. It means changing course, doing something different from what you had planned. If you're doing something sinful, the most important thing to do after saying you're sorry is to quit doing it. You may not always be able to, but as long as you and the Lord are working on it, you'll be sufficiently cleansed.

C. S. Lewis wrote: "Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement; he is a rebel who must lay down his arms ... This process of surrender-this movement full speed astern-is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death."

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. It is the day when we commemorate Jesus' death and ressurection. In honor of the sacrifice He made for us, let us resolve to cleanse our temples for Him.

Today's reading:
John 2:13-17

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"
17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."