Lessons Not Learned
The Cleansing of the Temple
An Inductive Sermon

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Scripture John 2:12-24, Matthew 21:1-17, Luke 19:41-46 (NIV)

John 2:12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

In the temple courts he found men 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 area, 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! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."

Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?"

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."

The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?"

But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

Matthew 21 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

"Say to the Daughter of Zion,
'See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

"Hosanna to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosanna in the highest!"

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"

The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them,

"'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.

"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him.

"Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?" And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

Luke 19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."(literally - God's visitation - sense - God takes charge, does things his way, undertakes, takes office - original word episcopaes//episcopos = office, bishop)

Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be a house of prayer' ; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"


"God visits his temple!"
The priests liked to remind Israel of that headline with old stories of Moses and a pillar of cloud and fire that came over the tabernacle and the very holy presence of God that was the Ark of the Covenant. Terrifying, holy, powerful glory demanding our utmost reverence - that was the Holy of Holies where the Ark was. God demands the people's respect, he is not one who lets sin go unpunished! They liked to focus on that headline, they tended to neglect how the Ark of the Covenant had disappeared after the breakup of Solomon's kingdom, that this temple had no ancient Ark in it. The pillar of cloud and fire had not been seen for hundreds of years. Ark or no Ark, glory or no glory, this is where God is worshiped, this is where God is, respect his holiness!
"God visits his temple!"

Then this young 30 year old upstart from Nazareth (of all places) with his surly disciples came by. Just because he had produced some really good wine in Cana, he thought he could come and comment on the spiritual qualities of the temple. In he came, he looked around with fire in his eyes. With leather cords, he wove a whip and then with white hot ill tempered fury, he turned the priestly approved animals with price tags on their horns into full stampede. People ran for their lives. Tables were knocked over, coins rolled across stone floors, Passover bystanders bent low eager to grab a few. Profits were lost. Chaos was everywhere, doves scattered in a flap that confused even more in the midst of a yell that all could hear...

"Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

In seconds it seemed, the outer court was ransacked. Disorder would shut down business for the rest of the day. The Passover bazaar would have to be shut down. Heads would role.

How dare you! - a red faced priest, administrator under Annas, the high priest retorted. This is the temple, God is here! How dare you make such Chaos of this orderly, necessary exchange for the sake of our Passover pilgrims? By what authority do you do this?

As dust settled, white hot fury met red faced indignation. The outer court of God's holy temple turned silent, confrontation was eye to eye, upstart against institution, purity against greed. Certainly there would be Sanhedrin meetings over this. This must not happen again. Find out all the information you can, this has got to be stopped! "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?"

"Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."

Laughter came almost instantly from the robed lofty ones at the back edge of the crowd who had come a-rushing to find out what the raucous was about. "It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?! Ha! Only God could do that!

The temple was shut down that day. Sellers had to be settled down, they had to negotiate which animals belonged to which seller, which coins belonged to which exchange, everything had been mixed up together by this devilish disaster that had come out of Nazareth.  But he had walked away, for some reason, no guard had dared to arrest him. Though they did not understand, he seemed to have some kind of authority to do whatever he wanted there...

God had visited his temple. The power of the throne of God, the very Glory of God had visited the temple. God had taken charge, judged sin, demanded reverence, the lesson taught. Within and without, the Nazerene went to heal, to upset, to divide, to teach, to bless, to curse, to make disciples and gather those whose hearts loved the truth and light more than the lie and darkness. Many started to believe in Jesus name.

The outer court yard of the temple was cleaned up. There was profit to be made. Council approved Cattle were being sold at 1000% profit. Money was exchanged with a 25% surcharge. With so much to make in the short time of a Passover, issues were quickly settled. The outer court was opened again - buying, selling, profit taking.

Certainly council meetings were held, quick resolutions were made, never again were the guards to allow this Nazerene to be in the temple courts, especially not during Passover and especially not with a whip!

Three years passed. Passover celebrations were held. Profits were taken. The Nazerene had kept his distance traveling, teaching, setting lives in order, gathering a following that was bound to upset the temple, let alone the nation, and possibly the world.

Again the time of the Passover arrived, the time when Israel called to Yahweh for help in their oppression, the time when God answered by judging Egypt and passing over Israel so that their sons survived and Egypt was eager to let God's people go. Pilgrims would be coming singing their Hallel praise Psalms, singing their songs of ascent, calling out to God "Save us! "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Passover preparations were made. God is a holy God. He must be revered. The outer court had to be set up for the buying and selling of offerings and the exchange of money for the many pilgrims who had traveled so far to give glory and reverence to the Lord Almighty. Terrifying, holy, powerful glory demanding utmost reverence. This was their High Season. Religious passions would be to a fever pitch. The temple must be ready. Forget the Nazerene who had caused problems - now was not the time to deal with him. Profits had to be made, pockets lined, prosperity guaranteed, pilgrims served.

Pilgrims on their way were distracted however. There was rumor in the air. The rumor said this: The Nazerene was at least a prophet, and maybe the promised one, the Messiah come to set them free from the oppression of their enemies, the Romans. How quickly rumor turns to certainty in discussion. The crowds of pilgrims proclaimed him King and Messiah

"Hosanna to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosanna in the highest!"

They saw the royal donkey submitting, they followed suit, taking branches and even their own coats, throwing them on the road up to Jerusalem in front of the king, saying by their actions, "Lord over us, Rule us, we submit, we fall under you."

He made no proclamation. And few noticed his tears. Above the shouts of Hosanna, few heard his lament, bitter tears of rejected love, the heart of God crushed because his very own, his treasured people no longer would recognize God himself when he came to visit, to take charge. When Luke tells us in this context that Jesus wept, a better expression is that Jesus wailed in unchecked grief , but they would not hear him, the crowd was to occupied by chants of Hosanna, dreams of human glory and national victory.

He came to the temple, the place of Terrifying, holy, powerful glory demanding utmost reverence, and there again were the animals, the birds, the money changers, the bazaar so busy, the stone floor so messy, no foreigner would dare kneel there to be quiet before God.

Upon entering, his piercing eyes gazed around the court, divine temper flared, white hot anger turned to action. With flailing arms cattle were sent in stampede a second time, tables were overturned, doves flew in chaos, money spilled and rolled across the floor.

"'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers!'"

Again, not a guard came forward to stop him - such authority this man had. Chaos ensued. Terrifying, holy, powerful glory demanding utmost reverence, the thrice Holy one had visited, taken charge, but they did not recognize him. The temple's outer court would have to be shut down for the day while the mess was cleaned up. On another day, service to the pilgrims would continue, but not now.

Again the temple-crats, those who ruled in the temple were indignant. He had done this before, how could they let him do it again? And now the crowds and especially the children were coming right into the courts and crying out "Hosanna to the Son of David." Such praise was only fitting for the King of Israel, the promised one, the Messiah. They are blaspheming without realizing it. Stop them! You are responsible for their terrible sin. "Do you hear what these children are saying?" Shut them up!

And the Nazerene replied "Have you never read," and then he quoted from the 8th Psalm
"'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"

Except for four words, the story of two divine visits, two lessons, ends there, there message not learned, what God said, ignored, placed in file 13 labeled bad memories.

I stand here and I ask myself :  How often has God visited me, how often has God spoken to me, how often has God corrected me, and I have not listened? And maybe we ought all to ask ourselves that same question. How often have I heard God speak - yet I have trained myself to forget, ignore, gone on with my life - because frankly taking God speaking to us to seriously really disturbs our comfortable lives and well padded profit margins? Taking God's visits seriously may force massive re-evaluation of what we are doing, our comfortable pew. Surely not once, surely not twice, more likely dozens of times God has spoken, and we have chosen after the chaos of the moment to reorganize our divinely disordered life to continue on as usual. How many times has God visited me, how many times has he visited you, spoken to you, confronted you, and you did not take him seriously?

This story ends with four haunting words terribly pregnant with meaning.

"And he left them."

The lessons not learned. The fruitless fig tree symbolic of Israel was cursed to die.

"And he left them."

The temple went on. There was no ark of the covenant. They may have claimed the glory, the presence of God, but there was none. Just an empty building filled with milling people and profit takers.

And he left them to face a cross where God would leave him, abandon him to face rebellion's cruel consequences alone, he died there, the glory of God, the Lamb of God - Terrifying, holy, powerful glory demanding our utmost reverence. How dare we, the ones grafted into the vine, how dare we take his discipline lightly?

Prayer - Lord, when you visit us - enable us to see what it is that demands our utmost reverence, our most earnest obedience, our highest determination to do what you want us to, value what you want us to.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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