Time to Clean House

Series: Preacher: Date: July 11, 2010 Scripture Reference: John 2:12-22

Two friends, Bill and Tom, were drinking coffee at an all-night cafĂ©—and they got into a discussion about the difference between IRRITATION, ANGER, and RAGE. At about 1:00AM, Bill said, ?Tom, watch. I?ll show you an example of IRRITATION.? He pulled out his cell phone, put it on speaker, and dialed a number at random. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, when a sleepy voice on the other end answered, Bill said, ?I?d like to speak to Jones.?

?There is no one here named Jones.? the disgruntled man replied as he hung up. ?That,? Bill said to Tom, ?is a man who is IRRITATED.? An hour later at 2:00AM, Bill said, ?Now I?ll show you a man who is ANGRY.? He picked up his cell phone once again, put it on speaker, hit re-dial, and let it ring. Eventually the same sleepy voice answered and Bill asked, ?May I please speak to Jones?? ?There?s no one here named Jones!? came the ANGRY reply. The sleepy man yelled a few more things before he hung up once again. An hour later at 3:00AM, Bill said, ?Now, I?ll show you an example of RAGE.? He used his cell phone to dial the same number and when the sleepy man finally answered, Bill said, ?Hi, this is Jones. Have there been any calls for me??

I share this bit of humor because in our text for this morning, John shares his testimony of a time when Jesus was clearly ANGRY. Some would say He was ENRAGED. But I think of our Lord?s behavior as a perfect example of truly righteous indignation. Take your Bibles and turn to John 2 and follow along as we read verses 12-22.

12 – After this He went down to Capernaum with His mother and brothers and His disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

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.?

18 – Then the Jews demanded of Him,?What miraculous sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do all this??

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

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

21 – But the temple He had spoken of was His body.

22 – 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.

If you were here last Sunday, I?m sure you?ve noticed that in today?s text, Jesus is acting much different than He did in the prior text. Last Sunday, we read about Jesus? tender compassion for a newlywed couple. We read about the way He did His first miracle to save them great embarrassment. But in the event that John tells us about here, we see Jesus angry—enraged. We see Him wielding a whip—using it to drive people and livestock out of the Temple.

And I think one reason the Holy Spirit prompted John to structure His gospel with these two extremes back to back is because we need a BALANCED view of Jesus. We need to see BOTH His tender love AND His powerful anger. We need to understand that God is LOVE but He is also RIGHTEOUS HOLINESS. In short, we need to see that God is to be adored…and feared.

I?m reminded of part of C. S. Lewis? Voyage of the Dawn Treader because it illustrates this very important point. If you?ve read it then you know that in this installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy and Edmund come to a large grassy field. The green of the grass spreads off into the blue horizon except for a white spot in the distance. Edmund and Lucy look at this spot intently, but they have difficulty making out what it is. So, they travel across the grass until they get close enough to the white spot to see that it is a lamb! The lamb, white and pure, is cooking a fish breakfast. In fact, the lamb gives Lucy and Edmund the most delicious breakfast they have ever had. After they have eaten, a wonderful conversation ensues as they talk about how to get to the land of Aslan—Heaven. As the lamb begins to explain the way, a marvelous thing happens. Lewis writes, ?His snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.?There is a great truth in this part of Lewis? story—one that we need to remember and here it is: The Lamb—is a LION! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world is the LION of the tribe of Judah…and the qualities that we consider lamb-like: gentleness, innocence—they are indeed found in Christ, but so are the qualities of the majesty and ferocity of a lion. In short—God is to be feared—RESPECTED—REVERENCED!

Okay—verse 12 begins with the words, ?after this,? which is John?s way of indicating that the testimony he is about to share is not found in the other gospels. Remember, the synoptics had been written decades earlier—and John was sort of playing ?clean-up? by including things Jesus said and did, things the others did not share in their own gospel accounts.

To give you a little ?geographical context? note that John says Jesus went from Cana DOWN to Capernaum and UP to Jerusalem. He went DOWN because Capernaum was at a lower elevation than Cana and then UP to Jerusalem because it had a higher elevation than Capernaum. In fact, Galilee is BELOW sea level and Jerusalem is 2500 feet ABOVE sea level. This detail indicates that John?s gospel was written by a Galilean—someone who was familiar with the region.

Capernaum was an important town located on the northwestern shore of the sea of Galilee. I visited there in 1994 with a group from RBC. There are two impressive RUINS in Capernaum:

  • First, there are the ruins of Peter?s house. Today a church with a glass floor has been built over this site so you can look down and see it.
  • There is evidence in the ruins below this church that Peter?s house was used as a meeting place for Christians from the beginning. His home became one of the first church buildings.
  • And then there are the ruins of a synagogue in Capernaum, one that probably dates back to 200 AD or earlier .and which almost certainly was built over the site of the same synagogue in which Jesus taught.

It is an impressive structure of white limestone—and it faces south toward Jerusalem, which was traditional for synagogues. I remember sitting on those stone benches in that synagogue in 1994 listening to our tour guide teach and thought, ?Wow…Peter and his gang probably sat here and heard Jesus teach!?

John tells us that Jesus stayed in Capernaum for a few days—and most commentators say He did this to decide if it would be suitable as His headquarters—His base of operations. Remember, He couldn?t use Nazareth because He had been rejected there when He made His claim to be the Messiah by reading from the prophet Isaiah. Well, after a brief stay Jesus left Capernaum and went UP to Jerusalem to observe the Passover Feast, which is held around the middle of April.

John?s TIMING here seems to be different from the other Gospel writers. In the other three gospels, Jesus is depicted as going to Jerusalem only once but John has Him there as many as four times (John 5:1, 6:4, and 11:55). In his testimony John also shows Jesus doing a great deal of His ministry in and about the city. But please don?t think the gospel writers contradict one another—because they don?t. In fact, when read together, they compliment each other and give us a fuller picture of Jesus? ministry. Remember, they are each telling the same story from a different point of view. Matthew, Mark, and Luke concentrate on the ministry in GALILEE and John is focusing on the ministry in JERUSALEM. And….whereas the other three writers only TELL of one visit to Jerusalem, they do INFER that Jesus was there more often than that. For example, during His last visit Matthew tells of Jesus mourning over Jerusalem saying:?O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that killed the prophets, and stoned those sent to you, how OFTEN would I have gathered you together as a hen does her chicks…? (Matthew 23:37)

Jesus would not have said ?HOW OFTEN?—unless He had made repeated appeals to Jerusalem. So the gospel writers do not conflict here. Put together they give us a much more complete picture…which is why God inspired them in this way.

The temple in our text was not the FIRST temple built by Solomon in 1st Kings 6-7, nor was it the SECOND temple rebuilt by the Jews returning from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6:15). No—this is the THIRD temple, known as ?Herod?s Temple? which, at this point had been under construction for a total of 46 years. Herod had started construction in 19B.C. which means the events in our text occurred in 27AD. A thousand priests were trained to serve as masons and carpenters on Herod?s temple. 10,000 workmen were used in the task of building. It took 18 months to complete the temple proper—eight more years to complete the cloisters and courts. We shouldn?t complain about how long its taking the ROC to be done! At the time of this incident, it was still not finished. In fact it would not be completed until 64AD, just six years before it?s destruction by the Romans in 70AD. By the way, large stones from Herod?s temple can still be seen in structures throughout Jerusalem today.

But, in Jesus? day this massive structure was intact and it was the pride of every Jewish heart. Here?s a picture of a model of Herod?s temple. As you approached the temple from the east over the Mount of Olives, especially in the morning, its white marble structure overlaid with gold plates on the east looked like a sea of white…emblazoned with golden fire. The historian, Josephus, compared it to a snow-covered mountain. The temple area was composed of several walled courts and working from outside in we would see:

  • the court of the Gentiles
  • the court of the Women
  • the court of Israel
  • the Court of the Priests
  • and last of all the porch, the Holy place and the Holy of Holies.

This last place was the temple proper—the ?naos.? You may remember that this area, separated from the rest by a heavy curtain, was where God dwelt in mercy with His people. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the ?Naos? and even he only once a year. Most of Jesus? temple ministry took place in the outer court—the Court of the Gentiles. Each door BEYOND this area had slabs of stone bearing a warning that Gentiles were forbidden to go any further.

Archeologists dug up one of these stone slabs and today it?s in a museum in Istanbul. It says: ?No foreigner may enter within the balustrade and enclosure around the Sanctuary. Whoever is caught will render himself liable to the death penalty which will inevitably follow.? You may remember that Paul was charged with breaking this particular law in Acts 21:28-29.

The Passover was the greatest of all Jewish feasts. In fact, the law said that every male Jew who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem was required to attend it and we see here that Jesus obeyed that law. By this time Jews were scattered all over the world but every Jew, no matter where he lived on the planet dreamed that he would be able to attend the Passover in Jerusalem…at least once in his lifetime. This dream brought as many as two and a quarter million Jews to Jerusalem every year—and all those Jewish pilgrims were a potential source of great wealth. Well, verse 14 tells us that when Jesus arrived at the temple and entered the outer court He found that the priests were doing all they could to tap into that source of income. He found ?…men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.? Let me explain why this was going on.

First, the MONEY EXCHANGERS were there because every Jew over 19 had to pay a temple tax to cover temple sacrifice expenses. This tax was an enormous amount—equivalent to two day?s wages and you couldn?t pay this tax with just any currency. Remember, Jews came from all over the world, bringing their homeland?s currency with them, and the temple wouldn?t accept any money with a graven image on the coin. These coins were considered idolatrous and unclean…hence the need for an exchange. But the temple didn?t provide this as a service—no—they used it to make even more money. You see, the exchange rate doubled the cost of the tax. So to go to the temple during Passover cost four day?s wages. But this wasn?t the only cost you had to factor in when you calculated the price of your trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. Pilgrims were also required to make an animal sacrifice for their sins and the temple was more than happy to provide oxen and sheep and doves for this purpose. And, this was a necessary convenience. I mean, if you had traveled all the way from Spain you wouldn?t want to lug an oxen or a sheep along for a sacrifice! Think of the shipping costs! So it was good thing the temple provided these animals. The problem was that once again the religious leaders didn?t do this out of the goodness of their heart. No—they did this so as to fill their wallets with even more money so they priced animals inside the temple much higher than the ones you would have bought back home. Plus—even the animals brought by Jews who lived near Jerusalem were usually found ?unacceptable? by the temple inspectors. Charles Swindoll writes,

?Adding to the corruption was the way sacrifices were approved. A fee was charged to inspect all the animals brought to the temple for sacrifice. Most of the time, the inspectors found the animal blemished in some way, disqualifying it as a legitimate offering. This forced the out-of-town traveler to purchase an ?approved? animal at the temple for often ten to twenty times the fair market value. No wonder Christ was enraged.?

I can?t help but think of what its like to go to the movies and see popcorn that costs a few cents to make—being sold for $8 a bucket! To me, that?s just plain crooked. And you expect that kind of crookedness out in the world—but not in God?s temple where every Passover the people were being blackmailed—and this enraged Jesus! I mean, pilgrims to the Passover who could barely afford the trip in the first place were being fleeced in God?s house! What had begun as a service had turned into a racket.

By the way, since Annas, the former high priest, and his sons were in charge of this, these stalls and money changing stations became known as ?The Bazaars of Annas? and the wealth accrued from these sources was phenomenal. When the Roman Crassus captured Jerusalem and raided the Temple treasury in 54 B.C. he took from it our equivalent of approximately ten million dollars without coming near to exhausting it.

Due to these abuses the people had come to despise worship in the temple. Plus—like attracts like—which is why Matthew?s gospel says that thievery in the name of worship had led thieves to use the temple area…as the place to gather in order to plot their crimes (Matt. 21:13).

Well, as Jesus entered the outer courts, the sights, sounds and smells must have been almost overwhelming. It was more like a livestock auction than a place of worship. Instead of the court of the Gentiles being a place where the nation of Israel was a blessing to all peoples, it became a disgrace. The house of God, intended to be MISSIONARY, had become MERCENARY. The more Jesus saw and smelled and heard, the angrier He got. For thirty years He had been to the temple and watched these men pollute the house of God. He was furious at their disrespect and greed. He was disgusted that the floor was carpeted with manure and the smell of urine burned His nostrils. This was His Father?s house! So as His first ?official? act as Messiah, He made a whip and used it to literally clean house—HIS house.

And I have to say—this is a great text to use when disputing all the anemic—almost effeminate—pictures we see of Jesus. You see, I believe Jesus was strong—muscular. I mean, you don?t work in a carpenters shop using hand tools everyday of your adult life until age thirty and not develop some muscles. I think Jesus was powerfully built—Rambo-like even—and when He took up a whip in His hand People saw his muscles and so they moved as fast as their feet could carry them. Remember, these are the lips that spoke and galaxies sprung into existence! If you and I were there and heard Him speak and saw Him swinging that whip, WE would have run! St. Jerome said that he believed Jesus was so angry He didn?t even need the whip. He wrote, ?A certain fiery and starry light shone from His eyes and the majesty of the Godhead gleamed in His face!?

The cleansing of the temple at this point in Jesus? ministry is a problem for some people. I say this because John has it at the BEGINNING while the other gospel writers have it at the END…immediately prior to His arrest. I believe the answer to this dilemma is that there were TWO CLEANSINGS of the temple in Jesus? ministry. I mean, preachers often have to deal with the same subject from the pulpit more than once…because people are forgetful and we all tend toward sin. Like a dog returning to it?s vomit, we return to the same sinful thoughts and actions…so we need to hear the same sermons over and over. I heard a story about a pastor who preached his first sermon in his new church. The next week he preached the same message. The third week he preached it again. After the service one of the deacons asked him why he kept preaching the same sermon and he said, ?I?ll preach it until these people start to live it out!? In any case, I?m sure it wasn?t long after Jesus cleansed the temple the first time that the money changers set their tables back up…and the live stock were herded back into their stalls and the selling went right on, which meant it would need cleansing again at the end of Jesus? earthly ministry.

With all this in mind I want us to use the rest of our time to try and better understand our Lord?s anger. I mean, what does His righteous indignation in the temple that day tell us? What message does it convey?

(1) First, Jesus? anger tells us that WORSHIP was being OBSTRUCTED.

Remember, Passover was to be a special time of worship—a time to remember the miraculous way God delivered His people from Egyptian bondage. But, as I said, the Jews of that day had changed this time and place of worship into an animal auction—a noisy marketplace where crooked money changes took people?s money from them…and everything was done ?…in the name of the Lord.? In short, there was no reverence…no awe at Who God is and what He had done. In fact, worship was impossible—especially for the Gentiles. You see, this court Annas and his cronies had commandeered was the only place a Gentile could go to worship and pray. Had a Gentile entered here for prayer, this scene would have driven him FROM, not TO, the worship of the one TRUE GOD. This is why Jesus angrily said,?My house shall be called of ALL NATIONS the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers!? (Mark 11:17)

I love the late Grady Nutt?s version of this story, told by a fictitious disciple named NORTON.

?I never ceased to be amazed at the intensity of Jesus? emotions. He was simultaneously the most gentle and awesome Person I?ve ever known. He could hold a blossom to His nostrils as a mother might kiss the forehead of her child at bath time. But He could also scowl the fear of God into a statue! I was always curious about His anger—usually so controlled—disciplined—but no time stands out like my first trip with Him to the temple. We?d been to Capernaum for a visit with His family after going to a wedding in Cana where He astonished everyone by turning water into wine. Strangely He never seemed to want to talk about it with anyone!

We arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover feast and He headed straight for the temple. Today there was an unusual quiet about Him. As we walked through the bustling streets teeming with crowds readying for the great festival, He was like the center of a storm—steady…eyes straight ahead…introspective. The moment we entered the Temple was a moment of pain and shock for Him. I am certain of that. I say this because when we entered and found ourselves in the court of the Gentiles there were tables set up for changing out-of-Jerusalem money to Temple currency for an immodest fee. There were animals being sold for special sacrifices to replace animals brought by worshipers…animals which never seemed capable of passing temple inspection. There were arguments, smells, noise, a marketplace atmosphere…all in a place meant for worship! I saw Jesus stop; I felt Him stiffen; I sensed His smouldering anger.

In the midst of all this Jesus? attention was drawn to a young Gentile couple kneeling near the wall that separated Gentiles from the other courts…inner courts that were provided for the exclusive use of the Jews who came for worship. These two were huddled together trying to make contact with the God of the Jews and Jesus looked with tenderness and affection on their bent humble forms. But about this same moment, a hotheaded man from upper Galilee and an official animal inspector got into a loud vulgar argument..over the alleged imperfection of a pair of pigeons brought for sacrifice. Pushing and shoving ensued and the visitor from Galilee was knocked to the ground right across the ankles of the young Gentile woman praying at the wall. Then a donkey wheeled and knocked over a water jar where they were kneeling soaking the two Gentile seekers. Well, in the swirling dust and noise Jesus suddenly came to life…FURIOUSLY! He dashed over to the fighting men, now screaming and yelling and hitting and He pulled them apart by their collars…and held them back as a fisherman might hold up two fish caught on the same line. The men were startled at His strength, at His authority, at His anger, at His look of pain. He pushed them back from the kneeling couple. The anger in His eyes flashed like sparks form an anvil. With a sudden unexpected move He kicked over a rickety table covered with coins and rolls of parchment. He fashioned a whip out of some cords of rope, snapped it with a loud CRACK over the crowd?s heads and then started un-penning ?perfect? animals. He drove sheep, pigeons, and bull calves before Him right down the Temple steps. Owners dashed frantically about trying to re-corral their lost flocks. Money changers shoved coins into leather pouches, ducked past Him, and darted down the streets in fear. Jesus smouldered like a cooling volcano and shouted like I never Heard Him shout before or since, ?You have turned My Father?s house of prayer into a den of thieves!? Then Jesus turned to the young couple. They were starring in shock. He breathed hard for a moment then He smiled His patented patient smile. They and I returned it. Then He said, ?Why don?t we all pray together.? and we did…and I felt strangely like a blossom in gentle hands.?

Well, does Nutt?s account help you to better understand this aspect of Jesus? anger? He was upset because the quiet reverence and awe that leads us into God?s presence was disturbed. Worship was obstructed. People longing to reach out to God couldn?t do so.

You know, I am all for making worship more ?seeker friendly.? I believe that people who don?t know Jesus should feel welcome in sanctuaries like our own. But I am afraid that in these attempts to be relevant to culture, many churches actually keep people from worshiping the God they long to know. Too many churches don?t encourage REVERENCE and AWE in God?s house. They don?t allow worshipers the silence necessary to truly PREPARE their hearts for worship.

My sister once went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a vacation. The airport there was small at the time and her plane landed out on the tarmac…which meant passengers had to actually climb down one of those portable stairways and walk across the runway to the terminal. Lisa said there were signs all along the way that said, ?Keep moving! Keep moving!? These signs were necessary because the views of the Rocky Mountains were so spectacular…so jaw-dropping…that people would just stand there on the tarmac in reverence. That?s the way we are to enter worship…both privately and publically….in quiet REVERENT AWE of God?s greatness and power and holy love.

You see, more than anything God wants us to know Him—to fellowship—to commune with Him—and anything that gets in the way of that makes Him angry.

But Jesus? anger tells us something else…

(2) It tells us that PROPHECY was being FULFILLED.

With His actions, Jesus was claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah. You see, four hundred years earlier the prophet Malachi had said, ?And the Lord Whom you seek shall suddenly come into His temple…but who may abide the day of His coming and who shall stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner?s fire, and like a fuller?s soap. He shall purify the sons of Levi…? (Malachi 3:1-4)

Well, the religious leaders in the temple knew this prophecy—and so as the zeal of God?s house consumed Jesus they demanded, ?What miraculous sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do all this?? In other words they were saying, ?With your angry actions you say You?re the Messiah. Well, prove it. Give us a SIGN!? Of course, what Jesus had just done was itself a sign—so He didn?t owe them anything.

In fact, these leaders should have been ashamed of the graft and greed taking place within the courts of the temple. They should have known that they needed purifying! Instead of asking Jesus by what right He had cleansed the Temple, they should have confessed their sin and thanked Him for what He did…but no. Well, Jesus knew what was in their hearts. He knew they were unrepentant so His answer was in essence a riddle. I mean, our Lord didn?t waste His words on people who didn?t want to hear. So—and I think He pointed to His chest at this point—He said,

?Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days!? And of course the Jews didn?t get it because they didn?t want to. All they could think about was their precious temple—the source of all their income. They remembered all that had gone into the building of the temple. They thought of the huge stones and columns and they laughed at Jesus? claim. But Jesus did what He said He would do. He said, ?Destroy this temple—this NAOS—this flesh that houses almighty God—and in three days I will raise it again…and He did!?

You know, we talk a lot about when the Jews of our day will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem as a sign of the end of the age—but according to the Gospel record it?s already been done. R. C. Sproul writes,?The temple has already been rebuilt. Christ is the temple, the locus of the living presence of God in the midst of His people, and the rebuilding of the temple took place on the day of His resurrection.?

In any case Jesus?s angry actions were the fulfillment of prophecy. It was His way of saying, ?I am the Christ, the Messiah. You won?t need these animal sacrifices any more because I am the Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world.? But they didn?t hear. They hardened their hearts and rejected Jesus.

As we come to our time of invitation, I want to ask you: is there anything in your life that is obstructing your worship—is there something that is keeping you from God? Some private sin? Greed? Selfishness? Busy-ness? If so, it?s time to clean house and God offers to help.

1st John 1:9 says, that ?If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to CLEANSE us from all unrighteousness.? Why not bow your head as we sing and ask God to clean your house this morning? And—if you?re not a Christian, I would just remind you that, like the disciples who saw Jesus resurrected, and remembered His claim…you can look back on History. You can read the Biblical record and know that Jesus was the Messiah…Who He died on the cross as the Lamb of God…died for your sin and mine…died to rip that curtain apart—the one that separated people from the NAOS…the place God dwelled. You know that Jesus ROSE on the third day so that God could dwell in the human heart. Well, what are you going to do with this knowledge? Will you OPEN your heart to GOD…or will you harden it to Him like those foolish religious leaders? As we stand and sing, I invite anyone who has a public decision to make, to come forward and share it with me or one of the other pastors.

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