Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple

Lent 3 – 7/3/21

Exodus 20:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

Pieter Aertsen (1508-1575) ‘Jesus Cleanses the Temple’

This past week in the Lent Course ‘Come and See’ we looked at the person of Jesus in relation to the Apostles Creed ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.’ As part of the discussion, Sue M asked each group member to share a little about their favourite story or parable of Jesus. No one mentioned Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. We liked The Good Samaritan, the woman at the well, the woman who grabs the bottom of his robe, Jesus walking on water, the feeding of the 5000. Nice Jesus, doing good Jesus. Last week we looked at Jesus’ first prediction of his death, this week, table turning Jesus in the Temple. No more Jesus meek and mild here! These stories do tell us something of his character, his priority, his message and what it is to live out of the heart.

This story of Jesus cleansing the temple gives us a vivid account of how he acted out of his heart. So much so, that each Gospel writer has included this event in their respective books. Matthew, Mark and Luke have placed this event right after Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on the donkey; in the last week of his life as palms and cloaks were being laid down on the road.

Intriguingly, John places this story right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John’s narrative has Jesus attending the wedding at Cana, then going to Jerusalem, right into the temple and causing havoc!

As we stand on this side of resurrection history it is easy to miss the significance of this event. The Temple was the beating heart of Judaism. It wasn’t just a church on a street corner or in the middle of a village. It was the centre of worship, music, of politics and society, of national celebration and mourning. Think of St Paul’s Cathedral as somewhat of a parallel.

The Temple was also the place where Israel’s God, YHWH, had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was the focal point of the nation, and of the national way of life. Now this unknown prophet from Galilee breaks in and turns everything upside down! What was so wrong with the Temple? Why did Jesus do what he did?

John has this event happening at the time of the Jewish Passover. John had already told us that Jesus is the new Passover Lamb – the new sacrifice. He wants us to understand that what Jesus did in the Temple at Passover is hinting at the new meaning he is giving to Passover.

The new meaning that Jesus brings: is liberation, freedom and rescue from slavery. The is what the Jews celebrate at Passover. Jesus brings liberation, freedom and rescue from sin.

It also hints at what Jesus thinks of the Temple itself – he regards it as corrupt and under God’s judgement. Interestingly, those who were selling the animals for sacrifice and the money-changers did need to be there as Jewish law required the right sacrifices be offered. But those doing the selling had corrupted the Temple by their dodgy practices.

This is what Jesus rages against as he overturns their tables and boots them out. I am sure it would have been completely shocking to those who were there, minding their stalls, selling the animals and changing money. They were getting on with life, business – supporting the wife and kids at home. But they had become corrupt – to cheat people, their own people was unthinkable.

We too can become corrupt in our hearts. We pick up things along the way – thought-patterns, judgements toward others, attitudes and prejudices that can become embedded in our hearts and minds. We can go about our everyday business and from the outside it all looks fine. We can even think we are right! But our lives on the inside can be a mess.

It wouldn’t be Lent, as far as I am concerned, without a public reading of the Ten Commandments. I hope you let them wash over you again. They are timeless in their instruction, they are a solid foundation one which to examine ourselves, our thoughts and our conduction. Get rid of any corruption that has taken hold. Sometimes we too need the tables turned over in our hearts and those things that corrupt driven out. Above all else, guard your heart, from everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).

We need – I think sometimes – to have a clean out of our hearts. Heart surgery is required to remove those things that have built up in them. We can trust Jesus to do this for us and with us. He wants to be the Temple in our lives. The place where we go to worship, take our prayers, our worries and anxieties. The place where we can be forgiven and know the great love of God for ourselves.

That is what he is saying to the Jews in his actions and his remark about the destroyed Temple rising up in three days – he was talking about himself. Jesus is the true temple, he is the Word made flesh.

If we see and believe the signs of what Jesus is doing, then we need to trust him to bring it to completion. Believe in him and his works. Trust him to do the work in our hearts that needs doing – even if the removal and cleaning is painful.