Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Real Jesus Takes Charge

Please turn in your Bible to John 2:12. This morning we come with the amazing story of Jesus cleansing the temple—driving out the moneychangers and those who were selling sacrificial animals in the Court of the Gentiles. There were actually two times when Jesus cleansed the temple—the occasion in our text which occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the occasion recorded in the synoptic gospels which happened at the end of His ministry.[1] Both were prophetic statements to Israel. The first was the declaration that Messiah had suddenly come to His temple. The second was that Israel had rejected Messiah and her house would be left to her desolate.I remember as a kid watching a game show program on TV called “To Tell the Truth.” Three individuals would present themselves to the celebrity contestants and answer questions. Then the contestants would guess who was the real individual being portrayed. The show host would reveal the real person by saying, “Would the real John Doe please stand up.” The three individuals would move in such a way where for a moment you couldn’t tell which was about to stand. Then when the real John Doe stood many times there was a gasp and shock amongst the contestants because he would not be the one they thought he was.Perhaps in his gospel John is saying, “Now would the real Jesus please stand up?”Today in our text the real Jesus stands before us and He is not what many people think He is. Would the meek and mild Jesus that our Sunday School teacher told us about make a whip and drive people out of the house of God? Last week in our study of the Wedding at Cana we saw a Jesus that doesn’t fit some people’s concept of Christ. Would the real Jesus spend time at a lighthearted wedding and turn water into wine? Jesus came to show us the Father. In Jesus we see what God is like. How we understand Jesus is of paramount importance to our Christian life. Why? Because He is our example and the way we understand Him is the way we will try to be.Every one of us have come here today with some kind of picture in our minds of what Jesus is like. That picture is at best incomplete and imperfect. Even Paul, the great Apostle, says in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ…” We are all in a process of knowing Him better, of maturing in our understanding of Him. It is extremely important that all of us, no matter what our concept of Jesus is right now, allow the inspired word of God as a whole to inform our understanding of Jesus. The temptation is to come to God’s word with a preconceived idea of what Jesus is like and then discount those passages that don’t fit that concept. Will I try to shape an interpretation of God’s word to fit my image of Jesus or will I allow God’s word to shape and mold my understanding of Him?What is Jesus really like? Is He the fun loving hippie that many in my generation imagined during the Jesus Movement? As a reaction to the stoic, solemn portrayal of Jesus that legalistic Christianity had given us, many coming out of the Hippie Movement in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s decided Jesus was a lot like them—just a guy with little purpose hanging around with His buddies having a good time. When one of my friends experienced Christ he trimmed his beard and combed his hair just like one of the popular pictures of Jesus. He wore clothes like the ones he imagined Jesus wore and topped it all off with sandals. That was his sincere effort to be like Jesus. Of course, the institutionalized religion that many had come out of showed Jesus at the other extreme—never cracking a smile, always at least a little disappointed in everybody including the disciples.Over the years, I think I have observed a tendency in myself and others to view Jesus as being a lot like I am. Is that a valid assumption? Will the real Jesus please stand up? Is He a Catholic Jesus? Is He a Protestant Jesus? Is He the Jesus grandma told you about? Hopefully as we see Jesus through the eyes of the Apostle John we will grow in our understanding of what He is really like.Before we get into that subject further lets get some context surrounding this event in Jesus’ life. John 2:12-13 “After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” NIV “After this”—that refers to the Wedding in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine. Jesus and some other people went down to Capernaum. Who went with Him?—His mother, Mary, the disciples who had connected with Him in Chapter one, and his brothers (younger sons of Joseph and Mary). We know Jesus also had sisters [2] and it is assumed that they were married and perhaps living in Nazareth.[3] This journey was not just a visit. Capernaum became the home base for much of Jesus’ ministry in the area of Galilee. [4] It was a place where Jesus worked powerful miracles. [5] What a privilege it must have been to have Jesus operating out of your hometown and working all those miracles. Just imagine what that must have been like. But privilege is opportunity that must be embraced. With privilege comes responsibility. To whom much is give, much is required. [6] The town as a whole did not seize their opportunity. In the end, they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. And they perished in unbelief.[7] We too are a privileged people. Some of us have grown up in godly homes. Many of us have experienced the grace of God in some marvelous ways. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Lets never take that privilege for granted. Lets use it to stir us up to good works and faithfulness to the Lord. Amen?Here are the major events that have recently taken place in Jesus’ life:-- Water Baptism: Mat. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-23 -- Temptation in the Wilderness: Matt. 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13 -- Public Identification by John the Baptist: Jn. 1:19-34-- Initial Connection with some of the Disciples: Jn 1:35-51 -- Wedding in Cana: Jn 2:1-11-- This brief stay in Capernaum: John 2:12 -- Cleansing of Temple: Jn 2:13-22All of that takes place over a two or three month period. In verse 12 of our text He stayed in Capernaum a few days, perhaps a week, before going down to Jerusalem for the Passover. This map will give some perspective as to the logistics of those events.[8] In Deut. 16:16 God said to Israel, “Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and
the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed.” NIV The Feast of Unleavened Bread was the Passover Feast. It was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread because in preparation for the Passover meal the Jews were to examine their house and make sure there was no leaven in the house.[9] What is leaven a type of? It is symbolic of sin—“a little leaven” Paul wrote in I Cor. 5:6 “leavens the whole lump.” That is significant to what Jesus is about to do in the temple. He is going to rid the house of God of sin in preparation for the Passover. As a devout Jew Jesus had been to the temple many times prior to this occasion. In the synoptic gospels we saw Him there when He was 12 years old. Many times after that I am sure He was there. And I’m sure He had been progressively grieved by what He saw. In obedience to the Father He held His peace. His time had not yet come. But now He has been anointed by the Spirit for His Messianic ministry. Now is the time for Him to announce His arrival to Israel.And how does He do that? Does He do it with a kind, gentle miracle that will win everyone’s favor? Does He do it with a word of encouragement that fits all the principles we know from Leadership 101? No, He suddenly appears in the temple, makes a whip probably from the ropes used to restrain the animals[10] and drives the moneychangers and animal merchants out of the temple. Is that any way to get a ministry started? How did the devil suggest He declare Himself as Messiah? Remember His wilderness temptation? Matt 4:5-6 “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "`He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” NIVThe highest point here[11] on the temple is 180 feet high. [12] Can you imagine how spectacular an entrance that would have been in contrast to what Jesus does here? The Messiah flings himself down off this high point on the temple. And as the spectators watch, the angles catch Him and He floats to the ground. No, Jesus does not do that because that is not the Father’s plan. What Jesus does here in our text is not some guy losing his temper and attacking. It is righteous indignation and it is all done in perfect obedience to the Father. Follow with me as we read John 2:14-22 “In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!" 17His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After 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. NIV1st The Provocation of righteous indignation in Jesus.Some shrewd merchants had set up business in the Court of the Gentiles. Forty-six years earlier Herod had started building this magnificent temple for the Jews. He didn’t do it because he loved God—he was a wicked, ungodly man. He did it because it was good politics. It was a way to appease the Jewish leaders and keep them under his control. We know that the temple didn’t get finished until 64 AD [13] and guess what happened six years later. It was destroyed.[14] The Court of the Gentiles filled an area of about fourteen acres.[15] The temple had four distinct areas outside the Holy of Holies:-- Court of Priests -- Court for the Jewish Men -- Court for the Jewish Women -- Court of the Gentiles[16] The Gentile proselytes were not allowed to go beyond their court toward the presence of God at the Holy of Holies.[17] In this area were merchants selling lambs, oxen, doves to Jews and Gentiles for their annual sacrifice.There was a certain legitimacy in what they were doing. These people were coming in from all over the Roman Empire and it was not in any way practical for them to bring their animals with them for all that distance. [18] So the availability of these animals to be purchased served a real need. In addition to that the Old Testament required that each one pay a temple tax of half a shekel and it had to be paid with Jewish coin.[19] It made perfect sense for these accommodations to be available to the people.But the spirit behind what was going on was anything but legitimate. These priests and merchants had a monopoly on all this business. The animals had to be inspected and approved by the priests before they could be offered. All the priest had to do was reject animals that people may have brought from home and it forced them to go to the merchants for an “acceptable sacrifice.” Exorbitant prices were charged for animals. Exorbitant fees were charged for exchanging the money. These guys had turned religion into a moneymaking deal.[20] 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. Why had God chosen Israel and blessed her as a nation? So that through Israel, all the nations could come to know God and be blessed.[21] Israel has lost sight of her calling and purpose. Instead of reaching lost Gentiles with the message of the one true God—they are ripping them off even as they try to come to God. The common people knew they were being ripped off but there was nothing they could do about it. Its questionable whether even the legitimate enterprise should have been going on in this location rather than outside the temple altogether. [22] But I believe it was primarily the spirit of the thing that provoked Jesus the most.There is surly a caution for us in all this—the danger, especially for those of us involved in full time ministry, to lose sight of our real purpose. The temple of God is not about making money. It is not about getting oneself set up in a comfortable, lucrative position and then milking it for all its worth.
The temptations are subtle that take a person down the slippery slide from sincere, consecrated service to the people of God to something akin to the spirit of these moneychangers. I appreciate what seems to me to be a sincere repentance on the part of Brother Jim Baker. I have heard messages preached by him in his early ministry. I suspect that when he began ministry there was a genuine desire to do something for God. But somewhere along the way PTL became more of an enterprise of commerce than of service to the people of God or outreach to the lost.[23] The moneychangers serve us well as a warning of what God does not want us to become. The kingdom of God is about service and sacrifice. God is good and He will bless us, but may we never, never become self-serving in our approach to the kingdom of God.2nd The Prophetic Action Jesus takes is startling.Couldn’t He have just reasoned with these people? No, their covetous hearts were not open to reason. Drastic problems require drastic solutions. Jesus walks into that court and looks at all the extortion and abuse that is going on right there in His Father’s house. He calmly reaches down and picks up some rope lying on the ground. The more He sees the more His spirit rises up. Suddenly He shoves a table over and the coins scatter on the ground. He cracks His homemade whip and a young bull begins running for the exit. One after another Jesus overturns the moneychangers tables and drives out all the animals that were to be sold. Over the sound of bleating sheep you can hear His command, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a market!”These guys are scrambling to pick up as much money off the ground as possible yet get out of there before the sting of Jesus’ whip reaches them. They are stunned and shocked by what has just happened.Why didn’t they stand up to Jesus? There were certainly more of them than Jesus and his few disciples. Because under the anointing of the Holy Spirit Jesus was operating with an authority that could be felt. Have you ever had God give you a holy boldness beyond anything you have naturally? Years ago God led me to witness to a group of rough characters in my hometown. My uncle had been in a gang for years but had recently turned his life over to the Lord. He and I went one by one and talked to those gang members. Some of them got saved. Some of them got mad. Because they were in their late 20’s and early 30’s some had become professional bouncers in the bars. They could have broken my nose with one blow. But God had sent me. And when you’re sent it is different than when you just decide to go. I watched them be dumbfounded by the authority of the Holy Spirit—something they couldn’t understand but definitely felt.That was very minor compared to the authority the Messiah was asserting in our text.Why is Jesus stirred up? We rarely see Him operating like this. Most of the time He is compassionately touching the leper, healing the blind, forgiving the adulteress. What makes His righteous indignation different from the anger we see in James and John in Luke 9:54? Remember their words, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" Jesus rebuked that suggestion? Why? Because they had a very different motive. They were operating out of pride and prejudice.
Their real concern was their own image. They may have disguised it some as a concern for Jesus. But in their hearts it was about themselves.Jesus is motivated for the honor of the Father. Yes, there is an oppression and abuse of people by these merchandisers. And that does invoke indignation in Jesus. But something even bigger than that is at stake here—the honor of Almighty God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[24] These merchants had no fear of God. But it was Jesus’ deep reverence for the Father that caused Him to be so disturbed by their disrespect.We saw last week how Jesus set relational boundaries with Mary at Cana. Here with much more force Jesus is confronting and drawing boundaries. “Get these out of here. How dare you turn My Father’s house into –the Greek word there is the root for our word emporium? There are times when boundaries must be drawn. As the Messiah Jesus not only had the right but the responsibility to draw those boundaries.In this prophetic act Jesus was declaring two things. First, He is declaring His Messiahship. This is a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-3. Jesus as the Messanger of the Covenant has suddenly appeared in His temple. Second, He is declaring His divinity. And the Apostle John wants us to see this. Notice in John 2:16 Jesus does not say “our Father’s house.” He says “My Father’s house” and in doing that claims a unique relationship as the Son of God.[25] What does this event tell us about the kind of person Jesus is? I believe it is a stroke of the Apostle John’s brush painting Jesus for us, as he knows Him. Most of you know I am married to an Interior Decorator. And being married to this lady I have learned something about accents. For a room to be truly beautiful you not only need the beauty of the basic color but you also need just the right contrast to set off its beauty. What we see of Jesus character in this passage is an accent to the full picture of Who He is. Seldom do we see Him operating in righteous indignation as we do here. We are usually seeing His love and tenderness and mercy. God is love and certainly there is a majestic revelation of that here in John’s gospel as well as in his epistles. But Christ’s character and personality is perfectly balanced. It is a perfect blend of grace and truth. When the situation calls for gentleness and tenderness He is kind. But when the situation calls for assertive leadership He does not shrink back from the task. I have watched the results of leadership that only defines godliness as a kind of passivity and maybe even complacency. It’s easier to just “let it go.” But when something needs to be addressed letting it go is not the answer. Confronting it redemptively is. Parents your kids need mostly love. But sometimes they may need some unyielding leadership that establishes and enforces the boundaries. If you are not God’s designated leader in a situation, don’t lead. But if you are, then take the responsibility and set some direction. The message Jesus, the Messiah, has for these people is loud and clear. This is an outstanding opportunity for them to repent and do the right thing.3rd The Pathetic Response of these merchants.All of this should have provoked some self-examination and repentance. But instead of examining themselves they examine and cross-examine
Jesus. “What miraculous sign (semeion)[26] can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”What had just happen was a sign taken right out of their own Scripture—Malachi 3.A sign had already come and they refused to acknowledge it. We will see again in John’s gospel this demand for a sign accompanied by a set position of unbelief—a moral choice to not be moved by anything Jesus does—no sign is good enough. So Jesus just jumps past all that and gives them the ultimate sign—His crucifixion and resurrection.Verse 19, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’” They only heard Jesus through the grid of their own narrow perspective. Even the disciples didn’t understand at the time what Jesus was saying. After His resurrection they put it all together and understood. But even the disciples standing right there didn’t get it—let alone these ungodly merchants. [27] Jesus’ answer in verse 19 gives us some insight on what He was thinking at the time. He understood where this would all lead. He knew He was the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. He knew the time would come for His temple, His body, to be destroyed on a cruel cross. Yet He did not draw back from this confrontation which initiates a conflict with the Jews that will culminate in His death. That took a lot of courage.John shows us the Real Jesus taking charge—taking His office as the Messiah.[28]A complete picture of Jesus is not found in one passage alone. As we receive the word of God as a whole and allow it to mold and shape our understanding of Him we are blessed. May each and every one of us grow in the grace AND KNOWLEDGE of the Lord Jesus Christ.Perhaps you have come here today and you’ve heard about Jesus, you know some things about Him, but you’re not too sure that you actually know Him. Today, He wants to come into your life and make Himself known to you. You can know Him by simply humbling yourself and asking Him to come into your life as Lord and Master. He is bigger than the sins you have committed. If we will confess our sins and turn from them He will forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Will you ask Him to do that for you right now?

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