Signs are everywhere

The Text: John 2:13-22

Signs are everywhere; they block out the scenery and distract our minds as we pass by them on the roads with slogans like: “Do this, don’t do that, buy this, try this”

And I reckon Jesus was probably thinking the same as He entered into the Temple courts at this high point of the Jewish yearly celebrations; the Passover.

And it seems that Jesus sees some disturbing signs around the Temple.

Just imagine if Jesus turned up today and threw all of the contents of the church outside! (brandishing a whip at the same time)… Most politically incorrect indeed!

Surely there’s no harm in a book stall or a trading table? After all, we’re only doing these things to promote the work of the church…

Which raises the question for us; “WOULD Jesus do the same thing today?”

If He did, I am sure we would be just as perplexed and demand some sort of explanation, just like those of Jesus time did; “Prove to me that You have the authority to do this?”

And to give us this proof, why not show us a little party trick; something to prove TO US that You have the credentials.

Now if we unpack all of this ‘tongue in cheek’ rhetoric, the point that this sermon is trying to make is that the people Jesus was criticising in our reading today were presuming authority over God, the God who worked through both the system of rites of the Jerusalem Temple and also through Jesus himself. The Jewish people of Jesus day are an example of this presumption, but people today still suffer with the same problem.

Humanity has always been easily deceived to think that we have the authority, because we believe we are keeping God’s law. What underpins this belief is a poor understanding of the nature of our sin.

The Temple system served well, as it provided a means for dealing with the problem of sin. But the system suffers from the same issue that has plagued humanity from the fall – we do not understand the true nature of our sin and think that we can simply deal with it like this: “If I am a good person, if I attend to my religious duties, then I will be OK.” And so we fool ourselves into thinking that we can keep in good with God, by our ‘own effort’…. Or, we despair of any hope at all.

But today’s text is full of human presumptions. It is exactly what Jesus is dealing with; people PRESUME that it is OK to buy and sell in the Temple precincts. They think that they are alright with God BECAUSE of the Temple system. But this should be a warning sign for us. Everywhere there are signs, but the signs are pointing to the systems devised by humanity and not to the real sign of what the sacrificial system means, as it deals with sin and who we are before God.

But, we might argue; “isn’t all of this sacrifice business commanded by God in the first place? Is there not a need for sacrificial animals and the right money to pay the Temple tax?” (And even Jesus agrees to pay the Temple tax in Matthew 17:26, 27, so as not to offend…) So just what are the signs for us in this story?

Well, Jesus is offended that this necessary business of sacrificing animals and the money changing is occurring within the Temple complex itself. Afterall, it is taking up space in the Temple precinct – God’s meeting place with humanity. And because all the sacrifices and money changing used to happen in the court of the Gentiles, that means less space for them to worship God. So everything (the sacrifices and money changing) that was supposed to bring people into the temple was now excluding people; specifically those who are not Jewish.

And at this time of the Passover, we could well expect a vast amount of trade going on, through simple necessity. If any of us were a Gentile at the time, and we wanted to pray before the Lord in His Temple, we simply would not be able to because ‘there would not be any room in the Inn…’

So, part of Jesus’ anger is directed at these practices which denied people (specifically the non-Jews) access to worshipping God.

And so, a good question to ask ourselves today is; “Am I robbing people of access to God through my own attitude, actions and behaviour?” (pause)

But there’s an even deeper message to be found in this story of the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus, through this action, is preparing His people for the new covenant agreement. As He takes hold of the whip and drives out human corruption from this, His body of worship, so He is preparing the way for Himself. Jesus is giving us a sign of what is to come…

The Jerusalem Temple was the divinely given means of humanity to have access to God. A place where Israel could be sure of God’s presence with them. A place where they could meet with God and plead for their sin to be taken away. And also, a place where God’s people could and should, pray for the whole world.

And because the non-Jews had been denied a place of access to God because of the clutter of all the sacrificing and money-changing, God has now come to provide greater access for all; not just those who think they’re in God’s good book; and it is a sign of new things to come…through Christ!

Signs, signs, everywhere there are signs…and it seems no one is looking! When the Jews demanded a sign from Jesus, He gave them and us the only real sign that we could ever need; His own resurrection, His own body torn down and raised up again in three days. But of course, this is not the sign that humanity wants or expects, is it? In fact, it would be far more believable and faith building for Jesus to tear down and rebuild the temple in three days, than to believe in His resurrection from the dead after three days.

As St Paul tells us, this is the foolishness of God. The sending of His Son Jesus to die on a shameful cross is not what the proud, self-secure, human heart wants to see! It’s not the sign that we want to believe in! It is an offence to our pride and condemns our very being. It is a sign that is still rejected today. But it is very much the sign that is given by God to us…and thank God that it is! For what the proud human heart actually needs, is the heart surgery that our Lord brings through this very means of the cross!

As our Lord clears the Temple and makes way for Himself, so He gives the very sign of His suffering and death that we, as His very own people, might see and recognise! As He takes up the whip in the Temple, so He foreshadows His own flogging; another sign for us! When Jesus, the Word of God, says that He is the Way and the Truth and the Life, so He is showing us that it is THROUGH Him that we now have access to God the Father. Through Jesus bodily suffering, death, resurrection and His bodily ascension into heaven, we now HAVE ACCESS to God! Jesus replaces the old Temple system with Himself!

We know that the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 70AD, and never rebuilt or replaced.  We know that our own bodies, the new temple, will likewise be destroyed. But just as the Word says, they will be replaced with something far greater and grander! Because the more glorious sign, the second part of what Jesus says, is His resurrection!

The old system of sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple were only a foreshadowing of Jesus, the living Temple as God with us, God incarnate! It is Jesus’ sacrifice that deals with our sin, once and for all. It is in Jesus’ Name that our prayers are heard. It is in Jesus’ Name that we gather before the altar of God each and every Sunday. It is through Jesus’ resurrection, that all of this, is opened up for US!

Jesus’ body replaces the old Temple system, and we are invited to follow into Jesus’ new temple system –  through our baptism. Helped on our way, through receiving His Word and His body and blood.

And so now that our sin is DONE WITH through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are also called into His resurrection living. Each Sunday we confess our sin and are forgiven. As Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, so we are now called to follow in this “new temple system” and our bodies have even become God’s very own little temples of the Holy Spirit!

And, this brings about change. For our old Temples have now been swept clean! We are set free from the burden of those sacrifices and money changing to SIMPLY BE GOD’S HOLY PEOPLE!

We are no longer bound to sin, no longer focussed on ourselves. We are free to be the living presence of God for others through our daily living. Free to love as God first loved us. Free to seek this constant sweeping clean by Jesus’ Holy Spirit. We are a new creation – a reflection of Jesus Himself; perfect love!

And so each of us, now have become a walking, living billboard for the saving grace and love of God! We are all signs, no longer blocking out the scenery or distracting our minds, but pointing others to Christ.
And now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.