In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The season of Lent, like the rest of the Church Year, is mean to shape and form us according to the life of Christ, so that we do not shape Christ according to our lives. The season of Lent is meant to open our ears to hear the Word of Jesus, so that we hear the voice of our Shepherd Jesus and follow Him, and so that know and flee from the voice of the Liar, who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. The season of Lent is meant to do what St. Paul says in Romans 12: instead of being conformed to this world and this age, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. And the only way our minds can be renewed is by the mind of Christ, by the Word of Christ dwelling richly in us. Today, as we continue our Lenten preparation, we are taken deeper into the life of Jesus by this account in John’s Gospel. It is strange that John puts this at the beginning of his Gospel, when the other three Gospels all place this at the end, after Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the donkey.
But John wants to set the stage for the entire life of Jesus. So he puts this account of the clearing the Temple between two other accounts. John tells us first how Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana; how that sign was the beginning of His signs, the first of His signs; and that His disciples saw it and believed in Him. And after this, John tells us about how Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to talk about the signs that He had done. And right in between these two accounts that only John gives us, he puts the account of Jesus clearing the temple. Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for the Passover festival and He sees money-changers and animals for sacrifices in the Temple. He makes a whip out of ropes and drives out the animals, tells them to get the doves out of there, pours out the money on the ground, and overturns their tables. And the leaders of Israel want to know, “What sign will You show us for doing these things?” But His clearing of the Temple is the sign. John puts it back to back with His first sign at Cana, in order to set the stage for Jesus’ whole life and ministry.
At Cana, Jesus tells His mother: “My hour has not yet come,” and it becomes clear throughout the Gospel of John that Jesus’ hour is the hour of His suffering and death. And then He clears the Temple and says to the leaders, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” John makes it clear that He is talking about His body. His hour and the destruction of His Body. The sign of the new creation, with the unlimited wine of joy, untainted and undistorted by sin, and His resurrection. These signs go together, and they give us a picture, right at the beginning of what Jesus’ life is all about: His death and resurrection, sin’s destruction of His body and the new creation in His resurrection. We are watching Jesus be consumed by zeal for His Father’s house, the house of God. Consumed by zeal for the place of God’s saving presence. Consumed all the way up, consumed in death. Everything in the temple, all the sacrifices, everything that He does in the temple, is a preview of what will happen to Him, because God’s house is His own body, His own flesh. He is the place where God dwells to save. So the whip that Jesus makes becomes the whip that flogs Him. The money He pours out on the floor of the temple becomes His blood poured out on the ground for the redemption of the world. The marketplace of the temple becomes the soldiers casting lots for His clothing. And He drives out all other sacrifices because He is the one sacrifice for the sin of the world, for all time, for all sinners. The reproaches, the insults, of those who insult God, have fallen on Him. All the rebellion against God falls on Christ. All the blasphemy against God falls on Christ. All the insults against God falls on Christ. Those who insult and blaspheme God by rejecting His Son whom He has sent, crucify Jesus and destroy the Temple of God’s presence. But God will not Jesus come to shame. He raises Him on the third day, and now there is no doubt where we can find the God who saves: in the crucified shame of Jesus, which we can see; and in the resurrected glory of Jesus, which we have now only by faith.
In the shame, and the insult, and the reproach of Jesus on the cross, we see what love and mercy looks like in this world. And if that is true of the physical Body of Jesus, it is also true of His Body, the Church. The Church must and will share the shame of Jesus. Just as the reproach against God falls on Jesus in His flesh, so the reproach against Jesus falls on His Body. We must be where Jesus is, outside the gate of the city, in shame and reproach (Hebrews 13:13; Romans 15:3). And when we try to avoid what happens to Jesus, we actually deny Him. If life is always comfortable for the Church and for Christians, if it is always easy, if it is never shameful, if we are always successful and relevant, then we might well wonder whether we are actually following the real Christ. This is always a temptation for the Church, because our sinful natures hate suffering and shame and insult. So we are as likely as those money-changers to try and exchange the currency of our culture for the silver and gold of the Spirit. But they are two different things. Friendship with the world is enmity toward God. If we, or anyone, will not have the Jesus who suffers the reproach and shame of the cross, then we cannot be saved. And if we want a Church in this world that looks different from Jesus, then it is not actually His Church. We share in the apparent weakness and shame of Jesus as long as we live in this world, as long as sin clings to our flesh, as long as the Church is made up of forgiven sinners. You cannot find a Church other than the one that is beaten and bruised by sin; there is no Church in this world that is perfect, whole, and glorious. You cannot have or be part of a Church that doesn’t look like the Body of Christ, torn apart and bleeding, broken under the weight of sin. You cannot have a Church that is not dying. All attempts to remake the Church, to give her a makeover so that she doesn’t resemble so much her suffering Lord are attempts to have a different kind of Jesus, and they are congregations of the devil.
We are dying; the Church is dying. Just like the Temple of Jesus’ Body was destroyed and died. But, don’t you see, that when the Body of Christ dies just like her Head, then she also bears the same reproach. And that means that she will share His resurrection. We cannot avoid the reproach that covers this whole earth, the shame of death. But on the mountain of Calvary, Jesus began to swallow up death once and for all. He was consumed completely by zeal for God’s saving presence, and thus death was swallowed up by life. On that mountain, in the midst of death, a feast of life was prepared of the best wine and the best food. A feast that we eat as we are dying, so that we live and eat the wedding feast of the Lamb forever. He has taken away the reproach that covers the whole earth, and on that great Third Day, we will live forever in that City that has no temple, because God and the Lamb are its Temple, purified and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. It will be said on that day: Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him that He might save us. This is Yahweh; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation (Isaiah 25:9).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/7/15