In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Maybe you’ve heard the joke: if someone asks you, “What would Jesus do?” remind them that making a whip and overturning tables is always an option. What a shocking thing for Jesus to do. What a shocking thing, for Jesus to walk into the temple, and to interfere violently with something that had been going on for decades, for generations. What a shocking thing for Jesus to make a whip, to drive out the animals, to overturn the tables, to pour out the coins.
What sign do You give us for doing these things? the leaders of Israel ask, the ones who are responsible for the temple. What gives You the right? OK, Jesus says, tear down this temple and I will raise it up in three days. Three days? It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and You’re going to raise it up in three days? But John makes sure we know: He was speaking about the temple of His Body. And after Jesus was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the Word that Jesus had spoken.
The temple of which He had spoken was His Body. And now we see why He has authority to clear out the temple: because that temple, and the tabernacle before it, was never meant to be an end in itself. It was never meant to be final, eternal, permanent. God gives Moses very specific instructions about the tabernacle, what it should be made of, its dimensions, its furnishings. He tells him exactly how it should look, what should go where, what the priests should do, and what should happen inside it. Why? Because it was a sign and a physical prophecy: you mess with the tabernacle, you mess with the priests, you mess with the sacrifices, you do it your own way—you mess with what the Messiah would be and do.
The tabernacle, and the temple after it, were where God had located Himself for His people. When Solomon builds the temple, he prays at the dedication. He says that of course the temple cannot hold God, as if He could be confined. But He has put His Name on that building, and so when people pray toward the temple with that Name, please hear from heaven and forgive. God locates Himself among His people so that they might know where He has promised to be.
And now, that temple is cleared out, purified, cleansed. Because now Jesus has come, and something greater than the temple is here. The true temple, in flesh and blood. The true priest, not in the order of Aaron, but in the order of Melchizedek. And all the animals have to go, because the true Lamb of God is here, who actually takes away the sin of the world. Zeal for the Father’s house consumes Him—zeal for the purpose of His own flesh and blood in this world. The end of that building in Jerusalem has come, because it is fulfilled. And they destroy the building of His Body. Zeal for what He has come to do consumes Him all the way to death. He is eaten up by suffering, bleeding, dying. And His life is consumed so that He can be placed in a stone grave.
But in three days, the Temple is raised up. The Temple of which He spoke was His Body. In its fullness and fulfillment, the purpose of God’s temple is the same: to locate Himself in a physical way among His people, so that they will know where they can find God, where He is present to hear and forgive their sins. No hiding and seeking: God wants to be heard, seen, found, believed, worshiped in the flesh and blood of the Man, Jesus. Here and now, He wants to be found, and He is very specific, very clear: here in this Man and nowhere else.
Some people might say, don’t put God in a box! Don’t limit God! And, without a doubt, neither you nor I are able to limit God or put boundaries around His work, to say “thus far you shall go and no farther.” But what if God has put Himself in a box? What if God has limited Himself—not absolutely, but for the sake of His mercy, for your sake and mine? God has put Himself in the box of Jesus’ flesh and blood, and to say that this is somehow us limiting God is actually telling God what He can and cannot do. If God wants to be found in this Man, in these ways of delivering His death and resurrection to us, who are we to say that He really should have done it some other way?
Jesus is the Temple, and you worship where He is, because He has put that temple Name on you. Jesus the Temple, found in Holy Baptism; Jesus the Temple, found in Holy Absolution; Jesus the Temple, found in His own Word; Jesus the Temple, found in the Holy Supper. And, strangely, the Temple makes His Home in you. And so Paul says that those who have been given the true sacrifice, by the true priest, in the true temple—they themselves are temples of His Holy Spirit. They themselves are sacrifices—not the singular and only sacrifice for sin, but living sacrifices poured out from these earthly temples for the sake of those whom God has given us to love.
Jesus’ temple was destroyed at once, the sacrificial blood poured out, the true High Priest presiding—His was a dying sacrifice. Ours is a living sacrifice, poured out faster or slower, as long as we live in this age and this creation. But the day will come when all the individual temples of the Holy Spirit, gathered as living stones into the single House of God, will be gathered into the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. And in that City, there is no temple, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. Then, finally, the faith will be sight, the hesitant worship will be full, and the Presence will be all-encompassing.
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, 3/3/18