Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:10 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Here’s a thing that happens: you’re talking to someone—maybe someone you don’t know too well—and you tell them something and even though they hear the words clearly, they understand them differently from how you meant them. Or it happens the other way around: someone is talking to you, and you hear the words clearly, but you understand them differently from how they mean you to hear them. In some ways, I’m a little surprised that we can communicate with each other at all. We all have different experiences, different backgrounds, different ideas, different understandings. It’s a wonder we can ever communicate with each other.
Sometimes when Jesus speaks, especially in the Gospel of John, this happens. He says something and the other person hears the words, but can’t really hear Jesus. That’s because it’s not a matter of having more information, or clarification, or getting to know Jesus better. Truly hearing Jesus is the same as truly seeing Jesus, which are both synonyms for believing Jesus. This isn’t something that comes naturally, it’s a supernatural event, given by the Holy Spirit.
Most famously, perhaps, this sort of misunderstanding happens when Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Jesus tells him that it is necessary to be born from above by water and the Spirit, but all Nicodemus can hear is that he has to be born again, a second time, in the same way he was born the first time. It’s not possible to enter my mother’s womb and be born again! He hears Jesus, but he doesn’t really hear Jesus, at least not at first.
And it happens when Jesus speaks with the woman at the well in Samaria. Jesus is talking about living water and eternal life and the Holy Spirit—water and the Spirit, again—and all she hears is about some kind of magic water that He might be able to give her so that she doesn’t have to get water from the well any more. She hears Jesus, but she doesn’t hear Him, at least not at first.
And it happens here in the temple. Jesus talks about destroying the temple and raising it after three days, but those who are in charge of the temple, the leaders of Israel, they only hear that He’s going to destroy that temple and rebuild it in three days, when it’s already taken 46 years up to that point. It’s not possible for you to destroy this temple and build it in three days! They hear Jesus, but they don’t really hear Him. Hearing is seeing is believing. The Holy Spirit must do the work of the word and give ears to hear. The psalmist says that God digs ears to hear (Psalm 40:6). In other words, you might hear the sounds going in and hitting your ear-drums and the sound waves and your ears function, but God has to dig you new ears to actually hear Jesus.
It is the Spirit, Jesus tells His disciples, who will bring to their remembrance everything He said to them. And so it is, John tells us: when Jesus was raised from the dead, they remembered these actions and these words and they believed the Scripture and Jesus’ words—they heard Jesus and believed His Scriptures, even His words.
And today we hear and are reminded again: Jesus went into the temple to clear it out, to cleanse it. But He didn’t do that in order to restore it for or to its previous use. Other Israelite kings did that; Josiah and Hezekiah cleared out the temple of all the things that shouldn’t have been in there, and they restored it according to the Law of God. But that’s not what Jesus is doing here. When He comes in and finds the animals and the money-changers, and He makes a little whip out of whatever happens to be lying around—maybe ropes from the animals, or some kind of reeds—and He drives out the cattle and the sheep and overturns their tables and pours out the coins of the money-changers, He’s not getting it ready to be used rightly. He’s preparing it for going away. He’s making it obsolete. He’s preparing it for its destruction.
Because this is a sign of what He’s going to do. He doesn’t give any sign of His authority to do it; this is the sign. Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days. And John, after the resurrection, doesn’t want us to miss the point: the temple of which He spoke was His body. As He said to the woman at the well: the hour is coming when you will not worship on Mt. Gerizim, where the Samaritans were, nor in Jerusalem at the temple. The hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in the Truth—that is, they will worship in Him who says, I am the Truth. And they will worship in the Spirit, who gives the birth from above by water and the word.
Now there is only one temple, one place where God is present to save and forgive and heal, one place where He locates Himself, so that we know where to find Him. God doesn’t want us to go on pilgrimages, or journeys, or to go out searching to find where He might be hiding today. He says, openly and plainly, here I am. Here is the temple, in the body of Jesus. We might use buildings made with hands to gather, but He is not located in a particular building, but in a particular Man. Where that man speaks and forgives and restores, where His body and blood are, where His Spirit is, that’s where God is for you.
After Jesus was raised from the dead, the Spirit brought to the remembrance of the disciples that He had done and said these things, things like the citation of Psalm 69: Zeal for Your House will consume Me. And it did: zeal for the House of God, His own flesh and blood, consumed Him, ate Him up, devoured Him in death. He was destroyed and torn down, and then He was raised from the dead on the third day.
So no more sacrifices of cattle or sheep bought and paid for and killed. The one sacrifice had come, and because He was raised from the dead, there is no need of any other sacrifices for sin. He poured out the money, because there is no payment or exchange that can be made, no cost that can be paid, to get this forgiveness and mercy. Instead, Jesus poured out His holy, precious blood and bought us with His innocent suffering and death, in order to make us His own. Zeal for God’s house consumed Him; which is zeal for you. Because you are the living stones of God’s temple. You are the members of Christ’s Body, the temple which was torn down and raised.
Here and everywhere, where Jesus is with His own body and blood and His own living word, is the eternal temple and presence of our God. We let so much consume us, devour us, eat us up: eat up our time, and our money, and our energy, and our lives. But none of those things lead to eternal life. Here, where Jesus is for you, is His eternal life freely given. Here we rest for a while in Him, who is our temple. Here we have our inner nature renewed, even though our outer nature is daily wasting away and being eaten up. Here, here is where we who have been born from above, who have been given His Holy Spirit, hear and believe His words and the Scriptures. Here is where He brings to our remembrance everything that Jesus has said, the living words that run like a river through this temple, all the way from the city of God.
Here we pray: “Hear, O Lord, Your servant listens, let Your word to me come near; newborn life and spirit give me, let each promise still my fear. Death’s dread power, its inward strife, wars against Your Word of life; fill me, Lord, with love’s strong fervor that I cling to You forever! Oh, what blessing to be near You and to listen to Your voice; let me ever love and hear You, let Your Word now be my choice! Many hardened sinners, Lord, flee in terror at Your Word; but to all who feel sin’s burden You give words of peace and pardon. Lord, Your words are waters living when my thirsting spirit pleads. Lord, Your words are bread life-giving; on Your words my spirit feeds. Lord, Your words will be my light through death’s cold and dreary night; yes, they are my sword prevailing and my cup of joy unfailing!” (LSB 589:1-3).
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, 3/6/21