90 Days with Jesus, Day 8: John 2:12-25: God in the Center

John 2:12-25

12After 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. 14In 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 money changers 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. 23Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

Friends, after today, you will have read two chapters in John’s Gospel. This is good progress. You have taken your time, read slowly, and chewed on only a few passages each day. You have allowed them to sink deep into your heart and there take root as you learn about the Jesus you follow, and learn about how to follow the Jesus you know. Congratulations! This is not small thing in our hurry up world. The hurry up world says it has to be done today and delights in large, massive quantities. We are taking the long stroll, the far look, and the slow journey. We are not tourists visiting interesting sites; we are disciples on the narrow road, on a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’ Also, please feel free to leave me your thoughts by clicking the ‘comment’ link.

The (physical) place of worship had turned into a place of economics; the practice of worship has turned into an empty, hollow, market place where God is not at the center. As such, worshipers were marginalized, worship was de-sacralized, and other less vital functions were elevated and imperialized. It sounds strange to say it in such a way, but consider this: what dominates us controls us, what is important to us takes precedence. Here in the temple clearly what dominated people’s lives was not theology, not worship, and not the Presence, but economics, power, and control. It was a market, Jesus said, a place where buying and selling, bartering and bickering, haggling and harassing were taking place not necessarily to the exclusion of worship, but more prominently than worship and in distraction of worship. In other words, the place of worship, the atmosphere of worship, the spirit of worship were all subjected to the whims of humans. Human interraction, human function, human beings and their needs and wants were centralized; God was marginalized. Does this sound at all familiar?

Imagine you invited a friend over to your house for a nice dinner and conversation. Imagine you had planned out a nice afternoon together of fellowship, eating, drinking, making merry and simply enjoying one another’s company and conversation. Imagine, now, that your friend arrives and sets up a yard-sale in your front yard and begins hawking and hollering at other guests you had invited. There would be no fellowship, no companionship, no conversation that would be enjoyable. Intimacy would turn into rape. And, I suppose, you would be jealous that you had to compete with your guest for the affections of your friends and neighbors–in your own house! It’s not the best analogy, but I think it suffices. In the house of God there is only One Master and He is not keen on sharing the limelight. It’s His House. Now whatever else this passage teaches us I think it certainly teaches us this: Jesus’ purificaction of the temple was an act of judgment against those who had been invited guests. He wasn’t angry with a building, but with people; people he knew all too well. And His point was clearly this: The God who lives here will not tolerate competition. Would that such zeal would consume many of those who are invited guests in the house of God today. But I suspect that the same exact thing happens in many ‘temples’ today: There is competition for attention, competition for Centralization, competition for Glory & Praise. This is what happens when God is marginalized, when worship is economized, when the sacred is trivialized. God is moved out and man takes over; can man keep anything pure and righteous?

David Wells wrote, “It is hard to miss in the evangelical world—in the vacuous worship that is so prevalent, for example, in the shift from God to the self as the central focus of faith, in the psychologized preaching that follows this shift, in the erosion of its conviction, in its strident pragmatism, in its inability to think incisively about the culture, in its reveling in the irrational. And it would have made few of these capitulations to modernity had not its capacity for truth diminished. It is not hard to see these things; avoiding them is what is difficult” (No Place for Truth, 95). I think what was happening that day is this: Jesus was not only purifying the temple, creating space, centralizing God once again (we say ‘cleansing’), he was also emptying it of all that deadness that inhabitited it and preparing it for new life. This is precisely why he ties this action to his resurrection: Destroy this temple, he said, and I will raise it up again in three days. He was saying, through actions, that the true purpose for the temple will never again be found in Jerusalem’s physical ediface, but will be found in Himself. He was telling the people, through word and deed, that the temple would be destroyed: His was also an act of judgment. But no matter! The true temple would be raised up and the function and purpose of the temple will be reestablished and never again corrupted. Jesus is the true temple and in Him, the Resurrected Lord, God will never again be marginalized, man will never be centralized, man will no longer control and ‘change’ (‘you have turned it into…something you desire’) the purpose of the temple and worship will continue freely and unabated by those who seek God. (Why do we prefer busy markets to worship?)

I think it is no wonder that Jesus would not entrust himself to man. The Bible says, “He knew what was in man.” I don’t suppose that has changed. Man has found a way to corrupt the church, to ‘turn it into something it was not intended to be’, the make man the center and life of the church, and, worse, we have found a way to do this to Jesus. I hate to say it, but man, within whom lies so many evils and ills, has found a way to corrupt the temple once again. We have found a way to make Jesus serve our purposes. We have found a way to use him. If man could not rightly serve in the physical structure the Presence inhabited, do you think we can or will rightly serve the Lord Jesus who inhabits us? Or do you think that we, like the temple rulers then, will once again turn the temple into something we can control, corrupt, and use? I cannot help but wonder if this is not already the truth. David Wells again:

“This is why we need reformation rather than revival. The habits of the modern world, now so ubiquitous in the evangelical world, need to be put to death, not given new life. [This is essentially what Jesus was saying in his judgement of the temple that day. And a new temple would be established in Himself.] They need to be rooted out, not simply papered over with fresh religious enthusiasm. And they are by this point so invincible that nothing less than the intrusion of God in his grace, nothing less than a full recovery of his truth, will suffice…In this regard, the death of theology has profound ramifications. Theology is dying not because the academy has failed to devise adequate procedures for reconstructing it but because the church has lost its capacity for it. And while some hail this loss as a step forward toward the hope of new evangelical vitality, it is in fact a sign of creeping death. The emptiness of evangelical faith without theology echoes the emptiness of modern life. Both have elected to cross over into a world in which God has no place, in which reality has been rewritten, in which Christ has become redundant, his Word irrelevant, and the Church must now find new reasons for its existence” (No Place for Truth, 301)

Judgment. Destruction. Resurrection. I wonder if it would take this much for the church to realize afresh that we are slowly killing ourselves by removing God from the Center? What will it take for Jesus to entrust himself to us? Woe is us if we try to turn the True Temple into something we can manage, manipulate, and master. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah. And judgment begins with the house of God.

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