Summary: Looking at Jesus’ Temple cleansing, we can see He was a social revolutionary and a rebel against the culture, even the religious culture. This sermon calls people to rebel as well, as long as they’re obeying God.
John 2:13-25 – Called to be Rebels
You may have heard of Emily Post. She was born in the early 1870’s and died in 1960. She was the Martha Stewart of her day. Although she wrote a syndicated newspaper column and for a time also hosted a radio program, what made her famous was her book, called Etiquette. This book, which ran through 10 editions at the publishers, taught people how to get along politely in society.
Some of what she said was good. For instance, Mrs. Post wrote that, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” She also said, “There is no reason why you should be bored when you can be otherwise.”
However, she also wrote, “To do exactly as your neighbors do is the only sensible rule.” Did you catch that? Do exactly what your neighbors do. Someone else said this thought in a more familiar way: “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” Now, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem very smart to me. Nor does it sound very Jesus-like.
Over the years the church has given the impression of a quiet and calm and reserved Jesus. The Jesus who fit in and never ruffled any feathers. The Mister Rogers/Santa Claus/grandfather/friendly postman Jesus. The Jesus who was so meek and mild that a person couldn’t imagine anyone getting so mad at Him as to kill Him. But that’s only half the picture. Let’s read John 2:12-25.
This is a picture of Jesus we don’t see very often. It’s the angry Jesus, the loud Jesus, the not-so-meek-and-mild Jesus. Let me describe the scene for you. It’s Passover time. That’s the holiday/holy day celebrated in early spring, reminding the people of God’s deliverance from slavery in the land of Egypt. It’s a time of unleavened bread, lamb, and parsley. It’s a time of sacrificial lambs and pilgrimages to Jerusalem. And Jesus has come to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship.
But what Jesus sees at the Temple apparently upsets Him greatly. V14 says that in the temple courts, Jesus finds “men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.” The older translations just use the word “temple” there, but the word is different from the verses later in the passage. The word means the outer courtyard of the Temple, not the inner places. The temple courtyards were the places for the Gentiles to worship.
But instead of the Gentiles, the non-Jews, the ones who want to worship God but have not gone through the rituals of becoming Jews, instead of their being able to worship, what’s there is booths. Now, these booths serve practical purposes. Pilgrims, Jews and non-Jews alike, coming in from foreign lands, need to exchange their foreign coins into Palestinian currency. After all, what’s on their coins are images of the Caesar, which would be next to blasphemous to offer to God. In addition to the money changers, those who come from a great distance would need to buy sacrificial animals to offer at the Temple.
None of this in itself is bad. The people there in the temple courts are offering legitimate services to help people worship. The word is “pragmatic”. It means practical. It means useful. It means that something is being done because it works.
But pragmatic isn’t always good. It might be pragmatic for a church not to talk about people being sinners, in order to attract more people, but cutting that out isn’t good. So pragmatic isn’t always a good thing. And the men in their booths serving useful purposes isn’t good either. What they are doing is making it impossible for the Gentiles to come and worship. They are getting in the way of real worshippers coming to do some real worship. What started off as a service has become a dis-service. And Jesus sees this.
There is likely more to it as well. Likely the money changers are doing some price gouging. Likely there is a high exchange rate for foreign currency, a statement that sounds more like a financial report than a sermon. It all smacks of people earning money off other people’s religious experience. As if religious devotion has to put your money into other people’s pockets.
Now, it’s not that money never gets involved in worship. Jesus spoke often about money. He spoke more about money than He did about heaven and hell combined. Don’t think that a pastor talking about money is somehow greedy or self-serving. A preacher who talks about money is only following Jesus’ path.
But milking a person for all they’re worth to put that into his own pockets is unbecoming of a preacher. Or a televangelist. Or a ridiculously priced book club. It drives me crazy to walk into a Christian bookstore and see ugly and cheap merchandise priced way too high, as if to say that a spiritual person would or should buy it anyway.