Summary: The Jesus of the Bible is consumed with passion and angry about injustices so he does something about them.
July 17, 2011 John 2:13-22
For those of you who grew up going to Sunday school, how many of you remember the beloved flannelgraph?
For those of you who didn’t, the flannelgraph is old-school media in church… a simple board with a background picture, made out of flannel, to which you could attach pictures as you told a Bible story. It was movable, bright, easy, and generally included in whichever Sunday School curriculum you might be teaching from.
I’ve been thinking lately about our ideas of Jesus – who He is, how He looked, what kind of personality He had, what kind of attitude he had – where do those come from? Of course those ideas come from a variety of places, and I truly hope that at the very top of the list for all of us is the Bible’s description of Jesus’ life and ministry, His death and resurrection, and His ongoing ministry in our world and our lives. I really hope the Bible is the primary source for that. But I believe that for most people, other factors come into play as well, and those factors influence which stories from Scripture are most influential in our understanding of Jesus. Those factors include our expectations of what Jesus should have been like, our desires of what we want Jesus to be like, and our experiences and how they have been interpreted by us and others about what Jesus is like.
See, as much as we all want to claim our ideas of Jesus are based on the Bible, I don’t think most people today actually read their Bibles all that often. Perhaps that is true for you also? And when we do, we often tend to read quickly or even skip past parts that don’t reinforce our already-concieved notions of who Jesus is.
The result of these factors is that we end up with a Jesus suited more to our liking than the Jesus of Scripture, and often that is a Jesus who is distorted, tame, mild-mannered, who never gets upset, never frowns, never raises his voice, never has dirt on his clean white robes. We fashion a Jesus who never did anything wrong (and by wrong we understand that not just as that which Bible calls sin, but also all of our own cultural ideas about right and wrong such as always being polite, not being confrontational, and not making a big public scene).
We end up with a flannelgraph Jesus, always wearing clean white robes (that’s how you could tell which one of the characters was Jesus…), always smiling, arms open and welcoming, a Jesus we are comfortable with. Here’s a question: for those of you who remember flannelgraph, did you ever see a flannelgraph Jesus with a look of anger on His face? Or pointing a finger in a confrontational manner?? Or looking at His disciples with a deep disappointment drawn on His face? Those are portrayals of the Jesus in the Bible, but I don’t see them represented in the images of Jesus we create, we see, and we imagine today. Because those aren’t comfortable.
Last Sunday we looked at one of those uncommon portrayals of Jesus, as the God who turned water into wine to keep a party going, in the first half of John 2. Today I want to look at the second half of John 2, another story that is familiar but that for most people remains on the periphery of our ideas about who Jesus is – it is the story of the cleansing of the temple. But before reading the passage, I need to spend some time creating the context so we understand the story in 1st century Jerusalem rather than 21st century Canada.
It is hard for us to imagine how important the Jerusalem temple was in Jewish society of Jesus’ day. It was the center, the core, the symbol of a nation. It was the head of the people, the place of law, spirituality, art, history, commerce, and culture. In Canada, we might think of the parliament buildings, the supreme court, the Notre Dame cathedral, all the art galleries and theatres and museums, Bay street, all combined into one.
The temple played a huge roll in the coming of age of the Israelites – we know from the stories in the Old testament of King David, his military might leading the Jews to become the regional power, they were days of glory, which the Jews of Jesus’ day looked to as the great past. David had a deep desire to build a temple, and replace the tabernacle which had been the place of worship since Moses and the exodus with a beautiful, permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant, a fitting place to worship God. God didn’t let David build the temple, but David’s son, Solomon, did, in 957BC, and it was incredible.