Summary: Jesus' cleansing of the temple graphically proclaims that the temple was no only needed. Jesus is the the temple and with the Holy Spirit in us, we become a temple. God is among his people, bringing in his kingdom.
I have always found the scene of Jesus cleansing the temple puzzling, if not troubling. It seems so out of character for Jesus. Certainly, he has shown anger before at the hardheartedness and judgmentalism of some people, but he has never been violent. I could catch a glimpse of the motivation for his actions in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In those gospels, this scene is played out in the last week and it is the straw that “broke the camel’s back” in his relationship with the Jewish leaders. In John, however, the scene is play out in the beginning of his ministry.
It is the opinion of many that the writer of John has some theological points that he is communicating to the early Christians. These ideas were important to the early church and they have not lost their importance for our walks as disciples of Jesus today.
THE TEMPLE DESTROYED
The kingdom of God has come in the person of Jesus Christ. He has brought in a new era. Previously, the temple was the dwelling place of God. God’s chosen people approached the deity with sacrifices through a system mediated by priests. Now the dwelling place of God is in the person of Jesus. Later God the Spirit chooses to dwell in the lives of Jesus’ followers. The temple is no longer needed. The temple’s physical destruction in 70ce, was anti-climatic to its destruction on the cross of Jesus.
When I was growing up, a church building was often called “the house of God.” The church was a different place than all of the other buildings. A little candle in the front of the sanctuary reminded people of God’s presence. Once we entered the doors of the sanctuary all talking stopped. We wouldn’t think of bringing in a cup of coffee or munching on a cookie. We were in God’s presence! We were mirroring an image of the church/temple that the Jews had in Jesus’ day.
Attitudes obviously have changed. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine God dwelling in a school cafeteria any longer than three hours on Sunday morning. We know that God is a part of our lives and of our world. Still, we often act as if God is confined to the building or to congregational activities. Many of us believe that if we want to really want to experience God we do so in a worship service. We feel that serving in a congregational ministry is a little bit more holy and sanctified than the time we spend at our work, or with our family. The temple has been destroyed, however, and Jesus has come.
Today we celebrate the baptism of Kieran and Payton Fullerton. We will rejoice in their adoption as children of God and their being filled by the Holy Spirit. We will light a candle and challenge them to let their light shine before others. Their baptism reminds us of who we are—people of God who have been sent into the world. Certainly worship is important and service through the congregation is effective in ministering to the needs of others. It is our daily lives, though, our jobs, our families, our leisure activities where we mostly shine, bear witness to God’s presence and power, and honor God. The temple has been destroyed, Jesus has come, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit, and anointed for our daily ministry.