Summary: Jesus challenges us to realize that he is the center of our worship, not our facilities, programs, and activities. Just as he cleansed the temple, so he wants to cleanse us.
“The True Temple”
John 2: 13 – 22
Right now in theatres you can go see the movie version of C.S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and having seen it a few weeks ago, I can tell you that it is a great movie – and for the most part it is pretty faithful to the book. The book and the movie are essentially part one of a series of books by Lewis called The Chronicles of Narnia, and Narnia is another world outside of our own. It’s a world inhabited by centaurs, dwarves, talking wolves and beavers, fawns, and all kinds of mythical creatures. The land of Narnia is covered in an endless winter as the result of the cruel White Witch. And this world is just waiting for this winter to end. The central character of this book is a lion by the name of Aslan – and Aslan represents Christ. And in The Chronicles of Narnia Lewis is asking what it would look like if Christ had to come to such a world to bring salvation.
One of the differences between the book and the movie is the portrayal of Aslan. When the four children – Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter – end up in Narnia Mr. and Mrs. Beaver tell them about Aslan. They learn that Aslan is the true King and the son of the “Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea.” When they learn that Aslan is a lion – the Lion – and not a man, Susan says, “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” Mr. Beaver replies, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just quite silly.” Then the youngest of the children, little Lucy, says, “Then he isn’t safe?” To this question Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”
When you read this story of the cleansing of the Temple, how would you describe Jesus here? Do we see the Jesus from that famous hymn, “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” or from the hymn “Gentle Shepherd”? Would the Jesus from these hymns fashion of whip of cords? Would he overturn tables? Would he throw into disarray the worship practices of the day? Would he so deliberately provoke religious leaders? No, the Jesus we have in this story from John’s Gospel is neither gentle nor meek nor mild. Nor is he safe.
The Jesus we have in this story is not so much the Lamb of God as John describes him earlier in the Gospel; rather, what we see here is Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah – and as a Lion here he does indeed bare his teeth. Like a man possessed Jesus drove the animals out of the temple courts. We see him passionate, driven, dramatic, and, yes, it seems, angry. But remember, anger itself is not a sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry but do not sin.” There is a kind of anger called ‘righteous anger.’ If we see anger on display here, it is this kind of anger. Righteous anger. But of course this leaves us asking a question: if he is angry, why is Jesus angry here? Why did he overturn the tables, drive out the animals, and spill all the coins of the money-changers? Why did he do this? What was he trying to say? What do we learn from and about Jesus in this story?
First, some context: it is the Passover, the annual Jewish feast commemorating and celebrating the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. This is perhaps the most central and important festival in the Jewish tradition – without the events that this festival celebrates there would not be an Israel, a temple, a people of God. It was also a pilgrimage festival, meaning that many people travelled great distances to worship in Jerusalem during Passover.
To celebrate the Passover cattle, sheep, and doves were required for burnt offerings in the temple, but those who had to journey from far away would not likely have brought animals with them. Therefore, they needed to buy animals in Jerusalem in order to participate in temple worship. This seems fair enough, doesn’t it?
Well, unfortunately, despite how legitimate this practice was, the spirit behind these practices was not. Priests required that travellers purchase animals at the Jerusalem temple – no where else – and they could charge what they liked, all so that people could offer an “acceptable sacrifice.” To make sure that this is what happened, the priests had to inspect and approve of animals brought into the temple from the outside. All the priest had to do was reject the animal and another one would have to be purchased. It was more or less required, then, that your sacrificial animals had to come from the temple court. They could charge whatever they wanted. And of course it was all in the name of acceptable sacrifice and right worship.