Summary: This Is Our Father’s House 1) Drive out all distractions 2) Stop going through the motions 3) Give ear to Jesus’ promises
What do you see when you turn into the church driveway? Do you see the big white cross that stands guard outside the church? Do you notice the slate tiles that cover the roof of this place? What about the small cross on the very top of the church ever take a close look at that? What do you see when you come inside? Do you see a place for your coat to go? Do you see where you’ll sit? Or have you become so familiar with this building that you look at all these things without very much going through your mind? I do hope you feel comfortable here but there’s always the danger of becoming too comfortable. Our Gospel lesson warns against that this morning by reminding us that this is our Father’s house, not our house to do with as we please. Since this is our Father’s house we’ll want to drive out all distractions, stop going through the motions of worship, and give ear to Jesus’ promises.
Our text describes how Jesus and his disciples had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This was one of three festivals all Jewish males 20 years and older were to attend every year. They were to present the appropriate animal sacrifice and pay a temple tax. To serve pilgrims who traveled long distances a booming business had developed selling animals for sacrifice and changing foreign currency so pilgrims from out of country could pay the temple tax. The problem was the merchants cheated the pilgrims (Matthew 21:13). Even the priests were in on the action. They regularly disqualified animals the pilgrims themselves had brought to sacrifice on some technicality forcing the pilgrims to buy one of the priests’ “approved” animals at an inflated price. To make matters even worse this shady business went on in the confines of the temple courts. The place where the sounds of worship were to be heard - priests chanting the Psalms and pilgrims lifting their prayers heavenward, was dominated by the cacophony of clinking coins and the stench of animals and greed.
When Jesus came upon the scene he grabbed some rope, fashioned it into a whip, and began lashing out at merchant and animal alike. When he came to the moneychangers he flipped their tables sending their neatly stacked coins rolling in every direction. When Jesus faced those selling doves he said: “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16b) Jesus with whip in hand is not usually the image that comes to mind when we think about our Savior, is it? I wonder if the disciples felt embarrassed as they watched Jesus, the way we feel when someone in our group starts to complain loudly at a restaurant about the service and food. But then one of the disciples remembered a prophecy about Jesus from Psalm 69. It said: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17b).
No, this was not the merchants’ house, nor did it belong to the worshippers or even to the priests. It was the Father’s house. God’s house was to be a place of prayer, a place where God came to the sinner and gave freely of his love and forgiveness. The priests and merchants, however, were taking advantage of sinners who had come looking for solace. God’s house was no longer a refuge and Jesus was not going to put up with that.
Friends we may not have turned this worship space into a market but do we treat it as if it was our living room? Have we become so familiar and comfortable with it that we don’t really stop to consider why we are here – to worship our God and Lord? When we settle into our chair for the service does our mind fasten on what God has to say to us or do we spend the time making mental notes of things that need to get done at work or at home? Do we see these 60 minutes as an hour to endure or to mature? Could it be that Jesus needs to overturn our hearts and set us straight on what is really important? What is important in our Father’s house is that we glorify God in our worship and that we gain a stronger hold on God’s grace (Joel Pankow). So drive like cattle from your heart whatever distracts from worship, whatever distorts the church’s mission, and whatever cheats God’s children around you from growing in the faith. (Sermon Studies on the Gospels Series B NPH)
Jesus had a right to be upset about the people being ripped off in the temple courts but he should have been happy that people were at least still coming to worship, right? No. Part of his concern seems to be that those who were coming to worship were just going through the motions. When Jesus cleansed the temple a second time at the end of his ministry he accused the priests and merchants of turning the temple into a den of robbers. That seems to be a reference to something God said through the prophet Jeremiah 600 years earlier. “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 7:9-11). The people of Jeremiah’s day figured that as long as they continued to come to God’s house and offer the right sacrifices they could live any way they wanted to. But the Father’s house is not a safe house for those who nonchalantly keep on sinning. Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews said about such an attitude: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29)