Sermon for March 11, 2012

John 2:13-25 (3rd Sunday in Lent—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

March 11, 2012

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text for today is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 2:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

People can be amazingly rude to each other.  Maybe someone has raised their voice harshly to you in a public situation.  Maybe you hear language at work, on the playground, or the basketball court that doesn’t even belong in a locker room.  We like decorum, quiet, and calm.

Sometimes, however, what appears rude—totally inappropriate socially—may simply be the outburst of strong conviction.  Someone sees a miscarriage of justice or something wrong going on and just can’t remain quiet or polite.  Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh would be a good example of this.  Conviction, zeal for a cause, demands a dramatic, applecart-upsetting response.  And certainly Rush gave one of those kinds of responses.

In our text today, so did Jesus.  Jesus upset apple carts (and the money-changers’ tables!)  He created a scene in the outer court of the Temple and grossly offended a whole lot of people.  Was that rude?  No, it was zeal for God’s House.  Finding His Father’s house being misused and abused, Jesus’ zeal simply couldn’t be kept under wraps.  It had to burst out in action.  In Jesus’ cleansing the Temple, we see Christ’s zeal revealed.  His zeal is shown in His Passover, His person, and His power to save us.  As a result, we, the Church of God, His temple in the world, are called to be a people zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14)

We begin in our Gospel lesson with the words, “The Passover of the Jews was near and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”  For centuries, the Passover had been a chief revelation of God’s zealous love for sinners.  The Passover had climaxed the plagues of Egypt by which God had brought His people Israel out of slavery and bondage.  Every plague demonstrated God’s zeal for the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God.”  Each plague was an ironic twist on the false gods of Egypt.  The Egyptians worshiped the Nile River, frogs, the sun, and firstborn males.  In the various plagues, God turned each of these against them.  Each plague was God’s zealous deliverance in action; every plague was God’s zealous righteousness, opposing false gods and unbelief.

In John 2, the zeal of Jesus for the true God is revealed as well.  Jesus was consumed by the sin against the temple.  All those centuries, roasted lambs had conveyed the Passover miracle.  God was zealous for a people of Passover as He passed over their sin for the sake of bloody Lamb to come.  Every animal whose blood was shed was a sign pointing to the ultimate sacrifice, God in the flesh.  Now, God in the flesh came to His Temple.  God would not spare His firstborn Son in the conquest of our idolatry and false worship.  He gave Jesus willingly so that we pass over from death to life by His zealous life, death, and resurrection.

Are we living today as people of the Passover?  Since we are people whom death has passed over, how can we not zealously spread that word to others?  “Passover” is a powerful word.  It speaks Law to those not covered in blood, yet it speaks Gospel to those covered with the blood of Christ, the Lamb.  Jesus’ zeal, revealed in the Passover, covers us.  Does it also move us to share that Good News with others?

Christ’s zeal is also revealed to us in His person.  Our zeal is often like that of the merchandizing Jews, as we use God’s Church for our own ends.  We might seek the glory and praise of others.  Pastors and elders sometimes use their positions to manipulate their people.  Worshipers way seek a person-centered service rather than a God-centered one.  We worship or dollar bills rather than our tithes.  Or we give our tithes, but with tainted motives.  Our thoughts wander while in worship.  We treat Christ’s Sacraments casually, as if they were another chore to do.

Only God’s perfect person can meet our pitiful person.  The “zeal of the Lord of hosts” (Is. 9:7) meets us in the person of Jesus Christ.  No bowing to decorum, if it means compromising God’s house.  No polite, “Well, let’s see about this,” when it would rob God’s people of the comfort and assurance of forgiveness they should receive when they come into the temple.  No playing it safe, blending in, keeping quiet, even though this sort of outburst will get Him killed.  No greater lover, no greater intensity, no greater mercy, no greater humility could be shown us sinners than what we see in the person of Christ.  With all zeal, He was obedient and reversed the curse of Eden.  With all zeal, He overpowered the devil and bound him forever.  With all zeal, He covers us today with the flowing and drenching waters of Baptism.  The zeal of His body and blood covers, cleanses, and cures us from our sin.

The person of the Lord Jesus is authentic and genuine.  Unlike the money changers and sinners like us, He offers more than a fair exchange.  He exchanges our guilt for His acquittal.  He exchanges our crosses of damnation for His cross of salvation.  He exchanges our weaknesses for the strength of His resurrection.  He exchanges the weak things of our world for the strong world of His heaven.  He will exchange, on the Last Day, our lowly bodies for His victorious, resurrection one.

Finally, Christ’s zeal is revealed in His power.  The money changers had power.  The pious Jews coming to receive an even exchange were abused by the powers in those high places.  But the power o God is His zeal to save people abused by the world’s system.  That was no weakling Christ, no coward wielding that whip!  And the grossly offended powers-that-be in the temple weren’t seeing the half of it.  This was almighty God!

When we feel abused by taxes, by poor health, or by our unfair share of struggles, when we feel no zeal or passion for this life, God is with us.  As we are reminded in the Small Catechism, “[He] tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.”  St. Paul reminds us boldly, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.”  Paul Himself was transformed from a zealot of self-righteousness to a servant of Jesus Christ.

This power of Christ is unmatched, and Christ’s zeal is tuned by His love.  His energies all move toward the intent of His Church.  Even the gates of hell cannot prevail against this lowly yet mighty body of believers.  His zeal and His power will one day raise our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.  Christ’s zeal, though seemingly destroyed on the cross, was raised to power on Easter.  And because He lives, we live forever.

Jesus’ Passover, His Person, and His power all proclaim His zeal to keep us forever.  As He keeps us in His love and forgiveness, He kindles in us zeal for His house, for His Word, and for sharing Him with those who do not yet know Him.  God grant us this zeal now and always.  Amen.

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