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"How to Build a Better Temple"

Jan.25, 2015 Jn.2:13-25


It's an exciting time in the life of our church. Our congregational Annual Meeting is next Sunday. The Annual Report is distributed with many interesting reports to review; they help us recall how much God has blessed us this past year (we even ended 2014 with a surplus!). We praise Him as we celebrate successes, like community outreaches that had positive results.

But there's something more this year - a feeling that we may be on the verge of something very significant. Last year's meeting established a Future Accommodation Committee that has been doing some homework into various options. 2014 was the year our current facility became significantly less satisfactory due to a wet basement. There are discussions about relocating - just ideas mind you at this point, but possibilities in the wind.

So when we come to this text in John 2, there is a real temptation, and that is this: to TWIST it to be about the building. V20 "The Jews replied, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple...'" That's a lot of time and effort! One source records, "It took 10,000 men ten years just to build the retaining walls around the Temple Mount...The Western Wall (formerly known as the Wailing Wall) is merely part of that 500-meter-long retaining wall that was designed to hold a huge man-made platform that could accommodate twenty four football fields.When it was completed, it was the world's largest functioning religious site and until today it remains the largest man-made platform in the world."

Why did Herod build such a big platform? Partly ego, perhaps; but also because many of the 6-7 million Jews in the Roman empire would converge on Jerusalem for the 3 main religious festivals, including Passover.

It seems the Jewish leaders had bought into this idea that big religion had to do with big structures, and were proud of their temple that shone with gleaming gold and dazzling white marble. So, temples and church buildings MUST be important, right?

Or I could harp on v17 where Jesus' actions remind His disciples of the prophecy from Psalm 69:9, "Zeal for your house will consume me." Couldn't we argue from that believers ought to be passionate about church buildings? Throw in plenty of mention that what we are planning to build is "GOD'S house", pull some verses from the prophet Haggai about it being time "for the Lord's house to be built" (1:2); Haggai 1:8 "...build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured," blah blah blah? Start your building campaign, send around the pledge forms, that's how we get 'er done!

Well, it MAY come to that, but not so fast! There's something else at stake here than just bricks-and-mortar. V17B again: "Zeal for your house will CONSUME me," literally "eat me up". What's "eating at" Jesus?


In v13 we're told Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem because "it was almost time for the Jewish Passover." What was Passover? The annual commemoration of God's deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He rescued them from their overlords - not with a huge fight, or a bloody 3-year-long Civil War - but by means of a lamb slaughtered for each home and blood smeared on doorposts. God brought them out to be HIS PEOPLE, set apart for Him as witnesses to the Gentiles.

Like every male within a 15-mile radius was expected to do for the 3 main festivals, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. V14 "In the temple courts He found..." Stop there: what might you EXPECT to find in a religious sanctuary, a venerable temple? Stillness to pray and meditate? A hushed and serene atmosphere to contemplate the ongoing sacrifices at the altar, God's provision of forgiveness? Background music of reverent psalms sung to honour the Almighty and tune our spirit?

Instead, what did Jesus find? V14 "In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money." The sounds must have been a combination of barnyard, marketplace, and stock market. It was an auditory distraction AND abusive extortion. Roger Fredrikson in The Communicator's Commentary describes it as "a rigged business operation that was enmeshed in the whole ecclesiastical apparatus and controlled by the high priest." The temple tax Jews had to pay was the equivalent of 2 days' wages. But Gentile coins were too unclean for this sacred tax; "the hidden cost of this exchange equalled another day's wages." That's a 50% markup! And the animals for sacrifice had to be without blemish; "these came from the temple herds or flocks and were outrageously overpriced." Gouge City! What a racket - not only of the animals calling out, but a racket of crime, too!

This was too much for Jesus to tolerate. Vv15f "So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"" Drastic action; He poured out coins, upset tables. How would you feel if someone came into the shop one day and poured out all the money from the till? He was making a point!

"How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" Just to call it "my Father's house" was scandalous; to Jews, this was tantamount to blasphemy, putting oneself on a par with God. John 5:18 "For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God."

What was eating Jesus here? Religious folk had taken something that was MEANT to be holy and special and spiritual - worshipping God at the designated location - and they started MARKETING it. They treated the temple like a barn, bringing animals in; the moneychangers made it like an arcade. Their concession fees greased the wheels of the religious system.

Here's a common complaint you may have heard today amongst disenchanted former church-goers: "The church is always talking about [what?] MONEY." "We need to pay the bills...We need to replace the roof...We've got to raise money for a lift." In many cases said churches or denominations have sadly drifted away from Biblical teaching and the gospel so it's all about good works and social justice without the note of God's grace. So people quit attending, leaving fewer people to maintain an aging building. Too many churches are closing because the main focus has become keeping the building up; maintenance replaces mission. It's become too commercial, a market.


There's another thing that's eating Jesus. V15 "He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area..." V16 "To those who sold doves He said, 'Get these out of here!'" Exactly which "here" and "temple area" are we talking about?

The temple was divided into 3 main courts for the public; working out from the altar (priests / Levites) you had the court of the men, the court of the women, and (outermost) the court of the Gentiles. Over time, the high priest had sold off concessions to the merchants and moneychangers so they now had stalls in the court of the Gentiles. This was offensive even to conservative Jews of the day - they knew these didn't belong in the court of the Gentiles: that was meant for non-Jews to come and worship!

So, you can see, the religious system in its greed had created another barrier for Gentiles instead of providing space for them: their space had been sold off to the so-called "den of thieves", the marketeers (Mt 21:13). This is eating at Jesus - religious corruption is keeping non-Jews away from worshipping God. When He clears the temple a second time near the end of His ministry, this is more clear. Mk 11:17 "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'" To Jesus, the temple is "my Father's house...a house of prayer for all nations" - Jews and non-Jews. God is reaching out to those on the margins, beyond the offspring of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, to all nations, including Gentiles.

A temptation might be to build a church as a sort of Christian ghetto, a place where we can come as a little sect to do our "Sunday thing" and train up our children counter-culturally (which we need to do), but in a sort of fortress atmosphere, "us" vs "them" outside. What's eating Jesus is "them" are lost, hurting - and need Him just as much as "us" do. Where, amongst our church's ministries, is the "Court of the Gentiles"? What programs or intentional contacts encourage the unchurched to access us through our side door rather than the front door? If we WERE to build a building, would it be for "just us" OR is there some way it could serve the broader community? Do we need MORE than one building - say a worship centre and (perhaps in a different location) a ministry centre? Thrift store / food bank satellite / counselling centre / whatever? Those "Gentiles" are hurting with problems Jesus can heal! As WE have been helped.

So let's not just think "temple". What's eating Jesus in Blyth and North Huron about the people He died to save? The phrase "My Father's house" speaks of relationship more than religion. The question becomes: "What structures / styles / services is God calling us as a congregation (AND the Body of Christ in the area as a whole) to put in place with His Almighty aid that would enhance people's access to Him? And adoration of Him?" (repeat) Let's create welcoming space, not barriers; a house of prayer and healing and help, not a money-grabbing marketplace where He can't be heard.

The Wingham Community Christmas Dinner could be one example of such a service. Christians spearhead it and provide support, others climb on board, many are fed, God is glorified (even through something as simple as the singing of carols). Many of those who came to that dinner you probably wouldn't find in a church on Sunday morning: they were on the margins in the "court of the Gentiles" - but contact was made.


As might be expected, Jesus' radical protest immediately brought him under attack from the religious establishment. They demanded a show-down. V18 NRSV "The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"" The NIV interprets this a bit with the words "to prove your authority". The approach is adversarial: "Prove you have the right; show us your credentials." They're expecting a power struggle.

But Jesus comes back with an approach that's not ADVERSARIAL but ABSORPTIVE. How's He respond? V19 "Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."" How's that for a nonconfrontational comeback that'll throw an opponent for a loop?! "Go ahead - kill Me! That's what I came for!" How're you supposed to fight that?!

Sadly, the Jewish leaders don't "get it", they misunderstand and suppose He's talking about destroying Herod's temple. This is brought back as accusations at Jesus' trial and at the cross that He said either "I will" or "I am able to" destroy the temple - which He never claimed (Mk 14:58, 15:29; Mt 26:61, 27:40). They thought He was making threats like a terrorist - quite the opposite, He was offering to die for them.

V19 "Destroy (loosen / undo) this temple, and I will raise it again in 3 days." John adds in v21, "But the temple He had spoken of was HIS BODY." There's RESURRECTION written all over this: Jesus isn't about building earthly edifices, but conquering sin in people's lives, and bringing them into a living relationship with His Heavenly Father through faith in Him and the gift of His Spirit to indwell and guide and empower them. That's where the REAL build-ing happens.

Jesus initiated an END to the old temple-style of worship with its animal sacrifices, token payments, dietary restrictions, and ritual laws. It's not about religious monuments but relational movement. For those who believe, he makes us living temples. Paul describes this corporately (the church collectively) in 1Cor 3:16 "Don't you know that you yourselves [plural] are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" And individually a few chapters later in 6:19 "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?"

Jesus takes the temple off Herod's massive platform and puts it on LEGS - your legs, and mine. Rather than the old "attractional" model - "Let's build a cathedral, offer lots of programs, and wait for people to come to us" - temples-on-legs make it a distributive model, like yeast spreading throughout the loaf. Take it to the people rather than wait for them to come to you.

But to do that, we've got to get off our "platforms" and put feet to our faith. The Mission To Haiti team just returned from investing considerable effort, expense, and time (even during exam week!) to go help build a church and school and treat sick people and care for orphans and bless poor families with goats...That's putting the temple on legs, taking Christ's Good News where hurting people are!

This past week I did something rather bold. I'm normally kind of shy and don't find it easy to talk about faith. But I was prompted to try to share verbally with a middle-aged woman I know from the community who doesn't attend church. Stopping by her house on an errand, I took a deep breath and in the course of conversation looked her in the eye and said: "By the way, at the risk of making myself totally obnoxious - has anyone told you lately that God loves you, and wants you to be with Him forever? I mean it; I know He does."

That was it. Not very polished. No Four Spiritual Laws or anything systematic you'd find in a tract. But I said it, and meant it, and prayed she'd receive it. I didn't know how she'd respond.

Later she messaged me in response to my errand and my vocal blurt: "Thanks again and for the message this morning...Thank you for it.It meant a lot to hear something positive this week."

Who might happen to be in your "court of the Gentiles", out there on the spiritual margins, hankering to adore a Heavenly Father, longing for access? Rather than waiting for them to come to church - take Jesus to them. It's not about building temples with sticks or bricks, but building living temples of people! And, then, IF a physical building becomes necessary for the people to gather or serve or care for their little ones, fine - we'll deal with that then. But that's the shoe, not the foot! Let's pray.