O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Destroyed and Raised
Destroyed and Raised
Based on Jn. 2:13-25
Preached on March 8, 2015
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Fellow baptized saints, it sounds like a ridiculous story. But apparently when you travel in Italy you need to carry a roll of toilet paper with you. A friend of mine told me about a time when he went to a nice, expensive restaurant, right on the waterfront, with white glove service and well-dressed servers. He enjoyed a delicious three course meal with a fine glass of wine. And as he went to leave he decided to stop in the washroom. And standing there as he entered was a man holding out some toilet paper. Well, that's nice, he thought, as he reached to receive it. "That will be two Euro sir," the man explained. "Two Euro? No, I think I'll take my chances with the paper in the stall thank you very much." "Oh, no, there isn't any paper in the stall sir. This is it. Two Euro." My friend begrudgingly pulled out his wallet feeling like he had been totally cheated.
It seems odd to have to pay for something that is normally free, doesn't it? Can you imagine if you had to pay in order to take a breath? Or if you had to pay in order to take a step? You too would feel cheated. But this was exactly what was happening in the temple in our Gospel lesson today.
The money changers and livestock sellers were providing a necessary service. It is not sinful to sell that which is honorable, even good. It is not even wrong to profit from the venture of supplying the Church with the goods she needs.
The problem, of course, was where they were doing it. They were doing business in the court of the Gentiles and thereby denying the Gentiles a place for prayer. They were seeking to buy and sell in the very place God had promised He would give out His gifts for free.
The Early Church Father St. Augustine saw a picture here. The merchants who sell sheep are selling the souls of the faithful for a profit, misleading them with worldly concerns in the holy place, distracting them from the things of God. To sell God's people is to sell sheep. The sellers of doves are those who would try to sell the Holy Spirit, to deceive the people into thinking they can buy forgiveness. These are the pictures. But what Augustine is really trying to say is that this sort of barrier building, this sort of "spiritual profitizing" is something that still goes on in the Church today. The devil continues to attack the Lord's children in the same ways, so we need to see his strategy and realize he comes at us all the same.
Think about it. Haven't you ever tried to strike a bargain with God? You know, thought, well Lord I'll do this if you just… You were trading in His temple. And haven't you ever thought God might love you more if you do the right thing? Like you might buy His grace? What our Lord did that day in the temple is a picture of what He still does with His Word in all of us. NO! My forgiveness is not for sale. I will not be won over, or enticed by cheap deals on the side. I will not negotiate with sinners. Get that out of my presence! But here, I give You my Son, my beloved, my chosen One, and I give Him to you for free. By grace. As a gift. Because that is who I am, and that is what I want to do. I will save you through Him. Repent of your bribery, and believe my promise.
In the same way, we make ourselves barriers for others to hear God's Word when we don't introduce ourselves to them and welcome them, or when we don't gently teach them how things work here. And we make barriers for ourselves too, when we don't actively learn about the faith, when we don't attend Bible study, or hold our daily devotions. There are all sorts of ways we find ourselves setting up our worldly tables in the place of heavenly worship.
So our Lord makes a scourge, a whip of cords, to cleanse the temple of this sin. And yes, the making of the scourge is surely more symbolic than actually punitive. The Lord drives them off by moral force rather than physical abuse. They know they are wrong. They know they have defiled God's house. The Lord acts as every prophet would, calling them back to repentance and faith, showing them what God's mercy is and where God's mercy abides. The temple is the place of God's gracious presence, where the Holy Spirit is not bought or sold but instead comes by grace and promise. It is where God gives Himself away and where the people can be cleansed in order to pray and praise God.
And yet, this whip of cords - this scourge in the hand of our Lord - foreshadows the one that would peel our Lord's back. We see the temple cleansed with a scourge, and we see Jesus' body, the true temple cleansed with a scourge - for your sin and for mine. Scourged for those who got in the way of faith. Scourged for those who would try to bribe God. Scourged for those who would try to buy His heaven. This whip of cords is a reminder of how our Lord would drive our sins into the grave through His suffering and death.
For what came after that scourging - what came after Jesus was whipped, tortured - the sign He promised to the Jews who questioned Him - "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" "Destroy this temple, this body, this place where God dwells, and I will raise it in three days." Death and resurrection come after the scourging. Death and resurrection give Him the authority to do these things. He is the temple. He is the sacrifice. He - who stands with scourge in hand - has the right to give away the Holy Spirit because He is scourged and killed as the sacrifice of mercy that the temple shows and delivers to all people. He is raised again that all people might have safe access to the Father through Him. That is the zeal that consumes Him and saves us.
We are busy building barriers for God's grace - but Christ is busying knocking them over - by being tortured in our place, crucified in our place, rising in our place - so we will too. It seems odd to have to pay for something that is normally free. It is even more odd to be given something priceless that wasn't for sale. So let us kneel down to a meal without a price and drink a finer wine than anywhere else on earth, for your God gives you His own blood, for free. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr