Earlier this evening I had the privilege of leading our congregation’s mid-week Lenten worship service. Here is the short meditation I gave on the text of John 2:13-22.
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.
This story of Jesus throwing the money-lenders out of the Temple is familiar to many of us. Jesus openly displays anger, righteous anger, and he uses a whip to forcefully clear out all of the people using the Temple as a place of business. The Temple was built by Solomon and consecrated as a place of worship, as the very place where God promised to dwell and meet with his people. But as this scene opens it is anything but a holy place. It is a mess.
In a similar manner we may reflect on our lives, seeing the good in them, but also seeing the not-so-good. Some of the not-so-good may be there accidentally. We didn’t really intend it. It just sort-of happened. And some of the not-so-good is most definitely there because we want it to be. We tuck it in the corners. Perhaps pretend it isn’t there. But we know it is, and sometimes we delight in its presence. We know about the not-so-good stuff is in our lives and we like it. Sometimes we prefer it. We wall it off from other people, keeping our private enjoyment to ourselves. We wall it off from God.
Sometimes we have genuine regret for the not-so-good stuff in our lives. It is there, and deep down we know it shouldn’t be there. There are times when we really do want to get rid of it. We try. We try hard, but it still clings to us. Habit, uncertainty, or unwillingness keep it there, doing its damage, bit-by-bit-by-bit.
Here is the real Good News in this passage: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Because Jesus has zeal for God’s Temple he acts decisively to cleanse it. It has been consecrated to God and Jesus cleanses it to restore the Temple to its God-intended purpose. And as John makes clear in the second part of our reading, Jesus is pointing our attention to the perfect Temple that will be known in the resurrected Jesus.
In Ephesians 2:19-22 Paul writes this:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Paul takes that image of Jesus as God’s Temple and shows us its fulfillment, which is that we too are joined into this dwelling place of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. John writes “zeal for your house will consume me” and that zeal applies most fully to Jesus’ passion for his disciples. For John. For Paul. For me. For each of you.
In Lent we are invited to a time of self-examination. Let’s take a moment right now to silently consider our own lives. Think of some of that not-so-good stuff of your life. The habits, the patterns of thinking, of behaving. Think of the stuff that inhabits us and gets in the way of our relationship with God. They may be common things, things that nearly everyone does but which are not the way that Christians are called to live. Or it may be something else, an area of sin known only to you and to God.
Let’s take a moment of silence and prayer and seek the Lord’s presence and his zeal for us, his people, to cleanse us for him, to his eternal glory.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.