This morning I preached from Mark 11:12-21, a challenging passage, to say the least. In the midst of this section of Mark's gospel is his version of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem. The temple is the heart-and-soul of the Hebrew people, the place built as the dwelling place for God and the only location for their most important religious practices.
Well, that is the idea, but as Mark tells the story the temple is a long ways from being a model of holiness and honor towards God. It has become the place for buying and selling of animals for sacrifice, with a currency exchange so that observant Jews could pay the temple tax, and also having convenient routes to be used as a shortcut for foot traffic, rather than walking around it.
Into this scene of chaos walks Jesus, creating a bit of havoc of his own as he casts out the people, things and practices that defile the temple. He casts these things out and does…what? He replaces them with his teaching. Verse 17 begins, "And he was teaching them…" and verse 18 ends, "…all the crowd was astonished at his teaching."
Reading this in our day and looking back at Jesus we can see that he was entirely justified in the cleansing of the temple and to then quickly move on to whatever is the next significant event during this final week of his life. But Mark brings to the fore that the very next thing was of great importance. Jesus threw the bad out of the temple and replaced it with something very good, his teaching, which was teaching that amazed the crowd.
What did he teach? We don’t know. Mark doesn't share that with us. He merely shares that the teaching itself was profound and done with great power. The people who heard it were astonished.
But what does this have to do with us? Jesus has zeal for the holiness of God. The temple, the dwelling place of God with His people has been defiled and Jesus acts to restore its holiness. On the one hand he throws out what defiles it and with the other hand he restores what belongs there. As he teaches the people in the temple he in effect restores what should be going on there. People are coming to worship God. To draw near to God. And as he teaches Jesus is directing them to that purpose.
All well and good. But what about us? What does this mean for us today? In Mark 1:15 Jesus calls on people to "repent and believe in the gospel." When we do this essential step of repentance-and-belief, repenting of our sin and believing in the Good News of Jesus as our Savior and Lord, then this very thing that happens in the temple is something that he begins to do in us.
The same zeal that Mark shows Jesus having for the temple he also has for every person who has faith in him. And he acts accordingly. He begins that process of removing from us those things that are offensive to God and replacing them with things that are pleasing in God's sight. While those things, for evil and for good, may vary widely for each person a place where you can get a good general idea is Galatians 5:19-23.
This business of personal cleansing is not always easy, particularly when it comes to those things that seem or feel so good. The things that we want to make excuses for. Things we want to take a pass on. Jesus loves us too much to allow us to play in the mud as long as we please.
So look at that story of the cleansing of the temple as more than something that happened one day many years ago. See it as a reminder of what Jesus has done, in you, and a marker of what he is doing, in you, right now. Amen.