Lent 3b

Preached: March 15, 2009

“Destroy This Temple, and I Will Raise it Again in Three Days"
John 2:13-22

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior is from John 2:

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple court he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves and men sitting exchanging money. He made a whip out of rope and drove them all out of the temple court, also the cattle and the sheep. He poured out the money-changers' coins and turned over their tables. He said to those selling doves, “Take these out of her! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written: “Zeal for your house will devour me.”

Then the Jews responded and said to him, “What sign do you show us that you can do these things?”

Jesus responded and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it.”

Then the Jews said, “It took forty-six years for this temple to be built, and you will raise it in three days!” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. So when he had been raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. ( John 2:13-22)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

“Yes! I heard him say so, right out there in the temple courts, just at the time of the Passover like now, about three years ago. He said he'd destroy this man-made temple and build another again in three days, not made by man. That's what he said. I swear it.”

Something like that might be what you would have heard, if you eavesdropped on the Sanhedrin during Jesus' show trial. The Passion History last Wednesday retold those events. As the chief priests and Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus, they had false witnesses come forward. Mark writes, “Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 'We heard him say, “I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man”'” (Mark 14:57-58 NIV). They may well have been thinking of the events from John 2. How these events and Jesus' words must have shocked them! Even three years later his words still troubled their hearts.

But notice how they twisted Jesus' words. He did not say that he himself was going to destroy the temple. Rather he was predicting the Jews would destroy it by their unbelief. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV) is what Jesus actually said to them.

Now if Jesus' enemies pondered those word, how much more shouldn't we his blood-bought people? Let's meditate on these words of Jesus and puzzle over them. What's the relation between the temple and Jesus' body? How are his death and resurrection tied in? What does this mean for us? Let's puzzle over these words against the backdrop of what Jesus did that day: making that whip out of rope, driving out the sheep and cattle and those who sold them, overturning the tables of the money changers. How do Jesus' words tie in? “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV). Let's think about it.

1. What's the relation between the temple and Jesus' body

Don't think that Jesus was simply referring to his body as a temple like some people do today when they talk about taking care of their bodies. This is much more than a poetic metaphor. Jesus is drawing in all the meaning from previous centuries of revelation about God's temple.

The temple was patterned after the tabernacle, and the tabernacle was designed according to the plans God himself gave Moses on Mt. Sinai. At its heart was the most holy place, the holy of holies. The only entrance to the holy of holies was through the holy place, where only the priests could go. For the tabernacle and the temple after it marked the presence of the holy God among his people. During Israel's travel in the wilderness the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night (Exodus 40:38). When King Solomon dedicated the first temple, a cloud of the glory of the LORD filled it (2 Chronicles 5:13, 14 NIV). The temple marked God's presence among the people.

But who is Jesus? Is he not Emmanuel, God with us? The temple was a mere reflection; Jesus is the reality. What the temple pictured, Jesus fulfilled. When ancient Israel looked at the tabernacle or the temple, they remembered God's promise to be with them. When you look at Jesus, you see God with us. For “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9 NIV). His body is the temple in the fullest sense of the word. For he is God present with us in body.

2. How is Jesus' death and resurrection connected to the temple?

But the temple did more. It not only demonstrated God's presence, but visually displayed God's saving plan. On the one hand, the temple architecture illustrated that no one could come to God. The Holy of Holies was cut off from the people. Their sin separated them from God. How could sinners escape his holy justice? Who could stand in his presence? Not you, not me, not the people Israel, no one. For we are sinners, wicked sinners. We have violated God's holiness with our selfish thoughts, our irreverent words, our loveless actions. How can we be saved?

But look what happened at the temple day after day. See what the priest does at the altar which stands in front of the the holy place. He kills the sacrificial animal, pours out its blood, and offers a burnt offering. Our sin cuts us off from God. We cannot enter his holiness. But blood atones for sin. Blood pays the price. Blood reconciles sinners to God. Not the blood of animals, but the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus' blood, the holy, precious blood, the only blood that pays the full price for all sins, the only blood that reconciles us to God.

“Destroy this temple” (John 2:19 NIV), Jesus said, and those Jewish leaders in their unbelief certainly did. They handed Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The cried out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And on that cross the blood of our God was poured out to atone for our sins, to reconcile us to God, to bring us into the Holy of Holies, into God's glorious presence. See the sacrifice completed.

“And I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV), and Jesus certainly did. The body sacrificed for us lives. Jesus came back to life. He rose from the dead. For his blood truly pays for all sins. He purchased eternal redemption for you. He cleanses your conscience with his blood-bought forgiveness, so that you may serve the living God yes, the living God, for Jesus lives! Jesus lives!

3. What does this mean for us?

Do you see now, why Jesus drove out those animal sellers and money changers? All that buying and selling had changed his Father's house into a market place. It clouded and darkened what the temple was all about. How could people see God's saving plan displayed in the sacrifices when they're distracted by all this? See how earnest and zealous Jesus is for God's saving plan. He wants nothing to get in its way. That earnest zeal led much farther than driving out these marketeers. His earnest zeal to save you led him to the cross as the bloody sacrifice in your place.

Do not let the things of the world cloud your view of the cross. So much buying and selling goes on in our lives, doesn't it? So much worry about money, about getting what we want. So much care about holding on to what I have. How much will I lose? Those thoughts so easily fill our hearts and minds like a fog, consuming our time and energy. We lose sight of the cross. Then life becomes more burdensome, pointless, and tiresome.

We need Jesus to clean out the courtyards of our hearts. And he does. He does as we hear him say, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV). See those words fulfilled. See Jesus, who is your Temple and your Sacrifice. He is God with you. He is the Sacrifice that brings you to the holy God. His body and blood was offered on the cross for you, as he promises to you in the Lord's Supper.

For as his cross fills our hearts, his zeal overflows into our lives. For you see, through faith in Jesus, you have become a temple, the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in you. And Jesus lives in you as well as he reigns in your heart as your King. Why would you think of polluting this temple by following temptation or giving in to sin? Jesus has washed you clean in his blood to present you without stain or wrinkle, as a temple sanctified and clean. In him, you have the desire, the will, and the strength to serve the living God. Serve him with that zeal and determination that stays away from sin, no matter how enticing it may seem, no matter how tempting her voice, no matter how delicious the fruit may appear. Serve the living God with that confident zeal that believes that in Jesus your sins are forgiven, that you have access to the holy God, the Holy of Holies, through Jesus' blood, that you will stand in his glorious presence clothed in the white robes of Jesus' righteousness. All this because of Jesus. He is the Temple. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313